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A Souvenir of Brighton Pavilion

Mary Francis

On a warm afternoon when I was eight my mother’s friend, the one with the blue van, fixed our washing machine while I sat at the kitchen table and ate a scoop of icecream. A scoop of icecream was a guaranteed way to keep me still and quiet. My mother used it from time to time when she had to pop out or when one of her friends visited.


“With ice cream, you have to eat it slowly.”


I always chose the littlest teaspoon (A Souvenir of Brighton Pavilion). With it I carved off the smallest curls of ice cream, first clearing up the melting edges that disappeared on my tongue like candyfloss. After that came the firm shavings that stood up on the edge of my spoon and melted slowly in my mouth, chilling me deliciously.


“My favourite flavours are,” I announced, bumping my heels against the chair legs, “chocolate orange, chocolate peppermint, chocolate strawberry and chocolate. They’re all first equal.”


The man behind our washing machine said something like, “oh yes?” Or, “I see.” I wasn’t listening to him. My mother’s friends who came to our house were boring, quiet grown-up men with tired faces. There was the one who was a doctor, I think, because he had a doctor’s bag. And there was this one, who had a sad smile and blue eyes and a balding spot on the very top of the back of his head. I had seen it when he first bent down to look at the washing machine. I had been watching him while my mother got my scoop of ice cream.


“I’ll be ten minutes, Lucy,” she’d said, and kissed me on the top of my head where my balding spot would be, if I had one. She had the red electric bill in one hand and her purse in the other. “Don’t bother Tony.”


They all had names like that. Tony. Geoff. Bill. Tony was old, although everyone seemed old to me, apart from my friends at school. He was older than my mother, anyway. Older than my teachers. Older than my friend Sharmi’s dad. Not as old as Mr Fletcher next door, who was grumpy and said rude things to us when we crossed paths. My mother said we should be kind to Mr Fletcher because he was a lonely old bastard who didn’t know any better, and then when I repeated that to him the next day she bundled me into the house and laughed and laughed until her mascara ran.


“I think that’s all done,” said Tony. He crawled out from behind the washing machine and heaved himself up, brushing the dust off his knees and tucking his shirt back in were it had got pulled out. He shoved the machine back into place and switched it on at the wall. It beeped. “There.”


He stood and looked at it for a while, then looked at me and at the clock on the wall. He got himself a scoop of ice cream and sat down with me at the kitchen table.


“Your spoon’s too big,” I said. “It has to be little so you can do little scrapings and it lasts longer.”


He found a better spoon in the drawer and I giggled because his big hand made the teaspoon (A Present from Margate) look even smaller than it really was.


I’d never eaten ice cream with a man before. My mother’s friends didn’t stay for tea. I usually didn’t see them at all except sometimes when they arrived and took their coat off at the door. I might peep out at them from the kitchen if I was having a snack but usually I was in the living room reading or drawing or watching telly, with the door shut. So I didn’t see them, just heard their deep voices and then their heavy footsteps on the stairs.


My mother came home as we were finishing our ice cream. She put away the candles she’d got out earlier in case there wasn’t enough to pay the electric and made cups of tea for her and Tony. Soon after that, he left.


“It’s all fixed now,” I said, as she examined the washing machine.


“Yes,” she said. “Was it all right? With Tony?”


“He eats his ice cream too fast,” I said. “Even with a little spoon he takes big bites.”


And then she picked me up, even though I was too big really to get picked up, and cuddled me tight. She smelled of perfume and something else, maybe cigarettes. I snuggled into her, feeling the hard edges of her jewellery caught between the soft sides of our hug. “I wouldn’t leave you with one of them if I didn’t have to,” she whispered. “And I know he’s all right. You remember that. I don’t have them round here if they’re not all right.”


We had pasta for tea and watched telly together on the couch until it was my bedtime. When she tucked me in, my mother was wearing more perfume and a new dress that looked silly with her worn-out bedroom slippers. She kissed me on the forehead and said goodnight, sleep tight. Some nights she would get into bed with me and we would fall asleep together, but that night she was going out, to meet some friends I supposed, the ones she wouldn’t let round our house.


I lay in bed and heard her go downstairs, tidy the kitchen, then put her shoes on and open the front door. And then there was a little silence and I imagined that she was standing on the front step looking up the stairs to the hallway where the light was still on, and at my bedroom door that was ajar, with me beyond it. And then I heard the door shut quietly and lock, and her high heeled shoes tap-tapping away down the street.

Mary lives in Wellington, capital city of Aotearoa New Zealand. She writes flash fiction and short stories, and performs spontaneous theatre and stand-up. Her stories have been published by Reflex Fiction, Queer Sci Fi, Bath Flash Fiction, Grindstone and Best Small Fictions.

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