checkout, Kathy Gee
V.Press, 2019 £6.50
The heroism of the everyday
Kathy Gee’s pamphlet is different. Set in a small shop, the collection is presented through the eyes of Nona, the reluctant shop assistant. Nona introduces each of her customers with a piece of 100-word flash fiction, before the customers tell us about themselves in a poem.
This device enables Gee to create dissonance between the customer’s views of themselves and Nona’s own perceptions of them. The mismatch between Nona’s view and reality underpins particular poignancy in some poems. In ‘Mr. Levi: Ghetto’, for example, Nona wonders how Mr Levi came to leave his family and settle on his own in the UK. Mr Levi says:
Those left behind knew only that they had disappeared,
removed in carts or fled at night on foot […]
I don’t know when they died
but I know that they lived.
In ‘Andrew: Redundant’, we eavesdrop on Andrew the council worker considering his future:
Stepping off the cliff
is slipping soundless into fog.
My prospects blur and shores
begin but never end.
Not all the speakers come into the shop. We hear from Roxy, the collie looking after Old Walter and his un-named grandson (in ‘Roxy: Collie in control’), and from a child waiting in a car (in ‘Kiddie: Playing Lipstick’).
Some customers are linked. The twins, Colin and Susan, moved to the town when managing their farm became impossible. We also meet philandering Trevor, Lulu his secret girlfriend, and Mrs Trevor who is considering divorce.
By the end of the pamphlet, we have developed a clear idea of Nona’s personality and desires. Left pregnant as a school girl, the shop is the only work she can find. However, she has ambitions to become a nurse and, by the end of the pamphlet, sets off to encourage her friend Emma to enrol with her, hoping Gran will mind baby Freddie in the school holidays. She concludes her comments on her future:
Nan will be really pleased.
But I’m not scared.
It’s time to go. Move Adam’s bedroll to the door. Switch off the lights.
I turn the key.
Nona and her customers are everyday heroes.