Updated: Nov 30, 2020
By Sarah Locke
I wrote New Rose in 2008 as part of an audio tour that could be experienced around Hastings and St Leonards during Shot by the Sea Film Festival. I was a studio holder at 12 Claremont at the time and the piece was a bit of a love song to the building and to its previous (imaginary) inhabitants:
First time I saw you, you were hanging against that doorway covered in paint. Beautiful brown skin like you were always in the sun, muscles artfully sculpted to your slender frame but a softness, a child-like touch, smooth hairless arms. Leaning gracefully, a shock of dark hair and earring, I told myself romantically you were some local boy, some fisherman’s son. And me, some city girl from far away, chasing the openness of the sea. Something in the way you stood made me pause and watch you standing there and wait until you saw me. I must’ve been smiling because you caught my gaze and said, ‘hello,’ and offered me a cigarette.
That summer was as slow, and hot, and heart sinking as I’ll ever remember, although I know I was only here for a week and I know I only knew you that day and that night.
We sat on the pavement, our backs against the stone wall of the church facing this strange old building- it hasn’t changed much in style four floors of big arched windows reaching a pitched roof, like a very tall home- YMCA still etched on the glass. But it was more run down then, peeling frames and old wooden shutters covering the top floor. You were painting a sign for the Photographer’s Studio, all gone now of course. You said you helped out printing photos upstairs and that you had the keys and sometimes slept over. As we smoked and talked you told me about why you loved it here and that you’d like to take my picture.
On the top floor, above the dark rooms, a large space in the rafters looking over the street was where the prints were kept. I remember you had a black woollen blanket with a cushion on top and a transistor radio. On a shelf in the window one small print of a woman with jet black hair cropped close to her scalp smiling, no make-up, with beautiful pearly teeth. She was sitting side on with her legs pulled into her chest, chin on her knees, a pair of drainpipes clinging to her boyish legs. And here was me too big for drainpipes. She looked just like you I thought, a female version of you. I knew she was yours but I didn’t say anything. You took my picture, just of my face- you said you liked faces- almost in silhouette against a section of the window or that’s how you described it anyway. I never did get to see it.
You had to work that afternoon but to you told me the Damned were playing at the Pier later on and you knew someone who could get us in if I wanted to go.
It’s hard to describe the best night of my life apart from knowing I was drunk and the smoky raw atmosphere and the freedom it gave me. I don’t think you needed that freedom quite as much as I did. You had it already.
Returning to your building, up the darkened street still listening to the sea, I sang out, “I gotta new rose, I got it good. Guess I knew that I always would. I can’t stop to mess around. I gotta brand new rose in town”. You just smiled.
We slept on the floor that night, on top of the blanket, gazing up through a hatch in the ceiling at the stars. It was nothing really, just brushing lips to say goodnight but I never could sleep after that.
I waited until morning, frozen, not wanting to move and wake you with the creaking floorboards but at the same time, aching for you to turn over and lay your arm across me. Just some small contact.
I stand here now and I look at that building and I see your face reflected in each pane, peering from the top floor now the shutters have been peeled away and the windows replaced. You look newer now, a fresher face. I can tell you’re somewhere else, somewhere beyond here. The windows on your floor like five fingers reach skywards, each arching frame an eyelid, blinking a kiss goodbye.