The End of the Line
As the queue moves steadily forwards and I stare at the bald patch on the back of Valerie's head, I'm thinking back to Friday night, when you asked if I was busy, said you could pick me up. Valerie's bald patch stops to examine a Golden Delicious and I come to a halt behind her. She takes a bite, then puts it back.
"I never buy apples without testing them first," she tells me in her too deep voice. "S'one thing I've learnt in this life. You can't tell what a thing's like 'til you bite into it."
She gives me a knowing smile then because I've seen her over the last three months and there are plenty of things she hasn't learned in this life. Like not to take a chunk out of somebody's hand just because they got the last cherry pie.
I smile back anyway, because today is the day to end petty squabbles. The Valeries of this world no longer concern me.
I keep smiling, let one foot then the other pull me closer towards the end of the line where I know you'll be standing with your red hair tied back. I glide towards you. My plastic tray slides past ham, then cheese, then egg salad sandwiches and I can hear the till beeping, can imagine your bitten-down finger nails hitting each key, and I'm thinking back to our first night, when you drove me to your house, talking all the time like this was nothing extraordinary.
Sheets of gold material hung on your bedroom walls, rippling slowly when the breeze blew in and we sat on your bed playing a game you learnt in India. You laughed at how long it took me to order my cards and for once I didn't mind. Then you lay down next to me, red hair within kissing distance, said,
"I bet you're a real ladies man when you're healthy," lifted my t shirt over my stomach. You lay on top of me, simply, your elbows slotting into my naked pits like the last piece in the puzzle, just Toby and Gloria, no uniforms or protocol, just your pointy elbows tucked into my clammy pits.
I rolled you over, shifted my weight so I could slide down your white body, thinking I can't believe I am doing this, as my finger tips and lips drew lines down your sides. I inhaled the warmth of your skin from this close, amazed that I could just keep sliding down.
My nose nestled into your pubic hair and my mouth hovered so the lightest breath could make you gasp. Bright evening sunlight filtered through your gold muslin sheets and I saw that your pubic hair was golden brown and soft, not red like I'd expected. I imagined you leaning over the sink, rubbing Scarlet Flame into your scalp with hands sweating in polythene gloves, thought about how we're all just trying to make the best of what we've got. Even you. Even poor old mad and balding Valerie.
I wrapped myself around you afterward, hoping you'd notice the change in me, surrounded your white body protectively until you went downstairs to make us ginger tea. I plucked a red hair from your pillow and held it up, marveling at its sham brightness, then lay it down gently, like it had feelings too.
"You seem different," you said to me as we drove back, and the way I replied "I am different," made us both laugh, more than was necessary, so I wondered if we were even laughing at the same things.
"You've cured me!" I said and you smiled like that was impossible.
The till's beeping loudly now and there's just Valerie's bald patch between me and you. I'm trying to stay casual, thinking about red hair dye rushing down the side of your bath, thinking I can do this.
And then I'm at the end of the line, facing you. Your brilliant greens looking at my watery blues and I'm thinking I'm not going to let mine flitter away this time.
I'm getting out, I think as you stamp my meal card, but I stay quiet, keeping something for myself. You tuck a red curl behind your ear and I meet your eye, smile like a man who has options.
About the author:
For the moment Chelsey Flood lives in Cornwall, UK. Her writing is online at Eclectica, Word Riot and The Beat and on paper in the latest Route anthology, 'Born in the 1980s' and Birmingham Arts Journal. She runs a lit night in Cornwall called Telltales and blogs at www.litflood.blogspot.com.