The Manchester Review
Jackie Kay
Mrs Vadnie Marlene Sevlon
print view

from men of disrepute? When people asked her what her husband did, she would tell them he was an electrician. She would picture him vividly, combining features of the electrician with the features of a man she once sat next to on a bus to the Lake District. She made a kind of composite husband out of the two, took the hair from one and gave it to the other so he wasn’t balding, just receding, took two inches of height from one and gave it to her husband, made his skin a rich dark brown. Her husband had lovely neat nails which you might not expect for an electrician. ‘Oh he works long hours; he’s an electrician you see. You have to be very well qualified to be an electrician you know. You have to know your wires, your blue and brown and black and yellow. And you need to know that blue used to be neutral, but black also used to be neutral,’ Vadnie would say, whenever she got a chance, to whoever would listen, even strangers, knowledgeably quoting the most recent electrician who stood explaining his job to her for some time on the last visit to Oliphant Street. Vadnie didn’t quite know what it was that made boiler men and electricity men and plumbing men always like to explain to her the exact ins and outs of what they were doing in a supremely technical way, but when an electrician came around, Vadnie listened intently. (In fact, she had found herself sometimes putting in extra plugs she didn’t exactly need and could ill afford, just to be sure she was up to date.) She had to have her husband keep up with the changing times and colour codes, she couldn’t have him caught short, her husband, dear Preston, Preston Sherwin Audley Sevlon; she felt such a tenderness for him. Preston: a quiet man, a man of few words, but kind deeds, whose parents were also from Jamaica but had come to England once and worked in Preston before returning to Montego Bay - well this was the story Vadnie first of all made up and later believed. When she got home from work, Preston would say ‘put your feet up Mrs Sevlon and I’ll make you a cup of tea.’ He never raised his voice or his hand to her. He was the kind of man that is a father to daughters rather than sons, a gentle kind man, intense and protective. And of course their daughters, Ladyblossom, Marsha and Grace, were all daddy’s girls. If you’d had a son, Preston would say, he would have been a mummy’s boy. What would we have called a son, she heard herself asking Preston? A name after an English place, he’d say, like me, chuckling, enjoying himself, Carlisle or Kendal or Lancaster. I couldn’t call a little boy Lancaster, she’d find herself saying out loud in the kitchen - then startle herself with his absence. Was it luck that got her the job as a Care Home Orderly at Sunnyside Home for the Elderly? Or was she being deliberately led down the wrong path? It was only two days a week but it seemed like a beginning in the beginning. And she well remembered the first day all that time ago, why, it must be fifteen years at least, walking down the driveway and glimpsing the garden