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By K.R Leumas

Smashwords Edition.

Copywrite 2017 K. R Leumas

Who would buy a house here?

She heard it, no doubt. Unhidden, even under breath.

It was the third visit in a week. Once after work. The other on Sunday; just enough time to avoid the evening rush back so no one would notice. It was obvious that someone would have to find out at some point. That’s why she was here. She wanted to tell them from the beginning but felt obligatory to wait to be asked. A professional courtesy of sorts, containing its own special kind of self-importance. No one did however and reluctantly the news was given the week before Easter. A slip of the tongue behind the photocopier. Rushed and clumsy on the final Friday deadline. That’s when she said it too- The same question, for the first time. Later, on the way in.

The rain was hard through the woods on the main approach; winter precipitation invaded spring in uninvited bursts and covered the road in a reflective sheen. The dual carriageway was slow as expected- she had checked the updates- but as soon as the car had left the exit things quickened and became more comfortable. She was looking forward to this. It was planned in the details. There were notes- The Shitlist scrawled at the top of the page, and all there was left to do was let it happen. The hope was to watch the scene reveal itself in increments as the valley collapsed outwards and things became revealed- that’s how she imagined it- ideally-the day previous- before it manifested itself for real and pressed against the edges of the windscreen of its own accord. Instead there was no choice but to confront the scene in front with familiarity. The lighthouse and pub roof, the headland south now losing its edge with the rain. She knew it too. It had all been anticipated and the magic had already started to wear off. It wasn’t her fault though. There were no two ways about it. The reality had become just that; slow and calculated- inaugurated with the first blurring of spring.

Why hadn’t anyone else been asked? The weight of her parallel was now becoming unbearable. If only there was another option. It would have been better to ask Jim. He’d understand the occasion and worn a shirt. The one with the ducks. The same one he wore at the conference. That godawful day in March when the sun low and blanketed in grey. This wasn’t her scene though. That was the point. Now she remembered why. There was no other choice. It wouldn’t even be mentioned on Monday. Indeed, the offer of silence was too tempting. She hadn’t really talked to anyone since joining in March and so far, had refused all other similar invitations. This was the point. She was there to just carry boxes; her indifference preserving the sanctity of the occasion.

The road veered left and the body next to her sat up in her seat. She had not seen this before either. Polished metal glistening in the daylight. The other journeys had been taken in more forgiving light and she made the assumption that they were farm buildings. Corrugated aluminium roofs that had been left to rust on the edge of the village. How endearing. That unintended earthiness that would cost thousands to replicate further back up the road. ‘It has come from…’ the salesman muttered proudly the morning buying the kitchen. Now they were presented differently however. A retail park on the edge of the town. The signage just visible above the levee. The traffic made it obvious- they couldn’t all be going into the middle. Still It would be easy enough to ignore. She was going further where it wasn’t as easy to be found.

She had been thinking it too. She they hadn’t eaten since breakfast and now she felt it rising in her stomach. It was the first thing she had said and her eyes had lifted with the mention of it. Why hadn’t this been anticipated? She would have expected to have eaten by now but it had been forgotten in the rush. Eggs Benedict from Steven’s on the corner by the station. The travelling hordes unaware of its location behind Starbucks. That’s what she wanted now. Yes, yoke running off the plate and the smell of tea layered on the walls. Better every time. It’s a shame. She would have to make them herself now.

The high street was littered with possibilities. She acknowledged it also and again her eyes widened. A deeper green that had previously not been noticed. It was nothing new. It had been seen all before, further up the road. Chains with names in familiar fonts. It was a major draw to the place. The agent made a point but she was unimpressed. Others would be but she wasn’t. She understood the clichés. It may have been a concern in the past but not anymore. Integrity went out the window the moment she handed it in. Jim had known for weeks. ‘you reach a certain point’ he muttered in the break room the week before. This was more than a sabbatical and now she could consider them existing for her only. That’s the way she saw it. She hadn’t come here to cook. No, everything unnecessary was to be outsourced. Cathy too- a rare guest this time- was only here as a witness- and after this she would be dining out of take-away cups alone. Uninterrupted and at home.

The car-park was already half full by the time they arrived. It was a struggle to find adequate space and the sound of the gravel under the tyres beckoned frustration; four by fours lined the course of the track and it took a lap of the perimeter before adequate room was found to park. She wouldn’t have to put it up with this for much longer. The permit would be through soon- it had been signed off a week ago-a favour from Steve and she wasn’t planning to head back for a while. She seemed taller and she had to second guess her height as they got out and her head crouched towards the air. Her size made her seem unaffected by the wind and as she lit a cigarette the loose paper dissipated quickly from a lack of cover. It ruined her image. She had thought that before. The audacity of taking a fag break on your first day. Right in front or the window so everyone could see. How lovely she would be without it. How intimate her features. Burgeoning, vulnerable and full. She took disinterestedness seriously however, and it had to be commended. She noticed the t-shirt now too –disaffected plastered on the front in cheap vinyl- and with it she was brought back to earth firmly as the car door shut itself in the wind.

The lights of the shops were still on and the windows reflected a warmness as they passed looking for somewhere to eat. The items on display attracted her; paintings of seagulls, crockery sets glazed in Japanese acrylic, kitchenware and fabrics all embarrassingly depicting what was there already outside the door. Did she dare to look at the prices? It wouldn’t have mattered before. She would have had it either way. She would have to get out of this habit now though. A few extravagances could still be afforded but funds were no longer expanding. There was still a final cheque to come but that was contingency. Everything else was shrinking. No not today. She would wait until it was absolutely necessary. The feeling would come. She knew it. At some point, she would have to start surrounding herself. Today she had to go in whole hearted however. Boldly and without distraction.

They ate in the car. Chips salted and dry. They hadn’t discussed it but it was clearly preferable to eating in. The smell of vinegar was strong from the passenger seat and lingered. The windows were closed and there was a new view of the sea. You could also see it higher up but here it widened and was less interrupted by houses. Terraces anywhere else half the price. Could she have bargained for one; a few more thousand would have done it. The agent looked cheap and easy and was clearly out of his depth It was within her grasp though-but the effort was not worth it. This was not a power move; she had seen that before, people buying up houses for more than could be imagined- visiting only twice a year to dust and remove the webs in the cellar. She had deliberated differently however. This wasn’t a holiday. Something else was required. Here there was no need for cleaning; the dust removed itself through the cracks in the wall.

She would walk to the station from here- it was only half a mile up the road - and she obliged without being asked. There were still a few boxes left that needed to be returned. Still, too big for the train. The conductor would have made a stand and demanded the cost of an extra ticket. Should something have been said? They both thought it, under the tongue, as she stood there at the door. Her hands were pressed firmly into the bottom of her pockets. Her head was lowered slightly and as a result she again she looked the same as in the car-park. She won’t last. It was obvious. It will eventually become too much she told herself. She too would eventually cower out and end up having to do the same. What were her chances? Not words but the sentiment was definitely expressed. She moved down onto the second step to look more closely. Will it come to her also? She hoped not. Who else would wear that t-shirt here? Now covered by a jacket. Then finally she turned away before the door was shut and it was her alone.

Night quietened things. This was typical. Thoughts flattened and her head rested comfortably on the pillow. She would sleep here in the living room. It was decided beforehand. There was plenty still left to do in the morning though. The surface hadn’t even been scratched. Boxes still lined the hallway and the smell of the previous owners clung to the walls. It will have to be aired out in the morning she thought, only if there is no rain. There were a few hours left though, the light hadn’t decided itself and she asked herself what to do?

The question itself came as a surprise. It wouldn’t have even been considered before. The pub would be open still. The opening hours were online. She had checked them before she left. But no, she wanted to savour this for later. The boxes could be dealt with. It was tempting. The desire to set things up properly couldn’t be denied but for now she was resolute. Things had already started slowing and she was compelled to wait.

Outside the sea became audible for the first time. She questioned whether it was the waves crashing gently on the shore in real time or merely the expectation of it manifesting itself in her mind. Nevertheless, it’s presence was there, just this time more palpable and obvious. She stretched out her legs on the sofa and allowed her head to rest on the edge before focussing on the silhouettes of the tress outside.

In this position thought gave way to thought and eventually the question came to her again. Why hadn’t she responded? She should have answered there and then to silence the criticism. This wasn’t the point though. Justification was not needed. Nevertheless, it came back. Clear and audible.

’Who would buy a house here’

To the ends of the earth. Indeed. To the end of the earth.

The first time she heard It was the gulls that woke her. They had been there before but further up the road their sound was more tormented and coarse. Here they were presented more naturally however; their shrieks were softened and hushed by the sound of the sea one hundred yards east and there was less of an urgency to their movements. This is what the premium was for. Yes, she said to herself imagining the scene out of the window- the one that had been her screensaver for a year- a foot below where her head now rested; the curvature of the bay; yes, she imagined it clearly. The mast of boats peppering the shore and the golden face of the cliff half a mile further up. And then the interruption;

Mechanical sounds, steel and iron, cutting through everything like a knife. It was then she sat up in bed and looked for the first time. There were men on the sands, moving the dunes.

It was there again with the coffee. Outside the window the top of the lorry was visible and there was no way it could be ignored. She couldn’t remember the last time she had used it -it was a present from her mother- but she could be certain the taste was different. Steven’s would be crowded by now. If only it was still an option. The tourists had no problem finding it on their weekend visits in, but she was a regular, and would be served first despite the queue. It will have to be cleaned out properly. She imagined the lime scale at the bottom. Where was the detergent? The unpacked boxes were still arranged chaotically on the floor and it wouldn’t be an easy task. Where to begin? Then another taste and what she wanted returned; a sweetness at the base, beckoning her forward and away from the window.

The bananas would need a few more days. Green and premature. They had been bought too early. She knew that at the time but felt inclined to wait. There was nothing else appetising though so coffee would have to do. The arrangement of items on the table was an issue she had to clear a space before sitting down. For a moment, concentration was given solely to the sound outside. She attempted to isolate the individual parts, the gulls and the shore, but was drawn back to it in its whole. Oh, for something better to eat she thought again. Idaat idaat , her mother’s words resonated clear and audible. Yes, she’d phone on Monday. For now, however, coffee would have to do.

She had made an appearance. Why hadn’t they told her then? In the cold light of the evening, wind accompanied the walk in and so she covered under scarves and coats. It could be seen now also, if she wanted - the scout hut further up the hill; the parish meeting that night in February when it was always preferable to stay in. It’s a matter of course the vicar told her again when she bumped into him signing the papers in town. Turn up and you’ll be in. Easy as that. His nonchalance surprised her but she took it as a compliment. Someone of her position should be welcomed she reminded herself before going in. The soles of her boots sodden and heavy from the walk. Why hadn’t they told her then?

She stood up and looked out of the window again; the masts on the horizon and the groins half submerged by the tide. But then again, the men on the dunes moving the earth.

The water was welcomed. The shower trickled slower than was used to and it was a minute or two before it reached a meaningful temperature and the first step was taken behind the curtain. - What would he be doing now? He interrupted her thoughts easily as she allowed her head to meet the water. Why hadn’t he phoned yet. Had she expected it? Perhaps a text, but she couldn’t be sure. Was this still his remit? As the water reached her hair, she was able to forget this transgression however. She applied the shampoo with care and for a moment her thoughts emptied and she focussed on the warmth of the water only. Oh, the pleasure. Thoughtless and muted joy. Yes, this is what the premium was for.

Despite the sun that shone through the windows, there was still a chill in the air as she turned off the tap. Nevertheless, it was decided that a towel was not needed. She waited until the surplus water had evaporated and sat on the edge of the bed to feel the softness of the moisturiser seep into her skin. What now though? A dress would be too much. There was still a chance of rain- it had been forecast for a week. A sweater would be the obvious choice- maybe- she hadn’t worn the one she brought on holiday two years previous and this could be the occasion. Oh, how to bear skin and to expose oneself to the elements though. The wind peeling off that final layer to reveal worlds under worlds. That’s where her associations were drawn. Those short- lived summers at the coast, the scent of newly washed linen. Yes, that’s how she brought things together. The cooling of sunscreen on her shoulders and the feeling of sand in her crevasses.

The price of the milk at the shop was deplorable. She knew this beforehand but still refused to bring any along. It was a strange sensation. The walk to the village had never been taken in such open light and the only other time was at the end of the day when it was impossible to discern the particularities of the track. It could hardly be called a road; there was evidence of it being tarmacked at some point but maintenance had clearly been minimal. Cars (now long black estates with bike racks and sun shades) sat in well-established ruts and the hedgerows on the either side were equally un-maintained and appeared to serve no other purpose but to preserve the exclusivity of the houses on the other side. At the top of the track she was presented with an option to turn either way. She paused but there was no fear of getting lost- the road would bend round and meet back in the centre. Nevertheless, it was decided that the same route as before should be taken. The other way would be saved for later. She continued walking and only turned her head to check for oncoming traffic. He could have called by now- she had left her phone at home-probably a good thing- and she would rush back to check for correspondence. After a few yards the path disappeared and she was forced to cross the road. From here the cottages gave way to a small collection of modern semi-detached dwellings. Between each she was afforded a view south and then there it was; the sea wholesome and complete, interrupted by the sight of machinery- now stationary and angled away from the shore.

What was the problem? The woman at the shop refused to smile and for a second she felt the desire to make her aware of it. She wouldn’t have thought twice further up the road. They are a different breed here she thought; even work of this kind was enviable back there. They had a reason to smile. What was the expectation here though; she questioned it in the queue and came to no conclusion. She would charm her in time and she would get used to this face. Respect can’t be demanded. No, the smile would be teased out by familiarity-she would be coming in everyday- a war of attrition-and then eventually acceptance would come though the slow realisation of mutual dependence.

The bananas were at the back. Black and enticing. Oh, how could she resist. The effect of the coffee had worn off and now she really felt it. The others would have to be thrown away. No other thought was given and she split one open as soon as the door of the shop close behind her.

The walk back was taken with pace. She didn’t know this but she was definitely a step ahead. The incline of the path was more obvious on the descent and she was able to concentrate on the view in front without distraction. What a strange shape to the land she thought. The curve made it seem like the place sat in a bay - the headland on either side appeared to go out further than it actually did making the space between seem receded and pressed in. She knew this wasn’t true, but the presence of the men meant this fact was second guessed. Further up the coast the rock was softer but here it remained hard and consistent. Her heart lifted. Why here? If anything, it should be happening further south. There were no groins there and nothing but farmland and caravans to protect. Yes, that was what the premium was for.

Where to begin? She hadn’t planned this but it had to happen regardless. She hoped things had been labelled properly but couldn’t remember. Her friend had been brought in to help with the packing but she had been called to work and as a result it was done without supervision. The kitchen was first. She began by unpacking the most important boxes first-those labelled utensils- and made sure to dust the shelves before arranging them in the cupboard. Next were the ornaments. She had considered leaving most of them behind but decided against in account of the majority of them being gifts. The ceramic frog from her sister, the ceremonial dishes or the stuffed dog from a child she couldn’t remember? There had been no previous attachment to these things but now she felt something akin to sentimentality. She cleared a space on the windowsill and placed them delicately in size order. Smallest to largest. She would find a better place in time, but for now this would have to do. Unopened and exposed.

Night came quickly. It would be changing soon, becoming slower and more drawn out, but for now it was early. Again, she retreated to the front room, that still yet uncharted space, and sat on the sofa to eat. The warmth of the food was pleasant and went some distance to settling things. She wouldn’t turn the heating on yet. She anticipated problems and needed to recuperate the energy first. Still, the wind was cold and it was difficult to find comfort. Again, she stretched out and closed her eyes. He hadn’t texted. She knew this would be the case. It was always like this. It would happen eventually, but only when she least expected it. If only she could call him. Oh, how she wished for his voice to warm her now. The rules had already been established however. No, her bed had already been made and now she had no choice but to confront it. Alone and cold.

This time it was planned.

She hadn’t set an alarm and instead waited for wakefulness to present itself naturally. It was the first Monday in years that she hadn’t. Even last year- that forced vacation in March spent entirely inside- her phone was left unchanged. How could anyone do without it? How could she allow herself to be so reckless and relinquished control so readily? Today she allowed herself to wake naturally with the light through the blinds though. Horizontal strips of light bringing her upright and beckoning consciousness. Yes, today it was anticipated. Control had been taken back- albeit momentarily- and things could move as planned. Today they weren’t going to get in the way.

Instead of opening the blinds fully she removed herself to the room opposite; the one at the back of the house, still uncharted and at this point bereft of boxes. It was ignored on the initial viewing-they had offered to show it but the gesture was declined. His wife was keener. I could be seen in her posture and the way she kept her hands grasped together tightly behind her back. It was her only achievement-that and the little brat that cowered behind them- even then she knew she hated them. Her offered again but this time a shake of the head sufficed, and they moved on swiftly. They probably took it as a sign of disinterestedness and without knowing panicked. The asking price was lowered there and then but unknown to them the decision had already been made. She was drawing up the funds as they spoke. The retreat had already started.

From the mattress, the view outside was attainable and the top of the net rests were clear, sitting still on the fragile patch of land that been allowed to sustain itself- unmarked by the sea and the high levee east. this was a better view. Yes, rugged and austere. She had seen it before though; it’s impression only served to replace the one that already existed in her mind. It appeared ubiquitously in the shops in town- orientated in landscape and arrange vertically on postcard stands and shelves. It was even part of the estate agent’s advert. Where were the men though? They were the only thing missing. Their bodies against the net stands, frame against frame. In this new view the land was empty. A dog walker traversed the path that cut through the field and the mark of the summer caravans that had departed was clear in the faded grass. A few months and they would be returning- the sound of children echoing on sanctuary of the levee. Aside from this the images were the same. Nevertheless, without wanting, the one that already existed became transposed on the one now in the present. It was a double exposure that created a strange disquiet in her mind. For the moment, there was enough newness to cling onto however and the two images settled in their places as she sat on the bed.

The dress would be risked today. Warm enough. Warm enough, she told herself again and got changed without showering, just to avoid feeling the cold afterwards. The feeling of the fabric on her skin tickled and she felt a insatiable itchiness all over. On the bed, she peered outwards and pulled her socks up blindly until they reached the knee and the sensitivity retreated instantly. Would there be something there? A sign of the other. Could the isolation be penetrated already? She paused before heading down to check. She had to prepare for the worst. This was a familiar reflex. A moments breath and then she was ready.

The bananas hadn’t changed. Still far too green to be enjoyable. It must be the cold. They could be dipped in sugar then spread on toast. She thought about it for a moment. But then oh the window. still there. Eradicating all other distractions. Only the gulls could ignore it. She felt something akin to jealously. If only she had the benefit of their indifference to the land. But no, here she had the inconvenience of the horizontal perspective. From here it was obvious; the earth was being moved and its permeability was being irrevocably exposed.

It must be the softness of the water. It made sense now, nevertheless this fact didn’t make the taste any less bitter. Another one would be purchased later- this spend had been accounted for beforehand. Still she sat down to drink this time with her back towards the window and her eyes on the open door and corridor beyond. Streaks of light streamed through the door and dressed the hallway in a yellowish haze. He had texted. She could see that from here. Her phone flashed with a lack of battery and the lack of response was clear. There were other lines of communication still available however. They had been disregarded previously through a lack of accessibility. The pub had Wi-Fi though. She remembered the sign on the door as they passed and the body next to her groaned with hunger. They would not be open for a few hours yet so something else had to occupy the space between. The boxes still presented a possibility. She thought about it and decided instantly. Not before coffee. Again, the sweetness at the bottom gave it a better impression and she allowed herself to pause.

The bulk of it had been taken upstairs and what remained was merely those earmarked as miscellanies. It would be done ruthlessly of course. That’s already been stated. No, there was no time to deliberate each item individually. That’s what she wanted; to consider each piece in relation only to itself first then to everything else. But that required preparation. Purpose and position would have to be thought of later and for now she would act without discretion. Here time moved expectantly. Between the retrieval and replacement thoughts became muted and the distance between her and the outside dissolved into self-sustained units of time. She only checked the clock twice and on the second it became obvious that the distraction had worked. Oh, the joy of predictability. In this instance victory was hers. There was still time before opening and a detour would occupy the rest. Oh, again the joy. She threw a cardigan over the dress before collecting her keys from the table and leaving.

The peak of the hill, the monolithic beauty of that one bulge in the skin of the land. Ancient and irreverent. Glorious and illuminated in the midday sun. How had it not been noticed before. Its size had been hidden by the trees and the sharpness of the cliffs on its edge. She wouldn’t go straight there. She considered again. No, she couldn’t risk being the first one there. Imagine the consequences. There would be too many questions. She would wait until lunchtime when the first buses had arrived to slip in and go largely unnoticed.

This time she turned right on the road towards the sea. Fortunately, the wind came from behind and prevented her hair being blown directly into her face and she was afforded the ability to walk without checking the arrangement of her dress. On the way down, a few pleasureists passed in the opposite direction and a smile managed to extend to them at their exact point of intersection. She continued walking until the road dissolved fully into a track and she was presented with a gate that marked the start of the dunes. She looked for another way round. If not the only option would be to continue onto the dunes and mark the course of the beach towards the headland with the water directly on the right shoulder. There was still another possibility though; a track that made its way through bracken and led back on to the cliff. The decision was taken with ease and as she commenced she thought again of the noise behind her. The now inaudible cacophony of machine and muscle, steel and grit ploughing the earth in great heaves. Who had brought them in? She considered it her right. Those men on the hill. The parish council would surely not have powers over such decisions. Even if they had mentioned it at meeting their opinions wouldn’t have been sought. It would have gone to tender without anyone knowing and come back cheap and easy. There would have been incentives that would require the minimum of effort to collect. She knew the system. The lazy fuckers would be just shovelling shit for the sake of it. There wouldn’t be anyone there to check. That is why they looked so contented and smug on the corner on the journey in. The florescent strips of their jackets reflecting everything and patterning the road in uniform stripes.

The track then widened and the bulge of land where she was heading was clear. The path would continue to the top. Now thoughts of emails again. There were several avenues for exploration. Of course, it would still be there. The ICT department would have bothered to change it. She could cause an outrage. All it would take would be to login and address it to them all. It would never happen though. She knew it too well. As soon as the screen appeared she would notice his name at the top and retreat. Would he do the same? Would her name register in the line that read ‘all staff’. What would the conditions need to be for him to discern her name from the collective recipient? Either way she would be there implicitly; she knew it as a fact. That’s how she reconciled it and moved forward. And then without anticipation she had reached the top.

Sight was open in all directions. Oh, the totality and luxury of the vertical aspect. Her world spread out like a blanket on the surface of the earth. It was there for the taking. All tangible and close. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply as the wind was allowed to freshen her skin. Above the gulls were travelling inland as if to give the sea its daily rest and again, as her eyes opened, it could all be seen; the caravans, the town, the pub, the track and the house at the bottom. Then the bay and the inconvenience of the men. Still something was missing. The wind watered her eyes and it was then that it hit her. A strange emptiness that accompanied her desire to move and reach forward; simultaneously detaching her from the view in front. Yes, it became explicit then. All at once and oh so freely. The truth had exposed itself.

It was not meant to be apprehended alone. Why hadn’t he responded? Where was the gentle plea for information about her circumstance? What could be his reason? She became overwhelmed with the desire for these facts. The truth of the unattainable other. The only one that could eradicate her foreignness that she felt only now on the hill. The one that said nothing as she left and therefore still held all the power. Tyrannical and omnipotent. Fuck it she said to herself and she wiped the water from her face and stepped back. Fuck it again. Fuck it, fuck it. She knew this would happen. Now was the time to ignore it however and continue regardless. She checked her watch. The pub would be open. It would be warm inside. With this, strength was then somehow regained and she began her descent.

Night rattled her. It was the last thing she thought about before retiring to the room upstairs and it followed her to bed. She wrestled with her position for a while and in the process she was able to briefly distract herself; coffee machines and bananas, boxes and post. This didn’t last long however and again her mind turned to the view from the hill; the bend of the bay and the green crest of land protruding out to sea in a defiance of the distinction between sea and earth. She felt the water in her eyes, and then, when vision had returned and before it fell on top of her, she saw them again. The men on the sand, moving the dunes.

Others were watching also. Again, sound came first; the crunch of footsteps on the gravel outside. Initially it was conceived to be the gulls. The lightness of their footsteps was not yet understood in the confused audibility of sleep and therefore the most obvious association was drawn. The birds-alive and ready for the morning scrounge- had the bins been put out. Yes, she considered it but then forgot. They would be collected today, the schedule was pinned to the fridge courtesy of her predecessors. As she became more awake the sound became clearer and more distinguishable. The mess of sounds defined themselves against each other and from then she knew the real cause. She was not the only one who had noticed their presence. Others were watching too.

Should he be confronted? She had only relied on sound so far. She thought about it for a moment and felt a slight sensation of rage; how long had it been since she felt it last? Is this how it felt to be impelled towards action? That surge of motivation to bring things in being. Even when the orders were given she could only muster something more akin to disappointment. With her hands tucked behind her back to stop the shaking, she looked them in the eye and felt the same as they did. They were in her space though now. The boundary had not been clearly marked and she had the right to make them aware. She pulled herself up slightly and felt her heart pick up. She could twitch the curtains and take a look, it would only take a second, but they would notice surely; it wasn’t her intention to scare them off before she had the chance to reprimand them. No, she would go for coffee first and if they were still there she would confront again them fully awake. They were probably just kids and would be the first to notice the newcomers. Perhaps they had dared one another to take a look and discern her madness. Oh, the irony. Her privacy shattered just like that.

The smell of the coffee grounds was welcome. She had remembered to store them in the fridge the evening before and rejoiced in the fruits of her preparations. The scent was allowed to linger for a second before she took the next step. As the water trickled slowly through the filter, and the screech of escaping steam covered the sound from outside her mind relaxed. When was this pleasure first realised, she thought. At what point had this experience manifested itself independent of its source and made an imprint in the burrows of her memory? Spores attaching themselves independently and being allowed to expand unmitigated.

Distant kitchens, decorated in teal and white. That is what she thought of now. Alongside the presence of a man. Was it her father who brought this scent to her first? His rare and precious presence at breakfast. She couldn’t be certain. The memory hadn’t solidified this particularity. Nevertheless, she felt it now and forgot the existence of those outside. Furthermore, the bitterness of the taste had not been recognised and so she was allowed to dwell in these considerations for longer; the weight of that body behind her and the first smell of the roasted grounds. She wasn’t able to cling onto this for long however. With the final sip, she noticed the last remaining box in the hallway and was brought back with aplomb to more pressing concerns. She remembered the footsteps and hurriedly moved towards the window. Could the motivation still be mustered? Their imposition still rested heavy but the fire from early had receded. Nevertheless, they had to at least to be seen. Without a clear idea, it would linger all day. There was no time. Things had to move on. At the sink, she pulled the blinds up swiftly to mimic natural and action and looked. They were there; men on the sands, moving the dunes.

The final box beckoned her. This was it, there was no more choice. Procrastination had had its time and now the only thing that allowed an opening to what existed previously was that single box that now had to be removed. She moved swiftly and with purpose. There was something else though. She felt exalted by it. In that space underneath the door frame the thought came back. How had it been forgotten? Usually it would have hung on for days and forced itself into the stream of everyday thoughts. She would call straight away. After the initial anxiety, it could be enjoyed. She would sit down first though-this was a necessity- and she would make another coffee as well. It would buy her more time; she would know it too- the slurp of the liquid moving through the receiver in the dead space. After the second coffee had been made she was ready. She picked up the phone and rang.

Relief came as a wave. Over and over in repeating undulations. She sat back and embraced it; the pulling up from underneath and then the quick ascension and withdrawal. She left it continue without any wilful interruption; There was a physical quality also. All at once she became conscious of every inch of her frame and allowed the weight of it to fix her in position. With this her eyes defocussed and blurred, she lowered herself on the sofa again.

They couldn’t find her. This had been anticipated. On the note there was simply a tick to indicate that it was elsewhere. They hadn’t even bothered to try. It could have been placed over the gate or nestled behind the bench next to the door. Was it out of distrust or distain? The postman probably held onto some resentment about having to walk down that path again. Still, the thought of this had minimal effect. This is what was wanted. To be alone and hidden. Nothing would be sent directly from now on.

Was it the same women? She couldn’t tell. As she slid to the other booth-that one that marked post- she felt this fact dissipate. She had the same salty look as before. That was certain. The space around the eyes was tense and wrinkled and looked permanent as if the expression had been made once and then stuck. There was no concern for pleasantries and It was held onto like a birth right. No, there was no competition and she could act how she wanted. She understood this now and a grunt was all that could be managed as she checked the I.D and disappeared into the back.

There was a discordance of the items behind the till. She hadn’t experienced this before. Up the road it was organisation that dictated things. Razors, batteries, medicines and penny sweets. Even the cigarettes, covered everywhere else, were exposed and assembled alongside an array of miscellaneous items. How could anything be found? The question frustrated her. No wonder she was so miserable, with that chaos behind. Was it intentional? An extension of her wish to piss off, or was it all organic? The items left to arrange themselves without concern for order or ease. Soon enough however she re-emerged from the back and without a word the exchange was completely and she returned back to the road. This time in the opposite direction and her face to the sea.

He had texted. Sitting in bed she heard the vibrations clearly and there was no way it could have been mistaken. It had been positioned intentionally on the sink to maximise the reverberations. She had made that mistake before. Left it too far out of sight to be heard. As a result, she would mistake every sound to be it. To have it with her would have been too much also. Distance had to be maintained. Yes, the boundary had to be acknowledged; that road that cut that land in two and separated the city from the shore.

Yes, for now it had to be accepted.

She would check again in the morning.

A city in winter

Two cranes perpendicular and swings on grassless earth, the open mouth of a child on a bust stop advertising board, endless rooftops and the water to the right, the corner store- still open, parking garage, reflections of stopped cars at red light intersections, distant highways, entire graffitied walls- colour and grey, the backs of office chairs in opposing windows, candles on the desk and a poem on the screen.

Pavements as old as the olive groves

She could go no further. The scene again.

Cross roads, post boxes, sirens and the rumbles of trams, an incessant blink, blink of smoke stack aircraft warning lights.

Darkening blue.

She would be meeting him soon.

Only a few hours remained. It was her phone that told her so, somewhere else out of view. She checked herself in the reflection. Too short. He even if he wouldn’t say it, it would be thought. Too late now though, the decision had already been made. Before she would have changed- back into work clothes as was expected the ones she ironed and placed in the closet a week in advance. These were different circumstances though. The decision had to be made alongside other considerations. However, that didn’t mean it was more difficult. On the contrary, she embraced the challenge and lined all options up in a row for neat comparisons. From, this it became obvious. Yes, in the mirror she affirmed it. Yes, just long enough.

Blue and purple. Infinite shades of not yet absent night. Natural distinctions blurred and confused by the diversity of light. Had it always been like this? A suspension between moments of light and shade. It took a while to gain focus. I must get her eyes checked she thought? At the corner, she squinted as her vision was confused by the varying brightness of shop front windows. She could not remember the city another way. Upon the first arrival, it was the first thing she noticed. The bus pulled into the station and she remembered the eyes defocussing, and how concentration lapsed and allowed everything in frame to obscure and present itself through the blur of the unwashed windows. Oh, how romantic it was then. The glow of furniture showrooms at dusk and the reflections spilling outwards onto the street and onto the side of buses. She had planned to stay up all night and watch the transition into day and even brought along the provisions so she did feel the need to want. When did it last until? Was the night survived? She couldn’t remember. But for now, at least, daylight had become a myth, confined to generosity of rectangular square cut holes in the wall. Work was found within a week and ever since Day had always escaped her. A life between doors. Is that how she had remained hidden for so long from those who confronted her now. A last gasp of air before the inevitable retreat.

The subway was busy but not uncomfortable. Space between bodies was enough to allow movement without contact and as the carriage pulled away she revelled in the warmth of the stale air rising through the gap in the door. The ticket refused to work through the barriers on the way out and an attendant had to do the honours. She hadn’t felt this for a while. Before it would have been a privilege. Her foreignness wouldn’t have been noticed immediately and they would have fallen over themselves to help. The process had been abused before. In the clinic, she would make a point of it and wear it on her face as identification. Her face just young enough to allow it. As he gestured to let her through no of this was felt however. Instead the head lowered and the body followed with her gaze fixed shamefully on the floor.No one noticed and no one cared.

The platform on her side was empty. It was a certainty that she would be able to get on and she releveled in the stability of the light, clear and definite, by pausing at the yellow dividing line. Stillness was enjoyed and she even took the time to close her eyes and bent her frame gently in front to feel the breeze from the recently departed train.

She thought of the poem again.

Pavements as old as the olive groves.

The smell of the newly formed rose

The rhyme sickened her. The flexibility had left her.

The time again.

‘You’re late’.

She would hear that first and It would be said first with the eyes. His hair would be gelled lavishly and uniformly and pulled upwards away from the brow. He would be on the phone. It could be anyone. Bill from work? His mother even? Either way they would have his undivided attention and he would make the point of not letting the waitress to take away his empty glass as even that would be an interruption. It was the same look he would give whenever she had crossed the same imaginary line. There would have been exchange before though. The transgression simultaneously accepted and then recalled. She would have moved closer without invitation and he would capitulate voluntarily. She feared it now. The defences had been built up. Jim wouldn’t even mention it. The drafts, nested in her briefcase and sealed in plastic and cardboard were now a week late, but she would be greeted with gratitude on their transfer nevertheless. Probably even more so now. She could hold them for as long as she liked. There was nothing more they could do. They didn’t know this yet. It was a still a secret. The documentation still burned in the desk drawer. They were expecting something though. She could tell by the glances at the water fountain and the way in which the conversation stopped short at the point where words would have to be chosen with more diligence. It made no difference. She could hold it out for as long as necessary. There was no more need for punctuality. Every contact would be considered the last and would be treasured.

On board standing was preferred. There were plenty of available seats but she preferred to cling on and feel the tubing bend in her palm as the carriage made its way through the tunnel. She checked her dress again. Too short. There was no way of hiding it. From this angle, the curve of the window made the dress appear inadequate and as a result she pulled it tight and pressed it in between her legs.

Passengers exchanged, faces indistinguishable from their predecessors-pasty and grey- yet she failed to notice. Advertisements above the window panels transfixed her instead. Rectangular boards; Insurance, phones and holiday. Her mind moved. A week’s holiday in the Dordogne, booked on a whim at the end of August. Why could she not have done it then? The feeling was already well established. She knew it then also. That exact moment he looked at the waiter and said she’ll have the same. The same, yes, the same but not in the way it was intended. He couldn’t tell the difference. Yes, she should have said it then, looking firmly into his eyes- they still attracted her, bright and full- and end the charade. Why couldn’t it be done though? The wine flowing freely at this point and there was an excuse not to drink but she ignored it anyway Then the waiter returned with their two identical plates she knew it. He checked hers first. Yes, the same.

Double flights of stairs, ascending to the surface. She would only go half way. At the break in the stairs she paused and allowed the other passengers behind her to overtake in their urgency. She checked her bag for a moment. The ticket. Had she really been so careless and misplaced it already? Thank God, he wasn’t here. There would have been no way of avoiding a reaction. It had happened before and he had begrudgingly brought a new ticket without speaking. She bent down and searched through her bag. She felt the form of miscellaneously items slip through her fingers and fall back to the bottom. Grains of sand, immutable and coarse. She felt the same then as she paused at the line that marked the limit of the tide. The calls from the shore beckoning her to join. But no, the feeling of sand through the fingers was too much to resist. They could not understand. With each repetition, the waves were pushed back and the stillness was maintained. Then finally she felt it, the edges frayed and bent, and continued. This time there was no problem and she went through the barriers without resistance. Her eyes fixed to the floor and the marks of the city scratched upon her shoes.

The florist was bright and inviting upon surfacing. She could have brought some- the desire was there, - azures and lilacs, fronds and blossoms. The arrangements of pots and baskets placed for this exact purpose. At the lights she thought about going in again. The expense would be irrelevant but that was not the point. It was a latent desire- and as such it had to be resisted. It had been on her mind since she saw them on Cathy’s desk. Daffodils, left to fester for a whole week in March. Even now she had no idea where they were from and she had no reason to ask. Nevertheless, she envied her, even if they were brought herself it didn’t matter. To have them there is all that mattered. But no, she refused the desire again. Besides, Cathy’s were a private indulgence. To parade them through the streets was a different concern altogether. There were worse things to been seen with but still it couldn’t be allowed. Oh, the multitudes of possibilities that could excuse her- marriages and funerals, gifts for a friend- all now rendered impotent in the ascending night. She would be meeting him soon, the necessary precautions had to be made.

There were errands to run first. He would have to wait. She checked the list on her phone- just to kill time- and then continued. Around the corner the scene remained the same but the florists still beckoned. She could never member their presence before. Still, that doesn’t equate an absence, she thought. They were there. They must have been. Hidden from view alongside all other vertical treasures. On the windowsill somewhere, or in the vase by the door. Yes, they could be remembered now. Their vitality juxtaposed against the blackness of the mourners that commented on their position as they walked through the open door. Was that the last time she saw them? It must have been she told herself and then moved on without purchase.

She checked the time again and forgot it instantly. Had it always worked this way? Everything escaping all at once. Each second contained within itself, irreverent to all others and content in its own self-mockery. She checked again. She would be meeting him soon. Soon, yes. In that, there was no doubt. The sky called for it. Still he wouldn’t be there quite yet-the manager would only be just checking the bookings and his name would only be a third of the way down the list. The same name, repeated weekly. His not hers. The way it should be. It would be insisted. His lips always first to taste it.

Where would he be now though? She checked the time again. Yes, he must already be almost there. Still, there would be a risk of a premature rendezvous. She had to be aware and took glances in secret. These were his streets also and the spies were everywhere. Drones from the office. A ubiquitous sight in these parts. Slumped and half-conscious at the bar. He would have delayed his arrival though in anticipation of her lateness just to avoid the scene. He had made that mistake before and had been caught out. Tie loosened and shirt untucked. He stared back and she continued walking regardless. No word was uttered later at home, but the lesson was still learnt.

There was a queue at the post office. In front there was someone tall and dark, whose hairline creeped backwards towards the crown. How chiselled his figures; resistant to years. She noticed it as he unintentionally looked backwards. Is this how she remembered him also? The same glance and the same lowered eyes. Albeit horizontal. His buttocks arched backwards and his arm trapped by the neck.

She traced the outline of spine. Moles mistaken for birth marks. Whilst he lay still she examined every inch; the curvature of this shoulders and the valleys of his back, slowly and without cause. Then it was the curve of his buttocks. Before it would have been the other way around. He had become this way. His face pressed against hers and breathing restricted and alternated to prevent interception.

Then the front of the queue again and the letter left waiting in the bottom of her bag.

The street again. A darkness deepening but still not fully itself. Over the road the subway station was billowing. Faces again indistinguishable from one another in the absence of light. She waited for a break in the traffic and moved closer to the road and focussed. Cars obstructed her view but cleared quickly as the lights to her left switched from amber to red. She observed with clarity at this point. Festival goers. Young looking yet heavy in the face and clearly already fatigued by experience. Modern day vagrants piling out from the doors, burdened with debt and backpacks- comforted by the weight of limitation. She knew this herself of course. Yes, she knew it too well. Two weeks before she backed her things in anticipation and on the kitchen floor made her own inventory of what would be taken along; every morning returning before her parents woke to check and reassemble. She could have done it also. Thrown everything aside and indulged in the pleasures of restlessness. It is not that she didn’t want to. He would have never allowed it. He labelled her too precious for the precariousness of that particular brand of misadventure. It had been claimed at the very beginning: the first clause of the contract and the first thing she would be reprimanded for. Oh, but to feel that now, the exhilaration of empty pockets, filled with nothing but the possibility of what might be.

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