The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
“Do you think they’ll come?” Maddie said from the bath. Her words were wrapped in steam, he had to come close to hear her.
“They’ll be here. Don’t worry Maddie.” He called out, so it got through the heat. He always added her name to steady her when she was nervous. He loosened his shirt, feeling the relief as the knot slipped over his throat.
“What time does it start again?” She called out again.
“The eclipse starts at 8. They said they’d be here at quarter to.” He slipped off the jacket. Let the shoes roll off. He walked down to the bathroom door.
“Boo!” he called out, making her splash in the bath, the candles spluttering out of life.
“Robert!” she screamed out, half screaming, half laughing. “You know I hate it when you scare me.” She steadied herself, then scooped a wave-splash of water, shot it at him, hitting him on the knee. He jerked back, still gripping the door. He brought the 3-D glasses up, looked at her in mixed colours.
“I’m all set.” He said, tilting the cardboard frames, watching her turning, exploding red and green, out of synch like a smudged sketch.
“I bet you are. Pervert. Now give me some peace, please.” She covered herself in foam, her hands, until she looked up. “How did the interview go, Bobby?” she said, quietly. He pulled the glasses off, straightened up.
“Pretty good. I think. They said they’d let me know by the weekend,” He said, found himself nodding, like he was reporting to HQ. “I’ll put some wine out. Shall I bring it down?” He let go of the door, stepping back, still looking to her. She nodded her head and smiled and he kept walking backwards, feeling in love as he looked at her.
He walked to the kitchen and pulled a bottle of wine out of the fridge. He laid out two glasses, popped the cork. He took a quick swig from the neck, not knowing why, half elated the interview was done and finished, whatever the outcome. He poured two large glasses, looked out of the window for a few seconds. The sky looked how it always did; he looked at his watch, rang Jim and left a message.
Jim and Denise were Maddie’s friends, the two girls knowing each other almost their whole life. They’d sit, linking fingers, braiding hair subconsciously, the way sisters do, without embarrassment. Jim was okay, talked himself up. Sometimes he felt like they could be anyone, sitting across from him. The two of them argued, usually after the drink. Arguments that simmered, then fizzed and exploded. He brought the drinks out of the kitchen, walked down the hall.
He brought the wine down to the bathroom, saw it was empty. He walked into the bedroom, where she sat on the bed, wrapped in a robe. He handed her a glass and she smiled, touched his hand with her finger. She sipped it straight away, and then lifted her glass to his.
“To the interview.” She said, chinking the lip.
“To the end of the day.” He replied, sitting next to her. He bumped her shoulder, she retaliated. “Enough about my day, anyway. How was the café?” he looked over, as she rubbed her hair with the towel. He held her glass and watched her until she finished.
“It was okay. Oh wait! There was something, the man in the booth!” She took her glass, put her finger up and sipped her drink. He liked hearing her café stories, the people she met. ‘Disposable friends’ her boss, Diane, called it. But Maddie didn’t like disposable; she called them ‘part time friends’, ‘nearly strangers’, settled on ‘encounterers’. He sipped his drink, watched her run her fingers through her hair.
“It was so quiet today. People grabbing and going. No one stayed in the morning. The afternoon too. And then this guy came in and he was just gigantic. He must have been 18, 20 stone?” Her eyes widened as she talked, not anything cruel, but just in awe or something.
“So he sat down and he dusted his briefcase on his lap, like it was a briefcase full of cash or something. It was just his computer, I guessed, but he treated it like a Ruby.” She sipped her drink; put it down as she tied her hair in a ponytail.
“So I took his order and it turned out he studied here. At the college. Must have been four years above us, so we wouldn’t have seen him, but he knew all the same places.” She took back her drink.
“Was he married?” He asked, not knowing why. Why wouldn’t he be?
“No ring.” She said. Maddie had become an expert on scouting ring fingers; who flirted and who was genuine. Her boss said she could see a ring across the street at midnight.
“And that was the thing. He had the most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen.” Her voice faded, like she’d just woken up. “When I took the menu, or he handed me the bill, I just couldn’t take my eyes off them.” She looked up, shaking her head.
“Beautiful how?” He said. He looked at his own hands, felt a bolt of jealousy.
“I don’t know, just…delicate I guess. Even more for working with computers. We only talked a little, about the eclipse; he rolled his eyes and said he’s heard enough jokes to last a lifetime.”
“Maybe he got a lot of that sort of thing.” He said, wondering if they said anything at school.
“I know. It’s just people can be so cruel, you know? Anyway, so I handed him the cheque and…I told him. About his hands.” She turned red, flush. “I couldn’t help it! He looked so sad after the joke thing. Not sad…resigned. I just wanted to say something nice to him.” Her wine spilled and she shook it from her fingers.
“What did he say?” he asked, wondering now how someone like that would respond to kindness.
“He nodded. I thought he’d be surprised, but he didn’t seem to be. Said it was his mother’s side. Kept her hands in silk day and night. And that was that.” She leant over, pulled her book from the side, started to write. He watched her, noticed how beautiful her own hands were.
“Remember the big guy in the ticket office? In the centre?” He said, as much to himself.
“That’s what he was like! Coach ticket man.” She put the book down hard on her knee. “You always remember stuff I’m trying to think of.”
“I remember how stupid it seemed to give a guy like that a tiny booth. Like it was a joke or something. I wonder what happened to him?” He wondered sometimes, after the booth was shut, if the guy was happy, sad, guilty.
“He’s probably working someplace else. Do you think it’s bad? Us talking about people who are…different?” Her voice was quiet and she looked younger peering over the lip of her glass.
“Everyone’s different, Maddie. No better or worse. Anyway you remembered his hands, right?” He put his hand on her knee; felt the warmth move into him.
“If Jim and Diane don’t come tonight…I think I won’t mind. The last fight they had kind of unsettled me. I don’t want place to have raised voices. I kind of think they stay somehow. In the walls or something.”
“If you want, we don’t have to answer the door.” He said, suddenly serious. He looked at her. She nodded and they sat, quiet, in the room.
“We can just watch the moon disappear with our glasses and drink all we want.” She said, the colour coming back to her.
“And by Monday I’ll have a job and the big man from the café'll be in love.” He looked down to the pen she still had rested on her legs.
“Make a face on me.” He said, reaching down, handing it back to her.
“With only one pen? What would you like?” she said, uncapping it.
“A black nose, round eyes; make me a cat, with long whiskers.” He put his face up, smiled.
“And if they ring?” She said, holding the pen an inch from his face.
“We’ll open it or we won’t. Deal?” He said.
“Deal.” She nodded. “30 minutes until blackout.” She said and leant forward, the book still open, the door silent, and the two of them giggling and trying to concentrate, waiting for the moon to disappear.
© Chris Castle Feb 2010