That day I turned off Vassall Road, onto a heavily shaded side road, between a graffitied shop front, and the rear wall of a LCC housing block. A man and woman walked past, carrying two small children. I caught the usual whiff of weed, wishing I hadn’t. After a newly landscaped park, I came upon two small terraced houses on the corner. Chubby letters, painted straight onto the brickwork read, ‘This is a Private Residence. Keep Out.’ Next to the spacious new housing development, with its ostentatiously carved street names, the two cottages looked mean and cramped.
A line from the soundtrack of Jackie Brown popped into my head. First I remembered ‘That day’ then ‘Audrey’. Or was it ‘Aubrey’. Then in a slow gravelly American acting voice, ‘wet deck.’ Because I kept cycling past the same house, the same line kept repeating itself again and again, engraving itself onto a part of my brain, reminding me to look it up.
When the children were still children, we used to play the Jackie Brownsound track in the car.
–Is it something to do with boxing? I asked Dom, when I got home. Now that there’s only two of us.
–It’s Beaumont, the guy in the boot.
–I don’t think it’s part of the script. It’s a quote.
–But what’s the wet deck?
–You know, it’s set in California, where they all have decks
–I thought it was to do with boxing, like hit the deck.
–Why would a boxing ring be wet?
–You know, I think there’s a boxing match playing in the background when the Bridget Fonda character says her ambition is to get high..
— and watch TV!
–Or it might be a threat – as in you might slip.
The day the World Cup started, I stayed in the kitchen, Dom moved upstairs, to watch the match. I looked up ‘Aubrey, Audrey, wet deck, that day, Jackie Brown.’ It took me a few goes. Then I shouted up the stairs, ‘Found it!’. At half time..
–It’s a quote from another film. A boss offers his employee a turn with a prostitute.
–Is the prostitute Aubrey Hale Clayton?
–No. The boss.
–Stop saying No like that.
–So what’s the wet deck?
–Is it the prostitute?
–Hmm. Is that really what it means?
‘That’ll be the day, the day that I die,’ I sang as I set out again next morning. According to the brief set by my employers, the students should be able to use conjunctions. I waited at the lights thinking this line, that’s from Jackie Brown, but not in the script.
‘The day I follow Aubrey Hale Clayton on a wet deck, that day, I slit my throat.’
Finsbury Square was streaming with men and women in lightweight suits, nothing too shiny, nothing too blue. They walked heads down, briefcases held close to their sides at the end of their arms.
The main clause, ‘I slit my throat’ could be present tense or past; they sound the same, but in this case means an impossible future. The first clause is a compound or a conditional clause – perhaps you can help me here. Not suitable for an English lesson at any rate. Instead – ‘Conjunctions are very strong words,’ -I told the students. The shyest student, who often wouldn’t say anything except laugh with her friend in Spanish, loved the work on conjunctions. The other students teased her, saying her hair would catch fire.
After the class, still planning my lesson, since conjunctions were going to take a few goes, I cycled north through Vauxhall. The corner where the Blaxploitation line popped into my head, I stopped once more to take a photo. This time I read the blue plaque on the wall:
Cherry Dorothy Groce
1948 – 2011
innocently shot in this house
by police which sparked the
1985 Brixton uprising
Barely pausing to wonder what that ‘innocently’ meant or who it referred to I cycled over the Vauxhall Bridge, through Pimlico to the Home Office. In front of hand painted banners, women from Iraq, Congo, Eritrea, read out their testimonies.
Meanwhile the Guardian reported on the deaths of three Eritrean youngsters, who after finally making it to England, took their own lives.
The day I arrive in England, that day…
The day the Groce family get justice, that day….
–Complete these sentences, I told Dom.
In the dot dot dot, sat closure, shame, death, starting a new life.
— You have to take risks, to finish the sentence. But at the same time the grammar forces you to finish it.
–So you end up saying something stupid, like ‘I’ll eat my hat’ or ‘I’ll kill myself.’
–‘The day I slit my throat’ I told Dom, is meant to be ironic.
–You don’t say
–Martin Amis wrote something like irony withers in the face of Islamism.
Dom pursed his lips as if tasting something mouldy.
–But really, I soldiered on, irony withers in front of injustice, violence, abuse of power
–You don’t have to lecture me. Perhaps we were just young.
–It’s either gallows humour or pretentious. Tarantino, I have no stomach for.