THE CHAMPAGNE COAT
This morning Sandra got a new coat. It was a duster coat in champagne coloured cashmere, A-line, cut on the cross, mid-calf length, with a collar which could be worn flat, as a poet collar, or up Elvis-style. It was August, so one might wonder why a coat at all, but this was San Francisco and what with the wind from the ocean and the wretched fog, for most of the day it was bloody cold. In fact at times it was as cold as a dank November morning back in Parson’s Green. Sandra missed London. Particularly she missed all her old friends: Charlie, the photographer, who always made a pass, despite the fact that he knew that she knew that he made a pass at every single model he photographed; Bubbly little Suzy Brooks too. She was such fun. Always larking about and having a laugh, until she married that toff and moved out to become a tweedy wife in Gloucestershire; And there was Terry, zooming up to her door in his Jensen Interceptor of an evening, and Alexis, wearing those stunning Mr Fish suits in rainbow colours and gorgeous paisley silk shirts and the Carnaby Street hat! Sandra wondered sometimes what had become of them all. It was funny how time changed everything. It wasn’t just being in America that made the difference. Sandra didn’t like the 2010s, just as she hadn’t liked the decade they all laughingly called The Noughties. Honestly, these young people today wouldn’t know naughtiness if it bit them in their fat wobbling arses. What was naughty nowadays? Eating an ice cream or a bar of chocolate or taking an afternoon nap? How long would they have lasted during The Swinging Sixties? Sandra smoothed down her lovely new coat and sat on a bench in Union Square…
Short lives and deaths
THE DEATH OF MATA HARI
A monologue by the nun who was present in Mata Hari’s cell on the night before her execution and who then accompanied her to the firing squad.
She was a slut, that much I knew. But surprisingly full of philosophy. ‘Everything is an illusion,’ the whore said to me. ‘Life, death…what does it matter? Nothing is real’ The prison was real enough—no illusion there. St Lazare is no Bastille, but, for a woman used to the pampering of the Ritz or the Meurice, it must have come as a shock to be confined to a dank bare cell, and to have to share it with vermin, human and otherwise. I had been brought to the woman’s cell as part of my usual duties visiting prisoners, especially those who were due to die. I had heard about her, of course. Even nuns read newspapers. “A sort of Messalina,” they called her, “dragging a horde of admirers behind her chariot.” So I knew from my reading that she was a harlot who had danced her way to fame and fortune and sold our country to the enemy. I also knew she had squandered what little talent she had on a string of men who paid her to… well, I can imagine what she did for them, but I have no need to put it down on paper. The warder, Pietri, a coarse and vulgar man, prodded me in the ribs and told me of the antics of this dreadful traitor when she was first brought to her cell. ‘Where is the telephone?’ inquired her ladyship. ‘Where the bathroom?’ ‘She thought it was the bloody Grand Hotel,’ he cackled. ‘The treacherous trollop.’ He gave me a quick nudge and winked. ‘We all…’ he said, then abruptly stopped. The dull glint in his bloodshot eye was eclipsed by something even more dissipated. I know that, as a bride of Christ, I am supposed to think only pure thoughts, but I have to confess that, sparked by his leer, an impious thought flickered through my mind: this fellow, like so many others, might not have been above making advances to the prisoner. ‘Is she so very alluring?’ I asked. Spittle gathered in the corner of his mouth. A tiny rivulet of saliva ran down a crease of his leathery skin and sparkled on his chin. ‘She revolts me,’ he said, then he wiped downwards from his nostrils with the back of his sleeve. She had clearly refused him…
AS SOMEONE MIGHT LIKE IT
SCENE: A CROSSROADS A buxom maid in full Elizabethan dress, riding by on a horse, stops a tall woman wearing doublet and hose to ask the way. The tall woman is a bit of a smart arse.
BUXOM MAID Pardon me, good sir, which is the way to Windsor?
TALL HEROINE Which way is right? You have right of way, but find you are left to right yourself or find yourself lost. And as your right is your due, due east is your right.
BUXOM MAID I beg your pardon?
TALL HEROINE While thus I stand your route is right, and London, lately left, is left. But if my axis I revolve, the sinister rite which I perform rights my left and leaves my right wrong. So, starboard, larboard, my back faces south, though my face is left north.
BUXOM MAID Goodness me! I only want to know which way to point my horse.
TALL HEROINE Mayn’t I mount your paltry palfry? Sure ’tis the droit de senior, senora….