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Table of Contents



Patient Iris

Ariel’s Tasty Dog

Seven Disenchantments

Judith’s Do Round Hers

The Furrier The Better

Emma’s Situation

Laminating Ideal Men

Anemones, My Labrador, His Puppy

The Lion Vanishes


The Giant Spider’s Supervisor

Those Imaginary Cows

Bargains For Charlotte

Cold Companionable Streams

Will You Stay In Our Lovers’ Story?

Could It Be Magic?

Published by Vintage 1997

Copyright © Paul Magrs 1997

The right of Paul Magrs to be identified as the

author of this work has been asserted by him in

accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents

Act, 1988

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in Great Britain by

Vintage, 1997


Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,

London SW1V 2SA

Random House Australia (Pty) Limited

20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney

New South Wales 2061, Australia

Random House New Zealand Limited

18 Poland Road, Glenfield,

Auckland 10, New Zealand

Random House South Africa (Pty) Limited

Endulini, 5A, Jubilee Road, Parktown 2193,

South Africa

Random House UK Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book

is available from the British Library

ISBN 0 09 973571 7


This book is for my brother, Mark Magrs

With thanks to…

(in order of appearance)

Joy Foster, Charles Foster, Louise Foster, Lynne Heritage, Nicola Cregan, Katherine Williamson, Jane Woodfine, Pete Courtie, Brigid Robinson, Suzi Stephens, Paul Arvidson, Andrea Greenwood, Julia Wiggston, Laura Wood, Steve Jackson, Gene Hult, Jon Rolfe, Antonia Rolfe, Richard Wilson, Lynne Pearce, Alicia Stubbersfield, Siri Hansen, Joan Diamond, Kelly Gerrard, Paul Cornell, David Craig, Gabrielle Rowe, Colin Swallow, Leigh Pain, Bill Penson, Alan Bennett, Mark Walton, Daryl Spears, Sara Maitland, Meg Davis, Amanda Reynolds, Richard Klein, A. S. Byatt, Jonathan Burnham, Claire Patterson, Sara Holloway and everyone at Chatto.

‘Patient Iris’ was first published in New Writing 4, ‘Anemones, My Labrador, His Puppy’ in New Writing 5, and ‘Emma’s Situation’ in the 1995 Darius anthology, Watchfire.


She has a friend called Patient Iris who lives at the top of the town by the Roman remains.

Irises take a good while to open. She thinks if you place them by the window they stand a better chance.

Iris is patient. She watches men reconstructing the Roman remains.

At the top of the town you can see all of South Shields, the grey flank of North Shields, the blue sash of sea.

The Romans must have built here for the view.

Their fort is vast. When they rebuild it, do they use the old stones or do they have all new, cut into shapes they have guessed at? She and Patient Iris watch them working and the stone certainly looks new. Newer and more yellow than even those private estates they’ve been putting up.

She feels bad about Patient Iris. Who has turned bright yellow and sits by the phone. Who is ready to ring out in case she has an emergency. Her bedsores are a sight to see. She has looked under Patient Iris’s nightgown, at Patient Iris’s bidding. She instructed Patient Iris to sit by her window, to get some air, watch the world outside. Lying down all day does you no good in the end.

Fat purple welts, all down the back of her. Succulent, like burst fruit.

Patient Iris can’t quite remember, but didn’t the coast here once freeze entirely?

It is so high up. The Roman soldiers, with the north wind shushing up their leather skirts, parading on those ramparts, must have had it hard.

And didn’t it once freeze over?

Patient Iris lived at the end of a street. When the coast froze up, surely it was before the time they bombed the row’s other end? The houses went down like dominoes, a trail of gunpowder, stopping just short of Iris’s door.

Patient Iris is a survivor. She survived the freezing-over that winter when, she realises now, she must still have been a child.

She talks on the phone with her friend. Her friend phones now more often than she visits. They both agree that visiting is not much use. There’s nothing new to see. Although the Roman remains, across the way, grow a little higher every day.

And these two women don’t need to see each other. They are so accustomed to the sight that the phone is all they need. And it saves Iris’s friend a trip out. Up the hill is arduous work, after all. Yet they used to walk it happily, to get to the Spiritualist church. When calling up your husband was the thing, before bingo.

Her friend phones to check up on Patient Iris’s back. Both know that her health can’t last this winter.

And winter is stealing in. When Patient Iris wakes in her chair each morning, the first thing she sees is the Roman remains blanched white with scabs of frost, their outlines etched in by an impossibly blue sky.

Winters like this, everything turns to jewels. Patient Iris runs her fingers over and round her tender sores as she speaks into the receiver to her oldest living friend. Will they turn to rubies, drop away, make her well again and rich?

‘Do you remember -’ she says, breaking into her friend’s flow. ‘Do you remember when the coast froze up?’

Her friend is thrown for a moment. Then she sees the orange cranes frozen in the docks, useless and wading on ice. The monstrous keels of half-completed ships, abandoned, like wedding dresses on dummies with the arms not on yet and pins sticking out.

‘I think so,’ she mumbles. She had been telling Patient Iris about the local women, bonded in a syndicate, who won a million pounds between them on the football pools. They were all supermarket cashiers and had their photos taken by the local press, sitting in shopping trolleys.

‘But do you remember the seals on the ice?’ They appeared from nowhere. Came thousands of miles south because it was so cold that winter.

Her friend doesn’t remember the seals.

Patient Iris recalls seeing grey sides of beef

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