Wednesday, 13 July 2016

When Caroline Changed Her Name

Dawn lies in the bed where they spent their last night
No stranger to regrets, this one is a keeper, concerning
The morning when she packed his bag and sent him on his way
Just go, she said, without a smile, and now he’s gone

Trawling paid, then, if you were careful what you spent
Give him this, he never was one that she had to rob
Of his wages at the quayside as some wives did
When the boat disappeared in a swell, he left her in credit, just

And then, nothing changes. She was alone anyway
She looks after everything the way she always did
Money still comes in, for a while. But they’ll stop it
And when they do, she’s not a hope to fight them on her own

A drink with the girls proves too much. Alone on the sea front
Mirror ball flashes on the pier, like a lighthouse beam
Brief anonymity, lemonade and barley wine
Lead to unexpected smiles, a dance and then a pull

She sends Caroline, nine, off to school with a kiss
Pleats ironed, blazer frayed, face scrubbed of tears
In half-light, told not to tell, she didn’t see at first
A familiar shape in bed. A gasp of joy, then stamping rage

Thirty-one is too young to be wearing widow’s weeds
And too old to be choosy - isn’t that what they’d be saying?
Instead of glancing at her, furtively, and clicking tongues
And walking on, hands clasping the handles of shopping baskets

Half an hour of make-up, nails red, feet squeezed into
Unyielding patent leather. A skirt - not too long, eh
Men, polite or leering, greeted with the same smile
Marooned on the front desk, she is the face of the company

The girls in the canteen don’t ask, if she doesn’t want to tell
Listening to them while they smoke is better than the radio
Caroline is a worry - quiet, still reading picture books
She sees out seven months, then hands in her notice apologetically

The money made sees them through the hottest ever summer
She hides at the beach or on a coach, not at home
From the news. When the boat is declared lost
She wishes Caroline would cry, or let on that she understands

The new man, to whom Caroline now speaks sometimes
Proves a stayer. He has a mother and a sister too
Both so respectable that they don’t have to show it
Sharing a semi and a car, grandmother and aunt in waiting

The wedding is on Christmas Eve, Registry Office only
Drinks with the mother and the sister, no other family
In attendance. Late husband’s relations informed
One reply: Whatever they say, I wish you well. No clue as from whom

With inevitable pregnancy, another issue: Caroline and he or she
Cannot have different names. A long evening explaining
Registry Office once again. With folded arms, Caroline
Won’t sign. No need. The school receives the new name anyway