The Manchester Review
Jackie Kay
Mrs Vadnie Marlene Sevlon
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her whole name and her dates and the inscription beloved daughter of Gladstone and Hyacinth Sevlon, Rest in Peace, Darling. It wasn’t perhaps what people usually did in their lunch hours, dream up their own headstones, but Vadnie found it quite entertaining and it passed away the time. Should it say passed away or should it say fell asleep, what should the exact wording be? She continued down Salusbury Road, stopped to buy a new plug in the DIY shop and a new packet of fuses, past the artisan bakery, where the bread and cakes looked lovely, like little works of art, the beauty of those breads, some so threaded they looked like fancy hair-dos, or wiring, but cost a small fortune, so she only ever looked in the window; past a fancy florist where they even had birds of paradise, which looked out of place, but cost a small fortune so she only ever went in to the Florists to take a deep sniff; past Queen’s Park Underground Station and right into Kilburn Lane, down Fifth Avenue, which always made Vadnie think of New York, where she might have gone for her contemplation, Central Park, watching people skateboard, rollerblade, jog, meditate, dance and all the things she heard say people do in Central Park from her cousin Eldece who went over there fifteen years ago and sometimes wrote a letter with all her news. Eldece was maybe the lucky one. But the strange thing about life was that you could only live the one of them; you couldn’t live the other one, the one where you went to New York instead of London, and then compare and contrast. You couldn’t compare the life you had with the life you might have had though sometimes Vadnie Marlene Sevlon would have liked to have been able to shout Stop and after the requisite minutes Start, and then catch the other life, live it for a bit, and if it was not as agreeable as the one in her imagination, well then she’d be able to return to the old life and appreciate it better by simply shouting Stop and Start again. As Vadnie turned into her own street, Oliphant Street, she wondered if it was luck or fate or God that made the decisions in your life. Or was it just a moment plucked from the ordinary that made you stick with mistakes already made? For instance, once, years ago, on the telephone, a man who was going to be coming to fix her electric sockets said, ‘is you Miss or Mrs?’ And Vadnie answered Mrs. That was twenty years ago, when she was thirty, and was still thinking that the right man might come along. He never did but Vadnie kept the Mrs anyway. She put Mrs on her bank cards and Mrs on anything she had to sign. Mrs on her direct debits and Mrs on her television license, Mrs on her water bill and Mrs on her gas and electric. It was Mrs Vadnie Sevlon, and she felt she got more respect that way. Strange thing was, after a number of years, she believed it herself. She was no longer surprised at the amount of post that arrived with her whole name on it. The Mrs by then didn’t give her the thrill of the early days; she took it quite for granted. So might she look back on the electric man and call that fate or luck or God? Did God want her to call herself Mrs to keep herself safe