All About Luck (Part 2)
“You obviously like her.”
“And then some.”
We were playing pool. Me and Geoff, that is – an old friend from way back. He took his pool seriously, and was half talking, half lining up his shot. “Tell all,” he said.
“I'm not sure what to tell you. She's a receptionist down at Tolcarne's.”
“She likes sci-fi movies, and chocolate fudge, and maybe origami. She believes in fate. And her politics are all over the place – she doesn't know left from right and doesn't want to know. She has this little dimple that only shows up when she talks, on the left side...”
“Okay, got it. You're into her.”
He stood straight, pool cue forgotten. “This is serious isn't it?”
“I think so.”
“Then I have to meet this girl.”
We all caught up at a fair that was on that weekend. It seemed like the right place to introduce them. Big crowds, noise, the twin smells of candy floss and hot dogs, everything salty and sweet; a wind blowing some sharp, hot scent from the far end of the field. I'd won her a plastic tiara in some dart-throwing game and Alison wore it, took a few minutes to bind it into her hair, displaying it like it was silver, studded with diamonds.
“You look ridiculous,” I admitted.
And she flashed me back a response I loved her for: “I do, don't I?” That grin was electrifying, and it numbed me for an instant from the knees down.
You've only known this woman a week. But my better sense was making only a token effort to safeguard my heart. This was freefall, and I welcomed it.
I saw Geoff from across the crowd, and I beckoned him over.
“Get's busier every year,” he said.
“Sure does. Hey, this is the girl I was telling you about.”
“Hey, hands off.”
He held up those hands. “Of course. Of course. You appear to be too good for him, by the way, but if you could do me a favour and stay with him anyway, if you're a charitable type...”
“This,” I said, “although it's hard to tell, is my best friend Geoff.”
Three wasn't a crowd. It was amazing how easily they slotted into each other's company. Alison took to Geoff quite readily. She didn't mind his antics, and seemed to know instinctively how to take his out-of-left-field comments. She strolled along easily, breathing in the sights. She pointed us in the way of the ferris wheel, and pointed out landmarks each time we went over the top.
“There's my house,” I said.
“Nice. Probably.” It was a shard of brown and lichen-green roof.
“Oh, you can't see it.”
“Yet.” And: “Sorry, that came out all wrong.”
She laughed into her shoulder. “I love this about you.”
“You just say stuff. I'm the same aren't I? Even when I shouldn't. You're cute.”
I wasn't quite sure what to say.
“It's a compliment, dummy. Girls like cute.”
“Do they?” I asked Geoff later.
“Actually yes. And funny. They really go for that. The whole bad boy thing is a myth though – there's a few girls that go for that, but believe me, you don't want to go there.”
He leaned over the pool table, focussed on his shot. “Oh, you could say that.” He was lining up the eight-ball, while six of my balls still loitered on the table, doing their best to pretend not to be there.
“Do you like her?” That was the big question.
“Yes.” He gave that answer readily enough.
“It's hard not to, right?”
“Right.” There'd been some small catch to that “right”, and I waited until he'd sunk that ball and won his latest victory before I asked him about it.
We sat outside while the world went by. The sun was out; summer was making a brief, brave comeback; but the trees along the road displayed red-and-yellow warnings that this was not going to last. There was that tingle the air gets sometimes when there's snow on the way. Geoff leaned back in his chair. “I don't want to make a thing of it.”
“It's just... I think she's keeping something from you.”
“We've just met. I don't expect her to tell me her entire life story.”
“Sure, but this... it seems important.”
“But you don't know what.”
“It could be nothing.”
“My psychic powers give out at the specifics. And I only told you in the interests of full disclosure. I like her, okay? Really like her. She's a keeper Brucie, so don't you go fucking this up, buddy.”
On the night, after I'd walked her to her taxi, after I'd screwed up my courage in both hands and gone for the kiss, I walked the rest of the way home, hands in pockets, head in the clouds, reviewing the fairground scents as they faded away from me. I was having a hard time believing my luck. Things like this didn't happen to me.
Things like this were more my style: just up ahead of me was a face I didn't want to see. A face I would have crossed three roads to avoid if only I'd see her first. That was Quilla, one of my psycho exes – and seriously, it can be hard keep track of the numbers, so many of my relationships have gone down those tracks. Well, Quilla, she was one of the latest ones. She hadn't been faithful, and she was to blame for the shattering of one of my good plates.
“You!” she called. She was never one for using proper names, and after some of the names we'd called each other on our last meeting, 'darling' and 'sweetie' were definitely off the agenda for us.
I slowed and drifted over to her reluctantly. “How's it going, Quilla?”
She was sitting on the stone railing of a set of steps leading up to a rambling, ramshackle brick house. She had her legs crossed in tight jeans, her feet bare, the tiny tattoo of rabbit displayed to the left of her neck. She leaned her chin on laced knuckles: “I'm getting by.”
“How's... I've forgotten his name..?”
“So, it didn't work out then?”
She could probably see that look of relish in my eyes. An unseemly level of glee, really. It was the kind of thing that I would have expected would set her off – fists flying, language to make a hard-core biker blush. Instead she just told me, “He was a jerk. I can pick 'em can't I?”
Touche. But I thought I'd done okay by her. She was the one who'd found any excuse to scream at me, and then she'd gone and fallen into 'history's' bed, and raged that that was my fault too: neglectful and cruel as I was. And then the plate flying, breaking, and her getting to be the one who flounced out in a huff. Should have had that fight at her house, I guess. And on the subject of houses: “Whose place is this?”
“Just a friend. I needed a place to stay. Her and her six flatmates were good about it.”
I couldn't help myself: “You're alright?”
“Yeah. Single. But I'm rolling with it. You?”
“I'm seeing someone.”
“You weren't so bad. I mean we had our shit, but I can be high maintenance.”
“Like egging my house?”
“And now you're over that?”
“I'm over you.”
“Good. And likewise. But if you need anything...” I'd had this girl in my bed, under me, panting and laughing. There'd been an intimacy there that all the other crap couldn't completely shake away. I'd still have cried for her if she'd been hit by a bus. That's just what was.
“I'm good,” she said.
“Good luck, you.”
Luck. Well, yes. It wasn't what usually happened to me, that a psycho ex-girlfriend suddenly went all reasonable on me. I absently rubbed my cufflinks. I couldn't help but think that if I'd run into Quilla a few days earlier she would have cursed me to the whole street, screamed accusations, gone storming inside to under-report the size of my dick on faceback. A heady little feeling in my chest, this epiphany: it's real.
It. Morphed again into a coin. I held it up to the light, studying its patterns, trying to make something of them. Surely, they spelt something out in some code? And was there a price? Or was I looking this gift horse in the mouth instead of just revelling in some overdue good fortune?
And what Geoff had said: she's keeping something from you.
Well, didn't she have the right to? We'd just started dating. There was no reason to be feeling uneasy about that... and yet... and still... But Geoff was right about this as well: there was no sense in jinxing it. Don't go fucking it up, he'd said. And I didn't mean to.
“Are you doing this for me?” I asked my coin, “all of this? What would happen if I bought a lottery ticket with you?”
Did you just say that?
Me? Speak? A simple coin.
That was all just streaming through my head, a simple, overactive imagination. It sat silently, amused, vaguely pleased that I was talking to it in my head. I put it away in a drawer, but I felt as if
its attention remained on me, watching me, guarding me, while I slept.
I called her again as soon as I thought I'd given it long enough not to sound desperate. A drive in the country maybe. A picnic overlooking some paddock or small town or the like. Would that work for her?
Enthusiastically: it would.
That was how we found ourselves, sitting on a low, stone wall – something ancient, I guessed, mossy and licheny, with bright-flowered weeds lapping at the edges. There were fences below, and the gorse-and-thistle paddock was dotted with sheep. The grass amongst the overgrowth seemed lush and green, too underpopulated to have to been grazed to the usual stubble. The view flowed on down to a winding road – where cars were a fleeting rarity – and out over an ocean that had taken the trouble to be blue today – a patchwork of different blues, some dark, some aqua-bright. Like I've paid it to look that good for her.
And Alison: looking relaxed, looking like freedom itself, in her faded jeans, loose hair, red jersey sitting just off her shoulders. She crossed one foot over her knee, affording me a glimpse of the deep, white scar on her ankle.
“Well, shit, how'd you do that?”
She looked away, “It's nothing.”
“That must have been deep. Right to the bone or something?”
“Not that bad.”
“Silly. Just an accident. Fell of a slide.”
“Kids do that kind of thing.”
“I was twenty.”
“I was drunk. We came out of the pub, we went and played in some playground on the way home. As you do. Well, as we did, then – I don't know, maybe normal people don't. I was going to slide down, but I just tipped right over the edge instead. Gashed my ankle on a sharp rock at the bottom. Stop laughing.”
I was. I didn't mean to. I felt like an asshole. But the image of it, it just snagged itself in my head: one minute this drunk girl sitting at the top of a slide, the next, just falling sideways, right-angles to the slide, without a sound.
“It's not that funny.”
“I know. I'm sorry. It probably hurt.”
“No. No, I was wasted. I didn't even notice it. My friend did. It was pissing blood, she was screaming. It was a mess.”
“One hell of a scar.”
“Everyone should have at least one.”
That was my cue. And I've got a couple. I rolled up my sleeve to show her something on the back of my arm above my elbow.
“Ouch. What was that?”
“Burnt it. Was leaning over to grab a beer bottle. I was drunk too, that's why I was leaning through the fire. Like you, didn't notice at first. Hurt like a bitch later on, though.”
“Here's to that.” I produced a couple of beer bottles. I noticed my miscalculation a second or two later: these weren't twist-tops. I had a go at mine with my elbow, with my teeth, wedged it into a little gap in the wall. I listened to her overwhelmed with laughter at my efforts. A few sheep raised their heads. It took me that long to do the obvious: reaching into my pocket I could feel the shape of it, just right, and I took out a grand, golden bottle opener, elaborately patterned all over in black.
“That's beautiful,” she said.
“Yeah, and it opens bottles too.”