So this is the story that appears in “The C Word”…
It’s cold. And wet. My feet are frozen, socks soaked through. The rain is relentless, howling winds hurling pellets of ice against my face.
I look up the narrow street, squinting to peer into the shadows at the top. I see a man ambling toward me, just stepping out of the gloaming. He’s wearing a dark jacket, just like the one he always wears with the white stripe going down either arm. My heart skips a beat and heat flushes my cheeks. I look down at the floor, huddle deeper into my coat, turn and walk back into the doorway of the pub. Don’t want to look too eager. Play it cool.
It’s not him, I tell myself. Of course it isn’t.
I have half a hope that he’ll turn up, with absolutely no reason for him to, yet at the same time I fight with myself to quell such aspirations. They’ll only lead to disappointment.
I glance up the alleyway again. Small, hide-away pubs flank its cobbled path.
There’s no one there.
Disappointment washes over me from my scalp to my empty gut. Whoever it was must have gone into one of the other bars. It doesn’t matter though, because it obviously wasn’t him.
Tonight is not the night to be standing on a street corner handing out flyers. The people that pass are too busy running to get out of the rain to stop for a poxy fucking flyer. I feel my misery etched on my face, and it’s no wonder people don’t want to stop for me. The thought makes me laugh sardonically. All I can think about is being in a warm bed. Okay, if I’m honest, all I can think about is being in a warm bed with him.
There are a group of people brave enough to test the elements huddled in a knot a few yards away, puffing on cigarettes, and I swear I see his short curls, the copper sheen on his brown hair. This time I do not look away, and the illusion is swiftly broken.
I go inside the pub to warm up and to speak to the barmaid. She makes me coffee to warm my hands, and soon I am heading back out into the cold. As I walk out through the door, I catch a snippet of his accent, and turn to the small group sat near the entrance. You’re being stupid, I berate myself. If he had come in you’d have seen him. But still I have to look.
Of course, it isn’t him. Not one of the people sounds the slightest bit like him. These phantoms keep haunting me; or rather this phantom keeps haunting me.
The frustration I feel is like an entity in its own right; it is like my dark half, consuming me, feeding from me until it is strong enough to break out. This pondering, this pining; it isn’t like me. If I knew, one way or the other, it wouldn’t be like this. Does he like me? It seems such a childish thing, even in my own mind, but it is still the case. He seems interested when we are together. But is he just being friendly? Or is this just my own insecurities raising their ugly heads? He’s not here for long, a year at most. He won’t be looking for a relationship, and neither am I to be honest, but I’d still like to see him in that capacity. Friends and lovers.
I check my phone for the umpteenth time, stamping my feet to try to get the blood pumping a bit more. Nothing. Not a text or a call, and not just from him, from anyone. Only an hour to go though. That’s something.
The windblown rain slices my cheeks as I turn up towards the top of the lane. Why am I here? There’s no one around, no point to me standing in the cold for hours on end. Maybe I should just go. But I need the money, at least for now.
Finally someone passes, two lads, but they don’t even offer me the courtesy of looking at me. I mutter under my breath about the state of human nature, about what arseholes people are.
I go inside the pub and ask Jo for some more coffee. She tells me to stay inside for a bit, so I do. My phone buzzes silently in my pocket, and my heart rate increases ever so slightly. Great, my own body betrays me.
Alas, it is just a text from a friend, not the friend I wanted it to be. I reply slowly with half-thawed fingers, shove my phone back in my pocket and make my way outside again.
An hour goes by in pretty much the same way; my senses conspire against me, playing mean tricks with light and shadow, sound and scent. Yes, even in the rain I catch a waft of his heady smell. There is no way to describe it, but clean and fresh. Not soap, not aftershave, just the aroma of his skin.
The rain finally stops, but it doesn’t matter, I’m already drenched to the core. The moaning wind is my only companion, keeping other, more sensible people safely inside where it is warm and dry.
My eyes drop to the floor, and misery begins to creep through my consciousness like an uninvited guest. I watch the water run along the gutter, carrying with it dead leaves and cigarette butts. It is almost 12, the witching hour, and my time to turn into a pumpkin.
He’s not coming.
Don’t fool yourself; he never was going to come.
I heave a sigh, literally shaking myself out of my sorrow. A cig, I think. I fish in my pocket and take out a fag, light it with shaking fingers, struggling with the flame as it sputters in the wind. I finally get it to light, taking a deep drag and holding it for a while, letting the smoke slowly trickle from my mouth and nose.
Fuck it. I’ll see him tomorrow anyway.
My feet drag on the floor as I turn to go in. I hand the remaining flyers to Jo and collect my wages, making small talk before I have to go.
The door opens as I reach for it.
“Sorry,” I mumble, not even glancing up. It’s okay now, I don’t have to be cheery. I let dejection take me in its arms.
A wave of red passes behind my eyes, pounds at my temples and at my neck. It takes my eyes an age to reach the man’s face, and when they do my pulse quickens even more. Moss green eyes, lips like a wet dream. My feet suddenly feel as if I have dipped them into the Mediterranean; the cold, the tight knot of anxiety tinged with slight despair that sits in my stomach, all of it is gone, stripped under the light of his smile. My pores open, soaking up his heat like a lizard basking on a rock. The wind dies down; Eros has stopped beating his wings for these few precious seconds. Or perhaps it is his wings that brush the inside of my stomach.
I feel a grin stretch across my face and can’t seem to help it.