Medicine From Ponies

Claude Baskind

“It's the first of November. I don't know if I told you, she's pregnant. I gave her a baby. Oh and Ricky's living in Montreal now... Yeah, Ricky's cool.” 

“What do they call a Big Mac in Shanghai?”

I couldn’t quite hear but I gathered that her friend she was talking about was in China, building a replica of the White House in a forest somewhere. Apparently, some Swedish billionaire wants to live in it and the Chinese government thinks it's a good idea. God only knows why. Anyway, he's been spending a lot of time in Washington. He even went on a tour of the White House. Although apparently it's just the outside they're replicating. The inside will be totally different.

“The Elephant Man's Revenge (or Too Many Roses for Friday)”

The man wanted money. I'd seen him around with his crutches and hair, black and oily. And dark skin, like a Mexican bad-guy. I'd seen him around, with a sad story or a temper, muttering and swearing. He'd been thrown out of a shop. Today he was at the fence, talking about whatever-hardships. The bald guy he was begging to was waiting for his boyfriend to come back. A bottle of white wine was chilling on his table. The bald guy said “Sorry, I'm sorry. Sorry, no sorry. I'm sorry.” Eventually, the beggar pushed off. The man's friend came back and asked him what had happened. Then he ordered a double espresso. Later they paid the bill and the bald man’s boyfriend said “Can we put forty pounds on each please? Yes, with service. Thank you.”

“Maria, when are you coming home?”

He kissed her and held her face, all very tender. And she smiled and kissed him back and let her face be touched and her back be held and to be pulled close. And he kissed her neck and she smiled and lent into his kiss. He put his hands under her shirt and she shyly pulled them away. He smiled, understanding but not really, and put his hands under her shirt again. She pulled away and he said “What's wrong?” And she said “Nothing but we're outside and you are just someone I know from a party.” He said “Don't you want to know me better?”  She said, “Yes, but not now in this place, right now.” “Then you're immature and I'm not looking for someone immature.”

And he left. And she rubbed the place where his hand had been under her shirt and thought about her brother and her friends in Verona. She thought about a man she had met in Montreal who had drunk beer at six in the morning, but was never drunk and used to be a brain surgeon. She thought about a woman who she had read about who lived in a park in London even though she had a fancy house just nearby.

“It’s funny… Sometimes it’s the things you don’t see.”

Then the bald guy did an imitation of someone who spoke in a faux posh, old-man's voice and him and his boyfriend laughed quietly to themselves, smiling and chuckling into their
chins and down their chests. And they said things quietly like “oh my” and “oh dear” and “ah” while at the table behind them, an Irishman and his daughter sat down and ordered lunch.

“You can’t argue with bread”

The Irishman spoke in a soft, sing-song voice, raising pitch at the end of his sentences whether he asked a question or not. She talked about someone called Kevin who she said was wonderful and might not even finish studying. This surprised him and his voice became lower and didn't go up at the end. And he said things in a monotone that I couldn't distinguish. She spoke again, maybe she was talking back. They didn't reach a common ground on the subject so far as I could tell.

She said, “I would love to do something, you know?” And he probably didn't know. But he said “Ya, ya.” And she continued talking. What could he know? This happily disgruntled Irishman in his swag of flesh and rosy skin. Understanding nothing but what was essential to survive in the physical world. He focused his deep-seated eyes and looked at her; the problems of the day could be solved. All others, of what consequence where they now? Right now?

“So here’s the news…”

She was telling her friends about her date, who was so nervous he was shaking when he arrived. And when she told him that there was no need to be nervous because they were just, you know, talking, it got worse, and he became more nervous. He struggled to get an architecture job and had worked in a hotel, because he didn't speak any English when he arrived from Spain. He had worked in the hotel for the last two years. And now he needed to find a job. But he just wasn't going to fit in at the office where she worked... It wasn't a date, she was telling about, I now realised. It was a job interview she was conducting at the architecture firm where she worked. “And could you imagine him standing up to Michelle?” she said. His name was Ben, the Spanish guy. And according to her, he was adorable, and she felt very sorry for him. “What he needs is a small firm that will look after him.”


And doesn't it seem, on some Saturday or Sunday mornings, that everyone is a philosopher and a purveyor of wisdom, full of humanity?

My Friend Mel

Phoebe Eccles

My friend Mel says she has written a book, about exactly what I can’t recall now, but something involving a mid-life crisis and a meta-historical arc. She is fresh out of art school and has put her summer holiday to use.

“I am going to write a book too,” I say, annoyed that she has made my writer identity real for herself. It’s possible that I can reclaim it, but first I will need a job to support my writer lifestyle, and then I’ll need a wordpress to make myself googleable, only I know it is impossible to make a wordpress because I have tried at least four times, and surely after four tries it is ok to give up, but no, if this job search has taught me anything it’s that trying and failing nowadays is not only normal but expected, like some kind of drinking ritual that you do to get into a crap university sports team, probably rugby, and getting drunk isn’t enough, and vomiting isn’t either, instead you have to drink the vomit, the literal failure of someone else’s innards, in order to make the team.

Do not misunderstand me as saying that setting up a blog or finding employment is comparable to drinking someone else’s vomit. Maybe getting published is, I don’t know, I’m not Mel, I haven’t tried that yet. Instead I am just sitting in bed alternating between typing up applications, reading rejection emails and writing down my feelings in a diary. The start of yesterday’s entry: It’s not very fun, being told by your local bookshop, (the place that I have exclusively gone to for all my literary needs ever since I was seven, yes even when Amazon introduced the prime free trial I still went there) that you don’t have enough pizzazz to work on the till and anyway your cover letter is filled with grammatical errors, why didn’t you get anyone to proofread it? And it’s true, it’s not fun, but it’s also not the same as being told that you’ve got to drink the vomit of the bigdog bookseller, although in some ways that would simplify the hiring process.

“My plot is non-linear, a bit like Ali Smith’s latest”, Mel tells me. But it still has a beginning, middle and end, components that enable it to be encased in a hard front and back cover. The fact that I haven’t even started mine makes us horribly unequal. What’s even worse to think about is that I will start, but I won’t finish. Even as I type that now I quietly assure myself that this isn’t true, that one day I will manage, but if we are to look at the facts of my situation, my documents even, then my pessimism stands supported. Writing my thesis was awful because I could never remember what I had already said, but going back to check was out of the question. The start didn’t match the end – that is what my supervisor said. He was kind though, and kept giving me extensions so I could wrap it up, and I would stretch those extensions to the very limit, unable to write unless I had the weight of the clock on my neck.

But no, that was different, and cover letters are different too, because they are boring. I will finish my novel, I will start and then finish, without plan and plot, copying out the best bits of my journals, like what Helen Garner did for Monkey Grip. Although, as my friend (not Mel, another one) pointed out, Monkey Grip is interesting because it is about free love and drugs and jealousy and the days when people lived in each other’s basements. So perhaps I will need a plot, because I haven’t had sex in a while and the last time I took drugs I think it was mainly laundry detergent.

When I first loved someone unrequitedly, I wrote up our relations with changed names and made all the stuff that had been making me weep into a source of comedy. It was great therapy, until I remembered that I had once chanced upon one of his notebooks filled with essays on this other girl and I thought “I have immortalised him and he will never do the same for me” and so I deleted it all out of spite or maybe self-respect, you decide which.

Although I have not written a book, I have sat in front of a laptop for a long time. In fact, I’ve recently cultivated a routine: check facebook, stare a while at the word seen, adorned with a tick, sitting at the bottom of a message to someone who I desperately want a reply from. Reread my last message. Search our previous messages through typing an obscure word into the search bar, and then spend hours reading conversations that took place when our relations were different. Check to see when they have last been online. Write out something and then delete it. Send someone else online (usually but not always a real life friend) a sticker that is both endearing but a little tragic. “What’s up”, they will sometimes reply. Tell them about my failing job search. Once they have proved they are incapable of helping (how I wish I was friends with myself, I have thought more than once) I google something inane like “why is being sad so boring” or “songs to listen to when your heart is broken (FEMALE ARTISTS ONLY)”. Then I try to redeem myself by going on a news website which just depresses me further so I do an NHS quiz to see if I am medically depressed (not quite), then a quiz on buzzfeed to see who would direct the film of my life (Stanley Kubrick, unfortunately). Then back to facebook, rinse and repeat. Then, that evening, I go to the pub and boast about how I don’t have a macbook or a smart phone. Mel has both these things, and uses them to for practical, writerly purposes, such as editing her wordpress and following Joyce Carol Oates on twitter.

Maybe I will find a way to make my life worthwhile without becoming an author, like through being good. I haven’t eaten meat in five months and I keep planning to join an activist group although that is another thing that deep down I know I won’t do because I find activist circles like seminars i.e. annoying and occasionally humiliating. I could volunteer, though. And I could always make an effort to be kind to my friends and family.

But no, I will write a novel, I will start it today and I will deactivate my facebook and I will finish it when I’m 25 and it won’t be publishable but my second one will be, so I won’t have to worry about causing offense by using everyone I know as characters and in the meantime I’ll read enough detective fiction to understand how it is structured and then I will be like Helen Fielding meets Patricia Highsmith, giving birth to a humorous yet grizzly murder mystery every year, and I’ll read philosophy too and write funny philosophical essays that get published in offbeat magazines that give all their proceeds to radically leftwing political organizations and then I won’t feel bad about not being an activist because I’ll still be contributing to the cause, like when I didn’t occupy but still brought food to the occupiers, a giver as opposed to a participator, and isn’t that what all writers are in relation to life anyway?

And even as I make the future coherent I feel deeply disappointed, as if everything I’m saying, every hope that I’m putting into words is just not enough, not enough to look forward to, but maybe that’s because yet again I love someone who cannot love me back, and until that is resolved, either through altering the nature of our friendship or through letting them go entirely (both unsavoury options) everything else is tinged with a gloom that undoubtedly permeates this entire bit of writing, making it likely that you don’t believe that my novel will be funny, because I certainly haven’t cracked any jokes here. But to you I say, give me a break, I’m part of broken Britain, I was promised the world and I’ve been given my childhood bedroom, I’m a master of art who must frequently make humiliating trips to the jobcentre where they sometimes try to make me work for free, or work at Debenhams, and even though I didn’t particularly like the sound of the role of visual assistant, I was still hurt when I didn’t get it, seeing as the application was just one big personality test.

And yes, I’m hurting, and although I find a broken heart rather productive when it comes to writing, add boredom into the mix and it becomes a case of there being too much of the same to mould into one decent thing. Unless this is something, and I’m reluctant to say it is, because 39% is fiction and 61% is truth, but who is saying that, me or the author? These distinctions make me nervous. I won’t be able to start my novel until I figure them out. When I want to lessen someone’s power over me, I reduce them to a caricature, but what are the consequences of me doing this to myself?

If I don’t finish my novel, maybe I can say it’s postmodern like Mel’s and publish it anyway. And editors can fix my grammar and my repetitions, so I won’t suffer with my past problems. I want to write a book and so I will write a book. Although I also want to not be lonely. I want to not be on the dole and I want to not be so arrogant as to find it funny that I’m on the dole. I want to be able to not have to demand the company of others because I am scared of being alone with my brain. I want to lose my sadness without also losing the will to write. But above all, above the words even, I desperately want the promise, and it doesn’t have to be written down, that I will be ok. 


Keenan Norris

Sharone heard a preacher’s holler fading out and then saw another evangelist come into focus. This infomercial holy man sermonized about the evil of promiscuity, how the wanton were asking for it, AIDS, TB, insufficient funds. Meanwhile, a heavenly scroll with his “checks payable” address ran ticker-tape style at the bottom of the screen. 

Sharone was always telling people how the only things BET televised were booty-shaking videos and praise and worship. It was like Fat Tuesday and then Ash Wednesday and back to Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday on and on in everlasting paradox. The commercials came to a close and yet another lights-camera-action preacher came into view, in media res, testifying on Revelation, on Jesus burnished bronze and burning bright, the pale horse, on how won’t but 144,000 gon’ get home, and a slain lamb. (The entirety of the sermon notwithstanding) lambs, Sharone figured, had been slain on the daily since the beginning of time and in countless number. Lamb's blood coated soil the world over and seeped under cement in every ghetto. This was the hard world that scripture but suggested. It was the world Sharone was trying to escape in mind and soul more than in body. His body could wither to dust any moment now. He could drop dead this very second. He had almost died before; what of it? His living body was only good for lifting and carrying and rising with the sun and falling with the moon. If the body could live eternal then there would be no real threat not only to existence but to the sins that animated society. Why would anybody leave off sinning this moment if they knew they would have forever to redeem themselves? 

Cane, he reflected, was an innocent, knowing nothing of murder until he had committed it and stood in the sunlit field above his brother’s dead body. The first murder only mattered because it brought death into the world. And from then on, nothing could be as it had been. The body could die. The sharp end of things was the reason for redemption.

Sharone sank further into the couch, dreading the pain in the small of the left side of his back that would come later. But he was too tired to do anything but sink and think. He had a large, strong body, but he had been close enough to death—it was no imaginative, starlit leap to contemplate a thief with the drop on him, Sharone on the wrong side of a revolver, made to kneel and beg with a gun to his head, made to come up out of his shoes and socks, made to strip naked in the dark under a freeway overpass, made to hand over his unsold wet weight like a burnt offering in exchange for his life. Such things were more than imaginings and more than memories, too. They were a mirror and even now he saw himself in that broken moment, all his strength dissolved, disappeared. He saw his final silence there. It was his best reason behind not trusting the Bible or the al-Qu’ran. He read them books alright, but always with a certain reserve; for a book was still just a thing. Whole religions had died in fire, all their books piled and burned to ashes. As far as he was concerned, redemption could only come from without the world of things, in the invisible world of the mind.

Slowly, piecemeal, moment by moment, hour by hour, and with each sunrise and set, Sharone had resurrected his mind. He read, yes, and he explored. First, he went to the only place he already knew: Reverend Sherwood’s Baptist church close to home. His grand-dad had taken him there in the first years after his orphaning. There had been a time when he had belonged to its well-structured society. Only his return to Los Angeles ten years ago now stopped his attendance. But upon his return to this home within a home, he now found the church’s ways were worrisome and strange: How the ushers passed the hat every fifteen minutes and how Sherwood returned almost spasmodically to the theme that thinking was not so important, really, but simply a vessel for haughty pride and intellectual agnosticism. How thought could trap you up so it needed to be put down before one could get raptured away. All Sherwood counseled the parishioners to do was to pray and be and be and pray, and to go goddamn fishing for men like the stalker-ass Jehovah’s witnesses on the weekends. It was the absence of thought that had gotten Sharone caught up and messed up in the first place. He didn’t need Sherwood’s preaching on how not to think.

So he found his way to a Buddhist temple in a suburb a few towns over and on a mundane, hot, arid Wednesday night he sat down in a too-small-for-his-size, hard-backed chair amongst a congregation (he knew no other word for a religious gathering) of white people with their hair bees-waxed, summoned into dreadlocks, and there he meditated for thirty-five minutes. Outside he could hear the hum of traffic from the freeway and an occasional honking horn. The meditation leader tolled a bell that began the meditation and from time to time the man would tell them not to think, simply to breathe: In-breath; out-breath; no thought. Sharone had identified a trend, but he complied as well as he could. He actually did try to still his mind. But it kept working and wandering—Sharone had too much on his mind just to be, in-breath, out-breath. When he tried to exist simply, floating on the depthless, transient plane of each escape and return of air, he found himself descending into caves and black downward shoots of memory and feeling and pain. When the meditation teacher finally tolled the bell to end session, he felt exhausted and mellowed, but still nowhere near thoughtlessness. The teacher explained that next there would be a ten-minute break for light refreshments, pastries and tea, in the adjoining room. Then the “tsonga” would conclude with a talk about a specific teaching derived from the story of the Buddha’s transcendence of the power, wealth and self that he was born into. Gotta have wealth to transcend it, Sharone thought to himself. He doubted he would see himself in the Buddha’s story. He had only enough wealth for his rent, his food, his bus tickets and his community college class. He selfishly nabbed a cinnamon shortcake from the platter in the adjoining room then left before the talking began.

But he did begin to meditate on his own time. Sharone didn’t enjoy the stillness or how terrifyingly acute all his thoughts became as he sat alone in his room on the floor, but he liked the way he felt after it was over, so relieved in those last minutes before bed. He heard tale that the Ethiopians meditated for four hours straight through without a meditation teacher to ring any bell, or point them to the refreshments. There was an Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Christian church on the East Side of San Suerte across the street from a popular check-cash outlet. He recalled, even as a child, being struck by how calm, serene, untroubled and beautiful the parishioners—that was a second word that he could use if anybody ever asked him about his religious searching— were as they filed in neat rows from off the squalid street into their place of holiness. They were just so many smartly dressed children, no older than him but so much more dignified in dress and demeanor and every-other way, too; so many head-wrapped women; so many decoratively robed, stone-serious men. He remembered the colors, the red, the black, the green and yellow of the church front. But he could not recall ever wanting to attend service or even wanting to steal a glance inside the church. 

Now, he decided to attend: He asked around and eventually found an Ethi girl who didn’t seem too wary of him. She had big, doe eyes and a round, moon-like face that belied her thin, small stature. She told Sharone that she could not sit beside him, but she could tell him how to dress properly and how to enter the church in such a way that people would either assume he was a newly arrived immigrant—or perhaps a single man come down from Oakland or west from Phoenix—or that he was a black American disillusioned by the white man’s Christianity, now in search of the true Word of God. 

Inside, he sat in the very last row, where small, hard-back chairs took the place of pews. The crowd had overwhelmed the pews. With his height, he was able to sit still and look out upon several hundred Ethiopian Tewahedo Christians. There was a choir and singing, which reminded him of the black church, except the language and rhythm of the songs was completely different, high and wholly melodic, rocking him into a trance-state. Incense burned, filling the entire church like a syrup lifted and settled, thick-sweet and still upon him, submerging him in its clouds. The only reason he wasn’t wholly hypnotized was that the choir director repeatedly interrupted the song, calling things to a halt when even one singer fell off key.

The first hour of meditation was no different from the scatter-brained session Sharone had experienced at the Buddhist temple, no different from the welter of ideas that characterized his late-night, pre-bed ritual. The second hour he began to think about why he was thinking so much and this line of thought, which was longer and deeper than he’d expected, carried him well into the third hour. He fell into a welter of questions that had never occurred to him before. What if the Ethiopians sold their religion like the American Christians did, putting it in politicians’ mouths and on talk radio? What then? What if this incense cloud was a floating potion or the body of Christ or the aura of the Holy Ghost? What then? And what if Des went and fell in love with him when he still couldn’t stand himself? What then? By the fourth hour, his mind and body had stilled. The future exhausted, there was nothing left but to remind himself to breathe, to circulate the one thing that would keep this completely used-up shell that was his body alive. 

The clothes he had worn that day smelled like the Ethiopians’ incense for weeks afterward. His whole experience of the Tewahedo Church was like that: Engulfing, unrelenting. Its effect didn’t dissipate. And he was not sure that he could go back until the shock of actually being rendered mindless, bodiless, a flawlessly opened vessel, finally wore off.

He kept making plans to return and worship with the Ethiopians. The girl, Addis, seemed disappointed in him when he did not come back. She stopped talking to him. Meanwhile, word must have gotten around amongst the Africans and the appropriative black Americans that he was searching for his spiritual salvation. Some Santeria mystics from Oakland got ahold of him for a week and put him through their paces. Orisha rites was how he would think of it later. That was the wrong name for what he witnessed, but that was the only language he had for such things. A consecrated cast iron pot filled with ash, sticks, earth and items Sharone had no interest in investigating became the centerpiece object, held aloft, prayed to and entreated. At one point the stone vessel was set alight by fire and its smoldering contents suffused the air of the windowless downtown warehouse. Time and logic blurred. He wasn’t sure how long the ceremonies lasted or even what each ritual was purposed toward. On the third or fourth day in their city-condemned space, the mystics went in deep: He thought he was hallucinating when a live chicken was brought forth and he witnessed, by the light of a few cell phones held aloft, the spiritual leader produce the animal from out of a box and hold it in his cupped hands like a sacrament. A prayer rose amongst the congregants; a woman began to trill ecstatically. The cell phones went black. The dark priest set the chicken on the ground and another man held it still, and then the priest produced a long blade and swiftly beheaded the bird. Its blood gushed out like a broken sprinkler head, spattering Sharone’s legs and feet, and then the damned thing started to scuttle around on the dank steel floor, dead but unreconciled. And Sharone felt one with the animal, saw his own head severed, his own body forcibly transitioned into a place after life and unclaimed by death.

There were endless prayers to the ancestors in Africa and lost in the waves in the transatlantic passage to the Americas. There was drumming and screaming and singing and ecstatic lulls that took him deeper into the dead, exhausted pits of his despair than even the Ethiopians had. Suddenly, he was back in his bunk in the County jail and his bedsheet had become a woman and he was ashamed. If he had been fucking her, cumming in the filthy cloth, that would be one thing; but instead she was holding him, rocking him in her embrace like she would a child, and he knew that he was nothing more than a child and very frightened. He knew he was definitely not built for a long stay here, in jail, let alone prison. He was nineteen then.

The Orishas wanted him. They were calling him on. They laid claim to his soul, each prayer a grasping mirror that reflected, seized and sequestered his deepest despair within its primeval frame. But before they could take him back to the Bay Area or Africa or into those ocean waves, whatever their final intention, his homegrown black Baptist churchiness just simply rose up. His hesitation and then refusal had perishing little to do with Christianity, or with any minister or congregation, nor with a book that he had concluded was just another book, full of wisdom and teachings, but just another book with no final truth; no, it was just his blackness that kept him from going off with the mystics, it was just his need for his own native black American churchy equilibrium, passing the hat and all that crap, that was familiar to him, that would not allow him, after all that searching, to be swept up in fuck and starlight and righteous animism.

Two Sisters

Lauren Bell

The two sisters sat on the riverbank. Misty gazed out across the silver mirror gleam of the water to the ploughed fields, her sight fattening on the freshly turned earth. She closed her eyes and welcomed the sun kiss every inch of her face: cheeks, nose, forehead, mouth. She smiled into the sunshine. Her older sister, Beth, removed her lilac sandals and dipped her toes into the heated water, wriggling them as though they were little more than worms.

Both sisters had lustrous red hair which caught the fine rays of sunshine spilling from the heavens above. At certain angles their hair looked positively golden and glowing like maturing halos.

Misty had toyed with the idea for a while now. She had been told by an old beggar woman that all she had to do was believe with her head and her heart, and her wish would come true.

Still looking at the coffee-coloured earth, Misty undid her hair and cast it out like a fishing net, watching it spread across the water like a Chinese fan.

‘What are you doing?’ her sister asked.

‘What does it look like? I’m trying to catch myself a man.’

Beth laughed. ‘Good luck with that, Sis.’

Misty smiled and it seemed that in that moment, the world grew brighter. Beth shielded her eyes.

‘I think I shall have good luck,’ she added.

‘You’ll need a bloody miracle more like. Men don’t exist anymore, well not in the conventional sense.’

She thought of the handful she had ever known, the ones who promised her that they’d protect her from harm, the ones with chocolate brown eyes like fathomless oceans and others with eyes the colour of crystal rainwater. They had all let her down in some way.

Beth sighed. She had listened to that old peddler long before her sister, and instead of kicking her to the roadside which she should have done, she crossed her palm with gold and listened to her words.

‘You have a strong head and a good heart. You will go far. But don’t be fooled by those handsome enough to steal what’s good in you. They harbour funny ideas, and given the chance, utter sinful words. Avoid them at all costs.’

When Beth thought she had met “The One”, she was alone, dipping her feet in a different river, a river whose water was the purest turquoise. She hadn’t told Misty where she was going nor what she was up to; sometimes it was good for sisters to spend time apart.

Beth had cast her hair exactly as Misty did now, marvelling at its sheer span as though her hair alone was enough to seal the river and keep it pure. She had waited for a short while, losing herself in the distant birdsong which flowed effortlessly through the breeze until the gentle tug beneath the water’s surface dragged her attention to the handsome stranger below. He was well and truly caught like all the others before him, semi-naked too, which brought a violent splash of colour to her usual pallid cheeks. As he surfaced, Beth saw his chiselled features and flaxen curls reminding her of an amphibian Adonis. Her heart swelled inside and then sharply contracted when she noticed the silver flash of scissors in his hand. A single snip later and the man had freed himself from her red-gold tresses, leaving a gaping hole in her hair.

Since then, Beth has never let her hair down. She cannot physically bring herself to do it because what would Misty say? Would she cry out in horror? Or would she simply shrug and look the other way? 

Misty said suddenly, ‘Come on, Beth. Be a daredevil like me and let your hair down.’

A shadow of fear crossed her face. Suddenly Beth looked old, old enough to be mistaken for Misty’s mother.

She shook her head and said, ‘Oh no, catching men is a young woman’s game’, and gently touched the tortoiseshell clasp holding what little hair she had left.