Pain in My Heart
by Sarah Barrington, with image above by Steev Burgess
Before I left for university
My friend Louise
got work for me, for the summer,
At the recycling centre,
Accounting in the offices, littered with windswept sheets of wasted paper,
Amidst the incessant winking, bleeping, groaning lorries unloading on the weighbridge.
In the shadow of the silvery gasworks,
We ate fried egg sandwiches
everyday at ten a.m.
(For months after, I craved the grease and
drip of yolk when the clock hit ten).
Louise was good at maths
and all the lads said
she was good for a laugh.
I was not.
I filed papers,
struggled with figures,
supercilious student, observing,
observing: this would not be my life,
for fuck’s sake.
People could still smoke indoors then,
and everyone did,
Through the haze,
Opposite me, much older, a lady
who could tuck her tits in her knickers.
Lou swore she was a swinger,
a sexual adventurer.
It seemed unlikely
but Lou believed it.
Lou went out with a walrus,
double-breasted and bursting
a bully called Carl,
But she loved his fast car,
his cruel humour and she stayed fiercely loyal,
Despite my disapproval,
Til he beat her.
Then there was Geoff,
in the corner,
an actual accountant.
Apparently one of the few who did any work .
He seemed old then
but I can work out his age now.
He was 36.
Boyish yet grizzled. Frazzled.
Most lunchtimes they’d drive us to a pub round the corner, in Aston
and then back
to sway drunkenly
Lurching from desk to photocopy
One sheet at a time, til home-time,
Take stock, watch the clock.
It was a grotty place to be,
where the bosses
had absolute power:
The big boss, name of Ashley, too posh for us, Mr Toadish, never spoke to me,
but occasionally came to talk figures with Geoff.
And the boys from the factory floor
would flash you some hardcore porn,
They’d found secreted in the recycling
by some shamefaced repressed perv’
to gauge your reaction.
I could not wait to leave.
This would not be my fucking life.
But Geoff made an impact
briefly, a connection.
This is about Geoff
in the times before mine,
before synthesisers and modulators,
Times I clung to with devotion:
a sucker for sehnsuct.
And that day in the pub, chatting,
we moved, inevitably
– or perhaps the jukebox was playing -
to Otis Redding.
Oh, tis such a tragedy,
that such a voice, such eyes, such THIGHS
were taken too soon!
we agreed, fervently,
In the way only two pints drunken in quick succession at lunchtime can make you agree.
Geoff tells me then,
And I never forget it,
When he is a mod, sixteen,
in his parka,
skating round and around
At the Silver Blades Club,
The ice rink in town,
Gliding round and alone,
Tears streaming, head down
As, over the tannoy,
plays Pain in My Heart for
Otis Redding is dead.
Sarah Barrington did a stint as a drug worker, worked for ten years in IT, wrote songs and sang in a band and has given birth to three bright and beautiful children. She has been writing poetry and prose for forty years but has only recently ventured to share it.