Thirty Somehow

And talking of rude, that lonesome Charlie stretching his coffee, pretending there’s someone to meet, was staring again. She should, no — shadow of a smile and these old farts spout like a fountain, murder you with their opinions. She’s been down that road before.

She thrums the table with hopeful fingers, nails still cut short for her dwindling print stories. She’s unforgiven for branding the think magazines graveyards of excellence. And now she, who used to let the chips fall where they may, has cold feet over publishing her dearly worked on short stories. Too many whetted knives.

Her foreshortened nails patter to a halt. She might as well grow them for the show, every week a different manicure; escape the pressure cooker to the gossip of the ordinary girls. Shonky Sydney, a flawed opal with a running flash. Radar tuned to their chatter, a heart beat from a story, she’d sport nails of blue or cerise. Nay tacky not what the show was about.

She raises her head straight into a disconcerting stare. Dammit, that man again, it was getting beyond a joke — there was something manic in his glare She clamps on a spasm of panic. Hell, not a nutter, a stalker. He seems to be taking notes or maybe drawing behind a filthy duffle bag. She turns away. Her flesh creeps inside the silky blouse sensing his scrutiny about her clothing, her body. She will give him nothing.

Di pia caffee, Georgio,” she calls out for relief, “and bring the menu. I’m tired of waiting for this lot.”

“Something fresh for that headache figlia, it will help.”

“Not oysters in Worcester sauce,” she cracks, the self-suggestion again setting her stomach churning.

“Seared fig in honey, melon balls, pikelet. Fig beautiful this time of year. Georgio’s special source. You see little daughter, it will help.”

Crazy being spooked. But now an inkling, some faint professional alarm bell is ringing. Where has she seen that face? An angry flush rises to her cheeks. She is pleased to have some vague handle on him which may serve to unlock and defeat him.

She craves the freshness, the cool balm of it. “Sounds heavenly, Georgio, but be a darling and bring the coffee first.” She produces the dazzling professional smile when under pressure.

But those hostile stares have unnerved her. She glances over obliquely to assess the threat. Only to find him deflated, withdrawn from her as if defeated by Georgio’s presence. Her perceived manic light drained to a dull disconcerted suffering. He continues twiddling but now she sees an absorbed smile. He’s definitely drawing. And he has turned his attention to the elderly couple just settled at the window.

Her turn to stare. She collects herself. Crazy being spooked. But now an inkling, some faint professional alarm bell is ringing. Where has she seen that face? An angry flush rises to her cheeks. She is pleased to have some vague handle on him which may serve to unlock and defeat him. Silly.

She notes the earthy mo, the stray wisps of white hair which he smooths with quick unsettling movements. His creepiness gave her an impression of dishevelment. But he is actually a neat man. Slim and trim. Shirt buttoned-up, no flash chains on grey-chested masculinity, advertising sexual hope. No ostentatious watches, bracelets, chains, badges of the subtle, avaricious populace who once affronted, but whom she now takes for granted. He simply looks after himself. Not unusual out here among this pampered affluence. And now he has struck up a friendly conversation with that couple at the window. Hell, he’s just some harmless old punter escaping his red-brick unit, with its refurbished stairwell. Dozens of those places round here. She just knows there is no wife. She sees these wistful fellows all the time — they siren lonely.

But as if sensing her, his eyes stray to hers and, caught out, he turns red, consuming himself, downcast. Silly old bugger.

Now that she has his measure, she is inclined to be more charitable. He was probably handsome in his day. Arch eyebrows and old bedroom eyes deeply recessed, imbedded in stamps of red and brown.

Her speculation is halted by Manny loping in, owning the room, indifferent. She is relieved, when she should be blasting him for being late. That purposeful sprung step belying the indolence of his shaggy clothing: the creamy summer hat. The tall, rambling insouciance of him, Monsieur Lighthouse — to ordinary citizens an improbable beanpole, an exotic tower.

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