a gin and tonic, lemon and lots of ice
You stood there in your room with Leonora and you both thought about that night you had shared, silent for a few seconds. Then you looked at each other.
'I’ll send you a change of address card,' she said softly.
After he had turned the page, Alex took a sip from his glass of wine. On page 76, he registered a graffito below the typescript, but dismissed it, as he wanted to finish the story.
'Don’t forget,' you said, but you knew she would.
Then she stepped forward, took your head in her hands and kissed you hard, with a small clash of teeth and her tongue was in your mouth, squirming, flickering. But before you could grab her she was gone, backing out of the room, with a wicked smile on her face, and Benjy was honking the horn of the Golf in the street below. You heard her heels rapping on the stairs.
You went and sat at your desk, trying to stay calm, thinking about Leonora and the way she had kissed you. You knew it would be something you would never forget, that it would become one of those events that shaped and defined you as a person, a key link in the chain mail of memories woven through your life. As you looked out of the window you noticed that a slanting ray of the morning sun had squeezed between two houses and touched the higher branches of the lime tree at the bottom of the garden, turning it’s dusty, tired summer leaves into shimmering coins of lemon-green, making the tree seem young again, and making you think of spring.
Alex sighed and closed his eyes to better review what he had read. He believed it to be a sad tale, but with a final ray of hope, for the unrequited student. A smile appeared on his face and again he raised his glass. As he replaced it on the side table, his gaze fell to the penciled note in the space below the typeface.
My name is Leonora and I’m lonely.
He shook his head. He had heard of prostitutes putting cards in telephone boxes, but he had never before encountered this method of advertising. He opened the draw in the table, but found that although there were pads, pencils and a biro, there was no eraser. He finished his wine and after placing the empty glass in the kitchen, he went upstairs. He put the library book on his desk in the spare bedroom. He would remove the offending message the next day.
When he switched on the light and checked, he found it was ten minutes to four. He must have been dreaming. He recalled trying to ring a telephone number, but each time, after he had entered the area code, the actual number eluded him. He remembered the hand written note in the book. What if it wasn’t the advert of a tart, after all it was an anthology of short stories by well known and reputable writers. After taking the decision to ring the number the following morning, he found he could close his eyes and settle in sleep.
Having finished his breakfast and washed up, he sat at his desk and picked up the handset. He was about to dial the number when he had second thoughts. Before he called, he should work out what he would say, assuming someone answered. He opened the book at page 76 and reread the message. He still had doubts. Well if it is a working lady he would put down the phone. She wouldn’t know who he was and where he had called from, unless she had number recognition.
'Don’t be a fool,' he said out loud. 'If she’s a pro, just tell her, no thank you.' He picked up the phone and pressed the appropriate numbers on the keypad.
It rang eight times and he was just about to switch off, when a breathless voice said. 'Hello?'
'Is that Leonora?'
'I saw your note in the book of short stories …'
'Oh you’re a Daniel Bailey fan?'
'Er, yes.' When he could think of nothing further to say about the story, he added. 'It said you were lonely, the message in the book.'
'Yes, I am.'
'You don’t sound like a young lady who should be lonely; surely you have relatives, friends …?'
'No, not really, I’m all alone.'
'Anyway, you shouldn’t write in library books,' he added, in an attempt to lighten the tone.
'I know, I’m a librarian.'
Her reply came over with such sadness that Alex asked. 'What would you like to do about your loneliness?' He heard her sigh.
'Have you read a lot of Daniel Bailey’s work?'
'Everything he’s written.'
Would you like to meet him?'
'I certainly would, do you know him?'
'I’ll be in the lounge bar at the Royal Oak Hotel at seven pm this evening, please come.' Then she rang off.
Alex arrived ten minutes early. He was always early for appointments, a trait he had inherited from his father. He went to the toilet and washed his hands. He was more nervous than he had anticipated and the action used up a few minutes, so that when he walked into the lounge bar, it was two minutes before seven. He saw her sitting alone at a table in a corner. She was slim with short dark hair and little or no makeup. Her complexion suggested she was unused to the outdoors. He guessed she would be about thirty years old. She had an open book in her hands but she was gazing into space.
'Leonora?' When she smiled, he added. 'I’m Alex,' and he offered his hand which she held briefly. 'What will you have to drink?'
'A tonic water please, I’m driving.'
When he returned with their drinks he sat opposite her. They each smiled, waiting for the other to begin. Then they both spoke at once, so to avoid all the ‘after you,’ Alex said. 'Do you work in a public library?'
'No, at the university. I also do four lectures each week on archives and cataloguing systems.'
'Do you find it rewarding?'
'The lectures are repetitive, the same facts, just different faces. What do you do?'
'I retired early, two years ago. I pass the time looking after my house, the garden and I do some writing, poetry mainly.' He took a sip of his drink.
'Do you live alone?'
'Yes, I never married and before you wonder, I’m not GAY.'
'It wouldn’t matter if you were.'
'Sorry, it’s just that conventionally, a man of fifty-six who has never been married is automatically assumed to be GAY. I suppose I have a bit of a complex about it. My sister says I’m too defensive.'
'Does she organize you, your sister?'
'Flora, no. I only see her on high days and holidays.'
'Is there any particular reason why you never married?'
He pondered; he was unused to such direct questioning. 'I suppose I never met the right woman at the right time. I‘m now rather set in my ways and I don‘t think I would want to vary my lifestyle to accommodate someone else.'
'Anyway, you said you would like to meet Daniel,' Leonora became business like.
'Drink up and I’ll take you to him.'
On the car park, Alex was surprised when she led him to a one year old, sporty BMW. She opened the front passenger door and waited until he got in, before she closed it. She drove quickly and skilfully into the city centre and turned away from the lights of the West Gate Shopping Mall, into a gated courtyard. She eased the car up to a metal gate and after pressing a button in the central console, the door rose and she drove into the garage. Two minutes later, by way of a lift that raised his stomach more quickly than his feet, they stood by a large window which offered a panoramic view of the entire city centre; even to the floodlights at the football stadium almost three miles away.
'Would you like another drink?' Leonora asked and he shook his head. 'I’ll fetch Daniel, please make yourself at home.'
Alex had studied the views from the window and was halfway through checking the books on the shelves in the large, but minimally furnished room, when the door opened and Daniel entered.
'Alex, I am very pleased to meet you and honoured that you have read all my published work. Please come and sit over here and tell me what it is that appeals to you about my writing.'
Alex sat, but remained silent as he stared at his host. He couldn’t decide if he was an identical twin of Leonora’s, or whether in fact it was her, dressed as a man.
Daniel smiled. 'Yes, we are one and the same. I am not a transvestite, a cross dresser or homosexual, but I do enjoy, if that is the right word, two distinct personalities. If and when you feel comfortable, I would welcome an answer to my question.'
Following that evening, the two men met again on three occasions. Alex and Leonora met up many more times and she regularly visited his house and helped him maintain his garden. Alex’s poetry improved in leaps and bounds and Daniel introduced him to his agent and later his publisher. Alex’s poems began to be published and he won two literary prizes. The older man had never enjoyed such happiness and contentment.
Two years after first meeting Daniel, Alex was reading the Times Literary Supplement one day, when he saw the headline: BAILEY SURPASSES HIMSELF
Daniel Bailey’s new novel will win many prizes. It is the story of a couple who meet when the young woman writes a lonely hearts message in a library book and an older man responds. The story details their falling in love and courtship, until they marry. It is typical Bailey, beautifully written and navigates the reader through the gamut of emotions. It will make you laugh and cry and when you have finished it, you will forever remember the experience.
Just when I thought Bailey had become blocked and his best work was behind him, he hits us with the best thing he has ever written. You must read it.
Alex put down the newspaper and removed his spectacles, so that he could wipe his eyes. Leonora entered the room and asked him if he was alright
'I’ve never been better,' he replied.
Having spent the best part of thirty-five years writing reports on such subjects as ‘Provision of Caravan Sites for Travellers’ and ’Aspects of Pest Control in the Urban Environment’, Roger Noons began even more creative writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts and having become addicted, began to pen short stories and poems. He occasionally produces memoirs and other non-fiction. He has begun to perform his poems, and has just published ’An A to Z by RLN’, an anthology of 26 short stories. He intends by the end of the year to have followed that up with a novella.
He is a member of two Writers Groups and tries his hardest to write something every day. As well as CafeLit, he has had credits in West Midlands newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, Paragraph Planet, Raw Edge and a number of Anthologies.
Roger is a regular contributor to the CafeLit site and a couple of his stories have been selected for the Best of CafeLit 2012.