A familiar, honey sweet and smokey voice calms him for a moment. He stands still amid his mess of packing and plans with a pair of jeans hanging limp in his grasp. ‘Let’s go to the party on Friday’ she suggests. The sound of her shoves a spoke in his resolve to run away. How could he leave her? He presses the phone to his ear, it is good to hear her voice. His shoulders drop as he closes his eyes and listens to the space between her question and their future. The sound of her breath waits in his ear. A gentle pitter-patter of rain drops begins against his window. He is distracted by the dark clouds bringing an early night in front of the setting sun. There must be a rainbow out there, but he cannot see it. A grizzly end awaits him if he stays, blood, metal and torn skin on tarmac. A lonely and uncertain future of heartbreak is the alternative that terrifies him. His mind jumps, buzzing between the two magnetic poles of flight or fight. She says his name prompting a response, wondering if he is still there. He feels the stab of love hook and drag him towards her with a need to be needed. He does not want to go to the party and in doing so continue along the dark trajectory of the Play but does not have the wit to offer an alternative. His brain scrambles for a sane sounding reason to offer her for not going but everything sounds limp and boring. His need to please her, not to lose her is immense, greater than his fear of what the future holds, perhaps it is part of his fear of what the future holds. He must derail from the predetermined track that their lives seemed to be following. He would have to go to the party, make an effort to get things on a better course with her, get back into her good books. They would go to the party but he would change things. After all, how difficult could it be not to argue, not to kiss another woman? They would go to the party, he would tell her all about the Play and it’s predictions. He would make her recognise the party from the Play then they would leave together and write their story, one with a happy ending.
“Yeah, yeah OK. Should be fun.”
* * * * *
Young people bump past the Old man on the escalators. They shout loudly in their low tops and tight skirts. He watches them but they do not see him. He is just a part of the audience, there to witness how much fun they are having, how young, beautiful and full of life they are. Opportunity stretches out in front of them. They do not carry much of the weight of life yet and that which they do is cast off tonight, painted over, left at home under the bed. He will not go home yet. He will wonder around a little, sit in the corner of a pub with a newspaper and read about the world that is going on without him. He will eat a pie. That will be nice. Chicken and mushroom pie and chips. A couple of pints then off home for a bit of TV before bed. An action movie perhaps. That would be good. Then tomorrow go down to the bookies as usual but this time, this time back the winner. A couple of results early on, build up a stake then a big one at the end of the day.
He still harbored hopes that one day they would be reunited after a chance meeting, destiny forcing them back together. The Old man regretted their unfinished love affair and longed for an alternative ending. He day dreamed, foolishly of rescuing her from a mugger in a dark alley way, drying her tears, holding her again. She looked older now but time had been kind to her. She wore the lines on her face and streaks of grey in her hair with a dignity and grace that she had always possessed. The Old man knew where she worked and would sometimes site in the cafe opposite just to catch a glimpse of her leaving. Stuffing keys into her bag as her hair blew about in the wind. With her raincoat carefully buttoned up and belt hugging her waist she looked as beautiful as ever. He would talk to her someday, if he could pluck up the courage. The timing had to be right. He was convinced that there was another moment out their waiting, written for them he just had to find it.
If he did get a big win tomorrow he would go to the barbers for a short back and sides, get his beard cut and trim the unsightly hair that sprouted from nasal cavity and ear holes. He would buy a suit, timeless and classic, cut to fit. If his horse came in he would surprise her with flowers and invite her out to a fancy restaurant all silver service with small and beautifully constructed portions, delicate flavors and textures to delight. He resolved to whisk her off her feet, take her to Paris. Together they would walk arm in arm down the promenade, drink champagne look into each others eyes and make up for all those lost years. She had loved him once and probably could again. Perhaps she still loved him. They would fit back together, back into the grooves they had made in each other. He imagined her sitting alone right now wishing that he was there to talk about her day, make her laugh, hold her.
He reaches the top of the escalators. A group of young men jostle past him. The cold air blows in from outside. A chill sends shivers down his spine. The Old man pulls his worn coat about him and steps through the ticket barrier.
* * * * *
He is running late. He had been too engrossed in taking notes from The Play to notice the time. She had rung his bell twice before calling his mobile as she turned to leave. It did not occur to him to pack away his notes. He pulls the door of his spare room closed behind him and rushes to the front door flinging it open, his hair points haphazardly in too many directions at once, shirt hanging out on one side and one sock nearly dropping off the end of his foot. He calls after her. She brushes passed him into the flat looking around in disapproval at the unwashed dishes and pile of soiled clothes by the washing machine. Tossing her bag onto the sofa she moves some magazines aside making a space to sit. “This place is a tip. What have you been doing?” He shrugs looking around as surprised as she is to find his flat in such a mess. Unable to find an explanation he picks up a dirty cereal bowl from her feet and walks out to the kitchen.
“Sorry I forgot the time, I’ll just jump in the shower.”
“What on earth have you been doing?” She looks around the flat a little bewildered by the state of it whilst he takes sanctuary in the bathroom.
What were those stage notes in the Play? Something along the lines of: ‘He sits reading a book. The door bell rings, He does not hear it.’ Was that tonight? So what happened next? He racks his brain trying to recall the scene from the Play. Rubbing his eyes and tapping the side of his head as he tries to knock loose the piece of information from his memory. He looks about the bathroom but sees nothing.
“I’ll help myself to a drink then shall I?” Her voice brings him back to the present. He shakes his head, sighs, turns on the shower and pulls off his clothes.
She crouches in front of his poorly kept drinks cupboard where the dregs left over from many good nights sit lonely at the bottom of bottles. Rummaging through the sticky glass and peeled labels she manages to find just enough rum in a bottle at the back for a Cuba Libra, of sorts. The cola is flat and there is no ice. She wanders around the flat looking at this and that and nothing in particular, turning over a book, straightening up a picture. She presses play on the stereo and is surprised to here Leonard Cohen’s morbid tones groaning from the speakers. “Jesus!”. She runs her finger along his CD collection finding one of her own. “Prince of peace” an acid Jazz album, well known, well played and well loved from her time at college. The CD is ejected, removing miserable Leonard and replaced by her choice which starts to play as she turns to the flat looking for something else to amuse her self with.
His computer is on. She glances towards the bathroom door before clicking on the browser window and opening the history drop down. “What have you been looking at then”. There was nothing very interesting, just email accounts, Facebook and his bank account none of which she had the passwords to access. There were a considerable amount of wikipedia pages there and what looked like some philosophy sites. “Boring. Oh when did you get so dull?” She wanders into the hall. The bedroom door hung opened revealing an unmade bed with piles of clothes and books littering the floor. A waft of damp earth and vinegar assaults her nostrils. She would not be going in there for a while. Spinning on her heal she notices the closed door to the spare room. With a glance back at the bathroom she can hear him splashing about in the shower. She tip toes across to the spare room and eased down the handle, gently pushing the door open with one hand whilst simultaneously resisting with the other to slow its progress in an attempt to keep any noise to a minimum.
The curtains are drawn. An angle lamp points down illuminating a notepad next to an open book with post-it notes stuck to its pages. Other books are piled around with their pages also marked and folded over at the corners. The open book has notes scrawled in pencil in the margin. Her name is written and underlined in several places. She picks up the book and flicks over to the cover and recognises the title of a play that they had seen a while ago. Her face twists into a frown. Why was he reading it? Not just reading but studying it. She reads some of the notes. Times and dates of things that they had done together written down alongside passages of the play. There was a print out of what looked like the writers family tree with a rough sketch of his on the same sheet of paper. There was a calendar on the wall with Act numbers scribbled on dates, crossed out then written again somewhere else.
She hears the bathroom door open but makes no attempt to avoid discovery. He stands in the doorway, back lit by the hall light. Steam rises from his still wet skin, a towel hangs loosely around his waist. He starts talking, quick and angrily but soon runs out of steam, his temper fueled by embarrassment more than anything else. “What’s going on? Why are you so obsessed with this Play? Why are you locking yourself away scribbling and reading like a crazy man.”
“I’m not crazy, I just need to work it out, make sense of it. It’s crazy to ignore it look” he steps over to the desk flicking through the book, pointing at the calender reading out his notes. A fluster of energy, he leaps from tangent to tangent, tangling his argument up lending it logic with a quote from a philosophy book which he drops in his eagerness. She stands gob smacked, looking at a stranger.
“Slow down, please” she touches his arm lightly, buying time to think. She needs some space and quiet that is not filled with the noise of his reason directing her thoughts. Wanting to help him but feeling out of her depth she needs to get some advice. She needs to get out of his flat. “Let me borrow the book, let me have a read and see if I can help work this out, what it all means.” His grip on the book remains firm. “Come on?” He looks up, into her eyes and sees a warmth and concern in the infinite blue of her iris. Relief washes over him as his rigged form melts he releases his grip and lets go of the play.
“I’m sorry I…”
“It’s OK “ she slips the book into her bag and kissed him on the cheek.”Come on get dressed and lets go to this party, have some fun eh? It will do us both the world of good and we can sort this all out tomorrow”. He smiles and kisses her nose thinking “We could work this out. It might be OK”. He turns and walks into his bedroom failing to notice her letting go of the breath that she had been holding in since picking up the book and seeing her name. By the time she finishes her drink he is ready to go. They walk out into the night and head for the party.