WORDS & IMAGE BY LAURA JANE
Pssstttt here is Part 1
The next morning we were lying in bed and I asked Mark if he remembered me telling him that I’d found out the beagle’s name the night before. He said “No” and I tried to make him guess it.
“Spice,” he said, and then: “Hypie.”
The next morning we sat in front of our bedroom door quietly murmuring the word “Pearl” to peak Pearl’s interest. Pearl ran upstairs. She was crying tears of black gunk. “Why are you crying this… disgusting shit?” I asked her and then apologized for calling her disgusting by burying my head into her velvet neck. It’s a couple days later and I just saw her a few minutes ago. The streaks of black tears were still stained on her fur because her good-for-nothing owner doesn’t take any pride in her dog not having its face stained with gothic-looking bodily fluids. Pearl’s owner is my enemy. My first London enemy.
I got dressed and ready and commuted to Stoke-Newington. I felt like hot shit because I had a job interview and trial shift at cool-seeming restaurants. I wasn’t going to Stokie for any reason that related to my trial shifts; sorry I just called it Stokie; it wouldn’t have flowed naturally from me if I’d said it out loud. I was going back to our airbnb to drop off a cream knit iPhone case belonging to our host that Mark had accidentally packed into my suitcase. It was not really the most thrilling escapade of my life. While I was there I packed all of our food we’d forgotten to into a plastic grocery bag and left swinging it back and forth listening to Shakey Dog on headphones and feeling like the first guy someone ever looked at and thought “What a very important person!” about. For no real reason (except that other peoples' lives are interesting), here is a list of the contents of the bag:
-bottle of cheap white wine (mine)
-bag of mixed nuts (mine)
-shaker of turmeric (Mark’s)
-bag of Lavazza espresso (both of ours)
-coconut oil (both of ours, but mostly Mark’s)
I took the tube to Sloane Square, where I had a job interview. I bailed on the job interview. I hadn’t realized how posh Sloane Square is, as it wasn’t directly called out in the lyric to A Well-Respected Man or Play With Fire, in combination my field guide to Londony poshness. The lady on the phone had mentioned that the place was quite “elite,” but I assumed she was lying. She mentioned that Hugh Grant was a regular. I assumed that Hugh Grant is chill and liked to chill at chill places.
But he isn’t, doesn’t; not this time at least. The vibe of the neighbourhood made me want the neighbourhood to not exist. I took out my notebook and, using my knee propped up on a low gate as a desk, wrote Nothing about walking past a Bottega Veneta store DOES IT FOR ME. I looked up from my scrawling and noticed that the doorman standing outside of the Bottega Veneta store had been watching me. He looked indifferent. I wanted to tell him, “This is the best thing you will ever see in your life,” but of course didn’t, because I am sane.
I walked past the restaurant, snooping, peeking. It didn’t look like a place I would even want to walk past let alone drink at let alone eat at let alone work at let alone general manage. Most of the diners were posh older women with dyed-blond bobs wearing floral-print or -hued shift dresses and jewelry more expensive than everything my whole family owns combined. And my family is decently well-off! But these were real rich people, like the Archibalds and van der Woodsens. The servers, still called waiters here, wore mint green ties and white collared shirts and floor-length aprons and waistcoats. “The kind of restaurant I want to work at exists in direct opposition to this place,” I told Mark, and then remembered a pact I’d made with myself after quitting Starbucks three years ago: “I will never work at a place that has a uniform again.” Never, again, and I’m a Clash fan: them’s fighting words. So that settled it. Mark and I sat down on a little bench right in the middle of Sloane Square and I phoned up the restaurant, which was only maybe fifty feet away from where we sat but I’m cowardly and, in such circumstances, who wouldn’t be?
I asked to speak to the manager and then said “Wait, no, actually- it’s fine,” and I told whoever answered that my name was Laura and I wouldn’t be able to attend my test shift. I lied and said I’d found employment elsewhere.
On the tube to Highbury-Islington I read a snippet of All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews that went:
…apparently mourning doves are being shot and eaten these days. Can you believe it? When I heard about it I felt the same way I did when I heard that Joe Strummer had died. The music of my youth. When you’re fifteen and you wake up in the morning to mourning doves singing and The Clash you know you’re in Heaven.
And I loved it, I was grateful to have happened upon the words Joe Strummer on the rare occasion that I hadn’t gone looking for them, and I read the passage again, then rested the big fat beautiful book in my lap and in my head I said Joe Strummer Joe Strummer Joe Strummer Joe Strummer, and I thought about how cute it was how he named himself Strummer after something he does, physically does. Did. “I’m Joe Strummer because I strum, duh.” And I guess that’s where all the last names started, once, “I’m Mr. Baker because I bake and I’m Mr. Butcher because I can tidily chop apart meat and pigs and everything,” but now it’s the future and the concept of last names is several or more hundred years old and we’re all stuck with a name like a whisper of a memory of some father’s father’s father’s father who we know nothing about besides the part of them they named themselves after. Their job, like that’s all there is to a person.
My ancestors were called Faulds because they worked in the faulds, the folds, of the hills, herding sheep. They were shepherds. But the truth is my dad was adopted and so who even knows; those original Fauldses are strangers who don’t have anything to do with me.
So maybe I should rename myself, like Joe Strummer did? Maybe we should all ditch our shitty last names; come up with something cooler, truer, better. I thought, if Joe Strummer strummed, than what do I do?
Laura Chewer, Laura Sipper, Laura Scrawler.
I stood next to London Fields and took a picture a hot pink ice cream truck. It was decorated with many decals including one of Tom chasing Jerry (or Jerry chasing Tom? The cat chasing the mouse), trying to snatch away his ice cream, and one of Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie wearing pale blue shorts-suits and baby pink safari hats in a cloud of floating pink-and-blue popsicles and squiggles and five-cornered stars. Two of the ducklings raised cones of vanilla soft-serve to the “camera” triumphantly; the other little guy had no cone. I wondered why. (“For no reason, Laura.”)
I was chewing gum and washing my hands with a wet-nap, killing time before a job interview. I tried to imagine up some details of my job interview if as it happened it was the best case scenario version of itself:
1) The energy surrounding the situation would be chill
2) I would tell a lot of personal anecdotes from my life that did not necessarily relate to the job directly but might
3) The guy interviewing me would be a chubby gay guy with a wild mop of curly dark hair
The guy interviewing me had an Irish accent like a freshly-picked sprig of lavender. His eyes were blue like all the things an eye could be blue like. The energy surrounding the situation was chill and I got things off to a good start by telling this guy about my relationship to Ontario wines. I just let it all spill out of me. (I guess it was a pretty hateful story.) The only thing I didn’t say, that I regret not saying, is: “Icewine is like, you try icewine when you’re a kid, somebody gave it to your parents for Christmas and they’re like, Oh, icewine would probably taste good to a kid and they’re, like, trying to be a cool parent; they’re like Oh, it’s the holidays, why NOT, and so yeah, I mean, icewine tasted amazing to me when I was eleven. Now it’s like, I guess it pairs well with dessert. If you wanted to alternate eating bites of your dessert with taking sips of a syrupy liquid that tastes exactly like your dessert.”
It was a nice time. The owner of my old restaurant would get mad at us if he was working on the floor and we didn’t pour him glasses of water when his water glass was empty and it has instilled in me a deep fear of empty water glasses. So I kept pouring this guy who was interviewing me glasses of water. He asked me how old I am. I said twenty-nine.
He said “Ahhh,” followed by a “You look so fresh!” that made it sound like my freshness made him hurt in a good way, like being tattooed or Shiatsued. I imagined the look of my skin two seconds after rubbing Argan oil into it. I wished I was a leaf or droplet of dew. I wished I was a leaf-themed fairy in a netherworld where dew was wine and I was drinking it out of a buttercup. I wished he would hire me on the spot and I’d never have to attend a trial shift again. We scheduled a trial shift for four days later. It’s three days later. It’s tomorrow.
After the interview I walked up the street to a place that served food and drink. I walked up to the bar and ordered myself a glass of wine, a Moscatel. It tasted like a chunk of pineapple that morphed into a fragrant rose petal as it moved from the front to the back of my mouth. I ordered a second glass, a Pinot Gris, from Alsace. It tasted like fat, like cheese, like acid. Like licking white cheese off a knife that tasted like the metal it was made of and, faintly, of the white vinegar that had been used to polish it.
Something swiftly happened inside my mouth and brain and I ran to the counter. I ordered a salad. The name of the salad was “warm chicken and Roquefort” but I was nervous to say the word “Roquefort” out loud to a British person so I just called it the chicken salad. The guy repeated it back to me and pronounced Roquefort like the word rock (duh) and then the word fort, fort like a place a kid would make out of desk chairs and bedsheets and then hide in. In Canada we’d pronounce it more like Rockfert. There is no such word as fert.
I tried to keep my sipping to a minimum as I waited for the salad to come out. I knew what was going to happen. The salad was going to make the wine taste better.
A few days later, Mark and I were at the V&A. I didn’t really like it there; I found it stuffy in both ways. I only loved the café and the garden. I liked two chairs and one painting.
When we stumbled across the painting I was thirsty and grumpy and I wanted to get to a bathroom so I could refill my water bottle and drink out of it. I didn’t think to look at the placard and certainly didn’t think to write down the name of it. I have since Googled variations on V&A cow painting dozens of times to no avail. Well maybe not dozens.
But Mark took a picture of me standing in front of it. I look like I want to kill him in it. The painting is very boring. It’s actually a series of tiles, but not a mosaic. It looks like a regular painting with a grid printed overtop. In the center of the painting is a nice white house. It has six windows and two chimneys and a pale grey roof. To the right of it are trees and to the left of it are trees. The trees are green and a little sparse. So on the day of the painting it would have to be either mid-September, late April, or early May.
To the furthest right of the scene is a barn. In Mark’s photograph the camera flash obscured most of barn so I can’t tell you much about the barn except that it is a barn. To the furthest left we have a second house, an auburn-colored house. That house is a bit of an afterthought. You can tell that the painter either lived in the white house and loved it or lived in the auburn house but would have preferred to live in the white house. Or maybe there were no houses at all and the whole scene was just an imagining. Maybe he painted it in a tiny locked cell and it was only a place that he dreamed of.
At the foreground there are fourteen cows.
White, auburn, white-and-auburn.
House-colored cows. Cow-colored houses.
What was it about the painting that stopped me in my tracks? Well I just thought it looked so happy. I don’t think it came from the painter’s imagination and I don’t think he lived in the auburn house. I think he lived in the white house and those were his cows. I think he (or she!) sat out every morning in the late-April or mid-September sun with his easel and his little tiles and drank his tipple of choice and munched on a hunk of ham or cheese or maybe a biscuit and I think he looked out at the little slice of the world he’d carved out for himself and tasted the whole thing in his mouth and was perfectly satisfied by it. He was content and that was the long and short of it. It wasn’t bliss or joy.
Hi. It’s me at an okay bar. Dirty paisley t-shirt, double-bruise on my forearm, weird wine and blue cheese and warm chicken. My grubby old laptop and the borough of Hackney. I made the right decision, coming here.
It isn’t bliss or joy; it’s a duller, more sustainable happiness. That’s what I liked best about the painting. It’s what I like best about my life.