‘The little girl is dressed up
like a Gainsborough painting again’, Mary calls.
You join her at the window and watch
the frilly parasol twirling in the long dark curls
that lick her bare pale shoulders.
Her mother – ‘must be broke again’, Mary says –
takes her hand and leads her
into the crepuscular Portobello streets.
When they return, you count three figures
pass under the streetlamp,
through the gateway in the privet.
Mary cocks her head and together you listen
as they climb the stairs to the attic flat.
You hear the man’s slurs and the mother’s giggles
and the girl’s slippered steps fall behind.
The attic door swallows them
and all you are left with is the look on Mary’s face.
‘This is not how things should be!’, it shouts.
You seek out the landlord to speak to –
report the vice;
restore her perfect world.
This raises you in Mary’s eyes;
at last you get your girl.
A happy ending, surely,
in anyone’s book?
The next day Mrs Shanahan and her daughter had gone, and Mary assumed, with her good nature and high principles, that this was a happy ending. I hope it was.
J.G. Ballard, Miracles of Life