“Have you had your copy of A Christmas Carol for long?” I hope my tone is a casual singsong one.
“Oh, ages!” She laughs, a tinkling sound that feels natural. “Do you like Dickens? You can borrow it if you like!”
“I’ve read it.” I glance back over my shoulder at the bookcase, “I might flick through it though.”
“Yeah, go for it. Look for your favourite parts. That’s what I do.”
Plonking wine glasses on the table she stands still and looks at me. Her hair is outrageously red in the sunlight and her eyes glow. A smile starts at the corners of her mouth and makes its way slowly to the centre.
“Are you going to open the wine?”
I look at her dumbfounded; she reminds me of Snow White in her pale blue and white checked dress, or is it Alice in Wonderland? I’m not sure but I realise I’ve been staring and shake my head as if to clear the fog.
Sliding my chair back I stand and walk to the bookcase. The Dickens book is laying on its side now; lifting it gently, I bring it to the table and place it to the left of my fork, like a bread and butter plate.
“I can’t resist,” she giggles and puts on a stern face, “it’s rude to read at the table!”
I laugh but it sounds hollow and the book fills my vision. Turning away from it I clutch the wine bottle. It’s a screw top.
“It doesn’t the need the corkscrew!” I sound cross.
“So it doesn’t! Silly me!” She laughs again.
“When did you last read the book?” I undo the wine bottle. She holds out both glasses. I pour.
“This morning while you were sleeping,” pulling one of the glasses to her she sniffs its contents. “Smells okay. Mmmm.” She swigs. “Yep. Nice. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Wanna show me your favourite bit?” I push the book towards her. She lifts it and, looking at me, opens it and flicks through the pages, stops and presents it back to me.
“That bit. Cheers!” She drinks again. I gaze at the book. She’s turned to the page where Scrooge has dropped to his knees in front of the ghost of Jacob Marley. There is no hole cut into the pages. They are not glued together. It’s a different book. What the fuck?
“Right. Cheers!” I drink. “Why?”
“Why is that your favourite bit?”
“Oh. Well… he’s waking up and realising that life as he knew it is not all there is.” She smiles sweetly.
Sometimes I get the impression that life is laughing at me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling because I don’t get the joke. Am I paranoid? Probably. But there’s definitely something going on here that I don’t know about.
“What’s your favourite bit?”
“Dickens. What’s your favourite bit?”
I look at the book I’m still holding and look back at her. “I don’t have one. I prefer newspapers to novels.”
“Oh. The Party Line has arrived if you want to take a look at that.”
“Ok. Are you okay?” She looks a little anxious. I nod slowly and resume eating. The chorizo is cut into tiny rubbery chunks and its red skin gleams against vivid green peas and translucent onions; gravy, glittering with tiny dots of grease, forms puddles on my plate. I fork some into my mouth. Peppery, fiery orange bursts on my tongue and is tempered by the cool pop of peas. Never has food tasted so rich. I chew.
“Right. I think I’ll have that shower now.” I look at her. She’s watching me.
“Okay. You didn’t tell me why I’m the only one you can trust.”
“No. I didn’t. Never mind. It was a line.” I smile thinly.
“I don’t believe you.”
“You never do. It doesn’t matter.” I leave her with that and head to the bathroom.
Party Line article by Sam Dayz:
“Is it any wonder our country is going to pot when our leader pulls a stunt that suggests his mental health is unstable? Last night, at Wembley Stadium, our beloved leader, Steve Cranberry, gave an unusual speech before jumping into the crowd and disappearing. It seems he thinks he’s in dire straits and about to be bumped off but nothing could be further from the truth!
‘Come back, Steve, wherever you are, and let’s sort this out!’ was the official comment from Party HQ, ‘we can get you the help you need.’ But how can this be? How can our leader lead when we’re not fully behind him? This dip in mental health wouldn’t have happened if we’d been supporting him. Yes, he should return so the Party can help him. But we need to get behind him properly and show him our support. So come on, people! Show Steve some love. Write in with your declaration to firstname.lastname@example.org and let our leader know he’s needed back in the driving seat.”
I throw the newspaper on the floor and flush the toilet. Should have known they’d pull something like this. What am I going to do? I thought I could trust Rebecca but not any more. What’s going on with the book? Why can’t people just be honest?
I climb in the shower. It’s hot. That moment between dryness and immersion that feels slightly weird; a strange seam that’s not straight. I close my eyes. Rebecca’s breasts slide onto the screen inside my mind; a mildly heavy fullness makes them more rounded at the bottom and they bounce prettily, brown nipples, quite large, kissing the air. That roundness at the bottom probably measures the same as the roundness in the crook of her waist.
“STEVE!” A banging on the bathroom door breaks my reverie.
The door opens.
“I didn’t realise it wasn’t locked. Sorry. Look, I’ve got to go out. What are you going to do? You can stay if you like.” The hiss of the shower dampens the bathroom echo slightly.
What do I want to do? Where could I go? I don’t know. If I stay I could have a look around her apartment while she’s out.
“I’ll stay. Thanks!”
“Okay. Do you need anything while I’m out?”
Yes! I need clothes. But I can’t ask her to go to my apartment.
“Some joggers or something? I could pick some up for you from the Partyshop.”
“But who will you say they’re for?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll say they’re a birthday present for my uncle. And you can tell me how come you’re hiding when I get back!” She opens the shower door and smacks my bum and I can’t help but smile again.
“Hurry back. This won’t wait long!” I turn and present her with my hard-on. She giggles with glee.
“Well, I’m sure we can raise another one!” She winks and wiggles to the door. I turn back and re-immerse myself.