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Gwen Sayers
Gwen Sayers

Gwen Sayers was born in Johannesburg and lives in London. She was a Consultant Physician, and an Honorary Senior Lecturer at Imperial College.  She published relatively creative papers in medicine, humanities, ethics, and law before discovering creative writing three years ago. Now she is busy making up for lost time.

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1940s dinner jazz

by Gwen M Sayers



The bottle sides are caked with beaded tracks,

once the guttering candle’s melted tears.

Her long, chipped nails dig the wax, they carve off globs

and strips, to shape a coded message on the table’s wood.

Then, bored, she lights a cigarette, inhales and sighs.

I watch her cross her legs – the nylons scrape – I see her stocking

laddered at the knee. And the piano player voices variations

while his black brow shines with sweat.

                        Say who’s got trouble

                        We got trouble

                        How much trouble

                        Too much trouble [i]


Her glass is full, her lips sip twice. They stamp

their scarlet imprints – lost kisses – on the rim.

I drain mine fast and raise my hand for more.

The waiter darts between the stalls around the walls,

a pencil stuck behind his ear.

He sways a tray that’s stacked with empty glass.

She lifts her hand, her bangles clang, to pick an olive from the bowl.

With icy eyes she peers into the humid, smoky gloom.

                        Who’s unhappy

                        We’re unhappy

                        How unhappy

                        Too unhappy


The piano man is old and has seen it many times.

He wears a smile, a shiny suit, a mauve bow tie.

His ashtray overflows and, with eyes half-closed, he croons.

He strokes the keys – his head bobs – his words sob.

I scoop the nuts and chew them one by one,

to fill my mouth, to taste the spill of salt.

The waiter bangs a whisky on the wood. I feel the clinging

warmth of golden malt slide down my throat.

                        Oh that won’t do

                        When you are blue                 


She turns from me, her legs, her arms, her breasts.

Her face is blurred, with chalky cheeks, and blackened eyes,

the lips too red, the hair peroxide-blonde. I loved her once

but came home late – I came home drunk – she locked me out.

I lost my ring. She takes hers off, and puts it on,

then throws it down. I hear the clunk of gold on wood.

She shifts; she stands and spits, “it’s over, Jake.” She walks away.

I raise my hand – the waiter answers with a double shot.

                        Who’s got nothing

                        We got nothing

                        How much nothing

                        Too much nothing

[i] Lyrics from Knock on Wood by Jack Scholl (1942)

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