I almost ran from the restaurant, dropping my dignity with my napkin, and banging my arm on a metal door-jamb at the front. I managed to catch a taxi quickly at the corner of Fitzroy Street. This, then, must be the lucky part of the evening, as foretold by the cookie. As the cab took me home, over the river, through to the northern edges of the city, the driver tried to cajole me with a light banter, but my artifice failed me. When I paid him, I felt compelled to apologise for my mood, and I overtipped in compensation. He waved my words away, but accepted the tip. His eyes were full of liquid understanding. It had started to rain. I let myself into the flat, and stood for a moment in the hallway, allowing the noises of its old joints to settle. I went from room to room, lighting no lights, but opening curtains and windows so that the place became filled with earthy rain-scents and the expansiveness of night air. Still jacketed, I sank into the couch and fingered the surely-colouring lump on my banged arm. Michael tried to call me, but I didn’t answer. I left the phone to ring out into the dark. I remained rooted to the spot the entire night, working out my thoughts by some sort of process I trusted but couldn’t quite understand, and arriving, with dawn, at a point of feeling sleepy but not quite ready for sleep. I cooked an elegant breakfast of poached eggs and toast, and black coffee. I allowed myself two cigarettes. I blew smoke over the frail skin of the yolks, drank the coffee, then ate the cooled food, still wearing the jacket from last night. The cologne on my shirt had developed, and its whiff, mixing with tobacco, suggested Italian hotels, the ruins of summers in Naples, blue-blue water, and aching skies. Boiling afternoons on derelict beaches. Saliva, served from full moist mouths, drying on sunburning skin into a concentrated memory of the previous night’s coffee and Fernet Branca. And then the phone rang, startling me. I stood over it, looking. It was Michael. I let it ring.
© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2014.