Saturday 6 June 2020

'The Truth and Scarlett Jones' by Alison Powell

Scarlett Jones is 62 years old and still pops gum like she is seventeen. She’s out on her porch again, with those gold, hooped earrings and those fuck-me denim shorts your mother would paint you black and blue for wearing.

             Scarlett Jones could not give a damn about your mother.
             The things Scarlett Jones gives a damn about are these:
             1)     Black Bear Diner double-patty hamburgers.
             2)     The country singer, Kenny Rogers.
             3)     The Truth.

This morning, Scarlett Jones has come out onto her porch at least a dozen times. She leans on the rail with her butt sticking out and you can see right down into the mystery of her cleavage.

Your mother says it’s like she’s waiting for applause.

‘Why can’t that woman stay indoors?’

Your mother wants to move ‘somewhere with decent folk.’ But her scraped up savings won’t take you far.

‘Get back to your books,’ she says now. ‘You’re my only hope of salvation.’

Across the road, Scarlett Jones is blowing a huge pink bubble. It is bigger than her face. It pops and blasts her boldness right across the street to you.

‘I like her.’ You realise you’ve said this aloud and bring your hand up to your mouth.

But the words keep tumbling out: ‘I hope I’m like her when I’m old.’

Your mother looks at you as though you’ve conjured the devil himself. As though fire and brimstone are bursting from your throat. She crosses herself twice, puts down her yellow duster on the table, then comes for you so fast you have no chance to even put up your hands.

Later, when your mother is lying in the dark of her bedroom, a cold flannel over her eyes, you look up to the sky and notice that the moon is out like a brash silver gum bubble there in the afternoon blue.  You don’t even pause to close the front door behind you.

Scarlett Jones does not make a fuss. She wraps a bag of peas from the freezer in a blue striped tea cloth and holds it to the billowing bruise on your cheek. You’re still holding it there when she takes you by the hand and leads you to her open top car and drives you, singing ‘Islands in the Sand’, down to the Black Bear Diner.

She doesn’t need to order. They know exactly what she wants. When she says you can have anything, you hardly know where to begin and so you say you’ll have the same. She doesn’t even ask what happened, but you feel the need to explain and so you say you fell playing hopscotch.

A big, pink bubble comes out of Scarlett’s mouth. She lets it pop and whips it back with her tongue.

‘Baby,’ she says. ‘That’s a dangerous game to play.’

You know it’s not the hopscotch that she means.

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