Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Miss Love

By Jay Merrill

Jay has fiction in forthcoming or recent issues of 3 AM Magazine, Berfrois, Crannóg Magazine, The Galway Review, Ginosko Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, The Prague Revue, Prairie Schooner, SmokeLong Quarterly and Story Shack. She is the author of two short story collections – God of the Pigeons (Salt, 2010) and Astral Bodies (Salt, 2007) and has been nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award and Edge Hill Prize. Her story ‘As Birds Fly’ won the Salt Short Story Prize and is included in the ‘Salt Anthology of New Writing, 2013’. Jay has an Award from Arts Council England and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.

It’s a help if you can start off in good spirits to stand you in good stead. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen to you later in the game – if game is the right word to use. Things are uncertain. None more so, I’ve discovered than with love itself. To some undoubtedly love means everything and who can say they’re wrong. But others have found it all adds up to nil. With me the only love that’s lasted is my name.

When I was a teacher I was Miss Love. The school was all rules and hypocrisy; the kids were mean-mouthed as their feral parents; empty as rattling cans. I did my best to interest them in pictures that had touched me; in the soft and fine shaded drawings of Rembrandt, in the brash fighting colours of the Fauves. In the painstaking and the flamboyant wild relief. In let-go passion and in the most careful line. All the richness and the perfection and the blemish and the damaged with intent. It didn’t matter. All was as nothing. All balderdash and blind. I was bereft. Then there was the respectable set among the parents who took a snooty personal satisfaction in the Van Gogh Sunflowers, as though they’d invented them, or in any sunset that said Turner underneath; with Willie Lott’s Cottage and the Mona Lisa smile. Their kids sat in the classrooms and smirked. I, poor teacher that I was, could not relate to either group. I was the art teacher and nobody in the school environment had the least respect for that. Art with a capital A was for those who could afford it. There was no other kind.

I stayed on. Where else was there to go to? I was frightened by the thought of getting out. Then, to cut a story short I lost my job. The school decided they were chopping Art from the curriculum, so I was let go. In a way it was a relief because I did wonder if I was cut out to be a teacher. It brought out the critical streak I have in me. I didn’t like the atmosphere of a school and I didn’t much like the kids. BUT (You have to imagine an entirely upper case cry of alarm here.) I was on my own; I didn’t now have a job. This was scary stuff.

There was probably something in me. Some weakness or propensity to blunder, or bitchlike need to have a go at and blame, myself. Don’t know, don’t care now. Maybe I don’t. But what I will say is, for the first time in my life I felt like an artist: The day my redundancy was announced. I’d go off into the world and would show em, was the thought. I remember it well.

Yet in spite of all I might have wished, privately and for so long, and prayed for – I must admit that too – it did not happen. Because trying to survive is hard. And I don’t exactly have in abundance what you call wits. Those things you need to live off when in need. What I found in reality was I slipped down and then further down. I would have reached rock-bottom if there was one, but I don’t know if there is cos I’m still sinking.

I was living in this semi-derelict caravan belonging to a friend of a friend of a friend. It was parked on a patch of waste scrubland behind a row of shops in Forest Hill. Then a day came when I had to clear out. The land was going to be built on. The builders were moving in, the caravan was thrown out for scrap. I had no money for the deposit on a flat, having spent most of what I’d saved on art materials. So now I’m nowhere, or nowhere very much. The doorway in fact, of a church near Crystal Palace. On cold days I go to a local day-centre and eat a sandwich or cheese-on-toast, chewing the bread round and round for comfort’s sake. No-one needs me I can’t help feeling. Painful. Yet it’s true. It seems I’ve lost the match, if match is the language I should be using here: Establishment Everything; Art Love.