Poets’ Day. It’s a nice way to say: today’s the day, we’re getting paid.
Poets’ Day 25th October 2014. I remember the date because we’d just got the floor done: carpets up, laminate down. I’d always wanted a wood-look floor. In my imagination, my perfect room was just that way; medium dark wood under foot – something like mahogany; a Persian rug patterned with red and the colours of wine, and on top of those, loops upon loops of black rubber cables. I thought of the recording studios of those introverted geniuses, the ones in all the black and white photographs I’ve collected my whole life. High contrast, with really black black. When I think about Keith Richards, in that big house in France hunched over the piano, with Gram Parsons writing Wild Horses – I imagine this holy trinity of grain, hatches and swirls.
Unusually for a terraced house, we had high ceilings and between those and the new hard floor it created a kind of a sound tunnel along the length of the hallway. It seemed to amplify the sounds of keys scraping through the lock or a cough on the doorstep outside. The squeak of the letter-box flap pulled backward on its hinges and the ruffle of something papery being pushed through against swishing brushes could be heard clearly from upstairs. In the gloomy middle hours of the day, those high frequencies had real cut.
I heard the unmistakable song of a C6 envelope drop and slide down the inside of the front door and fall onto its short edge, before flattening itself softly on the doormat. There was a postscript, as its thin plastic window rippled a little with the impact, and finally settled itself.
I had been left alone in the house – maybe for days. Sometimes it puts me in a silly mood. I came running down the stairs at the sound of the post dropping, the sparkle of gently contorting paper. I was clenching my fists. I squeezed my eyes until they were almost closed, taking each step of the stairs with a variation on muscle memory – shouting out loud – “be a cheque, be a cheque, be a cheque, BE A CHEQUE!” I knew it would almost certainly be a bill, or a parking ticket or a request to purchase a television license…
Once I was sent a letter that had been typed with a manual typewriter. Each letter was punched with different saturation levels of black and made a pattern complicit in the secret life of the ribbon, to resolute fingers, and the dusty rooms in which the owner sat down to write. Small mistakes had been diligently pasted over with sharp white Tipp-Ex even though the letter had been typed on blue note-paper. It had been dressed in an envelope that matched and sent to me on the morning of my twenty-seventh birthday. The first and only love-letter ever sent to me is still upstairs in a box that my grandfather made; from mahogany.
At the end of the hall, I tear open the paper with my thumb leaving the top edges ragged in its wake. Inside is a small piece of paper with numbers hastily written in black biro. The fives wear hats while the ones are undecorated. I have a draw full of them. I don’t really understand the numbers. That’s the sideshow anyway. The sister enclosure is the shimmery ivory, uncreased at 95 gsm, prick-your-fingers-with-the-corners, robust and sexy in equal measure, paper – of a royalty cheque.
The next day I wished for Tipp-ex and Blue paper.