You wake with a start. It is two forty-seven am. You can feel it coming on and wish it was an erection instead of a short story. But it is a short story. Like erections, short stories can spring up at any time and in any place, but generally they do not cause embarrassment unless you shout “Holy fuck, I’ve got one,” in the middle of Mass.
Anyway, you turn round to the sleeping form of your beloved, nuzzle into her and murmur, “Guess what I’ve got!” She replies through the haze of sleep, “It better be an erection and not one of those short stories!” You turn away, feeling rejection, not for the first time.
So what do you do? You were always told by the priest that you should not entertain impure thoughts, but ideas for a short story? Now that’s different!
The idea slowly begins to take shape. It is based on the engineer from Sky who is coming in the morning to fix your set box. But instead of the chirpy guy from Galway who sorted your weak signal out before, it is a Pamela Anderson lookalike in dirty overalls, open to the naval. She tells you it is warm and asks can she remove her working clothes. You readily agree and she pulls off the aforesaid overalls to reveal a sweaty body, smeared with grease from her last job of resetting another set top box.
She suggests you rub her down with suds and a sponge and you offer her a vodka martini which she drinks provocatively. Pretty soon you are doing the deed with her, up against the flat screen TV. Suddenly you feel a sharp pain in your back. It is the elbow of your beloved. “Pick another one,” she says. “That’s disgusting!” She knows you too well.
Like a number ten bus, where you wait for ages for one then two come along one after the other, another idea filters through. The story evolves at speed. It is loosely based on a brief encounter you had with a dancer where you only made first base. You want to get up and write it down there and then but the bed is too warm. You repeat the first line over and over, ‘Some more Chablis?’ he said. It even has a title, “Unfinished Business.” You fall asleep.
It is Saturday. No rush to get up. It is your turn to make breakfast. It is always your turn! You shuffle into the kitchen. Your back is sore. You open the fridge and take out the fruit – bananas, apples, grapes and plums. You can make interesting shapes with a banana and two plums but decide against it in case she comes in and catches you again! You know that keeping bananas in the fridge make them go black. This amuses you, especially when you make your interesting shapes! Your other half calls you childish!
You take out that new type of bread. It is Kingsmill Sandwich Thins – only 418 kilojoules per slice. A body would need four to make up one decent round of bread and besides it is out of date, so you throw it in the bin and get out the Brennan’s Batch. It makes better fried bread anyway.
While the coffee is percolating you turn on the computer to check your emails, the witty remarks from your FB buddies and the new morning releases from Porn Hub… in no particular order.
The first one is a Pamela Anderson lookalike.
“Shit! The story!”
You begin to type.
‘Some more Chablis?’ he said.
“Just a half glass. I really should be going.”
He passed it slowly across, making finger contact for slightly longer than was necessary. She sipped and stared at the centre of the table. The silence was almost oppressive. It unnerved him. He tried to focus his thoughts. It was time to make his move.
He reached across. His hand hovered.
She rose abruptly, spilling the Chablis in the process.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have come!”
He stood up after her, leaned in and kissed her once, fleeting and clumsy.
“Don’t!” she said as if reprimanding a naughty dog.
“Please stay!” he said, feeling the tears well up.
“I can’t. He needs me!”
“But I need you too!”
“He needs me more. I am sorry!”
“Will you come back next week?”
She felt her own tears welling. A single one trickled down her cheek. She turned so that he could not see it.
“No. It’s for the best! And don’t try to contact me!” She added a ‘please’ in an attempt to soften the blow.
She grabbed her coat and ran out. He watched her go, willing her to turn round. He recalled the final scene in that Clint Eastwood movie with Rene Russo, “If she looks back that means she’s interested!”
She didn’t. He went back in, fingering the remains of the kiss on his lips.
He was true to his word. There was no contact. It was only by chance that they met again. He was testing the supermarket loaves for freshness by squeezing them as people of a certain age do.
“It has a sell by date on the side,” she said as she approached.
He turned quickly to face her, stunned by the familiar voice.
“How have you been?” she said.
“Fine thanks. Time heals!”
The silence was awkward, just as it was the last time he saw her, some twenty years ago.
“I’m sorry for the kiss,” he said.
“Don’t be silly. It was lovely! The time just wasn’t right.”
“And how is he?” he asked, trying to summon up as much interest as he could.
“We’re no longer an item.” She half smiled.
“Didn’t work out eh?”
“No…. he died,” she said smiling, trying to ease the tension. “Ten years ago now.”
He gave himself a high five in his head and just managed to squeeze out a ‘sorry’.
“Have you met anyone else?” he asked.
“Fancy a drink some time?”
They both said it together.
They decided that it should be his place.
“Chablis wasn’t it?”
He poured a glass and passed it slowly across the table making finger contact for slightly longer than was necessary. She let her own finger linger on his.
“Are you going to make that move now?” she asked.
“It’s been a while. I’m not sure if I remember.”
He leaned forward in his chair and looked her straight in the eyes.
“Queen to Rook 5! Checkmate, I think! Now, we have other unfinished business to attend to!”
Paul Anthony’s first book, The Adventures of the Tricycle Kid, is a humorous account of growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the fifties and sixties. He recently turned it into a one-man play. He is also a contributor to journals such as The Incubator, The Blue Hour, Crannóg, and A New Ulster and proud to have his work featured in the Big Issue. He has recently been published in India. His poetry has found a home in The Camel Saloon and Athboy Anois. He has read extracts from his works in Belfast, Galway, and Delvin in Ireland and Misse in France. At present, he is working on a book of short stories and a supernatural novel about the Book of Kells.