From “The Perfect Stranger”

I was in digs now, locked away, but the other lodgers had
streams of visitors up and down the stairs past my door.
None of these disturbed me except one girl who went
‘Pom pom POM’ as she ran up to the room above. It was a
sound of extraordinary sweetness, musical, soft,
unselfconscious and happy. I began to listen out for it,
jump up from my table, throw open the door to catch a
glimpse of her as she passed, but I was always too late.
I asked the people upstairs who she was, described the
beautiful sound she made. They became rather guarded
and exchanged glances and hesitatingly admitted it just
might be Sally. I gathered she was someone special, not to
be discussed in the ordinary way, and became vaguely
curious to meet her…

One day I came face to face with a girl on the landing. It
was certainly her, whoever made that noise had to look as
she did. We stood and stared at each other too long for
comfort. I broke the moment and, excusing myself,
moved past her because it was too like the movies, or so I
thought to myself of that long, silent stare, and laughed.
She was tall and proud-looking with a slight round-
shouldered stoop that made me breathless, I didn’t know why.
It is difficult to describe someone who is surrounded by
a special nimbus, perceived at once. But as this girl had
the same effect, in one way or another, on many others, I
must try. She had soft yellow hair, greeny-blue eyes, lovely
eyebrows below a broad, quiet forehead and the most
perfect mouth I have ever seen; underneath her skin
there were golden lights. I am not a good physiognomist,
I find it distorts a face to see it in detail, and I imagine the
peculiar, extraordinary charm of her face lay in its
proportions and in its expression. When I first saw the
friezes in the museum on the Acropolis I couldn’t believe
it, most of the girls are portraits of her. Her face, and
above all her expression, belonged to the same ideal,
golden time. But beautiful girls are, in a sense, two a
penny. There was something even more arresting,
something unique in her face. She had the simplicity of a
young girl (she was nineteen) who found life good; but it
was a simplicity that had somehow been earned, was, as it
were, on the second time around. This second simplicity
has the directness and potency of a natural force. She had
the kind of beauty that can change but not diminish – it
depended for so much of its power on the kind of person
she was that it could only end when she did. One
trembled for her (it was too good to survive) and was
humbled at the same time, by a face that was more
strongly alive than anyone else’s, which contained an
indestructible, fearless happiness. She shone.
A few days later we met at a small party and I stood at
her side. We didn’t speak much. I told her of the noise
she made as she passed my door. And often on the days
that followed when I got back to my room I found the
words ‘Poop, poop poop” written on a piece of paper lying
on my table – her phonetic spelling of the noise I hadn’t
been there to hear. One night we made part of a party
that went to the theatre together. This entailed her
staying the night out of her college and I found her a
room in the house where I was living. After saying
goodnight I went upstairs back to my desk, I had an essay
to write. After a few lines I felt I had to be sure she had
everything she needed and went downstairs. She had, and
I went back to my work. Another few lines and I knew it
was no use. I went down again and she seemed to be
waiting for me, her face luminous and amused. I did what
I should have done days before, I took her in my arms
and kissed her; every experience, however simple, has its
maximum brilliance. This happens only once, and is so
startlingly different from anything less than itself that it
seems to contain indications of a strength and a joy far
beyond it, a hint that we live only on the edge of a possibility.

– P.J. Kavanagh


About handshedown

Keighley Perkins is a Cardiff-based poet whose influences include Anis Mojgani, Selima Hill and Richard Brautigan. Her work has previously been published in "Acumen", "Elbow Room", "Erbacce", "Fire", "Northwind" and "Obsessed with Pipework". She can also be found online on Twitter at @handshedown. View all posts by handshedown

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