Photo by Bert Hardy
She has a reputation and the young men know her and the older men, too. Behind the tool shed at work she is known as slack and loose and dirty and there’s jokes they make at her expense and they are not funny or nice what they say. She works at The Pony and Trap, a pub out on the Camberley Road, and she pulls a clean pint, and her name is Alice.
She was married once. Her husband was a hard man and cruel and he did not think twice about raising his hand to her. I remember those days, and how Alice hid the purple bruises under too much make up and was always falling over this or that carpet, if you believed what she said. Once she’d a broken arm and he could have been charged for that, but she said she’d tripped over her own front step. Then he suddenly upped and left and she did not look for him coming back and she did not miss him, except that she had a kid on the way and bills were soon piling up behind the door.
After the kid was born, Alice took on extra shifts at the pub and cleaned house twice a week for a rich lady on the edge of town and worked the till at the local shop when she was free. Her mother looked after the kid most of the time and that was a blessing.
Then one day the man in the rich house where she worked, well he took advantage and afterwards he was sorry and he begged her through tears not to tell and he gave her more money than she’d make in a month to keep her sweet and to keep her quiet, and that became something regular till his wife found out. I guess that was the start of how it is now.
‘Men is such bastards and such fools,’ she says. ‘In equal measure.’ And she is not bitter when she says that.
Now she turns tricks in her breaks. Alice at the back of The Pony and Trap, Thursday through Saturday, out beside the bins where it is dark and quiet and men smoke one cigarette after the other and piss into shadows. And Alice will do a man for thirty quid – more if he messes up her clothes or her hair – or she’ll give a guy head and hand for fifteen.
She says, if you ask her, that she makes enough to see her through the week and a little over for Chelsea to look nice and dress nice and a little put by for a rainy day.
I felt sorry for her once, and I called round with an apple pie I’d made, still warm from the oven and I thought it’d be just a little gift.
‘I don’t accept charity,’ she said. ‘I’ve got my pride after all.’
She gave me a pot of her home-made raspberry jam in exchange for the pie and we sat together at her kitchen table for the rest of the afternoon and we talked recipes and the weather and underwear and what we’d watched on the tele the night before and what books we’d read. She was just normal and not dirty or slack or loose – not when you got close to her, and I liked her and so we became friends and that’s how it is.
Ahh, Lindsay. So good. Thanks again. And I want to apologize for not responding to other prompts, but I am away from my regular service and have to borrow internet just to get my posts up. Know, though, that I read your responses as soon as I can, and I just love them!
Patty, I really don’t expect you to have to comment. That you read these things and that you do so often comment is amazing. You put the pictures together with words that make the writing so easy… and I write because what you do inspires me. After that, the pieces have a life of their own and they don’t have to be commented on. But thanks that you so often do.
Enjoy your time away.
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The Temple of Air
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