All About Luck (Part 1)
I almost didn't see it. Lucky, really, that I did. There was just that gold glint peeping out from beneath an old newspaper. The sun, at the right spot, at the right time, and me just happening to look down at that moment, aware of a shoelace in need of tying.
It might never have happened.
Well, it did. I knelt down on the pavement and reached amongst the leaves and newsprint to fish it out of the gutter. What I had between my fingers was a coin – golden in colour, incised in black, and strange: not like any kind of foreign currency I'd ever seen before. The pattern was complex, abstract, and the edges were uneven, forming an imperfect disc, thickness fluctuating across its surface.
For a moment I thought: Luck. It's some ancient medieval coin, it's real gold, it's antique, and it might be worth a fortune. I polished it against my jeans, held it up to the sun. No, there was something too modern about it, that cunning, twisting pattern, so supposedly without subject – not like anything I'd ever seen in a history book.
I wasn't above keeping a trinket; maybe someone would know what it was. Perhaps the story would be interesting. I slid it into my pocket and turned my collar up to meet a gust of wind, wondered where had summer gone this year.
And then I saw her.
Lucky. Because if I hadn't stopped to pick up that coin, hadn't stopped to look it over, I might have been another block or two further down the hill, might not have turned at that moment. And I'm going to admit it right here, what I saw of her, what caught me right away, was her beautiful rear end. She was bent over, having dropped her handbag, having spilled its contents along the footpath and into a flowerbed. Beneath scuffed, threadbare jeans she was really something.
Go with it: that's what I told myself. And I hurried over to help her, making a beeline for the half dozen mini bottles of nail-polish sticking up amongst the weeds like flowers in their own right. Rosepetal; Watermelon; Coconut Ice; Peach; Violet; Italian Sunset: I counted them out into her hand. “That's a lot of colours.”
She straightened, blushed: “I have a thing... for... well...”
“Which colour is it now?”
She turned her hand over – soft, silk, honey-hued skin – and splayed her fingers to show me her nails.
“That's Rosepetal or Watermelon, right?"
“Nice. Suits you.” Like I knew two things about nail polish.
But these moments – me saying whatever I could come up with – afforded the chance to look at her. She was just as alluring from the front: having long, lush brown hair, just a little bit curly at the ends; having soaring-high cheekbones; soft-shaded green eyes; having slightly crooked teeth between rose-painted lips. She had a smile that was absolutely genuine, and at the same time stutteringly shy. She had the offending handbag hugged up against her chest. “Strap broke,” she murmured, looking down, giving a flicker of an uncertain smile. The same strap dangling from the corner of her bag, trailing down towards the ground.
“You should try being a man, we don't have to worry about that sort of thing.”
She flashed the same smile. “No. I'll pass. But can you help me here? I've lost a few things - I had some change, and I had a note. I kinda need to find that note.”
“From a lover?”
“From a origami tutor who wrote down her address. I know, I know. Why didn't I just put it in my phone? Who writes things down these days?”
“Well you do. It seems. I'll start a search pattern, spiralling outwards. Now what does it look like?”
“Pink, it has a picture of a violet on the back.”
“But not from a secret lover.”
“Well rest assured...” It's amazing what a woman can fit in her handbag: I was picking up nail files, a rolled up bag of caramel lollies, a comb – make that two – beads, small change – she thanked me for all of it. “This bottle-top?”
She shook her head.
“I think I saw a condom just over that way...”
“Barely used,” I teased her.
“No! You -”
“Not yours then?”
She didn't plan on giving me the ego-rush of laughing her head off at that, but I could see the laugh she was trying to keep in – it slid out around the edges, bubbling on her rose-pink lips – and I could see that it would have been glorious: the kind of laugh that makes men think their jokes are hilarious, that they can do no wrong in a woman's eyes.
I saw the note - folded, half buried in a clutter of marigolds - and I retrieved it for her, presenting it with a small flourish. The strangest sensation too, the feeling like I just wanted to keep this moment
going – maybe forever.
“Thanks,” she slid it into her bag.
“That must be one good tutor.”
“Well, yes, my friend kept talking... and I said I'd go, didn't I? That's what I do.” She held a hand out to me, suddenly bolder than I would have expected her to be. “My name is Alison.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“And you.” But these were the sort of things you say to end a chance encounter, to both go on your way, and on with your life. And that, I realised, was the last thing I wanted to see happen here; so I took the plunge: “Can we meet up or something? Get a drink. Sometime.”
“Uh... I mean...”
“Come on. He's a tutor not a lover, right?”
“I'd be fine with that.”
“I've got to go right now. My bus...”
“But later. A few days from now, because I know a place.”
“All right. Here, I'll give you my number. It's real, I promise.” She had a pad of that paper, pink and violet-watermarked, but she looked up at me with a half-smile of embarrassment. “Would you believe, amongst all that crap in there, that I don't have a pen?”
“No problem,” and I thought as I patted down my pockets, I'd go over to the stationers and buy a pen, I'd write in mud with a stick if I had to. But one of my hands closed around what I was looking for. It was a fancy piece, something I didn't know I had. And yet familiar. All goldy, and with that scrawling, twisting pattern incised in black... No way! No fucking way! I'm pretty sure I kept that look of astonishment from showing on my face.
I took her number, gave her mine, parted with the usual smiles and nods, and vague, shady promises. She turned back over her shoulder as she walked away: “Don't forget your pen.”
No. That wasn't going to happen.
And so I sat that thing down on my kitchen table and looked at it. That had definitely been a coin when I'd picked it up. No way the two things get mistaken. And I wondered at myself: why wasn't I freaking out? I should be. But I was thinking instead: this is my Luck. This is me, finally getting what karma's been keeping at arms length for so long.
And look: I had reason to feel like it should be my turn. Things hadn't been going so great for me recently in life. I'd lost my good job, and was making do with some part-time gig at a stationers: boring and low-paid. It was tough getting the rent paid and the groceries bought; not much left these days for anything else. And that small wad of savings I'd been building up in the bank, well that was melting away around the edges, just bit by bit - might take a decade or more to be gone; but you get to an age, I guess, when it's just not okay to have nothing any more.
And my last three girlfriends: they'd all been raging bitches. Three different kinds of bitch, but none of them bearable for long. Three screaming breakups, the shattering of at least two plates – my plates, always mine – the nice stuff too, such as I could no longer afford to replace with more of its own kind.
Spilled beer on the rug last week. Got some totally obnoxious virus on my laptop. So all in all, karma had been giving me a bit of a hammering lately.
Here was my upside. I rested my chin on my knuckles, staring it down. What else can you do buddy? But it seemed, nothing. The pen sat there on the table, looking back at me, all innocence and opulence: are you sure you really saw something, mister? Really, really sure? Because I'm just an innocent pen minding my own inky business. Nothing to see here.
Why, whatever do you mean?
I put it on the table next to my bed, gave it one last wry look, wondered as I turned out the light if it would even be there in the morning.
And so was my working day. I got up with all the reluctance I usually have for a working morning, looked straight over my pillow: there it still was, still a pen. I picked it up as I left for the shop, slid it into my pocket. Why not, right?
And the boss said, “You look chipper today?”
“Yes. Like you just won the lottery.”
And yet, I'm still here. Because all that guy would have seen of me if I'd actually won the lottery was a quick flash of my bare butt, and then the door swinging shut behind me. What I said was just: “Well, I feel as if my luck is on the cards for changing.”
“In a good way I presume?”
“Well, you can't change from bad to bad, right?”
It was as I'd said: I did have a place. Luck Monkey, it was called. This nice little pub just down the road. People knew me there, and the atmosphere was warm, convivial, likely to burst into song every now and again. Beer was good too. And the criss-cross chips. And the roast vegetable pie. Or their giant chicken sausage.
“Just a drink, no big deal.” That's what I'd told her. But I wanted to make a good second impression. I knew the guys would probably give me a hard time turning up there all nicely dressed with a jacket and a shirt on, but they'd be jealous too when they saw who I was meeting. I chose a light purple shirt, just barely patterned with slate grey checks, and a dark jacket. I flexed my arms a bit, shrugged my shoulders around in front of the mirror, trying to see the sophisticated ladies' man I was trying to portray.
I reached for my lucky pen and saw that it had become a set of gold cufflinks.
And look: I'm not the sort of guy who wears cufflinks. I barely know what to do with them. But when fate drops something that pointedly into your lap, you kinda just have to roll with it. I didn't really look different with them on, but I felt... and in the mirror, even if it was only my imagination: that guy looking back at me, he just seemed a little bit more sure-footed, a little bit more likeable, more certain of himself.
“Let's do this,” I murmured to him, watching him give me the same encouragement.
And she, she was more than doing her bit. Alison showed up in a black and white dress, with dangly earrings, and her hair behind her head in a bun. She looked seriously classy. And she walked in there with a new handbag – all white-and-pearl, shiny. Her heels clicked a little on the floor as she came in.
All eyes: yes. Turning to see her. All noting the fact that she came over to me, and sat down at my table. My date.
“Look at you,” I said.
“I wasn't too sure, you know, if I was meant to dress up.”
“You look awesome.”
“Okay. Thanks. And you scrub up all right too.”
“Oh, hey, I just throw it all together. What are you drinking?”
She was a brandy girl. I was a beer drinker. I was half-tempted to go for something like a red wine or bourbon, but then I figured, sooner or later, I'd have to be who I was. So I ordered a beer, most expensive on the menu: call that a compromise.
“Crap week,” she said.
“Well, your bag broke.”
“And then the heel on my other shoes. I was going to wear them tonight. These ones don't match as well.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure. Don't match.” I took my first look at her shoes, a soft, supple tan, curly-patterned all around the edges, an aggressively towering heel. Looked like they went okay to me.
“And I nearly had to get dressed in the dark.”
“Power company. Ballsed up.”
“My neighbour, right? They were there to disconnect her power. She spends it all on drugs and shit. But they got the wrong apartment number and they turned mine off instead. Took two days of fighting with them to convince them they'd even done it. I can see her window from my place: the lights were on in every room. And there I was sitting next to some little stub of a candle, with a blanket over my shoulder.”
“You could have called me. Come round.”
“That seems a little bit forward.”
“Sorry. Yeah. Maybe that would've been too soon.”
“I like this place,” she said. “Do you come here often?”
“Couple of times a week.”
“So that's with all the stares.”
I glanced. They quickly returned their eyes to their tables. “Well, that's Toby over there, and the girl he's with is his sister Patty. There's Bob and Jack. That's Sylvia at the bar. They're keeping track of all this. So, thanks.”
“Looking like you do right now. This is building me a reputation of sorts.”
“Funny that,” she said, “how a reputation is a totally different thing when you're a girl. I'll tell you what happened to me in high school shall I?”
And we walked. After a couple of hours of easy, easy talking. I had this feeling that I could have said anything I wanted to her. I went all-out to impress – of course – but I had this comfortable sense inside myself that I didn't need to. She didn't need it. She was ready to take me as she found me. And she was quick to laugh at my jokes, to sympathise with my problems, to shake her head at the weird shit my boss gets into, sometimes with his office door wide open...
And I gotta say this: I already knew, this was a woman I could fall in love with. I wasn't there yet, but I could sense this light, a glow between the two of us, a unique alchemy that our matched souls created. I don't know if I would have put it in those terms on the spot. What I knew though, was that I wanted this to work, and I wanted it achingly badly. But what if she didn't want to see me again? What if I asked her, and she gently, kindly turned me down?
We walked along the esplanade, and the night obliged me: a clear, warm, moonlit night, an all-but full moon. And that same moon glancing off the water, cresting the waves, making that ocean vista look as if a spell had been cast on it. A quiet night, only the two of us, and a couple of other strangers, walking out this way. Down sandy steps, onto the beach, Alison walking with her shoes dangling from one hand. It was one of those times, one of those strings of moments that find their own place in your memory, set up shop there, take over. Us, her, that look on her face, the swish of her skirt as she walked – all captured, all imprinted, in my mind's photo album.
She said at length: “I like your cufflinks.”
“I didn't know you'd noticed.”
“I didn't know anyone still wore those.”
“I don't. Usually.”
“To impress me, then?”
“Where did you get them?”
“Oh, I just picked them up somewhere.”
She stopped walking, she turned to me. “Hey, this has been a great night. I know me, I know I could probably start falling for you. I'm just going to come out and say it: do you feel the same way?”
“Alison Norton,” - we'd gotten to last names somewhere over the evening - “will you go out with me again?”
“I'd love to.”
“Then it's settled.” And my heart was soaring. It was high amongst the stars, looking down on these two rose-coloured lovers. Hardly believing it.
It's dangerous to fall so hard, so fast. Who doesn't know that? But I lay in bed, sleepless, that night, wondering and wondering what the future would bring for us.