Poem a Day 2015 #10 – The Woman in the Basement

Poem number 10 for April 2015. I’ve been reading up on prose poems in preparation for a poetry group meeting this weekend. I haven’t written one for a while. This one came to me today, again from a childhood memory.

The Woman in the Basement

The woman in the basement scared me. I mean really scared me. Mrs. Chivers her name was. She always wore a hairnet, and one of those dustcoat aprons, floral and greasy. A widow. I didn’t really know what a widow was, but it sounded bad. And a fag always hanging out the corner of her mouth, a half inch of ash ever poised to drop. Not that she ever said or did anything scary as such. Except to look. It was her look mostly. Every time she saw me, she’d look at me that way. At the front of the house, the concrete yard where I pedalled my trike, was level with the top of her front window. She had net curtains. I couldn’t see her behind the net curtains, but I could sense her there; almost see her silhouette. And she was watching me. I was a quiet boy, so it’s not as if I was disturbing her. But I knew she was there, and I felt her resentment. There was a staircase going down from our kitchen to her basement flat. It had a door, which locked from her side. One of those doors with two oblong panes of frosted glass in the top half. I wanted us to put a lock on our side too. The way it was, she could keep us out, but we couldn’t keep her out. I lay awake at night, worrying that she was coming up that staircase, unsnibbing the lock and entering our world; that she was footpadding around, looking into our drawers, inspecting our larder, stealing our jam, helping herself to a cup of tea, and putting her feet up to smoke my Dad’s fags. I had regular nightmares. Nightmares of being drawn by some invisible force, towards that door at the top of her stairs; of the door being opened from the inside by an unseen hand; of the dark stairs leading down to her basement; of the dark outline of her waiting at the bottom of the stairs; only in my nightmare she had the head of a dog or wolf; of being unable to scream; of being dragged by that invisible force down, and down the stairs. I’d wake, screaming real screams. Next morning, I’d inspect the kitchen for signs of her: a dirty cup, a scattering of fag ash. I’d check if the door to the basement was still locked, and sometimes I could see her right there, behind the door, listening.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015


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