Friday, 31 July 2009


Basia has never smoked. She doesn't like the taste of alcohol. She tried drugs once; snorted cocaine at a cast party, but blew her nose immediately and was surprised by the fuss.

She is driven by other addictions; an obsession with handicrafts; knitting, patchwork, hooking rugs. She has never sent a shop-bought card. Her dining table is inlaid with a mosaic of large blue fish. She spent three months shaping the tesserae out of air-hardening clay. Now she eats her meals from a tray on her lap.

She spends all of her spare cash in art and craft shops; the haberdashery floor of department stores; the cheap market stalls where silk flowers are two for a pound.

There is not a lot of spare cash. Wardrobe assistants in provincial theatres are not well paid.

Three nights a week she is rota-ed as a Theatrical Dresser. She is careless with props; the gloves, hats, strings of pearls that make costume changes stressful. She ignores the play's progress, sitting in the wings knitting or sewing. Flustered actors irritate with their demands for buttons to be fastened. She is careless with pins and needles.

"You stupid cow!" Friar Tuck shouted when his heel was stabbed.

Basia is a thief, but a very honest thief. She would never steal from work, and when she does steal from a shop she always pays for something else at the same time. She regards this as Buy One Get One Free. She stands at a till, slipping a craft knife or a tube of bugle beads into her bag as she roots around for her purse to pay for a skein of embroidery silk.

Recently, however, she finds that she is stealing things she doesn’t need; sandalwood oil, a manicure set, drill bits. She makes a point of chatting to security guards in shops, asking for directions to the stencil paints or yoghurt-covered raisins. As they answer, she slides Kosher stock cubes or pork-flavoured dog chews up her coat sleeve. She thinks most men are stupid.

Last week she stitched a secret pocket into her coat.

Her friend, Rob, says she is going too far. “What if you get caught, Basia?”

“Pff!” she snorts, snipping off a trailing thread.

“You’ll get a criminal record. You won’t be able to join the Civil Service or travel to America.”

“I don't like Abroad,” she says, producing a duck-shaped egg cup from her sleeve. “Here, for you. I don’t eat eggs.”

Rob blames the Polish grandmother. All that talk of the War and communist deprivations. Basia behaves as if rationing is making a comeback. He has seen the restaurant sachets of sugar exploding from the cupboard under her sink.

Basia now refuses to go shopping with Rob. He has become nervous and makes her look suspicious by default. She misses their trips to town, but he is too much of a liability.

She met him at art school four years ago. They almost slept together but the moment passed. He is trying to make a name as an Installation Artist. His flat is strewn with banana skins in varying stages of decomposition, from green, to yellow, brown and shriveled black. He smells like a compost heap; a musty sweetness. He has asked Basia to save her apple cores and egg shells.

“I don’t eat eggs,” she reminds him.

To be honest, Basia doubts whether Rob will ever make it big in the art world. He has the soul of a policeman.

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