Tuesday 31 May 2011

Old Friends

by Sarah Evans


Russell arrived a little early, wanting to be there first, wanting to see her before she saw him.
He drank his coffee too quickly, feeling the caffeine humming through him, wondering why he was doing this and why the thought of seeing her could still – after all these years – fill him with joyful trepidation.
The time for their meeting came and went. The minutes by which she was late piled up one by one, mingling with the jitter of caffeine till he felt that he’d explode. She was always late. That hadn’t changed. Why the hell had he bothered being early? Ten more minutes, he thought, ten more minutes and he’d leave.
And then…
The door was opening, the old-fashioned bell tinkling; there was a blast of cold air, and a woman bursting through, her bright scarf flapping, her hands busy with plastic bags, eyes darting but not, it seemed, seeing.
Middle-aged now. They both were. But she was wearing well, still tight and lean and conveying, even in the briefest of glimpses, a sparking energy. His heart was beating fast and he lingered for an hour-long-second, wishing he could simply observe, that he had time to absorb the shock and to let his pulse settle.
Her eyes alighted on him and his legs pushed his body to standing. Her smile stretched broadly. ‘Russell!’ she said, her voice unchanged after twenty years.
He manoeuvred out from behind his table, his shin banging against a chair and setting him tripping. They met midway, then both hesitated, before ducking towards each other for a social embrace, heads bobbing side to side, kissing the air which was fragranced with her still familiar scent.
‘It’s good to see you,’ he said, momentarily dizzied by the brush of her silk-soft skin.
‘Good to see you too.’ She drew back, looking at him openly, appraising, and he wished his hair not so thin, his middle not quite so thick.
‘You haven’t changed,’ he said, and her laughter was bright and vivid as she said: ‘What nonsense! We’ve both changed.’ Her mouth stretched to a lop-sided smile. ‘Both older. Wiser.’ Then she laughed. ‘Perhaps.’
‘Do we need to be wiser?’
‘We weren’t back then.’
‘I don’t know…’ And that was it, he felt he didn’t know, anything, other than that it was good to see her and that he couldn’t remember, not precisely, why they had split up.
‘Coffee?’ he offered.
‘Let me. Same again?’ She gestured his foam-lined cappuccino cup, and he said yes, meaning no, but it was too complicated to think of something different or to insist that he could buy them.
He sat down, grateful for the firm support of the wooden chair, and for the opportunity to watch her as she queued, her hand pushing back her thick, auburn hair and her eyes twitching round, her feet tapping. Watching her was tiring. Was that why they hadn’t endured; he’d been worn out by her?
‘Here!’ she exclaimed in triumph as she presented him with an extra large cappuccino, the abundant creamy froth feeling indulgent set alongside her espresso.
‘How are you?’ she asked.
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘I stuck with law. Was made a partner three years ago. I live in Hertfordshire. I’m mid-divorce.’ He reeled out the basic parameters of his life, wishing they were more interesting, aware that none of this answered her question.
‘And happy?’ she asked.
‘What does that mean?’
She laughed. ‘What indeed?’
He had known to define himself as happy once; he remembered the certainty, the waking up beside her and saying I love you and that feeling – I’ve never been so happy – and the need to express it in words; and her laughing and telling him that all that told her was that he had been miserable before. But wasn’t that reasonable? Happiness wasn’t an absolute, it was relative, it was more or less, it grew or died.
‘You?’ he asked. ‘What about you?’
‘I’m good. No longer a lawyer.’ She grimaced. ‘But then you know that, you tracked down my website. Doing my own thing. Sort of making it as an artist, which is to say I make enough from commercial stuff to get me by and still have time to experiment with what I really want to do.’
‘You found your way then?’
And now he was remembering this point of difference between them. It was never that he loved his job, never that he felt that it defined or fulfilled him. But there was satisfaction in knowing that he did it well, gratification in the way his pay-checks swelled year by year and in the ability to buy the house and car and lifestyle.
‘My way? I guess. I found a way to be. There are still compromises, but not as fundamental as the nine-to-five grind. I’m OK I guess.’
‘And married? Partnered?’
‘No.’ She looked at him very directly. ‘I’m not good at the relationship thing. But then you know that.’
‘Do I?’
‘Don’t you?’ And he was remembering the pointless arguments and her inability to find a middle way until the moment when she was staring down at the floor and her voice was low and serious: maybe I’m just not cut out for this.
‘And you’re happy?’ he asked.
‘I guess. I mean as happy as anyone. I’m not unhappy and that seems as much as it’s reasonable to hope for.’
Somehow his coffee had been drunk and inside he was buzzing up like a nest of wasps.
‘Why did we split up?’ he asked.
‘Why were we together?’
‘We loved each other.’ Anger surged, surely she remembered that?
‘Did we?’
‘Didn’t we?’
She paused; her large green eyes stared ahead. It couldn’t be that difficult to remember. ‘It was very intense,’ she said. ‘All that wanting each other. It was very…consuming.’
‘And isn’t that love?’
‘Isn’t that just lust?’
‘It was more than that.’
‘It felt like more than that. But then it doesn’t it?’
Anger pulsed, along with resentment and regret, emotions all frothing up, refusing to settle, refusing to order themselves into any kind of logic.
‘It was more than that,’ he repeated very quietly.
‘Maybe,’ she said. ‘It didn’t last though.’
‘It could have done.’
‘If it could have done, it would have.’
‘You left.’
‘You didn’t follow.’
‘You sodded off to the back of beyond. Finding yourself.’
‘You could have come too.’
‘I already knew who I was.’ The same grey-suited man who sat here now, who saw nothing wrong with nine-to-five routines and slowly making his way up a career ladder in a job he was good at, if not inspired by.
‘Did you?’
The question rested pointlessly between them. ‘Oh gosh,’ she said, raising her arm in a slightly exaggerated gesture, ‘is that the time?’
‘I expect so. Unless your watch is faulty.’
She looked at him then laughed. ‘I remember you making me laugh.’
…and Sunday mornings wrapped in sweat drenched sheets and the completeness of contentment, did she remember that too?
‘Why,’ she asked, ‘did you get in touch?’
‘I don’t know. Two old friends.’
‘Lovers. It was never really about friendship was it?’
‘Doesn’t lover imply friendship too?’
‘Not necessarily.’
‘You must have had other lovers since,’ he blurted, angry and jealous. ‘Weren’t they friends?’
‘Yes. I must have.’ Again, that wide-eyed gaze, seeking answers in the distance. ‘And no, not really. I don’t really do friends,’ she said.
‘Can’t we be?’
‘Friends? I don’t think so. I mean do you? I mean really.’
‘Lovers then.’
Her laugh was deep and vivid. ‘It’s not that easy.’
‘It was back then.’
‘We were young then.’
‘We’re not exactly old.’
‘Too old. I really ought to go.’
Their eyes met, a lingering moment in which he failed to understand. Anything.
‘It was nice seeing you,’ she said and she leant in towards him, her lips against his cheek soft and warm.
Then she was gone. Just as she’d left him before.

Bio: Sarah Evans has had dozens of stories published in magazines and competition anthologies, including: the Bridport Prize, Momaya Press, Earlyworks Press, Tonto Press and Writers’ Forum. She lives in Welwyn Garden City with her husband.

Monday 30 May 2011

Dinner for Two

by Trevor Belshaw

Skinny Latte

Has that clock stopped? No, my watch says the same time. Stop looking every thirty seconds will you?
Maisie Connolly, this is your bloody fault. If it all goes wrong I'll never speak to you again.
Right, check the food, Sarah, it's fine, you know it's fine, you only checked it two minutes ago. Wine, where's the bloo...okay, it's on the table, should be room temperature by now. Maisie Connolly, if this wine isn't as good as you promised you'll be wearing it tomorrow. At twelve quid a bloody bottle it ought to be dynamite.
Check the mirror, sigh, I'm sure those lines round your mouth are getting deeper; you'll need cement to fill them in if they get any worse.
What's that? Was that a car? Dare you peek through the window? You don't want him to catch you looking. Count to thirty and listen for the car door closing... thirty, no, can't have been him.
I hope he likes classical music, those free CDs from the Sunday papers were worth keeping after all. Classical is a bit more sophisticated than Simply Red.
Hang on, daft girl; Simply Red is fine for that close up chat on the sofa later in the evening. Damn, where the hell is it?
Had to be in the bloody car didn't it? Right then, that's Mozart for dinner and Mick Hucknall for afters, lovely.
Twenty five past eight. This has to be the longest night of my life, are we stuck in a time warp or something?
Hope he likes the dress; check the mirror, not too much cleavage, not too short. Come on Sarah, you've been through all this; it took you two hours to choose it. What if he comes in a suit though? Are you formal enough? No time to do anything about it now. I bet he wears a sodding suit.
Let's hope it goes better than last time, eh? Note to self, if you spill the red wine over his trousers, don't dab at his crotch with a napkin.
Why did you do that? You should have left it at a horrified, ‘sorry.' It was his house; he could quite easily have nipped through to change. He ended up being more embarrassed than you did, and why did you keep bringing it up throughout the meal? Oh my God, then you go and lose a contact lens in the Beef Stroganoff.
Wonder if he'll want to stay over?
SARAH! Stop that, you slut...It has been a while though...
Eight twenty eight. Stop looking at the bloody clock!
He's going to be late isn't he? What if he doesn't come at all? No one could blame him after our last date.
Two glasses of wine Sarah and that's the limit. You don't want to get the giggles like last time. For pity's sake, he only asked you how you liked it, and he was talking about coffee.
Bit of a shame he still he has that ex wife hanging around in the background. She shouldn't really be calling him half way through a dinner date. He was very kind to her though, not many exes would offer to give her and her new bloke a lift to the airport at the weekend.
I hope Malcolm doesn't ring me half way through this meal. He'll get short bloody shrift the lying cheating...Maisie Connolly; you had better not ring to see how it's going either.
Eight thirty one. He's late; please don't say he's going to stand me up.
How the hell did you get yourself into this anyway? You know you can't cook.
The dinner!
Phew, lucky girl. Another couple of minutes and you'd have been serving crispy chicken.
Phone! It's him isn't it? Calling it off, he's had a breakdown. His ex has come back to stay. He's just found out he's gay!
Bloody cold callers. No, I don't want to change my bloody phone provider you bloody numbskulls.
You need a drink. Just a small one Sarah, remember the giggles.
Candles? You forgot the bloody candles. This is going to be a real cosy meal with a sixty watt light bulb hanging over the dinner table, isn't it?
Eight thirty three, where the hell is he? If he stands me up I'll...hang on, whose is that car in the drive? Shit! He's here. Damn that bloody doorbell, why didn't you change those batteries when you noticed it wasn't working?
Shit, shit and triple shit.
Right, breath in, deep breaths, calm yourself. Think Feng Shui or is it Buddhist, OM OM. Check mirror, you'll have to do. Don't smile too quickly... act as though this is a weekly occurrence, no, don't do that he'll think you're easy.
Shit, he's wearing a suit.
Oh he is looking gorgeous though, offer your cheek you slut, not your mouth.
‘Hello, Mike. Are you early?'

To find out more about Trevor Belshaw:

Tracy's Hot Mail Ebook, available now on Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/34169
Kindle: http://amzn.to/hiSgDc

Peggy Larkins War Ebook, available now. Kindle http://amzn.to/eLVydS

Short stories available at Http://www.etherbooks.com via Iphone app.

Website: www.trevorbelshaw.com
Wordpress Blog: www.trevorbelshaw.com/blog
Twitter @tbelshaw
Facebook Trevor Belshaw http://www.facebook.com/trevor.belshaw

Thursday 19 May 2011

In Shadows

by Shan Ellis

Chilli Espresso

I stand in my dimly lit apartment staring out of the window at the expanse of concrete in front of me. Murky grey clouds behind tenement flats and an air of resigned complacency hits me in the chest.

There is a pair of eyes looking at me from across the way.

I’ve known for a while that he watches me here, from afar. Recently, he’s made less effort to hide the fact and stands in his window, gazing as I do at the tumultuous sky. He seems to be alone most of the time. I know this because I’ve started to watch him back. He’s either sitting with his book, or listening to his radio, arms behind his head, eyes closed as if in deep concentration. I’ve found myself day dreaming of what runs through his thoughts as the sun sets on our corner of the world.

He is rather beautiful, although not what you would call attractive, slender, tall, and maybe a little gawky. His hair is always a mess, dark and wavy falling at his jaw line he usually covers it up with a baseball cap when he’s not working. He seems to leave his flat for the city in the morning and returns long after I do. I wish I could pluck up the courage to talk to him, but this seems to be our meeting place, in front of our glass protectors, in an unspoken conversation.

I don’t know why he looks at me. I’m an ordinary girl, and very reserved. Looking at my reflection in the window, my hand playing with the tips of my auburn hair, eyes dark and dreaming and I’m chewing my bottom lip as I think. A habit my parents loath. My gaze drifts from my reflection, back to him. He has switched his lights on and is standing at his window, mirroring twiddling with his hair.

We lock gazes, and from this side of the window, a heat sears through me starting in my belly, working its way up to my chest, neck and finally cheeks. He seems to smile down there at the heat of my blush. And with that he takes off his t shirt and turns his back.

He has broad shoulders for one so slim, and I watch the shape of his muscles tense as he grabs for a towel on the bed. He turns his head as if to make sure my eyes are viewing him and with an affirmative grin he turns around, unbuttoning his jeans, letting them fall around his hips. Although I’m still in the half-light I’m sure he can see the crimson blush on my cheeks reflected. I hold my hand to the cold glass Paine as if to touch him through it. My fingers trace the lines and contours of his sides, and then he is gone.

Taking a few steps back I sit on my bed, deep in contemplation.

Does he know that he is driving me crazy? Huh, I know, he knows I exist.

I run a finger through my hair, down my neck as I think of him, and what I could be doing to him if only I had the courage. Every time I close my eyes I see his skin on mine, dark against my pale, his lips all over me, his tongue, exploring me.

Oh God, it’s time for decisive action. I want him.

I switch on my light.

He looks up as he’s drying his hair, his white towel pulled tightly around his waist. I swallow, here goes nothing.

I stretch pretending to yawn, and let my arms drift down behind my head, swaying slowly as if dancing to un-heard music. Then I lean forward and place my arms on the window shelf. My shirt heaves against the weight of my cleavage. Please God be noticing.

Pausing to steady myself and my thoughts, I slowly straighten and undo my buttons. One…two…three…until my navel is exposed and my shirt is hanging open either side of my breasts. I sway again to the rhythm of my beating heart, letting my shirt drop to my shoulders and slink down my arms.

All the time my eyes are closed.

Running my hands up my sides I imagine his large hands are drawing on my skin, cupping both my breasts over my bra, I dare to open my eyes.

He is standing in the same position as before.

My eyes drop lower, his towel has gone.

I lick my lips, feeling myself moisten. IS this the reaction I was hoping for? Oh yes.

I turn my back, and remove my trousers, propping myself up on the window ledge I brush my hair slowly, elongating my back and bearing my skin. My underwear is burgundy, classic against dark hair and porcelain. Slyly glancing over my shoulder he has moved to the window and is unashamedly close to the glass…this is all the prompt I need to undo my bra. Sliding it down my shoulders and holding it with the tips of my fingers, my arm elongated. Envisioning what he’s seeing now in this little dance, the curve of my boobs from the back. Rotund lines, of a real woman.

With that I hop off the ledge and switch off the light back into the shadows to play again.

Giggling to myself I run to the bathroom and put the lights on there, moving on my hands and knees back to the window peeking like a child at the downstairs apartments.

Before I ascertain where he is, my buzzer sounds.



Shan Ellis is a freelance writer form the foothills of Snowdonia, currently studying for a BA in creative writing and literature with the Open University. A published novellist and poet, you can find more of her work at www.repressedsoul.wordpress.com

Wednesday 11 May 2011

No One Can See Where There Is No Light

By Patsy Collins

Drink Choice - bitter expresso.

You think I'm free, don't you? Because you saw me leave, you imagine I
can stretch my wings and fly away from you. Stay away. You think you
set me free - as though you had that power. You do have power. Not
enough to keep me loving you and not enough to release me. But you
could have.

You must find the power.

I did love you once and you loved me. We thought we had a future
together. We have futures still, I suppose. There's more to come. It's
not what you dreamed though. Not even in those dark dreams that made
you moan and sweat 'til you woke and sat staring into the night. A
blackness that wasn't as dark as what you'd seen. I thought then that
you'd seen into my mind, but you couldn't have done. No one can see
where there is no light.

Do you think of me and know I'm not really gone? Do you know that what
you almost glimpse, almost recognise is not a shadow? It's the
silhouette of our love. It's what remains when the love is gone. No
love, but no release. No freedom. I'm bound to you until death do us

And you must set me free.