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The next page

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The man behind the bar couldn’t have been more than sixteen. He was lean. Boney. His shoulder blades seemed to push through his shirt like a hanger left behind; he was not yet comfortable with the limbs that had grown fast out of his clothes, leaving him awkward and not yet easy in his changed body. The girl ordered from him and he stuttered slightly through the motions of teas and coffees and pastries before taking her money and then hovering over the till and stuttering again. She smiled at him, encouraging she hoped, and then walked over to a table where a man was waiting for her.

The man was her father: Thanks kiddo, he said.

S’alright. She arranged the table and sat. I’m starving.

The man leant back with his arms folded across his belly as the girl ate. Her head down. No air. He peered at her and smiled: You don’t do well when you’re hungry, do you? She shook her head. No. Not really. I’m OK now. I haven’t eaten for ages. Sorry.

He shook his head. No need. What’s been going on?

She shrugged. Nothing.

Ah. Nothing.

Well. Stuff, nothing. Some stuff. You know.

He laughed softly. Yes.

Do you mind if I go for  cigarette?

No, go ahead.

She left him and  he removed a red pen and small green book from the inside of his jacket. Opening the book, he readied himself to write, paused, pen over paper, looking up at nothing, it seemed. Then he began to sketch quickly, a diagram of some sort: some letters and some numbers. The girl returned.

She sat down heavily, paused and then said: I’ve fucked up, Dad.


I mean I’ve really fucked up. The last word was choked and she bowed her head.

Her father leant over and held her forearm. You’ll be ok, Kid. It’s a job, that’s all.

It’s not that. That’s just part of it. Just like a symptom of my fucked up life.

Her father sat back. You’ll get nowhere like this. Nowhere. You have to start thinking about things differently. But as he said it she seemed to shrink into herself. Tears began to shake her frame. And she couldn’t really hide them and hurt more for trying to. Annie, come on, you have to pull yourself together.

But I’ve screwed everything up. I’ve lost my job, I’ve fucked up my relationship, I don’t know what I want to do.

Her father sighed and she continued. I know. I know I’m being an arsehole and I should be ok but I’m scared. The words were falling from her now: I’m scared of what’s next or what isn’t; I’m scared of not getting anywhere, of what I’ve lost…

What happening with Rob?

I fucked it.

Stop cursing.

Sorry, she said. I fucked it, she mouthed.

Ok. Ok. Relax. Breathe.

I am breathing.

I mean calm down.

She took a breath.

Annie, I know it’s hard. I know you are just trying to get through. In a way, do you think this job thing might be  good thing? You need to move on.

She shrugged. Maybe. Yes. Probably. Yes.

I mean, you need a challenge.

He leant in towards her and placed his hand over her’s. And his hands were huge compared to her’s; she seemed, suddenly, very small.

Annie, the future isn’t all frightening. You need to, he hesitated, find the courage to turn the page.

Having said it he felt more confident with the notion and straightened: Yes. You need to have the confidence to turn the page. You don’t know what is ahead but there are good things; things you don’t know about yet.

I know. I think I know. I don’t know that. She wiped her face with the heel of her hand.

There are. You need to move on, Annie. Put your shoulders back.

For a minute she looked at him. She had, he saw, been crying for a long time. She was tired with it. His daughter, who he had seen grow and thrive and fall down and get up again. And her smiled at her: you’re going to be OK. You’re strong. Stronger than you think.

She squeezed a smile. I hope so. She said. Because I feel really fucked.

He tilted her head at the curse. And she spluttered a laugh. I’m sorry! He grinned at her. S’OK.

They sat for a while in silence. She pushed pastry crumbs from one side of her plate to the other. She looked up at him. What about you? You’re retiring. Turning the page?

He smiled. Yes, turning the page. I’m frightened too, he said.

She looked at him. But you’re amazing. You’re going to have an amazing time. Travel, new job, your workshop.

He folded his arms back across his belly. Yes. He said. Yes. But it’s still about having some courage. I’ll miss work. I like it, I like the teaching and the pressure and thinking things through. He paused and placed a hand over his green notebook. He looked at his daughter: you’ll never stop having to do this. But you’ll keep going and there will be wonderful things.

She shook her head. Too many words. Too much to think about. Shall we go for a walk?

Yes. He said. They gathered their belongings and the boy walked over to their table before they left to remove the crumbs and cups and plates.

The table lay empty as they walked into the street. She put her arm through his as they turned away.


Written by elikafm

March 1, 2010 at 11:58 pm

What the girl wrote

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The man left the coffee shop as I went in. He’d been crying; his eyes were red and sore and his face was damp. He shoved passed me and muttered something as he left. I caught the door as it swung back, turned instinctively to watch him leave, then walked in and over to the counter to order.

There were only a few people in the room, each alone. I took my place at a table in the corner, removed my notebook and pen from my bag and scanned my opportunities. This is the problem, you see, with going out: someone’s bound to write about you. Diane Arbus said something a bit like that; about being photographed. I forget how it goes exactly but ultimately it’s about being exposed, vulnerable in public, available always to be examined.

I try not to steal people’s stories too often. Or, at least, not in their entirety: I hear a sentence or see a person and make the rest up for myself; fuse an idea I had on Tuesday with one that floated by on Thursday afternoon. Then I illustrate it with a voice I heard behind me on the bus or what I thought in the seconds it took for a man to run passed me on the south bank. You can imagine.

I looked around the room, there was a pair of twins I hadn’t noticed, sitting side by side on tables pushed together. They mirrored each other, quietly, without thinking about it – lifted a cup, took a sip, smoothed the paper. I hid a shudder and turned my attention to the girl opposite me.

She sat with one hand resting on the keys of her open laptop and the other in a light fist against her mouth. She was staring out into nowhere, her coffee half emptied and cold at her elbow. Another, full, in the empty space in front of her. One of the staff hovered past her, lifted the extra cup, put it back. She was oblivious.

She sighed and looked back at her computer and began to type. This is what she wrote:

I wanted to write and say I’m sorry. I know this in itself is selfish because I don’t think, really, that you’ll read it. And that means I’m writing it for me. But I’m writing it nonetheless.

There are many things I regret about what happened – that sounds so insubstantial doesn’t it. I don’t mean it like that… I wish I had been more honest with everyone, including myself. I don’t have any excuses, I wouldn’t use them if I could think of them; I messed up really badly.

She paused and slouched into a curled back. Then straightened, abruptly, and continued to type:

I was completely blindsided by you; like I had been living half a life or something and someone came into my room and turned on all the lights and opened the windows and said hey, look at this…. And I was overwhelmed but it meant all sorts of things. Not just the fact that I had met you but the fact that I had to leave Andrew and sort myself out and all of these things were different things and I didn’t want them to be connected. I’m not sure if any of this makes sense. I’m just writing as fast as I think so I get it all down.

Her fingers had been running fast over the keys but they seemed to slow and then her pace was fully punctuated, stopped, as her mobile sounded. She looked at it as it rang, lifted her finger to tap it. Stopped, stroked her finger down the screen. Then she looked back at her laptop and slowly, very slowly, began to delete everything she had written, letter by letter, then word by word and then it was gone. Nothing left.

After a moment she picked up her phone and tapped into a text: sorry sounds so completely limp. But I am, for what it’s worth. I am sorry.

She got up. Packed her bag and left. I looked back to the twins who had somehow dislocated and were out of sync; the same but moving differently. I left too.

Written by elikafm

February 7, 2010 at 11:39 pm

When Leonardo had doubts in the Tate Members’ café

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He looked exactly as his voice sounded: with a flat cap and a hook nose – fat with a silk scarf and corduroy jacket. His hair and moustache, both longer than they should have been, were painted with grey lines.

I don’t know how he and the girl came to be eating soup together in the Members Room at the Tate. I don’t know what began their conversation or liaison. It looked unlikely to be sex but I admit it was the first thing that crossed my mind. Instead I imagined it to be a combination of enchantments – the elder with the possibility and energy of youth, and the younger attracted to knowledge and to experience. She was tall with slow blue eyes, her hair matted and bleached with peroxide, her mouth never quite closing.

My thoughts rolled away from them, to the document I was writing, or trying to write. Sometimes I just put one word in front of the other when the topic is dry. Their conversation washed towards and away from me as the words I placed down were more or less difficult to order.

He had been contemplating suicide. Or contemplating its impact. For this reason he couldn’t do it but he spoke about it nonetheless. The girl was silent, looked at him and nodded.

I washed away again. This was not for me. Private but open; he didn’t know this girl. He needed to tell someone that there was a part of him that didn’t want to be here anymore, did not have the energy, did not have the will. And that he stayed for the people to whom his walk on the planet mattered.

I went back to my work but, even buried between the dry layers and the dry layers, the room grew louder and I was listening when he spoke again:

Do you ever shut your eyes and just listen? He asked his companion. Go on. She bent her head, covered her mouth with the heel of her hand and shut her eyes. Listen, he said, there is texture in this noise. Can you hear it? I often do this, his voice drifted away from her, I often sit somewhere and just close my eyes and listen to the room around me. He continued to talk. Slowly he rolled out the things he had done, the things he thought about, the gallery he had run, what he thought about this artist or that.

The blonde girl opened her eyes and looked at him – He just wanted to talk. So many words. So many thoughts. So many ideas flowed from him like they would never stop. And it seemed that he had had no one to tell. We don’t want to talk to space, we want to be heard. Because how do we define ourselves without context; without that we really are alone. And sometimes we’re alone anyway, even when someone is right there in front of you, pretending – but not very well – that they understand what you’re talking about.

Leonardo Da Vinci struggled with self doubt, he said and paused, letting the craziness of this statement float down. He was so great but he wrote in one of his notebooks: is anything ever done; what have I achieved? Bizarre – Leonardo Da Vinci. He laughed, somewhere at the back of his throat.

And in between the gulp of breath and sip of tea and throaty laugh I thought: he is saying: What is my place, what is my reason? What have *I* achieved. So painfully self-aware, so unable to do anything with it.

His tone changed: Tell me about the degree, he asked the girl. And she seemed to whir into a slow animation: a beginning of something but not quite awake. In contrast to this man’s slow manner, underneath which was such a trove of knowledge, she was less alert, quieter and more reserved.

He tried to draw out love of something outside of herself – do you enjoy Shakespeare? She scrunched her nose.

And he began to tell her the story of Macbeth and then Twelfth Night.

He tapered off, suddenly weary of the conversation. Shall we go and see some art? He asked. She nodded. As he rose I turned to look at him. He winked at me and smiled.

Written by elikafm

February 3, 2010 at 11:40 pm