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Car Wash

I’m at the car wash with six cars in front of me. I have the radio. No hurry.

Twenty minutes later, I approach the outside gang.
Four men converge with sponges, heavy-duty soap and purple squirt for hubcaps.
For a time I can’t see out. I’m in a shady, trusting world of grey-white bubbles.

Pressure hoses douse me clean. The outside windscreen gleams. The usual line the
   windscreen wiper leaves has disappeared.

The voices of the men are Eastern European. That is all I know.
The one who does the corner by the driver’s door looks in. ‘All right!’ he shouts.
   I give an upward nod, and smile.

Now I advance towards the inside gang.
They’ll vacuum the seats and carpets, Windolene the inside glass, spray fake
   fruit-blossom polish on the fascias.
I get out and stand aside and look around.

An Evening Standard article, proclaiming this The Best Hand Job in London
   has been stuck up on the office door.
Across the ceiling of the shed are zig-zag lines of plastic Union Jacks.
I shout, ‘All right!’ whenever someone shouts, ‘All right!’ at me.
The boss comes to collect a ten-pound note. I give him two pounds more.
‘The lads!’ I shout. He thanks me. Then he stops, and listens. ‘What is that?’

The music from my radio, released through all five open doors, is climbing over
   held high notes of vacuum cleaners, bass of traffic hum, the intervening cries of

‘Dvorák!’ I answer. Slight pause. ‘Czech composer!’ ‘Yes,’ he shouts, ‘I know!’
We stand and pay attention to a rising tune on violins,
Repeated. Somewhere, something is remembered, out of reach.
He looks at me. His face is working. Then he turns his head.

The men have finished and they put the music back into its box.
They signal that they’re ready for the next.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author