An homage to plastic cutlery (part 1)
In the warm cabin, the girl swept the crepe mixture round the circular griddle like a World War II radar. The other side of the counter, the air was crisp and cold.
"I am unfamiliar with the etiquette of outdoor eating. How can one eat elegantly with knives that bend?"
Susan's breath plumed out across the condiments: a polystyrene saucer of sugar and squirty lemon. Clearly she had not adjusted her attire since arriving from the Ukraine ten days earlier; her white fur hat and heavy brown coat seeming ostentatious, though not entirely out of place among the wealthier Edinburgh ladies.
"Three fifty, please."
The evening over the Mound had softened. "At Christmas, Edinburgh sparkles" the council blurb on the city illuminations read, and despite being far from the council’s most enthusiastic employee, Roger had to agree.
"Next time I'll bring my own cutlery. Want half?"
Roger shook his head, salmoning against the German market crowd, choosing his sorrys sparingly. Susan ate in the slipstream.
“So you say you arrived in Edinburgh last Tuesday, visited the castle yet?”
His words were lost amid the hubbub.
"We better not be going down to that funfair bit; I hate sticky floors, Roger."
It’d been clear to Roger from the start that this date called for his best. He had left the council offices early, returned home and slipped into his new M&S suit, wore beige socks and his surrendered Batman underpants for his comparatively more down-to-business Blue Harbour equivalents. He would need also to summon his most prized and erudite chat-up lingo...
"Not the funfair, no. The textbook fairylands are for the textbook girls.”
He cringed at the awkwardness of his line; luckily it seemed she hadn’t fully heard.
"I’m taking you to the unpredictable city... ditching the glossy magazines pictures for the obscenity in the margins."
“Uh, I’m not sure what you mean, but OK.”
Rounding the corner behind the National Gallery, the hubbub of market-goers left them. They were hand in hand now, Susan absorbed in her sticky treat. For Roger, it felt pleasant but unnatural somehow; he couldn't for allow himself to focus on the romance. He pushed his glasses up his nose and stepped out into the road, quickening as a 41 bus rounded the corner unexpectedly.
"Ah, slow down."
Their hands detached to the soft tinkle of plastic hitting concrete. Sweeping her hair aside, Susan knelt down to retrieve the fallen knife, the nearing bus’s headlamps now blanching her in yellow.
"Oh come on its only a plastic knife, the planet's not going to explode if you leave it. Come on. Come ON. Susan!"
A horn pierced the air, the bus veering.
Susan raised a hand in apology.
"Flipping heck, get your priorities right, it's a plastic fork. No need to kill yourself over it. You were almost the first person in Scotland to be killed while in the business of litter clearing."
They continued a moment in silence. Susan's breathe cloud was larger than Roger's.
"Just out of interest, why did go back for it? It was in the middle of the ro..."
"No reason, really.”
“Well... you’d laugh."
Susan pulled her white hat down her face forcing think brown curls to spring outwards.
"I like to collect them. To remember special occasions by."
"Yes. Some people collect beer mats or take photos. I collect cutlery.”
“Just a weird hobby of mine. You must have one, surely?”
Roger stalled as a plethora of Aspersers-esque ticks and obsessions of his own swum to mind.
“Er, well I guess, not quite as weird as that, but yeah.”
“A plastic knife though? I mean, was it worth it?”
“To me, yes.”
Silence again. They hadn’t relinked hands.
“Where are we going anyway?”
“Somewhere only I have the key to.”
“And where’s that?”
“You’ll soon see. It’s special.”
As they neared New College, crowning the valley with its Gothic oblong turrets, Roger began foraging in his coat pocket jingling the keys which lay there until he felt, with his thumb, the subtle indentations of the one he was seeking. Lifting it out, he began to slide his hand down the length of railing separating the pavement from the rolling upper part of Princes Street Gardens above the railway cutting. He was careful not to look too triumphant as he found the concealed lock and with the key, began to unlock the gate which had formerly camouflaged itself amid the rest of the railings.
“How did you know that was there? Are we allowed?”
“Well I’m going to say nowt, you’ll hopefully say nowt, and the council will know nowt when I return the key to the park ranger’s drawer Monday morning. Shall we proceed?”
The smell of the damp decomposing undergrowth was strong as they stepped off the pavement onto loose soil. The path beyond the railings sunk, before rising up sharply towards the castle. As they moved carefully along, branches, discoloured foil and polystyrene wrappings criss-crossed their path. A pair of knickers and a molding jacket intertwined among the bracken suggested seedier trysts had taken place before theirs. To their right, Princes Street began to emerge beyond the taller trees with its mishmash of 70’s department stores and Georgian hotels. Roger’s quickened; as he had calculated, her hand had found its way back to his.
“What are we looking for? I only said I didn’t want to go to the funfair.”
Roger remained silent, now taking a turn off the squelching track into the undergrowth.
“Roger, please answer me. Where are we going? Roger?”
Roger stooped over, and headed deeper. A small white dash of light from his phone began to illuminate the undergrowth which now started canopy over them, tear at their clothes, and ensnare their feet.
Still no answer. Finally, lifting one final branch, he stopped. Forced back into the bushes, it seemed to emerge from the very stone of Castle Rock. A small hut, built with orange coloured wood lurked sullenly, windows dark, green with mold. Roger straightened as he neared the door, pressing a second key into a low lock. It stuck on the damn, swollen wooden floor, as he opened it, but finally cleared its frame sufficient for them both to enter. His eyes were wide; pupils dilated in triumph.
A flicking fluorescent light bore life into the furnishings: a desk, littered with papers and a pencil, a small map of Edinburgh and a shelf of files, various gardening instruments – a rake, a litter shovel, and a small narrow day bed pushed up against the far wall. In the centre, trailing its cable across the floor, stood a heater whose 3 bars began to glow red.
Susan stood awkwardly. The silence between them was now disappointed exasperation.
“Not really, it’s freezing.”
“Well not for long. The heater’s 120 Watt, give it a minute. Look at the view.”
Susan’s heels clacked dully on the hollow floor as she wandered to the window which was decorated in a frieze of web-caught insects. Roger watched her eyes take in Princes Street and the lights as she hugged herself in her coat, bouncing slightly on the spot. He watched closer still as her breath bloomed a great cloud of condensation on the glass. He had written the scene well, very well indeed.
“I hear the trams over here are delayed by 3 years. What are your council friends doing?”
“Their best in very difficult financial circumstances.”
A scream of a child at the Christmas fanfare carried itself on the night breeze.
“How about we go somewhere else, eh Roger? If it wasn’t Winter and damp, this might be kind of nice, but as it is, wel…”
His tone had changed. Susan thought quickly, feeling the warmth of his breathe against the nape of her neck. The heater fizzed slightly.
“Well… Why don’t we go to mine instead?”
Roger zoomed in on her eyes as they writhed their way through the silence. They settled, as a smile developed.
“We’ve known each other 10 days now, and there’s something I want to show you.”
She took a step towards him; their eyes, this time, went clink. She felt in her pocket for her mobile phone just before a kiss was stamped mechanically on her face, the teeth remaining there, taking her bottom lip between them, pulling it to its elastic limit, and sending it pinging back. Susan stared through the blot of pain. Roger spoke:
(and then another kiss)