By Giles Ruffer.
Maggie walked around the area where they had agreed to meet, chewing on the plastic of one of the drawstring-things from her hoodie, trying to guess which direction he would come from.
Why could they just not have met at the house, she wondered. But it was his request. And she was desperate.
She was running out of time to find somewhere new.
It was late afternoon and she felt exposed. She had decided not to wear her glasses as a sort of disguise – a ‘just incase’ sort of thing that she was failing to see the logic in now as she was now feeling the beginnings of a headache, as often happened when she did not wear them.
After a few minutes of waiting, a middle-aged man approached from behind a wall where some recycling bins and a bright pink ‘bra bank’ were. Passers-by could easily assume he was her father due to his (and her) age. He was wearing a checked shirt tucked in at the waist, the first few buttons at the top undone showing what looked to Maggie like one continuous mass of grey chest hair with no individual strands.
He called out to her, smiling, ‘Sorry to make you wait.’
‘No, no. This is fine.’
She did not complain.
She began to walk towards him, expecting an introduction of sorts, but instead of giving her his hand to shake he pointed his thumb over his shoulder.
‘It’s this way,’ he said and turned as she reached him.
They walked next to each other in the direction of, then past, the recycling bins and bright pink bra bank. He seemed to be giving her sideways glances every now and then, not always looking at her face, she felt.
They crossed a road.
Maggie tried to think of something to say to him. She bit her bottom lip. She could not think of anything.
He asked if she had a boyfriend and she replied, ‘No.’
She felt like elaborating on her present situation, but she just said, ‘No.’ She felt anymore would be inappropriate.
How old was she again? he asked.
She told him her age and he said that it was fine, scratching the inside of his nose with his thumb.
‘I have a teenage girl. Lives with her Mum.’
The middle-aged man showed Maggie to a house, opening the front door, letting her walk ahead of him. He suggested she just went straight on through to the kitchen. She tried to open a closed door to her right.
‘No, through here,’ the middle-aged man laughed, pointing towards the end of the corridor.
Would she like a drink? He went through a list of mostly alcoholic beverages and she decided she would have a beer, even though it was only 1pm and she had no desire to continue drinking afterwards and she did not even like the brand he had offered. She thought it might do something for her headache, the reverse of a hangover.
Later, in the same kitchen, she would gulp from the same drink, trying to take away the feeling of something that was no longer there. She would answer whatever questions he had left to ask her even more bluntly, before saying goodbye and leaving.
He handed her a yellow can of Holsten Pils. They opened their cans and he asked her what else she liked to do, other than what she had said in her email. She said some words and watched him grin.
She tried to imagine what it would be like to live in the house. Then an image came to her and it was all she could think about: lying in bed at night, in the darkness, a cut-out quarter moon in the window, then a creak at the door.
Should they go up to the bedroom, he asked.
He let her walk in front of him again and on the stairs she noticed paintings on the wall. She tried to look at them, a blur of greens and blues and undefined lines. She thought about the middle-aged man’s life outside of this moment in time, how she didn’t want to know any of it.
The bedroom had a single bed, a dresser, a window that looked out onto a garden and some shelves. She had placed her beer on the dresser and turned, realising that the middle-aged man was closer than she had expected. At this distance, she could clearly see the skin between his eyelids and eyebrows drooped down like his developing jowls, making his eyes look half-shut. He was so close now that she could not help but fail to block out the odour of halitosis on his breath.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Giles Ruffer lives in Brighton, England. He has had his work published online on various websites including Pangur Ban Party, The Waterhouse Review and this one. Recently he released an ebook of writing taken from emails between himself and Laurens Verdonkschot called BROZ II MEN He helps run a monthly poetry night in Brighton called ‘Any persan HALP me’. He maintains a blog at libraryofdust.blogspot.com.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, May 19th, 2012.