(Published in Multi-Storey 2, January 2001. Broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, February 2001. Winner of competition)
When it rains in Salford I can taste salt in the raindrops, you know when you put your head up. I love sitting by the window in the front room in the dark. It’s started to drizzle and the days are drawing in. I think it’s the chemical factory, that’s where I worked since school, two A levels. Once I moved out of home for a month but something pulled me back, Mother I suppose.
I was always her little Terry, but sitting here I feel myself. Twenty-five-years a technician at the chemical factory isn’t everyone’s idea of an exciting life, but it suited me, all in all. I’m set in my ways, I know that. And since Mother died, two years this September, I’ve slowed up. I’ve done some tidying on the house, a Victorian terrace, otherwise I’ve been rather quiet.
‘Just do that for me will you, Terry love?’ Ooh, there was no end to it.
I don’t go out much, but I’m free inside now, that’s the difference. I get on very well with the neighbours. That’s Bola, she’s Nigerian. They moved in last year. I had a dinner round there recently, very interesting. And she wears the most lovely clothes, multicoloured material that wraps round and round. They brought some colour to the street.
Time I thought of something for tea. On a Friday I often have a takeaway, there’s a lovely Indian on the corner of Maygrove Street, but I’m feeling rather withered, you know. I might just take a mozzarella and ham pizza from the freezer and watch a video. Why not? I’m my own master now.
I love Marilyn Monroe. I’ll watch Some Like it Hot tonight, one of her very best, 1959. And all those cheeky chaps dressing up as women. Marlon and Clint, the budgies, are making such a racket behind me, but I’m very fond of them and they keep fit. We make each other laugh.
I’m going to Knutsford on Sunday, lunch with Veronica, my big sister. It’s good to get out. She was a dental nurse, married the dentist, Derek Palmer. His family are from Lytham, near the golf course. She must have given him laughing gas before he agreed. No children.
It’s a bloody ugly street, there’s no denying that.
‘Come fair bombs and fall on Salford.’
There were never much beauty in our family. Father worked in the power station, stoked boilers or summat like. He looked like a boiler too. Had this very loud voice and shouted ‘Hey up’ down the street to his mates. I don’t think he’d ever heard of art or films or film stars. He followed rugby league.
Every time he came back from a match, it was ‘Do you good, bit of rugby. You’re too soft, lad.’
I was always a thin boy, willowy, and I liked to wear my dark hair a bit long. I thought I looked nice when I smiled into the mirror after a bath, and held the little towel tight around my waist. I’ve hazel eyes and I’d pucker my lips like a film star.
If you sprinkle a little parsley on a pizza, it’s very nice. I’ll have a few glasses of Soave. Why not? I’m not short of a few bob.
I do water colours in my spare time. I might take it further one day. Dad smoked forty a day, drank stout. Over twenty-years-ago the old boiler just blew up, heat attack, Saturday afternoon, after his team Wigan had lost to St. Helens. It was a blessing, all in all.
Greta Garbo is my favourite, that feeling for the camera, those wonderful dresses, that face. Camille, Anna Karenina. I know every scene by heart. ‘You shouldn’t watch them so much,’ Mother used to say, ‘Get out more.’ But if I did she was the first to moan.
Just before Mother died I had trouble at work. Some of the lads started to taunt me. It seemed to be raining all the time and Mother had just been diagnosed. I’d got too friendly with Jimmy, a young boy in accounts. Made a fool of meself. I’d never encouraged that side of me before.
‘Quiet down, Marlon!’
I had this recurring idea that when God made the earth he gave Salford to the devil to play with, it was that ugly. I used to cry myself to sleep at night in the back room and imagine the clogs of the dead shuffling to work. And Mother used to stare at me.
Oh goodness! I thought I saw Mother coming down the street then. Sometimes I’m convinced it’s her, or me Dad – and then I’m so delighted it can’t be. Wicked, I know but she wouldn’t understand.
The doctor gave me uppers, I didn’t want to talk. On the way out, he said: ‘There’s nothing wrong, you know, your erotic feelings, nothing wrong at all.’
‘How dare you!’ I said.
But the doctor’s words kept repeating in my mind. What a nerve! When I got home I put on Anna Karenina to calm me down, and Garbo was wearing a long silky dress. I could almost feel its softness on my skin. Dad’s voice kept coming into my mind and I saw his image in the mirror: ‘You’re too quiet, lad.’ He was such a bully and everything about him was ugly, ugly, ugly.
It’s almost dark now, but I feel so bright inside me these days.
Anyway, after coming back from the doctor’s, I couldn’t settle. I went into the wardrobe where Veronica, my sister, had left a lot of her things. My heart was racing. I tried a dress, then a skirt and a slip. I felt so nice, so right, and I burst into a flood of tears.
I just sat there in front of the mirror, making up with a bit of old eyeliner and lipstick I’d found in the bottom of the wardrobe. Then I went downstairs and watched Anna Karenina all over again.
I’ll pour myself a glass of that Soave and sit here for another ten minutes before I draw the curtains. I’m going to paint the windows before the winter. I do it all myself.
After my first experience of dressing up, I bought a wig and other bits and pieces.
At the end of our street there’s a big billboard with Marilyn Monroe advertising cigarettes, and drinking a glass of champagne in the moonlight.
Oh, that’s lovely wine. I’m wearing my black cocktail dress tonight, blond wig, nicely made-up. I could almost be there, in that advertisement, drinking champagne. I’d call myself Jasmine.
When I’m like this, I’m me, only me. I’ve got no family, no Mother looking over me like I’m a bad smell. I’m just Jasmine and I don’t have any past at all.
It’s not a bad life, all in all, looking up at Marilyn. It’s started to drizzle. Marilyn’s lower lip is tilted upwards. I wonder if she can taste the salt in the raindrops too?