Strings 1

‘dreams jangling with lost connections’

March 2024

Vendor Outside

Looking out the window we see the vendor outside and a woman walking towards her. 

The woman stares ahead intently, her eyeline fixed on a point squarely past the vendor, but despite her best intentions her trench coat ends up brushing against the vendor’s shoulder, encased in a wooly coat. We know that coat; we look on; we spy with our little eye. 

The woman and the vendor almost converge at that meeting point, the woman losing her balance for  a moment. We hold our breath and brace for impact, imagining their arms and hair flailed together. 

But the woman doesn’t fall, regains her composure, walks ahead head first, pretending nothing happened, while the vendor’s hand is still outstretched. She can’t help but notice a discoloured spot in the middle of the vendor’s palm. Can’t help but notice how small that hand is. 

The vendor remains a stranger around these parts, but it’s well known that she cannot get business. 

Even among unsuccessful salespeople, she is the worst. For one, she shares the sidewalk with passersby but does it all wrong, outstaying her welcome and moving just so, here and there (is she dancing? people have asked). She is supposed to become visible at the right times only, but misses the window and is either constantly visible, annoyingly there, or utterly unseen, like she is really dead. 

She is but a spot so and people think of her like that; we think of her like that. She’s our red spot, cloaked in a polyvinyl tabard. 

We can see clearly the moment people clock her, right after their bubble heads emerge on top of the curve of the earth. They start to go uphill with the body language of consternation, preparing to sidestep her, for she must be avoided. 

It doesn’t help that she likes to perch herself on top of the hill and scare everyone off with her mad alto. Her monologues and soliloquies don’t help. Stomping around in purple imitation-UGG boots and stretching her neck like she was taught in school gymnastics (‘imagine you’re a heron’, the teacher had said. She’d written it down in her notebook, now lost). No, we can’t blame them, the passersby, for arranging their bodies aerodynamically when they get near her crate-throne. We do that too. We purchase speed to avoid making eye contact. What are we supposed to say to her? How is this on us? 

The vendor likes to or deems appropriate to stand on the crate and freeze in mid-air in a chair pose, it’s her pavement yoga, solar plexus to the sky. Then she sits down again, cats and cows in the chair, draws arches in the air, makes figure 8 knots. This is by the grocery shop with drawings of fruit and fishes on a board. If the day is good she can furrow her brow and do her praying, chin to chest, halfway rounds. But on a bad day, with wet winds and macerating car farts, she get pins and needles  and is afraid she might become stone if she’s not careful. On days like that she is compelled to pack up, crate and all, and move to the next spot ahead of schedule. 

She must carry the crate everywhere because she can’t stand for hours like the others. She drags it along, grey and hard plastic and a little discoloured on top, from seating on it. She bad-eyes everybody as she goes, protecting her coveted crate. Seating on it, from that modest height, she can plot her resurrections. On the crate she eats a KFC. On the crate now full of fries she does another shift, then starts migrating to the next spot. She walks by the florist, who is nice enough to nod. She walks by the barbers. At the next stop, by the blue supermarket, she curses lavishly, lip flap erect and supple, telling the tale of her socioeconomical exclusion. 

She often thinks about the nature of the self. She eats a salmon milk bun somebody buys from Gail’s across the road and offers to her. If her crate had a backrest, she would sit with her knees up, surveying her surroundings, forever curling a strand of hair like when she was little, pocket money from her uncles, with feet up with feet down, arms stretching like a tree. If time and history didn’t matter, she would be having walnut cake and tea right now, warm and dry. 

She is the only one. There couldn’t be a different vendor on our street. If two vendors met, a parallel dimension would form, puncturing space and time and opening out onto the abyss. Our vendor’s crate is near a pile of shopping baskets. It’s inconvenient to shoppers, and they think that, because she is on the street, then she is street-smart aka dangerous. They worry she could assault or rob them. 

She does look scary, with car exhaust and pigeon debris in her hair. You wouldn’t believe she is educated, did teacher training. Her former colleagues all wear pumice cardigans and live in a city full of knives, the city she is from, which she has left for this one. Why did she leave? Perhaps because of the man she was involved with. Who used to stagger drunker and drunker and eventually fall flat on her, on our sweet vendor, flat like a bomb, laughing ah! ah! ah! The shop manager gets impatient and the vendor moves to the last stop of the day, the shop with a pretty lily facade and  monogrammed displays. There our vendor can look at linens and fixate on wicker and stare at  porcelain and think, what’s not to love, imagine if. The workday is almost done and not one single issue’s been sold. She is after all the worst salesperson to ever grace these parts. 

When the sky starts getting dark the vendor doesn’t make a peep. The pile of unsold magazines is tied up on the ground next to her. There is another person we know the vendor thinks about, somebody dear to her, hear, and she might be thinking about them now. 

A person who used to smoke in the kitchen with her and romance her and look at the wet shiny  piazza through blue PVC curtains with her. This person had a stain on his shirt but together they  shared a specific kind of domestic bliss and he often nodded his pretty head yes at her. Yes to nothing in particular, therefore to all of it, which is the purest kind of love. Vendor played with his  hair and they listened to faint radio from a different floor. They put the kettle on, taking turns; one  washes the cafetiere the other grinds coffee beans, one pours four spoonfuls in the beaker and adds water. They wait together for the plunge. Together they would go to the replica temple, the one with  pink, gold and blue walls and lively inter-veil chatter at the muslin dividing the men’s and women’s sections. Under a pair of giant chandeliers that survived two earthquakes, the congregation is like one big mouth. A little girl shows them a Frozen colouring book, pointing at the snowman pointing  at the carrot. 

For the longest time this has been the vendor’s past, to fixate on. For the longest time this has been her life. 

Then one morning with a milk froth sky we walk up the hill with the usual anticipation, expecting to see her — red, conspicuous, mysterious. 

But there is a girl where the vendor should be. This girl is younger and sits with her back against a tree.  She’s wearing a red scarf, just like the vendor’s, but no tabard (the tabard is later located next to a tree, and the girl looks at it as if it doesn’t belong to her). The wind intensifies; it knocks down the shop chalkboard with a bang, the peach in the drawing belly-up on the street. 

The girl smirks — is this the vendor — we wonder and wonder in shame. Much as we try, we can’t remember what we’re wearing.

SERENA BRAIDA is a poet and writer from Rome, Italy. Her poetry pamphlet, Blue Sheila, was published by dancing girl press in 2018. Selected publications include Hotel, A Glimpse Of and Nuovi Argomenti and the anthologies including Wretched Strangers (Boiler House Press) and Quello che hai amato (UTET). Serena has given solo and collaborative performances internationally, most notably at Christie's Lates The Art of Literature, the European Poetry Festival, the Bucharest International Poetry Festival and FILL Festival of Italian Literature in London. Serena is currently a lecturer in Voice at the University of West London.