We knew her thus, and by no other name,
the homeless one who'd put down roots
on one of our two greens and made
a shelter seem like home. An air-raid shelter,
brick built, wholly above ground, but windowless.
I went in once -
to black my nose as mum would say -
and see what I could see.
Pitch dark towards the rear -
no light switch to be found - and airless too.
Pools of stagnant water that I dimly saw -
and fantasised as blood. Dank smells -
and others that I did not recognise.
The Belle was not at home, of course,
she rarely was by day. Hot day.
Her trench coat, thick with mud -
and what? - hung on a nail.
An upturned bucket by a sack of straw.
And on the bucket, three (I think it was)
large perfume bottles, still half full.
(Half full of something! my father later said -
and straightway banned me from the place for good.)
My good, and for ever.
And then I saw them (hadn't quite expected that,
thought she would have had them on), quite near the door,
so catching what there was of light: the infamous,
high, leather boots the adults talked about. Russian!
some would say, Equestrian! said others. One black,
one brown - originally. Two left feet and tooled with two
quite different patterns. Painted a deep red,
the pair of them, the deep red wearing off,
the former colours showing through.
I'd heard all this when adults thought I was asleep.
I'd heard much more... so time to go.
Then as I turned, the Belle walked in.
First close encounter, her and I. I saw, though dimly,
for myself: the crimson lips; that rouge and grime -
like oil and water - didn't mix; odd open sandals
and no socks; the chain around her neck; the short
clay pipe that hung down from the corner of her mouth.
She didn't speak and nor did I.
She turned into the darkest corner of the four
and disappeared from view. I followed her example,
but disappeared into the light like the proverbial bat -
straight out of hell.
Back home, the disappointment bit:
I hadn't seen the famed pipe lit.
This is #8 of my Suburban Village series.
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