The dog barks. Not very loud, because she’s old and lazy. Sally the yellow lab. 12 puppies on, she’s flabby and cuddly and warm. I’m lying on the living room floor, head between her paws with my paws on the radiator. “You’ll get chilblains” you say. I pull my feet back, then surreptitiously slide my toes up between the plates of metal and snuggle closer to Sally. I love the way her chest fur smells. Beer and toffee.
But Sally barks and I sit up. Grace looks up from her book. You turn down the volume on Doctor Who and look out of the window. No one. You go to the porch and through the frosted glass there’s something there, lying under the letterbox. Not a letter, not quite a parcel. I say “It’s a bomb” (this is in 1973 and bomb scares are always on the news. Last week we got evacuated from Finefare.) Grace laughs and says why would anyone bomb us? We are, she adds, superhuman anyway and bombs can’t get us.
You take the newspapered parcel through to the kitchen and unwrap it. Warm vinegary steam. (please let it be fishcakes too). Its not fishcakes. Chicken and chips, your favourite. And then it looks like – underneath – a sausage separately wrapped. (please let it be battered) Both me and the dog are looking keen.
While Grace gets some plates to split the food, you ceremonially unroll the sausage from its paper. Only its not a sausage. It’s a watch. A delicate silver ladies dress watch. Very old. A bit warm too. Possibly in more than one sense of the word. Jack Bard’s been round.
We have had parcels like this before. Not a watch – and never previously in chips. But jewellery through the door is not uncommon. Old Jack is in love with you. Later I hear you slip out – I think now, maybe there’d been a row. And the watch was a make up gift. Is that how it worked?
Jack has been hanging around as long as I can remember. On summer nights I’ve drifted off to sleep listening to the records he brings round. Maria Callas singing “La Mamma Morta” was a favourite. I heard it again years later. The desperation and the pain. Took me right back home Mum. He brings his own record player . Dark wood, with a brilliant shining copper coloured horn on top of it. The records are brittle and shiny. The needle’s sea sound as it touches the edge. The penny on top of the arm. The music is always sad unless its gypsy music, which makes me dance.
When Jack visits he brings food too. Poppy seed bread and fish balls. Funny honey and nut fudge. Sweet red wine you sip and when he’s not looking pour into the rubber plant.
I have no idea how you two met. Perhaps though Uncle Frank? Or had you known him longer? But Jack was a Saturday man. Until he wasn’t and then the parcels started to come. Then he’d be back again. On Saturday mornings in town we’d meet him at Reeces Rendezvous. He ate his apple charlotte with a teaspoon and I did the same with my custard and then we’d go off to George Henry Lees where you’d spray perfume after perfume and Jack would wait. Jack was forever waiting.
He waits for you at the Crest Motel on the East Lancs road on Saturday nights. That’s where he got you the autographs of the Liverpool team. He waits till you can leave the house. And after meeting you and you listening to some more music in the hotel room, he waits till you have left so no one knows.
Jack was an ‘antique dealer’. His specialism was going door to door around Liverpool and buying whatever treasures needed to be sold. Watches, furniture, books, nick nacks (to my great disappointment not the crisps). After a while you started working for him. Learning the trade. Picking up different things as you went – tea caddies and pictures and watches and vases, necklaces, chamber pots. At one point you were buying stuff in Liverpool and sending it over to Canada where there was a “lively market” in copper kettles and fireirons. Anything to remind them they were once human beings. You were fucking resourceful Mum, I’ll give you that. An aged Lowry sketch just poking out from under your hastily painted chocolate box cottage. You’d leave just enough sign that there might be something underneath to tempt the greedy dealer into parting Uncle Frank from his ‘eirloom. For a small fee of course.
But Jack yes. Oh Mum, he is comfort and smiling. Not a handsome man, or a rich man or a tall man. But a very kind man. He smells of spicy bay rum and his hands are warm. He holds my hand a lot. I like that. He sits and talks with you and Grace, but he talks to me too. He talks about Israel. Calls it home. He talks about Lithuania and calls it home too.
Lithuania is where Jacob Bardokski came from. But Israel is where Jack Bard wants to go. And Liverpool is where he is – and they are all home. How can you come from more than once place? Jack tells me he left Lithuania when he was my age because it was not a good place to be. I ask was it very cold. I do think that there might have been some good snow. He say no, he likes the sunshine. He’s always talking about oranges. Growing oranges in the garden “at home”. Jack tells me Liverpool is a great place because you can make your name here. Like the Beatles. Jack knows all the Beatles and Ray Clemence. And Ken Dodd.
I hope you loved Jack. I loved Jack. But when you married Ken we never saw Jack again. I know he came round on the morning of the wedding. I think he begged you. I think he begged you not to marry Ken. Grace told me that you slipped out of the Wedding Breakfast to see him too. Outside the Crest Motel. What did he say Etti? And why the hell didn’t you listen?
But Jack would never marry you would he? You were not right. OK for the weekends. To have and to hold and then to put away until more having and holding were wanted. His sister – who you’d met once in a cold front parlour on Queens drive with a cup of weak tea and a wafer – had you down as a gold digger. A gentile tart. You wouldn’t do. Not at all. “At the least Jacob, never bring her here again”
Growing up in Dovecot before the war you knew nothing was free. Everything cost and all the gold was buried. You learned to dig girl.