Pearly Costa

I collected them, so many of them, little discs of shimmering colour, white and silver and mucky and lovely. In a little velvetine bag I found in my Nan’s button collection.

They were, in truth, her buttons, and my aunt’s buttons and my great great aunt’s buttons and then my in-law’s buttons, but only the special ones. These ones I had singled out with their swirl of almost no colour.

They were what I sought.

No one really wanted them anymore, they didn’t wash well but I had plans, at least that was how it started. Some crazed concept of making jewellery to sell. And I did and it was made of buttons but not those buttons.

And at some point in my 20’s I stopped being hungry, stopped having to struggle, and the buttons got forgotten and lay in a green plastic box that had once had broken pin badges glued to it. I’d found my treasures in the street, washed into the gutter by the autumn rain. Scratched but beautiful and fine. They were mine, I found them and rescued them but now they were gone.

The buttons weren’t

I got given all the old hats and spanish style skirts and the shoes of the oldest and dead of our family, no one else who was young would take them. I was the only one within my clutch of cousins and half cousins and second cousins. The others saw it as macabre, but my great gran had always told me not to waste and so I ended up with it all.

I had a big house and kids who liked dress up and it was fine and I had an idea that I could sew them on and make patterns – like my great aunts did.

And the project sat, forlorn and gathering a disgraceful amount of dust in my attic. I’d gotten distracted by phones that could ping someone on the other side of the world and take photos and kids and dance recitals and the things I’d found in my mother’s kitchen.

Hidden at the back of the cupboards, glass and wood – a wash board. I remembered what to do with such things and it did not involve washing – I had a hard time finding metal thimbles that were sturdy and small enough for my fingers, pretty much that involved charity shops and car boot sales.

I could rat-a-tat a beat upon the ridged blue surface, nothing like my great uncles, but it was a start.

Then I found beneath my parents side board there was an old tea chest, wooden and heavy and flaking from sea damage. It had been my granddad’s as he sailed out of the Thames and into the realms of ice seas in the north. It was full of photographs. I put them in albums of faux leather and satins after making them digital and sharing with an uncaring world.

The chest had a hole in it, I knew what that was for and the thrum of the music was driving me insane. It had to wait; there were birthday parties and late library books and music lessons. The eldest nicked my wash board and was a zillion times better at the wash and the beat and the chungungering than I was.

So another couple of years passed and I was well and firmly in my 30’s and cascading at a pace towards the big four O. I found yard broom handles in the DIY store were wood and sturdy and just the right size. The tea chest boom ba BOOMED and the little tap shoes of the middle kid skidded around the lid, she’d been doing this for years with toy boxes and hair ribbons and it was a fine thing – the tap moves made it, though it broke the box and we had to fix it.

Then there was the accordion and mouth organ, I can’t even remember where they came from, some arts event I think. My husband picked up the unlikely bellowed contraption and squeeked and burbed his way through to something that sounded decent – eventually.

And second youngest found that she could attach the mouth organ to her guitar, from somewhere a cymbal appeared and age wise they grew and I aged and then there were no more great greats and then no greats and it hurt.

But funerals always resulted in the clanging of cutlery and somehow the youngest learnt to play the spoons, learnt to rattle and jam and click and katchata the metal together. Flourishes and flips, and all the time I was still collecting the buttons.

That was when the eldest fled the nest to go and study, except she didn’t – she turned up with an inappropriate boyfriend who happened to be her lecturer or class room assistant or some such. What ever it was it was ok, she assured us, and he mainly stayed silent except when explaining his passion for history of the ordinary.

I thought he was going to die of joy when we started the evening off with a little skiffle. This was strange as most people hid for the grating and skidding sounds and my voice warbling in non proper speak like. That was when he started on about kings and queens and traditions and parades.

We all went to the attic and dug through the boxes, I found a heavy dress, dark and old, smelling acridly of moth balls and grease. There were Spanish style trousers and now that I knew to look I saw the seam of buttons, some chipped and cracked but all irridescent, gleaming in the dark fabrics.

It did not take long to kit ourselves out – it did take an age to dry clean, repair and sew all the faffing buttons on! And it turned out we really did have a lot of buttons.

Now though they were swirls and flowers and pictures and I was having the concept of back speak and dark l explained to me. Still don’t really know what any of that is but we do now play in our hodge podge band and people take photos of the Pearlies.

The young man explained it all, about how the traders would find buttons and sew them on their clothes, how a young homeless lad had set forth to make the world a better place.

We didn’t even come from the east end, we were outside of London – well, until they built the M25. We were Essex, we had the dock… she split up with him and to our relief went out with some biker chick for a while instead, all tattoos and piercings.

It’s strange how things work out though – we get invited to festivals now – playing main stages and everything, oh not as headliners but still MAIN STAGE!!!

But the main thing that always has me up in stitches in that my name is Pearly. And when they crowned me the Pearly Queen of Plaistow last year I could barely accept it for the laughter in my sides.

Well the big five O will be here soon enough and I need to enjoy life and the band is getting new members – apparently they are to be called grandkids and not band members, but you get the general idea.

I probably should go and practice or teach a kid how to play the spoons or something. Back in the big when, before when tech meant telly, no one wanted this music, but the beat, I suppose, moves on.

Posted: Thursday, September 10th, 2015 @ 7:41 am
Categories: Flash Fiction.
Subscribe to the comments feed if you like. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Pearly Costa”

  1. foreverlone Says:


    […]Magenta Monster » Blog Archive » Pearly Costa[…]

Leave a Reply