I was nine and Richie had just turned ten--an older man, but safe as an unloaded gun. He must have talked about me with his mother. Who else would have instructed him to extend his hand as we approached the trail that led from the playground, and say “Evelyn, may I walk you home?”
Perhaps she thought it possible I would be kind to her pleasant-faced, sweet son. Women change when they have boy children. Their hearts soften and vision blurs and they forget the primordial laws of the jungle.
I was skinny and blond then. School pictures of that year show me an elfin creature with a serious mouth and overlarge eyes. My hair had been cut short, close to my scalp; some weeks earlier my habitual long braids had dipped into the last campfire of the summer, terrifying my mother into pushing me head first into the lake. One small red oval on my neck where a cinder had rested too long was the only resulting mark on my skin. A trim would have taken care of the singed portion of my braids but the odor of burnt hair had so offended my mother that the next morning she marched us into the Bobette Salon, shoved me into Inga's chair and glared as Inga snipped and snipped. I could see the other hairdressers smirking behind me, in the mirror.
Inga dismissed them with a dangerous wave of her manicured nails and declared me a pixie. Cute, she said and the others slunk away like beaten dogs. I was somehow better as a pixie girl. New clothes appeared in my closet- tiny replicas of Carnaby Street florals and dizzy geometric prints, stiff low-heeled boots made of white imitation leather. I felt hurtled toward some kind of transformation and began to dream that little lick of campfire had been a roar of flaming teeth and tongue. I often woke aching, in twisted bed sheets. Ikept my fevers to myself.
I took Richie's hand and felt nothing until another boy threw rocks at us from behind a battle-scarred maple. The boy cawed and gave my free arm a nasty pull as he ran past.
Where the trail opened out onto the road, I disengaged my hand and shook my head when Richard invited me over. He didn't throw anything at my back, where I was beginning to grow wings.
“She’s not dead, you know,” a voice beside me says. The woman sharing the park bench in Kensington Palace Gardens has been observing me write on the back of a postcard. Years have passed since that immeasurable worldwide torrent of grief. Even so less than fifteen minutes ago, I’d found myself unable to walk past that famous face on a display of vintage cards at a Bayswater Road stall. “Diana’s not dead.” The woman shifts on her thighs and re-settles herself on the bench, a faint unidentifiable smell exuding from her dirty grey overcoat. Really, I can’t help myself when it comes to Diana. You have had to be around in her time to understand the mesmerising effect she had on people. “Oh?” “She wasn’t in that coffin.” “Oh?’ Despite myself, I am intrigued. The woman eyes me steadily, holding me fast with her gaze. “No. She’s in a mental institution.” The tone is matter of fact. “Under lock and key. They’ve kept it from everyone.” She gives me time to consider this, turning her attention to a m…
The little dog is tethered in the sun. From a distance, she has a rough coat. But when I’m close enough to stroke her, inside the pool of her reflection on the slow-baked sand, she is soft. You tell me not to touch. “Fleas, Simon,” you say. I drag your case up the hill. So many clothes. All from the cheap shop so you can justify their number, their casual disposability. I hoped you would spend all week in your white swimming costume. But you want changes, multiple changes. The room disappoints you. The humming fridge disturbs your sleep. The toilet gasps and gurgles. The ceiling fan struggles to stir air thicker than Brown Windsor soup. “I can’t breathe,” you say. The little dog cries all night. You burn on the beach, so you stay in the room. You smother your skin with cream, but refuse to let me baste you. I buy you more lotion—"Too watery, too melon scented"—from the shabby shop. Down the hill, up the hill. You want stifado in a carton. Down to the jaded restaurant, up again. Yo…