One
Why is London like Budapest?
A.Because it is two cities divided by a river.

Good morning!Let me introduce myself.My name is Dora Chance.Welcome to the wrong side of the tracks.Put it another way.If you’re from the States,think of Manhattan.Then think of Brooklyn.See what I mean?Or,for a Parisian,it might be a question of rive gauche,rive droite.With London,it’s the North and South divide.Me and Nora,that’s my sister,we’ve always lived on the left-hand side,the side the tourist rarely sees,the bastard side of Old Father Thames.
Once upon a time,you could make a crude distinction,thus:the rich lived amidst pleasant verdure in the North speedily whisked to exclusive shopping by abundant public transport while the poor eked out miserable existences in the South in circumstances of urban deprivation condemned to wait for hours at windswept bus-stops while sounds of marital violence,breaking glass and drunken song echoed around and it was cold and dark and smelled of fish and chips.But you can’t trust things to stay the same.There’s been a diaspora of the affluent,they jumped into their diesel Saabs and dispersed throughout the city.You’d never believe the price of a house round here,these days.And what does the robin do then,poor thing?
Bugger the robin!What would have become of us,if Grandma hadn’t left us this house? 49 Bard Road, London, South West Two.Bless this house.If it wasn’t for this house,Nora and I would be on the street by now,hauling our worldlies up and down in plastic bags,sucking on the bottle for comfort like babes unweaned,bursting into songs of joy when finally admitted to the night shelter and therefore chucked out again immediately for disturbing the peace,to gasp and freeze and finally snuff it disregarded on the street and blow away like rags. That’s a thought for a girl’s seventy-fifth birthday,what?
Yes! Seventy-five.Happy birthday to me.Born in this house,indeed,this very attic,just seventy-five years ago,today.I made my bow five minutes ahead of Nora who is,at this very moment,downstairs,getting breakfast.My dearest sister.Happy birthday to us.
This is my room.We don’t share.We’ve always respected one another’s privacy.Identical,well and good;Siamese,no.Everything slightly soiled,I am sorry to say.Can’t be doing with wash,wash,wash,polish,polish,polish,these days,when time is so precious,but take a good look at the signed photos stuck in the dressing-table mirror-Ivor;Noel;Fred and Adele;Jack;Ginger;Fred and Ginger;Anna,Jessie,Sonnie,Binnie.All friends and colleagues,once upon a time.See the newest one,a tall girl,slender,black curls,enormous eyes,no drawers,’your very own Tiffany’ and lots of XXXXXs.Isn’t she lovely?Our beloved godchild.We tried to put her off show business but she wasn’t having any.’What’s good enough for you two is good enough for me.”Show business’,right enough;a prettier girl than little Tiff you never saw but she’s showed her all.
What did we do? Got it in one.We used to be song and dance girls.We can still lift a leg higher than your average dog,if called for.
Hello,hello..here comes one of the pussy cats,out of the wardrobe,stretching and yawning. She can smell the bacon.There’s another,white,with marmalade peaches,sleeping on my pillow.Dozens more roam freely.The house smells of cat,a bit,but more of geriatric shorine-cold cream,face powder,dress preserver,old fags,stale tea.
‘Come and have a cuddle,Pussy.’
You’ve got to have something to cuddle.Does Pussy want its breakfast,then? Give us a minute,Puss,let’s have a look out of the window.
Cold,bright,windy,spring weather,just like the day that we were born,when the Zeppelins were falling.Lovely blue sky,a birthday present in itself.I knew a boy,whit eyes that color ,years ago.Bare as a rose,not a hair on him;he was too young for body hair.And sky blue eyes.
You can see for miles,out of this window.You can see right across the river.There’s Westminster Abbey,see? Flying the St George’s cross,today.St Paul’s,the single breast.Big Ben,winking its golden eye.Not much else familiar,these days.This is about the time that comes in every century when they reach out for all that they can grab of dear old London,and pull it down.Then they build it up again,like London Bridge in the nursery thyme,goodbye,hello,but it’s never the say.Even the railway station,changed out of recognition,turned into souks.Waterloo.Victoria.Nowhere you can get a decet cup ot tea,all they give you is Harvey Wallbangers,filthy cappuccino.Stocking shops and knicker outlets everywhere you look.I said to Nora:’Remember Brief Encounter,how I cried buckets? Nowhere for them to meet on a station,nowadays,except in a bloody knicker shop.Their hands would have to shyly touch under cover of a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts’.
‘Come off it,you sentimental sod,’said Nora.’The only brief encounter you had during the war was a fling whit a Yank behind the public convenience on Liverpool Street Station‘.
‘I was only doing my bit for the war effort,’I replied sedately,but she wasn’t listening,she started to giggle.
”ere,Dor’,smashing name for a lingerie shop-Brief Encounter.’She doubled up.
Sometimes I think,if I look hard enough,I can see back into the past.There goes the wind,again.Crash.Over goes the dustbin,all the trash spills out…empty cat-food cans,cornflakes packets,laddered tights,tea leaves..I am at present working on my memories and researching family history-see the word processor,the filing cabinet,the card indexes,right hand,left hand,right side,left side,all the dirt on everybody.What a wind! Whooping and banging all along the street,the kind of wind that blows everything topsy-turvy.
Seventy-five,today,and a topsy-turvy day of wind and sunshine.The kind of wind that gets into the blood and drives you wild.Wild!
And I give a little shiver because suddenly I know,I know it in my ancient water,that something will happen today.Something exciting.Something nice,something nasty ,I don’t give a monkey’s.Just as long as something happens to remind us we’re still in the land of the living.
Taken from Wise Children,cap 1
Angela Carter

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