Glynis rolled out the scone mix, cut the dough into thick round wedges and placed them onto the baking tray. Geraint followed with the pastry brush painting egg wash across the tops of the deep scones.Betty Juniper chief cook at the workhouse, opened the enormous Aga and filled the oven with the huge trays of cakes.
'Hey Glyn, where’s that barley?’ She had her head deep inside the pot, stirring the brew when she heard Geraint’s muffled voice. Happy with the bubbling creamy mixture Glynis wobbled slightly on the tall stool she used to perform the daily jobs. Turning with a quick twist she pointed the wooden spoon towards the larder.
‘Over there where we always keep it you goof.’
‘Okay, keep your knickers on, I only asked.’‘Well I’m only telling. Come on, hurry up!’ Geraint clicked his tongue with apparent annoyance as he retreated to the pantry. Brothers eh? Glynis watched the way he huffed as he hauled the large sack of sweet smelling barley malt across the kitchen to where she was waiting.
‘Sis, why do we have to do this job every single day?’‘Geraint, how can you say that?’ Glynis wiped her hands on her apron and jumped to ground level. She drew her little brother to the stool and sat him down.
‘Look, I know we should be going to school, but we have to make refreshments for Dad and Uncle Terry, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to work like they do, would they?’Betty bustled around the kitchen and began lifting the hot scones onto the large wooden table, followed by a plate of rock buns.
‘Hurry along children, time to go up to the gas works with lunch for the workers.‘Glynis, is the mixture ready?’
‘Nearly, I’ve just got to add the barley.’ She heaved the bag up and tipped the contents into the pan.‘Jeepers, don’t overdo it.’ Betty steadied the bag as Glynis mixed and whisked with her wooden spoon until a frothy topping began to appear around the pan. While Betty was close to hand, Glynis took her chance to ask the question.
‘Betty, Geraint and me, well we were wondering...”'Yes?'
'Well we were wondering about our school work.’Betty’s jaw dropped.
‘What get educated y’mean?’ she said.‘Mmm that’s what we’ve been thinking. We’d like to learn to read and write to make something of our lives. Have something to aim for like a career one day maybe.’ Glynis held her head as high as she possibly could, watching Betty, wanting her to know that this wasn’t just an idea; it was more than that It was everything. Glynis waited for as long as she could for a reply Maybe it was foolish to have brought the subject up. Maybe she was wasting her time.
‘Tch, what d’you two need to learn things for eh?’
Realising the moment had passed, Glynis glanced across to where her brother was watching and shrugged her shoulders.‘I tried,’ she mouthed silently.
Betty clapped her hands. ‘Get along you two for goodness sake.’They left for the factory, as they did every day, loaded up with malted barley drink, rock cakes and scones. As they walked up the cobbled hill, Mr Knockjack pulled up in his Rolls Royce. He was the factory owner probably checking up on his workers. Glynis was immediately rather afraid of this skinny little man with bushy grey hair, who watched them intently through his half opened car window.
‘Children, what’s in those bags?’
‘We’re taking lunch to the workers. Our dad and uncle are in there.’
'Could I try some?’ Mr Knockjack’s beady eyes seemed to bulge at the sight of the cakes; piled high.‘Just a little bit, there’s only really enough for the workers. I don’t want anyone to miss out.’ Reluctantly, Glynis unscrewed the cup of the flask and poured half a cup of the pale brown steaming drink. Handing it to him, she nodded to Geraint.
‘Pass him one of those.’ Geraint took a sugary cake with currants jutting from all sides. Glynis nodded as he whispered.
‘You mean one of these?’
'Yes, go on, quick so he can have the two together.’ Glynis began to get a little impatient. It was almost break time at the factory. But then Mr Knockjack made a most unusual sound. Glynis wondered for a moment if he was having what Betty would have called ‘a turn.’ Maybe he was choking even? It was a cross between a gurgle and a howl. His eyes glared, nostrils flared, finally he spoke.‘Oh my life this is simply wonderful, magnificent. No wonder my workers at this factory are so jolly every time I call. I wondered what the secret was; now I’ve tasted it with my own tongue. That drink is absolutely dreamy, and so creamy it makes me feel relaxed.‘
‘You like it that much?’ Her lips teased apart. Glynis felt a well of pride growing inside her. He liked it? He actually liked something that she and Geraint had made. She wanted to laugh. Her breathing became short and sharp, her hands shook. Here was factory owner Mr Knockjack reeling with happiness after tasting their offerings. ‘We really have to get these to the workers, they’ll be waiting.’ She ushered Geraint through the double doors and along to the canteen area where they laid out the cakes and filled cups with drinks. Mr Knockjack followed them.
‘Children, how long have you been coming here bringing such delights for my workers?’
‘We’ve been coming here for ages.’ Glynis was glad of a welcome seat while her father, Uncle Terry and the rest of the factory workers enjoyed the scrumptious homemade fare they’d spread in front of them.
She could see Mr. Knockjack behind them. He seemed to be marvelling at the scene as if at last something warmed his old, cold heart. Glynis gathered up the flasks and gags, their work was finished for the day. Geraint ran to his father and threw his arms tightly round his neck.
‘Go on lad, you go with Glyn. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Glynis took a deep breath and smiled bravely towards her father. Since her mother died, there had been no other choice but the workhouse. This job was a way that they could see him every day. Blinking back tears that threatened to spill over onto her cheeks, she smiled and turned, leaving with the empty basket full of bags.The walk home seemed longer than usual. Geraint kicked a stone hard against the cobbles.
‘Don’t do that, you’ll wear your shoes out. Being grumpy won’t do anyone any good.’‘It’ll do me good.’ Glynis looked sideways at her younger brother, grinning. ‘You should try it Glyn. How come you’re always cheerful?’ Glynis sighed. If only he knew the truth. It was as she was thinking that the familiar Rolls Royce pulled up alongside them.
‘It’s that Knockjack chap,’ Geraint said.‘Shush, Geraint, where’s your manners?’
‘Can we talk for a moment children? I’d like to have the recipes from you if that’s alright? You’ve given me an idea that I’d like to try.”‘What’s that then?’ Glynis said shifting from one foot to the other, staring at him, seeking clues.
‘The effect on my workers is touching on miraculous. It’s definitely something I want to expand to my other factories.’Glynis watched him lean towards her thinking about what he said. He really liked it that much? But she had to keep calm. But really? He really wanted to expand? That’s when it came to her. Taking a deep breath, she wanted to sound controlled, considered. But so much for that- it was like words spilled out like barley. And they kept on spilling.
‘Me and Geraint want an education Sir,” she said, crossing her fingers, twisting them behind her back. ‘We really would like to read, write, and learn sums and countries.’ She felt her cheeks burn. Maybe what she was asking was impossible, but everyone had to dream, didn’t they? Spurred on by Geraint’s excited little face she continued. ‘If you had our recipes, then we’d have time to have books, pens pencils, I’ve always wanted to learn a language as well.’Mr Knockjack leaned back in his seat pressing the tips of his fingers together, the way she’s seen Dad do, like it was something that helped grown-ups think.
And she waited.And waited.
She shifted, looked at her feet, then back at him who was watching her. Then she looked at Geraint saw the way he too was watching Mr Knockjack too, like this moment was now so big she might just fall inside it. What was she thinking? Dear God what if he told her dad- would be think she was begging? Would he send her to her room, would he....That’s when he finally spoke. He was leaning towards them, tapping his fingers together.
‘I could pay for your education until you’re both twenty one.’Was that her gasping or Geraint? She daren’t look away from him.
‘Of course this would be In exchange for your wonderful cake and drinks formula,’ he said. ‘You would have to show me exactly how they’re made of course.’
Glynis smiled when he said that, knowing how the mixture could vary slightly from one day to the next. But that was okay- wasn’t it? Because now she and her brother were being offered something that would change their life. Like really change it and all because of a recipe! What would Betty say to that? Oh she would be thrilled Glynis was sure. Taking her brother’s hand squeezing it tightly, she nodded.
‘Yes, we have to go and tell Betty. Definitely, the answer to your question is almost certainly yes.’ Mr Knockjack smiled and even as they turned and ran hand in hand along the cobbled street she knew if she turned her back he would still be smiling. But his smile could never match hers.
I am 51 years of age, live in Warwickshire and have recently joined twitter.
I have written articles for Words with Jam, My Weekly, Bella magazine and Take a break magazine.
Visit my website here.
I am blogging here. www.susanjanejones.blogspot.com
Friday, 30 September 2011
The Magic Mixture
Thursday, 29 September 2011
The Wrong End of the Train
Tinto de Verano (Wine of Summer)
I am sitting on a bleached white beach, squinting towards an impossibly turquoise sea. The temperature is over thirty degrees. Even on this empty stretch of sand, I can see a waiter from the hotel hovering a respectable distance behind me. Waiting for a wave of my hand, which will indicate my need for more water.
Five star travel. It’s great but as I feel the attentive eyes of the hotel worker; I feel nostalgia for my youth, the spontaneity of student travel and backpacking with little cash. I miss the thirst that wasn’t quenched as quickly as the one I have today. But when it was finally satisfied, probably from a public water fountain in an obscure mountain Spanish village – God, did it feel good.
Garboesque (I like to think), I continue to peer out across the Caribbean Sea, hoping the waiter will find another more willing hotel guest and leave me alone.
A busy life halts nostalgia. I now have a few moments to indulge. And so I do and breaking the intrinsic rules of English politeness, I tell the waiter to leave me alone.
* * *
The guard at the Gare d’Austerlitz was emphatic about which end of the train we should be heading for. Sue and I were laughing too much to take him seriously. It didn’t matter to us – we were getting on a train, in Paris, our inter-rail tickets tucked firmly in our backpacks. We didn’t care which end of the train we sat in. I saw the guard vaguely shake his head in that Parisian sort of way.
Barcelona, here we come, was my only thought.
We slept all the way, missing out on the spaghetti western scenery and the beauty of the Pyrenees. It must have been the rough red wine that we’d swigged before the train had even left the outskirts of Paris.
I think I woke up once or twice on the journey. Once when elbowed by a convivial looking Spaniard and again when the driver did something funny with the breaks. The second time I didn’t go back to sleep. We seemed to be entering a big city. I told Sue it was Barcelona. She winked at me with a sleepy eye, pulled out the remainder of the wine and finished it off. We were going to have a hoot.
I’m really not quite sure when we realised it wasn’t Barcelona. Looking back, I guess it was when the nice lady at the British Embassy in Madrid, told us.
‘You got on the wrong end of the train,’ she said. I got the distinct impression she had quoted this line many times, to many student travellers. I felt suitably silly. Sue had gone very quiet. I think she had a hangover. ‘It’s the other half that stopped in Barcelona…didn’t you realise you’d been on the train too long?’
I eyed up Sue. She gave me the evil glance, ‘We were sleeping…’ I said.
The lady sighed, ‘We’ll have to get you temporary passports…’
We spent twelve hours at the Embassy. The pick pockets on the Madrid underground had taken everything. I don’t quite know how they’d managed it. Genius is what came to mind. But I didn’t say that to Sue. I don’t think she would have found it funny.
No one asked us if we had enough money for a room that night. We did. Only just, if we didn’t eat or drink a thing. Sue wasn’t happy. I agreed that we could use the last few pesetas’ on a drink. We found a bar just around the corner from our Pension and near to the bank where I’d asked my parents to wire us money; Sue’s Mum and Dad were on holiday in Australia.
‘We really ought to go into the bank first – sort everything out,’ I said.
‘Just one drink…you know it’ll take ages in there,’ Sue said.
I agreed and watched Sue down exactly one half of the cerveza, she handed the glass to me and I finished it off. We both agreed it was the best beer we’d ever tasted.
The bank manager was tall (I thought) for a Spaniard and not that old. Must be a high flyer. He had a laughing face but no smile. I would never know how he managed that.
We filled out gazillions of forms. Sue asked him if we could borrow a few pesetas until the money reached us; her stomach grumbled at the same time. The bank manager’s lips began to match his laughing face.
‘Of course we’re bloody hungry!’ Sue said. As well as being tri-lingual, she also had a massive appetite.
‘You two girls, wait in the bar across the street…’ he looked at his watch, ‘I finish work at five – I’ll meet you in there.’ He really was astonishingly handsome. I looked at Sue. She didn’t look convinced. She was also very cynical. He surveyed the two of us, ‘You can pay me back tomorrow, when your money arrives. But tonight I will ensure that guests to my country won’t starve.’ He was now laughing out loud. He handed Sue a wad of notes. I kicked her under the chair; she yelped and said gracias to the gracious Spaniard.
‘We don’t eat very much.’ I was lying, Sue did. It never crossed my mind that we could now buy our own dinner.
Prior to visiting the bank we had hung out four washed knickers on the line which was precariously strung across the small balcony.
In our shared room at the Pension we attempted to make ourselves look presentable, both silently acknowledging the charisma of ‘our’ bank manager.
‘Where’s our knickers?’ Sue said.
‘Drying on the balcony,’ I said.
‘No they’re not…been nicked, I think.’
We collapsed onto the small bed, giggling uncontrollably.
We’d even had our underwear stolen.
Dalmacio Navarro was true to his word. He arrived at our table bang on five. When we told him about the knickers I saw how the whole of his face laughed.
We ate an abnormal amount of food. I don’t think Sue stopped for air. Dalmacio sat back in his chair and watched. I don’t remember him eating a thing.
* * *
The turquoise sea is receding, leaving the perfect smoothness of wet sand. I look at my absent watch. It is snuggled in the hotel safe. I never wear a time-piece on holiday. I sense more than hear soft footsteps close to me. Must be the waiter. I’m ready for that water now.
It isn’t the waiter, it is my husband.
I kiss him, ‘Hello there.’
‘Where are you, nina? Miles away, I can see.’
‘I was back in Madrid…’ I watch his face and eyes smile, followed quickly by the lips.
‘Ah! A little nostalgia?’
I stand and brush sand off my expensive bikini, ‘Only a little.’
We stroll back to our expensive hotel room. I look at the bed; it is full of bags, with two rucksacks at the front – packed.
‘We’re not due back until next week,’ I say.
‘We’re not going home. I’ve checked us out the hotel…they will keep our suitcases.’ The lines around his eyes became deeper, ‘Thought you might enjoy roughing it for a week, see the island…I’ve packed your oldest denims… we can drink beer instead of wine and cocktails.’
While we wait for the bus outside the hotel (the concierge is very confused we don’t want a taxi), I send Sue a text. I have only to wait a few moments for a reply.
Make sure you leave most of your cash in the hotel safe…you know how much better the beer tastes when you can only have a half…!
My husband and I set off on our adventure. Forging into a future which will become an intrinsic part of our timeline; a future that will become our past – and an integral part of who we are.
Julie-Ann began writing ‘seriously’ on January 1st 2008. She had her first short story published in the ‘Devils, Demons and Werewolves’ Anthology in 2010. She has had articles published in the online Arts and Culture magazine, ‘Beat,’ and also ‘The Writing Magazine.’
You can read her interview with thriller writer RJ Ellory in this month’s issue of ‘Beat.’ www.beatmagazine.co.uk and also read about her excitement at the Hay Literary Festival in June 2011 http://www.beatmagazine.co.uk/a-very-fantastic-journey-an-open-mic-night-at-the-hay-literary-festival-2011
She has completed the first draft of her first novel, which is set partly in the Spanish Civil War. She tweets as aspirinnovelist and can be contacted via her e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
The Note on Death Row
by Nichola Johnson
After it happened, there was a stillness in the air, like death had reached from the depths of that room and cast its shadow. Nobody spoke for half an hour. Not out of respect, but because nobody had anything to say. They came into his cell as night crept in to gather up the little things he possessed. A photograph, a newspaper, a pack of cards, cigarettes, tattered clothing. They stripped the bed and replaced the sheets, fanning out the material like a shroud. A piece of paper had escaped all this. In the hustle of the moment, in the bustle of the night, a slip of paper eluded them as they removed the man’s shoes from under his bed. As they lay down the bed sheet, the paper lifted up and blew across to the cell opposite. No-one noticed its presence.
For what seemed like an age that scrap of paper lay on the dusty floor of an empty cell. When a man moved there, he picked up the scrap, grateful for something to do. It was a folded letter; to who, he could not make out; the sender unknown. Yet the man knew, from the way the words played out, that it was a letter filled with regret and apologetic promises. But the man couldn’t read, had never bothered to learn, and while he could make out the faded love note, he could not tell what it said. He asked one of the guards to read it to him, and they took it from his shaking hands, with pity in their eyes. He lay back on his bunk and closed his eyes, listening to the lull of the guard’s voice.
‘There is a man sitting on the floor in the corner of a roomsurrounded by pages torn from a notebook. This man is me.The torn pages are my weak attempts to say goodbye to you.I don’t know how I can begin. First, let me tell you that I know that I loved you. It was once and a long time ago. I rememberyou told me that love was meant for fools. But I think I would prefer to be foolish. Perhaps if I was a foolish man, I wouldn’t have done the things I am in here for. I gave myself up for love,so that you could realize what you had lost. But I have found that I am the one who is lost and I can’t seem to find my way back. I don’t recognise who I used to be, only what I have become.My life has been reduced to these dark days, to the walls thatsurround me; the little things I own worn and beaten, as thoughI no longer have use for them. I will just exist here, until the end; until my body becomes ashes and they scatter in the wind. If Icould still remember what it was like to hold you close to me, to feel your heart beating against my own, I would miss it terribly. Now as I sit here, the only thing I miss is freedom. Freedom fromregret. Regret for the things I didn’t say. I’ve been here so long now,I can’t bring myself to remember those things. I can only sit and wait as the regrets taunt me, as it fills me up and weighs me down.Waiting for death in here is not like I thought it would be. I haven’tbeen given the chance to take my last days and turn them into somethingworth remembering. I know they will send my things back to you, which is the only way I know that you will read this.There is a man in the cell opposite who is going to die tomorrow.Looking at him now, I can tell his soul died long before he ever realised his fate. I do not want to become that. I still need the lightto shine in my eyes before it goes out.
Dying will not hurt as much as it does waiting for it alone but I
hope this letter finds you, like death has found me – easily and without question.’
The guard does not comment but folds the note and hands it back to the man. He sits up on the edge of his bunk and looks out to the empty cell opposite. He does not know if the occupant of that cell wrote this, or if he, like himself, found it by chance on a dusty cell floor. The letter could have been years old, passing from prisoner to prisoner, to those who have yet to lose hope. Hope; a notion that he will too soon forget, like a lost soul that blows away with freedom in the wind.
Nichola Johnson completed a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford and currently writes short stories and scripts for both theatre and TV formats.
Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Fear and Loathing
It was instant loathing.
You were slouching by the window, profile lit by morning sun. Carefully spiked hair. Perfectly ironed shirt. Aryan good looks. I bet you’d never struggled for anything in your life.
My smile was irreproachable as Harry beckoned me over.
‘Lynda, this is Max. He’ll be joining you on the team.’
‘Good to meet you,’ I said. Your eyes were glacier blue, your clasp a touch too firm.
Technically we were the same grade.
‘Had to offer him Associate Partner. Wouldn’t take anything less. I’m sure he’ll pay his way.’ Harry had explained. And you’ll be a full Partner soon. Surely that was implied. ‘We were all impressed with him. Of course he answers to you on the Hardman project.’
I hoped you understood that. Your CV was somewhat slim from what I could see. I could picture just how you’d have bull-shitted your way through the interview.
My desk was by the window: corporate prime estate with its river view. St Paul’s behind, Tower Bridge in front. You were opposite, but in the middle, squeezed between two analysts.
Within three days you’d switched desks. How you did you do that? Negotiating a four-way rearrangement in which everyone traded down, but you. It had taken me years to get the desk I wanted.
Now you were in my face. I’d take a micro-break, looking out over swirling pewter current. My returning gaze would find your wry smile and raised eyebrow, as if you’d discovered some insufficiency.
You’d come up behind: ‘Which client are you billing this for then?’ Not as if I’d spent more than a couple of minutes Googling for a hotel break. Your tone was jokey and collusive. But I heard its undercurrent: you’d caught me out.
It took one team meeting to fire those first impressions to an immutable glaze. You were late. ‘Meeting overran,’ you said. But you were sipping from a steaming Starbucks’ cup. You swung back on two chair legs, like a bored schoolboy. I waited for the perfect moment to pull you up. Then you straightened, and stared at me defiantly. ‘I don’t see why we don’t just…’
Sheer arrogance! Only a few days in, and telling me the path we’d structured for months might be made much simpler. The problem was, I could see immediately that you were right. I fired off a dozen reasons why you weren’t and waited for you to argue.
Your shrugged response – ‘you know best’ – was infinitely worse. No-one else said anything. I knew they knew: I was being perverse.
You undermined everything I did and said.
You made a point of always being in the office earlier than me. You never left before me. Setting up an arms race neither of us could win. It wasn’t that you worked hard. I overheard the personal calls, watched as you gossiped at the coffee point. I wasn’t the only one who Googled.
‘Harry dropped by at ten last night,’ you made sure to let me know. ‘I sorted him out.’
This was how it should be. Shorter hours meant effective delegation.
Nobody would buy that.
You were unfailingly polite. Opening doors. Stepping back to let me out of the lift first. Playing on the weakness of my gender.
*Then it was the office Christmas drinks.
I divided my time strictly according to rank. I pretended interest in others’ holiday plans. I deferred to Harry, used my allotted minutes judiciously, laughing louder than his wit warranted.
I wasn’t going to give you the satisfaction of ignoring you.
You sat amidst a female conclave, flirting shamelessly, the way you did with every other woman in the office. You leant back, sweating masculinity from every pore, legs apart, your thigh pressed against Katie one side and Leila on the other.
I was used to the rank-and-file breaking off their conversations, waiting for me to set the agenda. You continued embellishing your story – what was it? Nothing worth remembering. Katie’s eyes flickered between us as she tried to choose where her best bet lay.
‘I’m heading off,’ I said, bored suddenly by the pretence, wearied by the muscle aching smiles. I turned to make my exit.
It wasn’t the drink that made me stumble; I hadn’t drunk much. Red-faced merriment might seem jovial in a man; in a woman it looks absurd.
Perhaps it was the heels, higher than usual in an attempt not always to be staring up at you.
Perhaps it was the momentary relaxation, as I passed out of being observed and into being myself.
In any case, walking down the steps something gave. I crashed down onto the mezzanine landing.
I had already scrambled up before I heard you. ‘Are you OK?’ What instinct had told you it would be to your advantage to follow me? Your voice was a parody of concern.
‘I’m fine.’ Though I hadn’t yet figured out if I was or wasn’t. You took my arm.
‘Where does it hurt?’ Your other hand moved over my hip in a pretence at a pain-easing rub.
‘I’m fine. If you’d just let me pass.’
‘Not sure I can do that.’ I recognised the honeyed tone you dripped over our pouting PAs. ‘Can’t have the manager of our most lucrative project damaging herself.’
You kept hold of me down the remaining stairs, hindering, not helping.
The night air slapped against our faces. My short black dress did nothing to keep away the freeze. You pulled me under the bridge…
…and kissed me.
I tasted tannin, breathed in sandalwood, felt the graze of your stubble. We kept our eyes open. Our tongues matched the rhythm of the waves as they lapped the bank. You drew away first. I saw the mocking glint in your pupils and hoped mine glittered with as much acerbity.
We kept to separate sides as we climbed away from the dankness of the low tide and up to the bridge. My ankle hurt, but I paced fast, matching you white-mist breath by white-mist breath. I started to walk across, the wind tangling my hair and blowing the short dress shorter. Christ, it was cold! I thought it would be safe now to turn and hail a taxi. A black cab pulled up. The door opened; you leaned out and beckoned me in.
Insisting on remaining in the cold would just be stubbornness, and you’d know it. I let the fuggy warmth envelope me and gave my address to the driver.
We sat in window-gazing silence, just like we didn’t chat in those taxis to and fro from client sites. Except this time your arm stretched across the seat; your hand grasped my thigh and worked its way under my skirt.
We arrived. I let you pay. You followed me up to my flat.
It was me who pushed you against the wall, who started tugging at your jacket, and undoing the buttons of your shirt. If you tried to use your strength against me, I’d scream.
But you simply reciprocated step by step, never overtaking. You accepted my lead, surrendering to my will.
Until I no longer wanted you to.
*Later, we picked ourselves up off the floor. My toes curled on something hard and cold. I waited for you to go. Instead you followed me into the bedroom, where we separately removed the last traces of clothing. I didn’t look at you, couldn’t bear to see the victory in your eyes.
In bed I curled up tightly and your body spooned close against mine. I listened as your breathing slowed into sleep. I could smell your sweat, mingling with the fish-market scent of sex.
It had been so long since I slept with another’s arms wrapping me in an illusion of intimacy. It became one of those sleepless nights when you question everything you’ve become, all those relentlessly pursued goals, every choice you’ve ever made. What insecurity drove us to this, the constant proving of company loyalty and commitment? I entertained fleeting fancies. Ours would never be a hand-holding office coupledom. But perhaps there would be the exchange of glances, too swift for anyone to observe. We would collude together, while appearing to conspire against.
But as the night deepened, then lengthened towards morning, the fancy vaporised. I tensed with fear for the consequence.
Conquest remains a male preserve.
*The alarm shrilled into the continuing blackness. You jerked away: ‘Christ, is that the time?’ You took an age redressing. Through slitted eyes I glimpsed the well-honed body that my hands and mouth had shamelessly explored the previous night. A shadow fell across my face and I felt your weight pressing down the mattress. I waited for your words, already flinching from the blow of sarcasm.
Your fingers ran through my hair.
‘See you later.’ Your voice gave nothing away. You would enjoy keeping me guessing.
I walked tall into the office, my tongue running over my swollen lips. I could feel the bruising on my body and knew your flesh would be hurting too.
You formed the centre of a huddle. How had you got home and changed, and still arrived before me? They all laughed. Katie. Simon. Greg. Your long frame was angled into a sneer as your eyes flicked towards me.
I know that look: pure masculine conceit.
I clicked through emails and checked my schedule. I saw you glide towards the window, mobile to your ear. Your eyes leered at me as you embarked on some smirking conversation I could catch only snatches of. ‘Special night.’ Said with cocky emphasis. The immediate office wasn’t enough for your gossip.
I reached into my bag for the small bar I’d found in my hallway earlier.
Coffee. I needed coffee. And a few minutes to consider.
In Starbucks I caressed the memory stick. What would it contain? A confidential report with our company logo? Copies of internal correspondence?
You had been careless.
I printed my message on a napkin in neat capital letters. Found in black cab, with a time and date. You would have done the same.
The headquarters of the FT were only a short detour. I sipped my triple-shot latte, then slipped the metal bar, wrapped in soft tissue, into the letter box.
My day was packed with meetings, each dovetailing importantly into the next. My mind was focussed as I made snapping decisions and delivered clear analysis. We were never alone. As I glimpsed the smug look on your face, I pictured the sequence of events.
Security scandal, the headline in the FT would read. Or probably not. There would be a phone call to Harry. The editor was a golfing-friend. He’d tip Harry off, extract a return favour.
I’d seen it before, the three-way interview in the glass-box office: Harry, woman from HR and red-faced employee. It was hard to imagine you blushing. You would be accompanied to your desk to collect personal items, before being stripped of your security pass and escorted from the premises. Such a breach would not be forgiven.
I rose from my desk early. You raised your eyebrows.
I awarded you a tight smile. ‘Looks like it.’
Just for second the smile you mirrored back was warm and deep.
‘Wish I could join you. Harry wants to see me.’ Your face was clear and open; lacking any one-upmanship. What might you have read in mine?
Katie caught up with me as I waited for the lift.
‘Good party,’ I said. I wasn’t going to act ashamed.
‘Yes.’ She laughed. ‘Max was saying Leila got off with Alastair.’
I skipped just half a breath.
Arriving home I felt flat, the empty evening stretching out before me. Harry could be having that conversation right now.
I climbed the stairs to my apartment and remembered the previous night, the thrill of you watching every hip-swing. I found them laid outside my door: a dozen blood-red roses, and a card.
In memory of a special night.
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, 26 September 2011
By Shan Ellis
She was staring out of the window again, looking lackadaisically at the browning leaves dancing and clinging on to dear life on their mothering twigs.
“It won’t bring him back, I’m sorry but it won’t”
I’m sure the apathy in my voice sounded forced, perhaps even faked, but I couldn’t help it.
I was hurting too.
He had been my friend, the only one I could rely on since childhood. I’d had more than a little touch of the green eyed monster when he’d introduced me to the petite brunette who now sat zombie-like in the armchair with a cup of almost-too-cold-to-drink tea. She was too docile, too cow-eyed, far too weak for him.
Parting her lips as if to say something, I clung blindly to the silence that hung between us. Both mourning over the same man in very different ways.
“He’s not gone,”she whispered throatily.
Turned my back on her and headed for the whisky in the kitchen cabinet.
Stupid little girl.
“God damn you” I hissed to the ether. Hoping that he was around to hear me. At that moment in time it hurt so much just to think. I knew why I was so furious.
She wasn’t me.
Shan Ellis is a freelance writer from the foothills of Snowdonia, now living in Norfolk. She is 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
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