(More from the MA Collection - a light hearted tale with no point at all to it and the only sex scene I've ever written :))
The Flower Girl
The Flower Girl
It’s thirsty work, selling flowers on your feet all day, strolling around with a heavy basket on your arm. The punters think it’s lovely, quaint even, to have flower girls again, singing, ‘Who will buy my sweet red roses?’ but the men these days take a good look at your bosom while they um and ah, before buggering off with a dejected looking female in tow.
'But they are lovely,’ she’ll say, batting her eyelids.
‘Yeah, but you’ll have to carry them round with you all night.’ Or ‘What about my allergies?’
I kept up my theatrical strut, weaving in and out of the emptying alleyways, trying to catch the tail end of an audience but it was no use. The punters were a mixture of Opera and Theatre goers, Stag parties, and backpackers looking for the West End. It was either ‘I don’t carry cash, sorry,’ or ‘fancy a shag?’. By the time the fat lady had kicked off over the way, the Garden was like a half drunk glass of coke left out in the sun too long – all flat and with strange bits of rubbish you can’t quite identify, floating in it. I needed a pint. Even Edgar the One Man Band was packing up, cymbals crashing between his knees. His bottler had gone home. He was still counting up after I’d got changed. £9.32.
‘Not bad,’ he said, ‘not bad for that lot.’
What can you say? I hadn’t done much better myself.
On a good day, the Market Tavern is packed to the britches with the usual range of Covent Garden folk, from jugglers and magicians to comedians and market traders. The tourists who stumble on their way to Drury Lane, or want a rest from the trad jazz opposite, must wonder where the fuck they are, stood cheek to cheek with people in garish spandex, top-hats and tails, or wearing a cut-up vest riddled with the sweat and soot of a day juggling fire on the outdoor pitch. I suppose even I must look a bit weird, in my full-length Victorian affair, complete with whale-bone corset, which is a killer in the summer, I can tell you. Most days I can’t wait to get back into my jeans. It definitely improves sales though, and it stops people thinking I’m one of the Gypsies who chase you with heather up by the tube, even if you’ve clearly got enough flowers of your own, thank you very much.
This particular night however, the Tavern might as well have been empty. A range of suits populated the tables. I sat on a stool at the end of the bar and cupped the day’s earnings in a desperate hand. I could see it all before me. The newspaper headlines the next day. My parents devastated.
Read all about it… Flower Girl found starved to death in front of Actor’s Church
Emily Clark, 19, was found dead this morning by a Covent Garden local who goes by the name of Joe. Joe, age unknown, wore a Bell’s whiskey cap on his nose. “To keep out the cold,” he said. Emily’s mother and father are coming to London to make a formal identification of the body this evening. “It’s such a tragic loss,” they said. “Now we’ll never have grandchildren.” Her father added, “And we thought she was doing so well.”
I’d no sooner finished my pint when another one appeared on the bar. ‘No thanks, Bern,’ I said, ‘I cannae afford it laddie. Brassick so I am.’ He made some rude comment about never getting his accent right and pointed to the other end of the bar.
‘Never seen him before in my life,’ I said. ‘Who is he?’
Bernie shrugged his shoulders. ‘Fucked if I know, but the pint’s bought and paid for.’
Okay. So I should have just refused, then and there, but that’s easy for you to say, in hind sight. Besides, I got a good look at him before I waved him over. Long hair. Always was a sucker for long hair.
‘Well, hello you,’ he drawled, and I think I must have cringed because he took a step back.
It was a nice suit, it has to be said. Suit plus hair. Interesting combination. Clean finger nails too. And shiny shoes? My heart sank. He had to be gay.
‘Er, thanks for the pint.’ I smiled.
‘I’ve been watching you,’ he says. Hmm. Interesting diction. Very Sloane Square.
Oh shit, I thought, he’s from the dole office.
‘I think you are amazing.’ Voice more natural now. Little spark in eye. ‘I suppose you have a boyfriend, eh?’
‘Not really,’ I said, ‘Hedging my bets. Could still be from the dole office.
‘Nice outfit.’ He addresses my tits. They aren’t impressed.
‘Who are you?’ I ask, and I’m thinking, I only made a tenner, and you’re allowed that.
‘My name,’ he paused dramatically, ‘is Felix. My request is to take you home and make mad passionate love to you.’ He leaned in so close I could smell the lager on his breath. What a rude, obnoxious prick, I thought.
And then I had a bit of a chat with myself.
‘What shall we do?’
‘What if he slaps back?’
‘You know I hate the way men do this all the time. Remember that tea-towel wearing prick in the Hippodrome last week. ‘I want to fuck you,’ he said. Just like that.’
‘He is gorgeous though.’
‘Fifty quid says he runs away like a frightened child.’
I downed my pint in one. He looked taken aback.
‘You know the thing about you men is?’ I spat. ‘You think you can say anything you want to a woman. Well you bloody well can’t. What do you think I am? Some whore?’ Buy me a pint and then that’s it?’
‘Look,’ he stuttered. He raised his hands, all blue eyes and crowning glory, like… like… I don’t know. That’s not important now. He was a Greek God. Besides, I had a bet on it.
‘Felix,’ I said, in my best Devon accent. ‘Drink up lad. Tonight be your lucky night.’
I don’t know what he was thinking when we left the pub. Come to think of it, I don’t know what I was thinking either. I slipped my arm through the crook of his and leaned into his shoulder as we walked across Russel Street and into the gardens. For a brief, wonderful moment, I thought this could be it. He could be the one. Imagine in years to come. We’d be sitting by an open fire, logs crackling, drinking Port… Great Dane taking up most of the floor. The grandchildren would come running in to say goodnight. (They’re staying for the weekend because youngest daughter is away skiing in Austria, having just completed her PhD in Geophysics.)
‘Grannie,’ they will say. (I refuse to be nanna.) ‘Grannie? How did you and Grandpa meet?’
‘Well, dearest children,’ I’ll say. ‘It was like this….’
‘Where are we going?’ asks Felix, and I realise we’re at the tube already.
‘Manor House. Follow me.’
I should really have stopped there, of course. Made an excuse, lied, run. But no. I’m a committed sort of girl. If I decide to do something I tend to go all out. So we got on the tube, and we sat in silence, as you do, and I saw that all of his charm had dissipated. He was like a deflated balloon at the end of a party, all shrivelled into himself. I tried to make small talk but he wasn’t having any of it.
This is the London Underground. The following rules apply:
1. Do not make eye contact with anyone else in the carriage unless you are travelling with said person.
2. Restrict eye-contact with known persons to an absolute minimum.
3. Avoid all forms of communication above and beyond said minimal eye contact with said persons.
4. Do not speak.
5. Do not smile.
6. You may read quietly but under no circumstances may you laugh out loud.
The bus was a bit better. He had his cheeky grin back.
‘So what do you do?’ I quizzed.
‘I’m an actor,’ he said, over accentuating the ‘or’ before laughing. ‘I’m playing in the West End, at the moment. He grinned. Ernest, in The Importance of Being Earnest.’
I nodded. ‘Yes, I know the play,’ I said. ‘I can’t see Ernest with long hair though. I thought it was set —’
‘It’s a wonderful role,’ he cuts in. Very rare for someone of my age to get it, you know. Tonight’s my one night off.’ He gave me a knowing look. ‘Understudy.’
‘Of course.’ At that point I wanted to say, ‘just stop it with the bullshit,’ but he just went on and on about his role in the play, and how long it had taken him to study for it. Learning lines was hell apparently, and the costume fittings were a nightmare. Seeing as the best role I’d landed so far was as a mobile musical florist, I was glad when we reached our stop and he finally shut up.
‘How far is it?’ he asked. He was fiddling with his hair a lot, I noticed.
‘Just down here,’ I said. I must admit I was feeling quite smug now. Here we were and I could’ve been anyone.
‘Come out with your hands up. We have the place surrounded.’
‘I’ll kill him,’ I’d say, grinning at his mutilated body behind the door. I mean, why not? Men do it to women all the time, don’t they? Pick them up and then do horrid things to them. I imagined all the blood. Maybe not. Can’t see the appeal myself, but then it occurred to me that he could be the mad axe murderer. Especially with that affected accent of his. I thought, I bet he isn’t even an actor, just some rich boy with a fantasy fixation.
‘You haven’t asked me my name yet.’
‘Haven’t I? Oh dear. Sorry about that. Did I tell you about last week’s performance? When the bald man jumped onto the stage half way through Act II?’
Sometimes you just have to go for it, at least that’s what my mother always said. ‘Don’t waste opportunities,’ she’d say on the phone, and then proceed to tell me all about her own wasted opportunities. I’m not sure this was the kind of opportunity she meant but what the hell. Felix and I arrived at the front door.
‘Big house,’ he exclaimed.
‘Bedsit,’ I explained.
‘Small but clean,’ I said. ‘I suppose you live in a bloody big flat. Either that or a lowly garret somewhere.’
He fell silent. ‘Just an ordinary flat, I’m afraid.’
As soon as I got through the door I felt sick. I looked at Felix and he looked at me and to be honest, neither of us knew what to do. I apologised for the state of the place and started chucking stuff in the wardrobe, kicking shoes under the bed. There’s not enough room to juggle a club, but I’m quite inventive when it comes to arranging the furniture. I hadn’t, however, managed to do anything with the single bulb that hangs mercilessly off a dusty cord in the middle of ceiling. The light it cast had a grim, pallid effect, that made Felix look as though he was on his last legs. I dreaded to think what it was doing to me, so I dug some candles out and stuck them on the table at the head end of the bed. Satisfied that it was all cosy, I made a brew and rolled a joint. We sat on the bed, mainly because I didn’t have any chairs.
‘I don’t usually do this,’ he said awkwardly.
‘What? Smoke pot or pick up strange women with the chat up line from hell?’
‘Both.’ He grinned.
‘Neither do I,’ I said. ‘In fact, I’ve never done this before in my life. I don’t know what came over me.’
He shot me a quizzical look. ‘So what do you want to do?’ he said, leaning over, stroking my arm.
‘I’ll just go and freshen up,’ I said.
My bedsit is tiny but it has the advantage of two things: The first is the door to the garden, which only one other person shares, the nutty Irish woman next door who sees ghosts all over the place. The second is the en-suite bathroom. So I sat on the loo and put my head on the sink, thinking I’d really let things go too far, and was just about to go out and feign either a migraine or insanity when I heard the most beautiful arpeggios. It threw me, I can tell you.
I could see a camp fire in some Italian mountain village. Around it were the local villagers and then, in the centre of it all, was a blond god, guitar across his lap. He took it up and began to strum, then finger pick, something I could never get the bloody hang of. I looked across at this musical maestro and then gave him a coy smile, head half turned. I imagined him singing just for me, the crowd disappearing, a shooting star flashed across the sky…
‘I didn’t know you could play,’ I said, as though this was something odd, to not know something about this complete and utter stranger who was now sitting cross legged, strumming away on the end of my bed. I have to say, it was a dirty trick but it worked.
‘Oh, just a bit,’ he said. False bloody modesty. ‘And you?’
‘Just a bit,’ I say, except I’m being more than honest. ‘I trained as a vocalist. That’s just for fun.’
He went to put the guitar down but I asked him to play another piece. I liked looking at him, sat there on the end of my bed, playing my guitar, bathed in candle-light. I imagined he would put the guitar down, lean across and tell me how beautiful I was before kissing me so passionately and tenderly that I would have no choice but to surrender myself to him forever.
Well, it sort of happened like that. A bit. He did the leaning in thing, and he stroked the hair from my face, which was quite nice, and then he, well, you know, various un-wrappings took place.
After about ten minutes I realised I’d made a huge mistake. He was behind me one minute, then above me, then under me. Christ, it was like an acrobatic stunt show. I made a few grunts of disapproval each time his elbow met with my head, but it seemed to encourage him even more and finally, I had to say something.
‘Felix,’ I whispered, ‘Could you just… do you think… I er…’ Okay, so I’m not that great at verbalising in intimate situations.
‘What do you want me to do, baby?’ he asked. ‘Just tell me.’
That was it. Cardinal sin numero uno. Do not ask me what I want. A man should know what I want. This was not going to work. I saw the future evaporate before me. The wedding on the hillside, the Laura Ashley dress, the tiny bridesmaids, the confetti… everything just swirled away down this ginormous plug hole. I thought, this one night stand thing really isn’t doing it for me, but we’re here now so best get on with it, eh. I bit his shoulder, trying not to draw blood as he manoeuvred himself on top again and thankfully, stayed put.
So there we were, connected at last. He was up there, going for it. His hair surrounded his face, his eyes squeezed shut while little beads of sweat dripped into mine. His pelvis cracked against mine and still he went on, in out, in out, up down, up down, and I was just thinking to myself, my god hurry up and go home so I can put this behind me once and for all when suddenly I experienced a great flash of enlightenment. At least that’s what I first thought.
I looked up at the Greek God and he had a halo around him. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, this tanned creature, dripping with sweat, standing up on his knees, head aloft, with flames coming out of it. Strong weed, I thought, but then I caught a whiff of the stench of burning hair and I realised what had happened. Felix was batting at his eyebrows, smacking his head in a desperate bid to stop the fire spreading. I even joined in but it was no use. I had no idea hair burned so well. It was amazing. No really. It was. I imagined using it as an experiment in a chemistry class.
Eventually he fizzled out, my Greek God. Singed eyebrows and mere embers where wisps of chest hair had once lived. The condom clung to his droop in vain. He was a climber who just lost the summit.
‘What am I going to do?’ he wailed.
‘It’ll be fine,’ I said, inspecting his face. ‘No damage and the hair’ll grow back.’
‘How am I going to explain this to Gail?’ He was inconsolable now. A shaking hand reached for the discarded roach in the ashtray.
Until then I had been feeling quite guilty. After all, was it not I who had been wishing something, anything would happen to get rid of him? Now, I couldn’t help but feel a bit pissed off at this juncture in the proceedings. It was my home that stank, my bed that was full of singed body matter.
He let out a huge, most unmanly sob. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’
‘I said you’re fine. No real damage. You should count yourself lucky. The whole place could’ve gone up.’ I tried a bit of friendly cajoling. ‘Hey,’ I said nudging him, ‘You should’ve seen your face. Wish I’d had a camera!’
‘Gail…’ he mumbled, ‘My fiancée… She’ll kill me. You’ve got to help me.’
I digested this information as you do a half ripened plantain. He was amazing, for all the wrong reasons. So scared and pathetic now, you had to hand it to him.
‘Just put some bloody clothes on,’ I said. ‘I’m sure you’ll come up with something.’
‘I really am very sorry,’ he said at last, picking up his jacket. He was half way through the door when he popped his head back in. ‘Er… You couldn’t walk me to the bus stop could you, only I’m a bit unsure of the area?’