By Sara Roberts
“Out back late”. The note was pinned to the fridge with the plastic magnet they got in Vegas, with glitter sparkles trapped inside. Amanda sighed and heaved the bags of shopping off the floor onto the Formica table with its mysterious patterns of coffee stains like corn circles. Might as well do the laundry then.
Zora appeared and started winding figure of eights around her feet. Amanda picked her up and cuddled her. Why do cats always seem to be smiling? Do they know something we don’t?
“No loyalty, cats,” Amanda could hear Karl saying. “Cold and calculating. Not like a dog.” He hadn’t wanted her to take Zora in when they had found her under the geraniums only a few weeks old and starving. She was blind from a pus-encrusted eye infection and being eaten by the ants. “We don’t need a pet. It’s an extra expense.”
“What, like your drinking, you mean?”
Amanda had kept the kitten, gory-faced and mewling, but Karl had not forgiven her.
She put Zora down and packed away the shopping, each thing in its place, tins facing the same way all along the back of the cupboard. A row of labels repeating themselves, insistent soldiers. Amanda grabbed the empty suitcase with the broken handle and carried it to the bathroom. Black hairs and cracks in the enamel were indistinguishable without her glasses, but after they had been broken she had decided she preferred to see things through a gentle haze. She perched on the edge of the bath and heaped their dirty clothes into the suitcase.
Outside, the telegraph pole supporting a fan of swooping telephone lines looked like a big top. At the end of the road, the sign for Seven Sisters station glowed dimly in the dark like a premonition. As Amanda pulled it behind her, the squealing wheel on the suitcase protested loud and rhythmically. She cringed and muttered “Sorry!” to the blank-faced houses she walked past. They squeaked down the litter-strewn terraced street, past syringes and empty crisp packets, Caribbean hairdressers, Western Union, Somalian Internet cafe and a sad bricked-up house with snowy-seeded dandelions. Then the Turkish kebab place with “Shukran” in yellow lights and a cylinder of meat rising from the counter like an altar. The Indian corner shops – though they were not on a corner – the Assembly of God Fire and Glory Ministry and the New Life Evangelical Centre. Tiny churches set up inside people’s front rooms. The last one was best – it had a sign with the paint peeling off: Power of Anointing Ministry Miracle Healing Thunder with Dr. Bishop ben Akosa. Next door was a photocopy shop with the Union Jack in the window and a poster for the BNP. Finally, Amanda’s favourite, the multi-coloured grocer’s with its mangos, papayas, avocados, coconuts, sweet potatoes, yams, ginger, oranges and limes immodestly laid on display outside.
She dragged the suitcase over the step into the launderette. The bald Ghanaian in the mustard shirt behind the counter nodded without a smile and handed over two red plastic counters in exchange for her coins. Why does that man never smile, in all the years I’ve been here? Amanda sat and watched the washing machine spinning round hysterically. A supersonic centrifuge. A spaceship ready to take off. Clothes tirelessly jumping up only to fall back down again in the dryer.
She opened the suitcase to put the clothes in, still warm from the dryer and folded. Next to her foot a rogue sock had made a bid for freedom and lay on the floor divorced from its pair. Amanda felt the sting of an electric shock as she bent down to pick it up and drew her hand back as if she’d been bitten. She pushed at it gingerly with her toe. Sitting beneath it was the strangest thing she had ever seen.
It was an imperfect dome, somewhere between an avocado and a mango, made out of plastic but heavy as a yam. Like one of those old-fashioned children’s paperweights with glitter inside. Each of its surfaces had a hundred facets throwing off a unique luminosity and colour, but the light, rather than being reflected from the outside, seemed to emanate from within. Amanda held it up to the sickly neon lighting of the launderette. On the other side, the bald man was transformed. He looked joyful and radiant, about to break into song. Amanda stared, transfixed at his sudden beauty. He eyed her suspiciously and looked over his shoulder. She felt a tap on the arm and realised that somebody was speaking to her.
Her eyes widened. “Of course!” She stared at the object in her hand.
The young man gave her a funny look.
“Have – you – finished – with – that – dryer – yet – love?”
“Oh! Yes. Yes! Thank you!!” She beamed. He stared and took a step back. She waved goodbye to the bald man and rushed off down the street.
For weeks, Amanda carried the prism around in her pocket like a secret pet mouse, patting it and smiling to herself. She talked to it in her head and sometimes out loud when she was at home or in the park. She looked at Zora through it, who turned into a slim dark-haired woman in a cocktail dress.
“Wow, you look good!”
“Thank you, purr.”
As for her plants, Amanda discovered that they all had names and liked nothing better than to sing in harmony and sway to the music. She felt uplifted, as if she were in one of those happy dreams where she could fly over the houses. It was like being in love again but better, because this time everything made her smile, not just one person, and everything she smiled at smiled back at her. Except the day she looked in the mirror. That was strange. She held the prism up in front of her and saw her reflection slowly change, not like with the plants or Zora. First it went all fuzzy, then the image came into focus and she saw herself glowing, happy, laughing, her hair shiny and her eyes bright as a teenager. Then it started to break up.
“No! No! Don’t go!”
Amanda reached out towards the mirror but the image was swarming with black and white dots. The girl became just an outline, like the shapes moving behind the static on a TV screen, then disappeared. Amanda shook the prism and held it up to her eyes but all she could see was a paperweight snowstorm, a thick fog of glitter. That night she had a dream that she grew like a balloon but her skin didn’t grow with her. It got so tight that she could hardly breathe, but when she thought she was about to choke, it cracked open and she felt a huge relief. Her skin fell away from her in long strips like bark and when she stepped out of it and looked in the mirror there was a different person staring back.
The next day, Karl was drunk again.
“Oh, do what you want,” she said, arguing about the rent. “I don’t care. I’ve found love.”
Karl’s body stiffened. “You what…?” He narrowed his eyes. “Oh, I see,” he said, slurring slightly and nodding.
“No, no,” Amanda managed before he made a grab at her. He hit the wall and knocked Samantha the geranium off the windowsill. There was a moment’s silence before Amanda heard her smash onto the path below.
Karl lurched. She dodged him and began bouncing around on the balls of her feet. A measured dance, well rehearsed. Keeping the kitchen table between them at all times.
“Who is it then? Go on! Who is it? It’s that guy from the shop you’re always smiling at, isn’t it? I knew it. You little slapper.”
“No, no! It’s not like –”
“Oh no, ’course it’s not! So what is it like, then?”
He stopped. Their dance halted, mid-step. She cleared her throat.
“Well, it’s… like a diamond… but made of plastic. Sort of like a prism.”
“No, a prism. It shines, reflects the light. From the inside.”
He frowned, swaying slightly.
“I found it on the floor of the launderette.”
He stared. “You found it on the floor of the launderette.”
There was silence while he blinked. “Are you taking the piss?”
Amanda shook her head.
“You found love on the floor of the launderette and it’s a diamond made of plastic.” He frowned. “Are you on something?”
She shook her head again and put her hand in her pocket to stroke her friend.
“Then you are off your rocker!” He started to laugh. “You could at least have found a real one! I mean, what use is a plastic diamond?”
His body was heaving and gurgling with laughter that left him gasping for breath. You could hear fifteen years of Marlboro Reds rattling around his lungs. The laughter turned into coughing and he hit himself in the chest, bending over and holding onto the table for support. He was going red in the face and spurting saliva out of the sides of his mouth. He hocked up a good wodge and spat it into the sink.
“God, you nearly killed me there,” he said, straightening up and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “Found love, indeed!”
Amanda wanted to be sick. She wished with every fibre of her body, with a violence she did not recognise, that she could vomit all over him. She wanted to spit in his tea and smash all his bottles and throw his fags and beer down the toilet. She felt the blood rising to her head and realised with a strange sense of detachment that she hated him.
“Go on then, let’s see,” he said with a crinkle of amusement in his eyes. “Let’s see it, this thing you’ve found.”
“NO!” she shouted, clenching all her rage into her closed fists.
The smile fled from his lips and the humour from his eyes. He looked down at the floor. The top of his head was shiny and round like an egg. He seemed to be getting taller, expanding to fill the room. Soon he would touch the ceiling. Then what? Amanda giggled. Will he keep on growing, like Jack and the beanstalk, and crash through the floor of the flat upstairs? A giant head between the telly and the old couple sitting on the sofa in their slippers.
She could hear the blood pumping through the vein that ran down the middle of his forehead. For a moment they were both held immobile, as if someone had pressed the pause button and everything was suspended in thick, viscous, underwater silence. Then it was like a dam breaking and all the held-back waters falling in great tumbling arcs of sound. He lunged at her with all his weight and this time she went to meet him. It was a spectacular leap in a ballet; slow-motion, choreographed, symphonic.
They were on the floor, rolling and kicking and shouting and swearing and tearing and pulling and pushing and grabbing. He pulled the prism out of her pocket and she grabbed it back again. They struggled like this until, under the combined pressure of their clammy fists, it flew out of their grasp. The pair stopped and watched open-mouthed as it traced a perfect arc through the air. It sent an exquisite rainbow of colour up onto the ceiling before it hit the floor with a dull crack. For a moment, the quality of the light changed and Amanda felt infused with a new strength, like a character acquiring a superpower in a video game. She stood up and looked around her. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
Find it at: http://hackneywriters.org/2013/11/21/found/