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  • Writer's pictureKayleigh Willis

'Mrs Rosen' Flash by Alan McCormick

In 1974 there was industrial unrest, the three-day week, and regular power cuts. My parents were struggling and we took in lodgers. My seventeen-year-old sister, Helen, and I resented their presence. One was a lank-haired mouse called Sue, who was pale and shy, usually hiding out in her room for her never-seen boyfriend to propose and rescue her. I don’t think I ever said a complete sentence to her, ignoring her when we passed on the landing, save to glance at nipples peeping through her tight, fawn polo-neck sweater, my thirteen-year-old newly broken voice mumbling sourly at the bathroom door to ask her, 'how long will you be?’

During the prolonged power cuts toward the end of winter, Sue mysteriously vanished and a strange atmosphere took over our house. A Calor Gas stove was requisitioned to heat simple soups and meals. We congregated under candlelight to eat from our laps in the lounge, voices quietened, adults sipping whisky and tea to keep warm, all huddled by Helen’s battery-operated record player listening to Leonard Cohen’s melancholic and confessional 'Songs from a Room' (me gazing at the alluring back cover with Cohen’s girlfriend, Marianne, sitting at a typewriter in their Hydra home); our faces flickering in the shadows, taking in the sadness and beauty of the lyrics, 'I came across a butcher and he was slaughtering a lamb. I accused him there with his torture lamp,' the soft persuasive hush and meaningful depth of Cohen’s voice settling forever into my bones and DNA.

We listened intently, the adults chain-smoking, Helen shushing anyone who dared break the reverent spell, she and my mother undertaking a séance in the murky light, communing with the spirits released by Cohen’s words wavering on the turntable, whispering from the darkness their own feelings and intuitions; Nostradamus, the Mayan Prophecies, the dark end waiting for all of us at the end of humanity.

‘I like his voice, even after the third time of listening, but this is all getting a little depressing. No?’ suggested a deep lived-in-voice from a chair in the corner of the lounge.

It was our new temporary lodger, Mrs. Rosen, a middle-aged German sophisticate, crisp brown trouser suit with leopard skin on the collar, my own fantasy Mrs. Robinson, with her worldly sexy Anne Bancroft mouth and teased arched eyebrows. Her voice made my hair tingle, and she winked at me from her seat, reaching over to pour herself another finger of Bells, the lyrics of Leonard’s ‘Lady Midnight’ mingling with my eroticized thoughts: ‘I came by myself to a very crowded place; I was looking for someone who had lines in her face.

Before she left our house Mrs. Rosen offered me a black Sobranie (with gold filter) from her handbag. ‘Enjoy a puff, take it right in, but never take it up, if you know what I mean,’ she said.

I had no idea what she meant but took it anyway.

All rights. Alan McCormick.

Alan McCormick lives in Wicklow. He works with InterAct Stroke Support, who read fiction and poetry to stroke patients. His writing has been widely published, including in Best British Short Stories, Popshot and Confingo Magazines, The Bridport and Fish Prize anthologies; and online at 3:AM Press, Words for the Wild, Fictive Dream, Bandit Fiction, The Quietus, Dead Drunk Dublin and Époque Press. 'Dogsbodies and Scumsters’, his collection with illustrator Jonny Voss, was long-listed for the Edge Hill Prize. His short memoir ‘Monty Modlyn’, was recently published in ‘A Wild and Precious Life – A Recovery Anthology’.

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