So, I may have spent the last 2 days watching spoilers for Mass Effect 3 on youtube… And now I may be going back for another play through so that my girl is no longer tied up with Thane. Garrus’s cut scenes might be painful in the second game, but in the third… *swoon*

Anyway, my internet cut out a while ago and since S- was using the PS3, I decided to take a walk down memory lane. The following is a story I intended to hand in for my creative writing course at university, but I decided not to at the last minute in favour of another. Having re-read it today, I wish I had taken it for marking.  I think it has potential, but I’m not keen on the first italic section. All comments/suggestions thankfully received.

Hope y’all enjoy.

_____

Cold, like Home

 He sits alone in the corner, huge grey beard twitching as he curls his lip around his paper cup. He thinks secret things and scans the other tables almost as an afterthought.  Eventually his eyes rest on the young woman just across from him who is scribbling her life onto paper as she pushes squares of chocolate into her mouth.  When she sees him, she smiles in his direction because she loves that she is interesting. 

 “Writing War and Peace, are you?” he asks in the way that old people do when they think they’re being funny.

 “No, just a silly love story,” she replies in the way that young people do when they’re trying to be polite. Really, she’s very proud of her silly story and would jump at the chance to explain the plot of it to him in enthusiastic detail.

 “Love story, eh?” is all he replies.

 Disappointed, she responds with a non-committal hum and sips at her tea, awkwardly glancing at the open notebook on the table.

 “I’ll tell you a good love story,” he offers.  She is sceptical and wonders how many other people he has told the story to that day, in hopes of a free coffee.  She wonders why he has chosen her to impart his tale to her and she can not help worrying that he might be dangerous in some way. After all, old men who speak to random young women are supposed to be feared.  Still, conversation has been opened between them and she is curious so she smiles at him in a weak gesture of consent.

***

James had travelled through Europe when David Hasselhoff had yet to sing on the Berlin Wall.  He was twenty-one and his future awaited him back in England.  Young, handsome and clever, his only problem was that he couldn’t leave France.

He’d missed the last ferry from Calais and would have to wait until the following morning before he could sail home again. The woman at the ticket desk had tried to explain to him why but her English was limited and his French was nonexistent.  After ten minutes of arm waving they had somehow managed to agree that he would return at the same time the following day.

This presented James with a problem.  His ticket was not valid for the ferry he now had to take and as a result the last of his money was spent on the fare, leaving him without a bed for the night.  With the indefatigable ease of youth, James resolved to sleep rough on the station platform.  It was warm still, being September, and he planned to spend the vast majority of the night in a restaurant.  Anyway, the whole experience would make an amusing anecdote to tell his friends for years to come.

For the most part, his plan worked perfectly.  He managed to drag a two course meal out for four hours and left the little eatery when the owner locked up for the night.  With a full belly and a light head, James made his way leisurely from the town centre to train station.  Once there he settled down on a bench as far from the road as he could and closed his eyes.  Though it took him a while to fashion a comfortable pillow from his rucksack, sleep came remarkably easily to him.

He was woken about an hour later when the feeling of contentment brought about by dinner abated.  Shivering slightly, he sat up and began to fish through his bag for some extra layers of clothing. As he was pulling on the second of three jumpers he had found he noticed a group of people his age, presumably moving from one discothèque to another.  James smiled to himself – drunken people were the same in every country he had visited.  The men swaggered and the girls’ skirts looked like they had all been cut from the fabric of a single sock.

James pulled on the last of the three jumpers and looked down at himself.  He looked positively barrel-shaped now but at least he wasn’t cold.  With a little smirk, betraying his optimism, he lay down again, ready to sleep.  He was just about to close his eyes when he saw her.

She was slightly older than the others who had passed by – he would have put her at around thirty –  and was very separate from them.  She was pretty too, but her looks were the kind brought about by youth rather than any outstanding beauty.  What made him look twice was the way in which she moved.  The music from the discothèque had long ago ceased but she continued to dance to it anyway and when she noticed him staring at her, she moved in his direction.  Any normal girl would have run a mile but this one, much to James’s surprise, skipped over to him.

With a cheeky little grin she began to babble to him in French but when her words were met by a vacant stare she bit her bottom lip and tried, bashfully,

“English?”

“Oui.”

She nodded and sat down beside him on his makeshift bed.

“Why you sleep on the chair, eh?”

“I missed my boat.”

The concept of missing something was lost on her and so he tried to make the noise of a ferry-horn and mimed running after it.  She gleefully clapped her hands and laughed at him, amused by his antics.

They continued to talk for a while in their language of imitations and broken English so when she glanced at her watch and looked shocked, James desperately tried for more conversation.  She smiled at him gently and took his hand.

“Come now. You sleep not in the cold.”

He barely had time to gather his backpack let alone tell her that thiswas not cold.  She trotted quickly through a maze of cobbled streets, flanked by little cars and tunnelled by overhanging buildings.  He followed her, breathless and smiling and knowing that he would never find his way back alone.

After five minutes the girl stopped in front of the most quintessentially French building James had ever seen, shrouded in dust and shadows.  The door creaked as she opened it and they climbed three flights of stairs before emerging in a corridor with a single door off it.  She pulled out a set of keys and let them in to her small flat.

It was chaotic in there, but then, some part of him had expected that.  she hopped over the debris which littered the floor with practised ease and opened the window.  She grinned at him.

“Cold, like home for you!” She chuckled and bounced back across the room the way she had come.  Brushing past him she continued through into her bedroom where she fished out an extra set of sheets, tossing them unceremoniously through the open door way and onto the piles of paper, clustered on the floor.  She cocked her head in the direction of her bed.

He followed her instruction and plodded through to her room, managing to kick off his boots as he went.  Even though the place was a mess he felt as though he should not add to it.  She watched him and smiled, padding back out into her living room and picking up the bedding. She blew him a kiss and closed the door between them.

He stared at the wall behind which his angel went about making herself a bed from the settee.  James managed a heavy sigh and wondered what he had done right to deserve such kindness.  After a moment he stripped and slid between the cotton sheets which still smelled of girl.

***

 She woke him early the following morning with an energetic smile and a gentle touch.  Reading from a French-English phrasebook with pride she told him that she was going to visit her mother.  She said the word mother with a slight American accent, then pushed her keys into his hand and pointed at the number thirty-two in her book.

“Leave them there,” she instructed with a nod at her key-ring, then added, “Good neighbour.”

She leant forward and kissed him on the cheek, her soft lips fleetingly meeting his skin. A moment later he heard the door close and sat up, bewildered.  When he looked at his watch he saw that it was half past six in the morning.  Two hours until his ferry left.

James dressed quickly and ate the baguette which had been left on the table with a sign that read For English Man.  He looked around for a scrap of paper to leave a thank you note for the girl but he found nothing in the immediate chaos and did not want to betray her by prying further.

Reluctantly, upon realising that he had only an hour until his boat sailed he left the little flat behind forever.

He never knew the woman’s name.

***

 The young girl assumes that the old man with the beard is James.  She looks at him differently now and feels that she knows some part of him, if not the whole man before her.  She finds herself sympathising with him and liking him.  She is genuinely interested, at any rate.

 “James never saw her again?”

 “No.”

 The girl feels cheated, lied to somehow.  She knows it was wrong of her to jump to the conclusion that there would be a happy ending but she’s still angry that James’s story did not end well. She is very unsatisfied.

 “That wasn’t a love story,” she blurts, “They never saw one another again and nothing ever came of it.”

 “It is a love story,” he replies with an enigmatic grin, “James went through his whole life never loving anyone but that girl.  It might not be a satisfying love story, but it is a good one.”

 The girl grits her teeth and pulls a face as she filters cold tea through her grimace.  She tries to exhale her frustration and then turns to the man who she thinks is James.

 “I’m Harriet,” she says, after a moment, “Thank you for telling me your story.”

 She waits for him to introduce himself but he simply glances at his watch and taps the face with a wicked little smirk.

“I’m late for my train…”

He nods politely to her and ambles from the waiting room. She watches him go, frown deepening. After he has gone, she picks up her pen.

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