we’re sitting in a draught. a table near the door is like having a threesome with a snowman. you’re trying to enjoy yourself, but something cold and unpleasant keeps interrupting.
he’s gone to the bathroom. normally, in this situation, i would get out my phone and pretend to be busy, texting a friend or tapping out an email. i laugh to myself; it is funny how so many smart phone games have you touch the screen in a way that mimics the action of texting so remarkably. perhaps the creators knew how it felt to be unemployed, lonely, and on a bad date.
this time, i resist the urge to level up and look around at my fellow diners. it is quiet tonight, the gentle hum of conversation mingles softly with the light jazz wheezing out of the overheads. it’s mostly couples, plus several larger groups. business meetings, i imagine, or parties, though nobody seems to be in much of a party spirit.
one group did clink their glasses a while ago, which gave us something to look at. i felt a surge of relief, which faded like a camera flash.
near the back wall, by the kitchen, a woman sits alone. she has hung her coat over her chair. she has long, dark hair and wears big round earrings, that nestle in her hair like goose eggs. she holds a wine glass in one hand, and a book in the other, open. she looks like hamlet with his skull.
a slight frown adorns her forehead, dark brows drawn studiously together as her eyes flicker over the pages. i wonder what writer has managed to string words together into such a combination that she prefers their company to that of a man. or a woman.
perhaps she’s married, i think. married to an older man, who tells her he is doing business abroad yet spends his months on sunny boats with girls and drinks and chest hair. maybe she knows. maybe she doesn’t care.
it is late, too late to still be awake. it is a school night, father said. i hope you will be asleep when i get home. i wonder why he thinks he can say that, and expect me to sleep. i cannot even close my eyes knowing that he is not here. somebody might get me.
i have been lying for hours now. the light from the street lamps makes patterns through the holes in my curtains, and it keeps me entertained. like clouds, but for the night time.
i have left the window open, and the autumn chill has snuck its way into the room with me. sometimes my toes escape under the end of my duvet and the cold tickles me, i yank my feet back under the duvet. they are safe there.
i imagine little green monsters scampering around on the carpet, hiding behind the legs of my desk and in between the books, behind photo frames, in boxes and baskets. maybe one of them has found a hiding place on top of the door frame, lying down and sucking in its little green tummy to make itself as flat as possible. when it hears me snore, it slides down the door frame and wriggles out into the corridor, tiny feet submerged in the heavy pile of the carpet. it flings itself onto its back and makes angels in the wool.
one of them might be better at climbing than the rest. it heaves itself up the curtain’s edge, and tiptoes along the rail, hopping over the wooden hoops like hurdles. it balances on one foot, and sticks a hand in the air, wiggling its fingers and rolling its eyes. on the ground, the others jump and clap in glee, cheering and shrieking as their friend wobbles along the polished wood.
the little monsters hear it too, when it comes.
their eyes widen, and they freeze – then scamper away, feet pattering into the quiet corners like frightened mice.
i pull back the curtain, just an inch. the car sits in the driveway now, with the driver’s door open. after a moment, i see my father’s hand, and my father’s hat. i hear the door slam, and watch him take his long strides around, boots crunching on the gravel like jaws munching on dry bones. my fingers shake, and i let the curtain fall against my cheek. my face is stiller than my hands.
i suppress my breathing, though it quickens like a racehorse and they cannot hear me anyway. there, he walks. he will open the passenger door, i think. he will reach out a hand and open that door, and someone will come out. some expensive shoes will touch our gravel and crush the bones along with him, fingers linked within his, breath hot and close, perfume ripe.
my father locks the car. i hear the click muffled through the thick glass. the passenger door stays closed, and he goes to bed alone. in my bitterness, somehow i am thankful that replacement and substitution still stand out of reach. yet she will come, very soon. perhaps if i leave a little note, the monsters will gnaw her legs and leave her, bloody stumps too out of shape for silver shoes and stockings.