Friday, February 22, 2013
Bio tex (a human stain)
Funny how something like this can unearth a memory. It came up the other day when Son had a washing machine disaster with red trousers that coloured everything else pink. I suggested he try and remedy the situation with Bio tex. And then I remembered Donna.
She lived in one of the expensive houses at the bottom end of the mews that ran by the side of the flats where I lived as a child. Her house had wrought iron bars across the windows on the ground floor and a door bell that went ding dong when you pressed it. Her family was from the States, where they would rather have lived, but the father's work kept them in England. They looked down on my family because we did not have money, or if we did then there were no visible indications of it. My family looked down on Donna's because they had no culture, or none that my family recognised, and the fake antique coach light over the front door was a sign of this lack.
I can't remember how she and I met - probably in the mews where I sometimes played with my sister. Donna was always nicely turned out in dresses or skirts, white ankle socks and penny loafers on her feet. My sister and I were, by her mother's standards, scruffy and when not at school we usually wore trousers and scuffed shoes. Donna's mother told her to remind me to wipe my feet on the mat when I came into the house. She rarely addressed me directly, but I felt her eyes on me. She was tall, straight and thin with long, shiny fingernails, always dressed as though for a special occasion. Unlike my mother, she did not go out to work. She eyed me from their gleaming kitchen or from the cream-covered sofa where she sat with a box of chocolates, reading a magazine or watching television. Donna was nervous of her mother and exceptionally careful not to do or say anything that might displease her. It was easy to do this, particularly with dirt or the possibility of it. I was told never to sit on the cream sofa in case I made it dirty. Donna was punished if she came home with a mark on her clothes. When we went to the playground she wouldn't go near the sandpit. She brushed the seat of the swing with the palm of her hand before sitting on it.
One hot day in my kitchen when we were having my favourite drink of raspberry cordial with soda water and ice, some of the cordial syrup spilt on the white kipper tie that lay on her chest, over the navy blue dress. Donna had protruding front teeth that bit into her lower lip whenever she was nervous. They bit hard as she looked at the stain. She whispered, my mother will kill me. I understood the situation well enough not to suggest that the tie could just be washed. It was not just the fact of having marked something, though this in itself was bad - a sign of disrespect, lack of care and wilfulness. The raspberry juice would leave a stain on the white that would not wash out. My mother will kill me, repeated Donna. I pictured her mother's face as she stood on the threshold between kitchen and shiny parquet-floored hall. Even when she was not angry there was the sense that she was looking for a mark - some point to which she could direct the fury that simmered beneath the tight lips, the dark eyes that moved over one's face and body like searchlights looking for the fault. Though she might not literally kill Donna,whatever punishment was delivered would be fearsome.
I rummaged under the kitchen sink where we kept detergents. I remembered something that had once been used to make a cloth white again after wine was spilled on it. On the cardboard box it said to soak in cold water but I boiled a kettle, filled a bowl with hot Bio tex solution and put the kipper tie in it. Almost at once, the stain turned blue and then began to fade before our eyes. As the material whitened the colour came back to Donna's face, and after ten minutes all evidence of stain had disappeared. I fetched the iron and ironing board and pressed the tie until it was dry. And we lived happily ever after and at some point went our separate ways - I to boarding school, she back to the States.
But the stain does, in a sense, endure.