Flicking the last pages closed, I add to the mountain growing on the floor alongside the bean bag and yawn.
“That’s another book finished.” I declare to no-one in particular, wriggling myself free of the folds and beans, to ease to my feet.
Making my way to the kitchen, I flick the kettle switch on, listening as the machine hisses alive whilst I search through the cupboards for something. I don’t know quite what, but I know whatever it is it won’t be good for me. A sudden craving for chocolates or biscuits is cursing its way through my system; despite the fact that I know I don’t have any. There isn’t even cooking chocolate as I devoured that in a vain attempt to quash a similar craving yesterday. Having every day of the week to myself was driving me out of my mind, as was the perpetual job search which was so tediously depressing that I had been driven to fake chocolate. Desperate not to lose myself in the misery of near constant rejection, I had taken the day off to entertain myself, only to highlight my increasing isolation.
Moping, I slouch back through to the living room, leaving the kettle steaming and discarded, my urge for that comforting cup of tea diminished by a swelling feeling of extreme lethargy. Staring round my sparkling flat, I can’t see the slightest thing to put in the correct place. Having used cleaning as my exercise and job hunting relief for the past few weeks no further stimulation for remained.
Wandering aimlessly through the flat, I recognise the slight musty smell of an over-used space, which the faint trace of lemon from the cleaning products couldn’t quite hide. Shuffling past a mirror I catch a glimpse of myself and stare in horror at the pale skinned, dishevelled woman before me. I am used to my brown hair causing chaos on a daily basis, but the tangled web of strands reaching wildly into the air seem to have out done themselves today. My blue eyes are vaguely pink and dull, the deep bags under their eyes a tribute to a lack of something…it can’t possibly be sleep as that is all I seem to be able to do with my mornings. With my lips dipping down into a perpetual frown, and my shoulders drooping within the baggy folds of my loose pink pyjamas, I look utterly miserable and I realise that I am beginning to resemble the hermit I seem to be becoming.
Enthused with a sudden determination to take action, I turn with a scowl to bustle about with more activity than I have used for days, preparing myself for a venture into the wilds of the city for the first time in I have lost count of how many days. Reaching for my cycle bag, I shove my purse and a few other essentials into its deep folds, pulling my drinks bottle clear so I can fill it with fresh water. If I am going to take some exercise I am going to do this properly.
Nipping into the bathroom, I splash cold water across my face, shivering with the refreshing tingle that spreads across my skin and somehow reached my spine. Already I am feeling better and strive to make myself presentable- it is one thing to appear exercised and scruffy, and another to appear like I don’t care at all. Forcing the hairbrush through my tangled nest, tears spring to my eyes, but I persist until the strands are back in a semblance of order.
Eventually though, I am ready. Wheeling my bicycle through the narrow passage at the bottom of the shared access stairs towards the exit, I can’t help pausing hopefully at the letter boxes, but as usual it is depressingly empty. Not even a post card from my best friend, but then she has only been gone three days and she will no doubt beat the postal system to my door.
Cycling along the road, the cool autumn air skims across my cheeks, refreshing my smooth skin, sparking a long absent smile. My heart pulsed energy and life round my invigorated system, even as my under used body started to complain at the sudden exercise. A small part of my mind suggests wickedly that I am running away. Knowing that I will return to an increasing list of jobs to apply for, and places to search only makes me peddle harder, as though by cycling fast enough I can avoid the prospect completely.
Passing the post office, I remember a pile of stamp-less letters waiting on my side board, so I screech to a halt and draw my bike up against the railings. As I rummage in my bag for the lock I hear footsteps approach me from behind, but a growing awareness that my security does not seem to be available keeps me focused on the shadowy confines of the bag.
“Those brakes of yours certainly attract attention.” A rich male voice drifts over my shoulders, drawing me out of a self directed anger to stare round at him.
I find myself facing a broad shouldered young man with tousled blond hair grinning, his teeth a gleaming white contrast to his golden skin.
“You’re brakes are a little on the…um…how can I put this politely?”As he thinks, he tilts his head slightly to one side, glancing down at the wheels of my old bike.
“Let me save you some time…God awful.” I can’t help smiling, admitting the truth I have been putting off for far too long.
“Well, I was actually going for ‘loud.’ But your alternative works too.”
“I’m not great at the maintenance thing.”
“So I hear.”
“And apparently, not at the security thing either. I seem to have left my lock at home, so I may have to forgo purchasing my stamps today.” Growling more to myself than to him, I jerk the bag closed.
“Is it just stamps you need?”
“Yeah, but they aren’t essential. Besides, if I don’t get them today I can force myself to leave the flat tomorrow, instead of moping and focusing on the jobs that aren’t available.” Realising how my mouth is starting to run away with myself, I shake my head and zip up my bag, ready to make my departure when he becomes bored.
“Well, if you want, I can nip into the post office- I’m going in anyway, and I can get you some stamps, if you let me know what you want.”
I can’t help eyeing him curiously. Surely there was no such thing as a handsome gentleman anymore? Yet here he seemed to be, smiling encouragingly across at me, offering a service with warm brown eyes and a mouth I developed a sudden lounging to rest mine against.
“Sure.” To avoid drawing attention to the sudden heat I could feel beating at my cheeks, I lean over the bag once more, rummaging for the purse I knew was somewhere in the bottom. “Let me just find…”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll get them, then tell you how much it cost and you can give me what you can when I get back.”
“That way you don’t have to worry about me stealing your money.”
“Oh.” I gape at him flummoxed.
“So….what do you need?”
“Oh…um…just a pack of firsts, oh, and large firsts…” I shake my head. “Whatever the difference may be.”
“No problems, I shall be out in a jiffy.”
I watch him disappear, frozen in place by his unexpected display of chivalry. Taking a deep breath, I pull myself together and rummage deeper for the purse, pulling it clear as the door rings behind his return.
“Here we are.” He offers.
“How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it. Anything to help a fellow searcher.”
“Seriously.” His grin has a strange enchantment that makes my heart leap into my throat, so I reach for the stamps and try to avoid brushing his fingers with my own. “I would, however, take some of your time in payment…”
“Yeah. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit isolated, locked in my own little world of internet searches and piles of job papers.”
“Oh, tell me about it…It’s so boring isn’t it? I swear I haven’t left my flat for a good week at least, and I’m not sure I have spoken to a single helpful person in all that time…”
“What about your friends?”
“Ah, well…. my best friend flew off to Jamaica at the weekend, trying to not to gloat at a sudden inheritance which has taken her away from her own job hunt for two weeks. Others are frantically busy with work- which is really exasperating, as they can’t get me a job to help them alleviate their increased workloads.” The frustration simmered instantly back to life in my stomach, threatening to rise to the surface with a sudden promise of
“I’m searching for jobs that don’t exist, and depressing myself to the point where I’m cleaning my flat to raise my spirits…though not yet with the cleaning fluids…and the evenings, Christ. I don’t even know where to begin. I have no idea what to do with myself…” The words catch in my throat as I realise how I am rambling again. “Christ, listen to me go…I am so sorry. I don’t normally treat all strangers as therapists…”
“No worries. It is horrible. Tell you what, why don’t we take this to a cafe where we can watch your bike, and exchange therapy…save ourselves thousands of pounds in treatments?” He grins at me, a sudden gleam in his brown eyes making my take an unexpected leap of hope.
“Alright. But I’m paying…I can’t let you get away with paying for those stamps, I know how the costs are steadily increasing, as though we wouldn’t notice.”
Pulling my bike away from the railings, we walk along the street in a strange silence. I have dreamed about meetings like this, but never really believed that they actually happened. A strange synchronicity develops in our paces, his languorous stride eating up the road against my double speed potter. Pondering the irregularity of the situation, it occurs to me that neither of us had introduced ourselves, but to break the silence feels strangely taboo. Glancing across at him, I noticed a wry smile spread across his face, and I can’t help wondering if he is suddenly regretting his invitation; I have gone from jabber mouth to silent witness.
“I …um…My name is Paula by the way.” I stutter, suddenly desperate to span the silent void to prevent him from breaking away.
“I’m Andrew.” He chuckled. “I was just thinking the same."
“Oh…you …Were you?”
“Yes. But I couldn’t figure out how to introduce myself so…"
“Smoothly, as I did?” My wry comment drew another chuckle, and I delighted in his reverberating tones.
“Here we are.”
We reached the local cafe, where a small cluster of metal tables overflowed hopefully onto the pavement. I leaned my bike against the bare stone wall alongside the nearest table, draping my bag over the back of the chair as Andrew settled into his place. Stretching for the price list, our fingertips skim together, sending a shiver of anticipation through my system.
“Sorry.” Apologising simultaneously, our eyes meet across the paper, and my heart skips a beat as I identify a gleam of acknowledgement in his eyes.
“You have a look at that list, and I can have a look inside when I go to order.” Words rush out of my mouth and I take a deep breath to steady the flow. “Have whatever you want.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that to you. A simple black coffee will do me fine.”
“God no, one of those and I would be bouncing round in my seat for ooo minutes!” He grinned. “I aim to make this drink last as long as possible.”
“Right. One black coffee it is then.” Standing, I scrape the metal legs of my chair across the paving slab, wincing at the noise grating through the still November air. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. “ Andrew grinned, eyes glinting. “I suspect I’m going to have to get used to strange noises with you.”
Wordless I stare down at him, stunned. The idea that he intended to spend more time with me was a delighting prospect and as the idea settled, I felt a grin spread broadly across my face. I couldn’t help it. Having been single for several months since Jack abandoned me to my job hunt, Andrew’s sudden interest was intoxicating. I almost skip into the cafe, retaining my dignity long enough to reach the counter and realise I had left my purse in my bag; on the back of the chair.
I scuttle back out to collect it, feeling the heat of my embarrassment burning my pale cheeks once more. Andrew’s rolling chuckle followed me back into the cafe, ringing in my ears as I ordered two steaming mugs of coffee. Somehow I manage to return to the table, with my purse clutched under my arm and without losing a drop of liquid from the mugs. The sun broke free of its restraining clouds to highlight our table with golden warmth that lasted most of the afternoon.
Three hours and two drinks later, we had covered topics as broad as sports, celebrity and entertainment, laughing as we exchanged embarrassing moments, delighted in discovering shared passions in tennis and sci-fi and lingering on the shared experiences of the long job hunt. It was encouraging to know that I wasn’t alone in my isolation. Andrew had lost his job as a Graphic Designer six months previously and had been driven to extreme lengths to retain his sanity; namely taking 10 mile walks every two days just to get out of the house. It was only the approaching threat of rain that brought our conversation to an end.
As I make my way home, flashing Andrew a parting glance over my shoulder, the first drops of rain fall heavily to the ground. Laughter bubbles in my throat and I cycle back to the flat oblivious of the shower feeling giddy as a school girl.
With his telephone number burning a hole in my pocket, and a promise of dinner for tomorrow night, it seemed that my hermit like life style was finally reaching a conclusion.
Written last March for a competition…they say write what you know, so this is a combination of my life at the time and dreams.
Uploaded after a request for more writing uploads!