‘“Possible titles: HAPPINESS: GRIEF: MY CROW.”
That’s what it said, in tiny screwed-up handwriting
that only I could follow, and maybe her mother,
who wrote her the long intriguing letters
I was on my word of honour not to read.
We used to come up here most afternoons.
Stacey would sit on her pillow,
and, taking a lock of white hair between her fingers,
would flick up the ends in a bunch
and examine them, like a monkey.
She had a pair of scissors
in the shape of a sick-looking stork
that she would snip them off with,
frowning. She would carry on like this
all afternoon, as if her hair were a goddess
she must serve! It was me who had the crow.
I kept her in the woods behind the chapel
and took her for walks on my shoulder
when things were quiet. Stacey would occasionally
come with me, but she preferred to stay indoors.
She didn’t like the light. It gave her nose-bleeds.
Her hair was like a mass of tumbling roses,
that’s what it reminded me of –
she would sit there as if she could feel
a pilgrimage of insects
advancing along each strand –
first they would strip her bald,
then they would bore through the skull,
then they would sip her brain with their proboscises.
She was already starting to be one of those people
one avoids, I’m afraid – as you know.
She said she was tired of making her mother cry;
she said she felt like an amputee –
whether she meant her mother or herself, I’m not sure,
but anyway you can imagine that talking to her
was a bit like walking across soft sand
in high-heeled shoes – hard work! –
so I was happy to set off without her,
up the bank, and on to the brow of the hill,
my lame pet crow perching on my shoulder.
One day I’ll let her go.
Stacey, I’ll whisper, Stacey
(I’m trying to teach her her name –
Stacey – after our friend here, of course)
Stacey, I’ll say, off you go!
and I’ll slip the loop of string off her ankle.
The last time I did that it was a young seagull, Molly,
and she’s still here!
Hang on a minute.
I’ll call her for you.’
And she opened a little door onto the roof.
‘She’s very nosey is Molly.
She’ll come and perch on your shoulder in a minute.’
She had this huge dog –
a mastiff, I think it was,
that her father had bought her
when the doctor said having a dog might help –
and she walked very fast on her spindly legs beside him,
trying to keep up; she’d come up alongside him finally,
and he’d stare into her eyes
It was snowing – the sort of weather,
the harbour-master said,
one minute you were wishing you were dying,
the next minute you were wishing that you weren’t;
and the girl with the big dog laughed,
although she didn’t understand him,
and she was only wearing a cardigan,
so she must have been terribly cold.
Then the harbour-master
invited her into his little office,
where two German tourists,
looking very much at home, were painting the sea.
Was it you who was saying, the bigger one said,
Ad Reinhardt went all the way round the world
and took 5000 photographs – or was it 50,000? –
and not a single one of a human,
not a single one!
Her partner nodded, and gave the dog a sandwich,
and then looked up at the owner,
who got one too.