Thursday, June 10, 2021

Friday Needs a Suitcase by Adele Evershed


Donna's nipples hardened in the unsummery chill, eliciting a half-hearted wolf whistle from the bed and breakfast fugitives. "I must start to wear a bra", she thinks belatedly. The holidaymakers are arranged on the grey beach, like shadowy matchstick figures from a 'Lowery' painting. It could be called 'Enduring Miner's Fortnight'. The brochures promise so much: a Prom, a funfair, and 'Coney Beach', a name with a hint of American glamour and sun. But this is South Wales so the only uncloudy things are the frothy coffee they serve in the cafes with Italian names. The drizzle in Donna's hair gives her a frosted halo as she lets herself into the shop. Pouring milky tea from her Gran's mustard flask, she fishes out a wafer-cone from the box and dunks it in the steaming brew for breakfast. They'd run out of cereal again.


"Are you sweet?" a rough voice asks. She turns around, a middle-aged man hefting a suitcase is gesturing at the chipped sign, "The Sweetie Shack". 


"Of course" she answers mildly, "Buy something and see". 


"I'm after a souvenir before I leave", he tells her. 


Donna offers him a rock from the vivid pink pyramid. It's their bestseller. Twenty pence gets you a 'Day-Glo' tube of toothpaste-flavored candy with 'Porthcawl' through the middle. In her more generous moments, when she lets her town dissolve on her tongue, she thinks it tastes like Crème de Menthe. She likes to drink this fairy green liquid on a Saturday night if her Mum's been persuaded to watch Lucy and someone else is paying. It's magic, it makes her feel normal again. 


Filling the old-fashioned till with dull pennies, she mentally rehearses her rusty times tables to 'Lady Madonna' coming from 'The Waltzes'. Maths was never her best subject. Each year she hopes he will invest in a till that adds up for you but he insists the intricately wrought manual till is in keeping with the whimsy he wants to evoke for the day-trippers. "It's as if they've gone back in time, when everything was simpler and a kid can still buy a '99' with their pocket money", he'd told her. '99': the perfect summer ice cream, an unnaturally white soft whip stabbed with a chocolate flake. Without the flake, it's just a vanilla cone, boring and vaguely virginal.


This Friday rolls slowly. Eating her lunch staring at the drippy canvas, a lonely striped windbreaker waves in surrender. The gluey cucumber sandwiches have too much cheap margarine, so she treats herself to a 'Cadbury's Flake' to take away the aftertaste. Closing her eyes Donna is the lady in the advert, lounging in a chin-deep bath, she can almost hear the operatic soundtrack swirling as the tub overflows. 


"Excuse me lovely, are you working or what?" Opening her eyes she sees a young couple damp from the day. He has love bites down his scrawny neck and a tattooed tear under his right eye. She has real tears in her eyes. Her stomach looks like an under-ripe melon: hard and round. To Donna, he says, "We'll have eleven rocks". To the girl he says, "That should do it, I'm not getting one for my Nan, she couldn't cope with her dentures." As she rings up, Donna pushes too hard on the bone-like buttons and breaks a nail. 

Later, repainting them, Donna finds she's singing the Beatles' song from earlier; it's an earworm that won't stop wriggling. Her Mum told her once that she was named after that song. When Donna pointed out the woman in the song was called Madonna her Mum laughed and said, "I know. But when you were born nobody would have dreamt of calling their child Madonna, it would have been thought blasphemous." Donna said, "What about the singer Madonna, the one who sings 'Like A Virgin'?" 


"She's no better than she ought to be and I suppose Americans have different values to us", her Mum replied.


As she comes to the line about Friday not having a suitcase she finds it chafing at her. Does it mean that Friday does or doesn't intend to stay? As Donna thinks about the lyrics she realizes she is treating them like one of the poems she used to analyze for 'A' level English before she dropped out of school to have Lucy. 


Out of the slop, he appears. "It's miserable out there", he offers by way of greeting. "In here too", Donna thinks. Straining on her toes to pull down the metal curtain she feels his chapped fingers stroking her thigh, working his way higher towards her damp gusset. She wills herself to be the lady in the bath; water so scalding it smothers all feeling. She must have been making a noise as his hand is over her mouth "Hush", he whispers. She should know by now only the wind gets to scream.


After, he unwraps a chocolate stick. "Look here, lovely, it's the crumbliest, flakiest milk chocolate in the world", he says, smiling to reveal his missing tooth. Donna takes it but doesn't put it to her lips. '`Anyway", he continues, unperturbed by the melting chocolate in her hand, "I'm just here for the day's takings. How's your Mum doing? Any work?" She shakes her head. "I'm sure it'll be alright. Give Lucy a kiss from her Uncle Mark''. He hands Donna a bundle of crimpled notes, she stuffs them in her pocket with the 'Jelly Babies' she is smuggling home. "See you tomorrow", he says. Donna doesn't hear him, as she's listening to the song in her head and realizing suddenly that, unlike Friday, she will need a suitcase.


Outside, trembling in the mizzle of fairy lights, Donna crushes the chocolate into the sand and lets the gale blow through her. Early the next morning, Donna walks to the train station with Lucy. Popping a 'Jelly Baby' into her mouth Donna hauls a suitcase onto the overhead rack and sings, "See how I run!"


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.