I hadn’t been back in twenty years
and found her sitting by the window
in the Queen’s Hotel
cracking peanuts with her teeth,
then emptying them onto the front page
of the Sporting Blue.
A clack of dominoes
from the other side of the black curtain;
the smell of mushrooms being fried;
breakfast for men whose coats skulked on the stand
as if their owners were inside them.

She chewed a nut, attended
to the next; didn’t look up,
flicked some shells on the floor, most on the fire
which flared as it received them
Sunshine stirred the colours in her hair,
those fading reds and blondes,
woke up a stream of bubbles in her pint of cider,
Woodpecker, sweet, not dry.

She didn’t look up. I didn’t speak.
A mystery she’d ever stayed with us at all.
Fame had lapped her feet.
You could see it in the way she crossed
her dancer’s feet, hidden that day,
in shabby sheepskin boots.
I remembered that once
she painted iodine on my cheek to heal a graze,
insignia I was proud of.

Twenty years on and going back
I wondered why I didn’t speak.
Maybe I was scared that she’d look through me
as if I had no more significance for her
than empty peanut shells discarded on the floor
or blackening inside a dying fire.

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