Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

Credit: Jeremy Clarke

Sharon's back. As soon as I heard, I went straight round to the house and let myself in. She was standing in the kitchen wearing that deceptively vulnerable look that she has. Also in the room was a little girl aged about three with ruby red hair and a Boxer dog. The Boxer was built like Sonny Liston and capered before me. It span round in circles, glancing coquettishly over its shoulder. The little girl was my superior in intelligence and composure. I could see it straight away, as could she. Her name was Amy. Sharon and her partner had adopted her 18 months before. Sharon and Amy shared a companionable stillness that was unruffled by my appearance.

I hadn't seen Sharon for six months. She was thinner than ever, which made her liquid eyes appear larger. ('It's all gone. She hasn't even got an arse any more,' was how Trev sorrowfully put it when we spoke on the phone later.) She seemed altered in mind as well as body, appearing calmer and kinder and less hunted. This was no longer the Sharon with no limits. I raised Amy by the armpits until her red locks were dangling above me and I reached up and planted a loving kiss on her cheek. She accepted it, looking down at me speculatively. Then I lowered her to the floor and gave Sharon a hug. Thirteen years ago I gave this woman my best shot. It missed. The hug was neutral, formal, slightly tentative.

'Coffee, Jerry?' she said. 'No sugar still?' Then she gave me all her news. Judging by the brio with which she related it, she still lives in 'a tale that is told'. Her mother, her brother, her sister, her poor father: each was a dramatic saga in itself. Then she asked with passionate interest about individual members of my family. I'd never met a person either as wild or as family-minded as Sharon before. Before she came along I'd always imagined the two attitudes were mutually exclusive.

The house sits in a small valley. If you look out of the kitchen window and up, you can see people walking by on the pavement above. Looking past Sharon's blonde head and up at a passer-by, I recognised Tom, another of Sharon's exes. (He was the one after me.) Sharon turned her head just as Tom looked down and recognised her through the kitchen window. He turned and jogged down the slope as though on rails, let himself in through the front door, and here suddenly in the room was Tom. …

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