Look at Her

Look at her, sitting there at her desk in the glow of the screen not noticing the daylight fading. She loves that desk. It will soon be one year old. One year to her. It is much older than that. The day she bought it was a good day: car passed its MOT, she drove home buzzing with the feeling of minor triumph one gets when an old car is given the nod for another year, saw it sitting outside the Sally Army thrift shop on Portobello Road, and pulled in for a closer look. A fiver on the ticket. A fiver! She turned it upside down, pulled the drawer out, checked it through. Solid, old, and no woodworm. On that same day she got the call to tell her the big grant had come through. Do good things come in sets of three? That day they did. She loves that desk.

Back to now, back to her sitting here tapping at the keyboard, an occasional pause to tune into some sound from the street below. Bad posture, she has been slouching for hours, her neck bent forward. She corrects herself, sits up straighter now, shoulders back, makes a circle with her head like she’s in Pilates class. I can hear the taut muscles crunching – so can she, judging from the frown on her face. What’s that under her foot? Some sort of spikey ball. She presses one sole into it, then the other, passes it from foot to foot. She is leaning back and stretching. Now she has risen to stare out the window as though she has all the time in the world. Perhaps she does. Lost her focus altogether, wandering about the room, scrutinising old photographs. What’s that one she has lifted? It’s her, dressed in a huge sombrero, demin shirt with silver preacher collar tips. There’s a child in a flamenco dress and two women with fake handlebar moustaches stuck below their noses. She smiles at it, whispers something about tequila. Another is in her hand: a younger her standing beside an old man by a Christmas Tree. Huge smiles. People look better when they smile. Always.

Tap, tap, tap. Someone is knocking. She walks into the hallway, then shakes her head and turns back. The sound is coming from the window of the room she was in. Even though she is two floors up, something is rapping the window. It’s the herring gull. She scowls at it and shoos it away. I told you already, she says. It ignores her. She puts her finger to the glass and it pecks from other side. It leaves a wet mark like a snail trail. It bays at her. She calls it donkey because of how it bays. Why don’t you squawk like a normal seagull? She can see down his gullet. He comes to the window some evenings and knocks this assertive knock with the full force of his beak. Tricks her every time. The first time it happened, she half expected to see Superman floating out there. But no, it was Jonathan. That’s what she has taken to calling him. The lady across the road pulls her up sash window and lays out Jonathan’s supper on the sill. Some people.

Jonathan takes off and she returns to her desk, sits in her chair, then swivels to face the bookshelf behind her. A scan of the books. One spine catches her attention. She slides it out with her index finger. What book is it? Let me look over her shoulder and see. Can’t tell. Her finger has moved on, seems she can’t decide herself. I know that look. Distraction. She’s looking at her phone. Sends a text. Receives one in return. Plans to meet? She stands, raises her arms above her head, pushes herself up onto her tiptoes and both ankles crack like starter guns. She closes her laptop, blows out a candle that is burning on the mantlepiece, changes her sheepskin slippers for brown suede boots, pulls on the practical warm black coat, checks her face in the mirror by the door (lipstick under a facemask, don’t bother), and heads out before darkness falls.

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