:: Article

The Bad News First

By Julie Reverb.

‘I have no strength and I will not fight to the death’, Josephine says while pressed against wretched edges. This room is too small for parties or alien abductees or strangers to linger too long in the morning, but she does her best. Her sons still care. Mum says there are some crosses you have to bear like a scarecrow, some days you just have to clamp your legs and close your eyes and fuck your way out.

This is no waiting room, no trauma unit, no place here for your piebald squatting and lipsticked obscenities. We know where to start with these steel cutting things. Josephine Scudder’s name lighting up the place in bloody, transient scrawl – the strings of her anatomy. Her cues to move and yours to leave. She is stealing chunks of chandelier from DIY store departments still in her slip and slippers going the long way round stalling at the lights and running faster in the rain. You’d find that gall rare these days.

‘Start from the outside or if in doubt cry iceberg’, she says while reading the news, tea leaves and my mother’s younger palm. In bile-ceilinged pubs they talked and hid their suitcases for last minute dashes or cartwheels down alleys. They would phone it in frequently. They would fall out and eat corned-beef for Christmas dinner, lonely together, ditched at the last minute by well-meaning liars who still lived with their mothers.

Her hammerhead fingers are round the downstairs tap that came off in my hands, the gush in my face. It is too cold to undress, to stand here pocked and dimpled. We say goodnight but between magnolia walls we Bacon-gape at each other in the dark. I am small-talking with the half dead; no one plans to end up with memory.

Josephine says it was her, softly pushing the glass, spelling disaster and ill-advised interventions. Those sunset years only amount to plates full of water and nobody knowing why. Rising damp, amorphous bilge, it’s all the same with you young people squinting barrenly umming at every sad story. Everyone’s got one and Old Jim is the worst, sitting apart from the birthday throng in his whisky stupor stewing over imagined sleights from the sixties. He’s on his way out and his nephews know this, holding him down during the buffet, tag teaming piss breaks, barricading against the poisoned ranks.

Old Jim is now up and at Josephine in the conga line, nephews slow off the mark and trailing the mad kink. ‘There were kisses on the back of those records!’ he says, Josephine swerving in the sad rodeo. ‘Jim, they were hymns! We were friends!’ she says through ill-fitting teeth and smothering. Old Jim will go on to never forgive, to threaten the street with gas and light. His heart-shaped nothing is long gone but we still stay at a safe distance, swallowing discretely. How many fingers am I holding up? They’ll be no pot to piss in when this house falls down and I’ll have stepped out for a smoke.

Josephine the Irish Ronette at the airport wishin’ for sweet Sam Cooke not cousin Billy on wheels. Those names on signs don’t exist and I am built from lack. Two weeks in hell and a minor crash, limping through traffic to fetch our lost parts. Six weeks on a boat having never crossed a main road. There is too much ache in our genes so sit this one out and wait til dad pegs it. She can’t hear those sad songs for long. Nuns pay for her flight home into a dead man’s arms. She didn’t go back.

That voice you hear is not yours but a stranger’s shimmying through bone: your deeply human baulking at nothing.

Julie Reverb is a London-based torch singer turned writer. Her work has appeared in Sleepingfish and Squawk Back.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, December 27th, 2012.