The Ornament

I was skipping down the road on the arm of a girl.
She was younger than me.

Suddenly I was tired.
Stop,’ I said.
Why?’ she said,
We haven’t even reached the corner!’

But she stopped and we walked on
arm in arm in silence.

We came to the gift shop.
Let’s go in!’ I said.

She was quick and bright among the new
and foreign things.

The shopkeeper brought out masks.
They were made of coloured cardboard.
We tried them on.

She laughed
and my tiredness of before was forgotten.

We played in the shop for hours,
and the shopkeeper didn’t ever seem to get tired of us,
until she settled on a small ornament to take home,
a lead snail or a glass paperweight.

The box was tied with a white bow.

She carried it carefully and proudly back.
I walked along beside her.

At her front gate,
half of me wanted to go with her and see inside her house
and help decide where to put the ornament.

The other half had already been there, years ago
and could imagine the dust and neglect.

I moved around inside,
as if in some kind of dream,
with memories of how little love there was.

I was old.
I was what some day she would be.

But I was  young.
And I went with her into the house.

And she played me Elvis singing ‘Wooden Heart’
on a portable record-player.

She said it had been playing when her mum and dad
had met and even now he was gone
it was still her mother’s favourite.

And we found a place for the ornament
on her bedside shelf.

It was a lead snail.
It was a glass paperweight.
It was a white stone loveheart.

And she patted the bed beside her.
And I curled up and went to sleep.

And when I woke up
I was in her bed.

How little love there was in that house,
and how much regret.

And how much I wished she was
what some day I would be,
and not myself.

I looked,
and where the ornament had been
there was an outline in the dust,
and nothing more.