The Concertina Earring by Simon Lane

BOMB 4 Fall 1982
004 Summer Fall 1982

I was sorting out some things the other day and came across a plastic bag. It was jammed between the wardrobe and the chest of drawers. I was slightly surprised, that’s all. I thought it might contain some papers, perhaps a load of foreign coins, or two pence pieces. Maybe some old artwork, a half-keepable pencil drawing or stage drawing. The Lilac Fairy from The Sleeping Beauty or another weak idea I had wanted to throw out but hadn’t for some reason; because it was funny, a bit of a joke. Whatever it might have been it had been there for a while. I was prepared for anything.

But then I did know, if I was really honest with myself, what was in the bag. I knew what was in that bag. I simply didn’t know what to do about it. That’s why I had tried to hide it a year earlier. I had put it in a place which I would forget about, a place out of view, indeterminate. Not in a cupboard or under the sink, but somewhere else, so that if someone, for some strange reason, should ask me about it, I would be unable to tell them where it was. Sincerely.

If I told you right now what was in the bag you would understand why I had hidden it. But for the wrong reason. In the bag were the following: one pair of black tights, one outer garment, a one-piece of some highly modern material, in blue with a long zip running down the middle and an assortment of costume jewellery. These things do not belong to me. And I have never worn them. I am not a man who enjoys dressing up in women’s clothing. I wore a dress once for a joke but it worried me.

As soon as I opened the bag and had seen what was inside I experienced a wave of sadness. It was a very distant sadness, like waving goodbye to someone who is taking off in an aeroplane. It was a feeling with which I am familiar.

The clothes smelled. It was a mixture, a composite of last year, last summer, some perfume, and the voice of the person who used to wear the clothes. The smell was part of the clothes and part of the plastic bag but it didn’t go anywhere, it simply reached my nose and returned to where it belonged. Nevertheless it infected me, turning my sadness inside out. I put the bag onto the bed and looked at it. What was I going to do? Should I close the bag and put it back between the wardrobe and the chest of drawers or get rid of it?

I approached the bag and upended it. The clothes fell out, first the tights and then the rest. The jewellery landed with a tinkle on top of it all. I had another look inside the bag to see if I had missed anything. It looked like there was something in the corner, at the bottom. I shook the bag and it fell out. It was the concertina earring.

Oh dear.

This wasn’t good. Perhaps I better put it all back into the bag and hide it again.

The last time I saw that earring was a year ago. I woke up first and went into the kitchen to make the tea. I stood there, waiting for the kettle to boil, listening to the wireless. It was the news but I wasn’t interested. What was it then? Was it the Hostages still? Who cares? So, I went back into the bedroom and woke her up.

Here’s your tea.

What’s the time?

8:30.

I’m late.

Drink it.

I got back into bed. Something was the matter. Her face showed signs of pain.

What’s the matter?

Ow!

Can I help?

Yes, untangle it for me would you?

It was the earring, the concertina earring. Her hair was stuck between the pieces of gold which had been pushed together in her sleep. And she had a lot of hair, it was long, straight and thick, thick black hair with a fringe dyed bright green. It’s the most beautiful hair you ever saw in your life. Even now I think about her and her hair.

It was my job then to untangle her hair. I felt two conflicting forces at work inside my dulled hungover head. The first was, this is a good opportunity to touch the hair, and the second was, am I going to hurt her? They were neck and neck as I started the job.

Ow!

Sorry.

That hurts.

Keep still.

I’m late.

Keep still.

It took a long time. But I didn’t mind. I kept working at it, pulling the strands of hair in threes and fours but more often one at a time. This hair had to be treated with respect.

When I had finished I showed her the earring. Despite the fact that I had managed to open the concertina and remove most of the hairs which had been trapped, I still noticed, to my chagrin, that there were quite a number of hairs which had stuck fast and had been pulled off in the process.

But I think she understood.

And that’s what the earring looked like when I unearthed it from the bag a year later, opened up but with strands of hair caught in the gaps between the gold strips.

Some things take a lot of entangling, I decided, as I I put the clothes and the jewellery and the earring back into the bag.

May by Simon Lane
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Originally published in

BOMB 4, Fall 1982

Georgia Marsh, Paul Bowles, Michael McClard, Olivier Mosset & Fred Brathwaite, and Duncan Hannah. Cover by Mary Heilmann.

Read the issue
004 Summer Fall 1982