A Sense of Adventure
“Go on, you might like it,” I tell my boyfriend one rainy Sunday afternoon.
“I’m not so sure,” he says. “What if I don’t?”
“But you might,” I insist, cornering him. “And you said we should be more adventurous.”
“But things are all right as they are, aren’t they?” he asks, but I can tell he’s wavering now.
Sensing victory, I stroke his neck and whisper, “It’ll bring us so much closer together.”
He sighs heavily but his eyes are beginning to grow bright with the spirit of adventure.
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” he grumbles half-heartedly.
“Certainly not,” I tell him sternly. “Now come here, please, or do I have to pin you down?”
An hour later, we lie back on the bed, exhausted and surprised. It took us longer than we had expected.
“So, how is it for you?” I ask, thinking how odd his voice sounds.
“OK, I think,” he says and touches my lips absently. “They’re so soft.”
“Don’t get too attached to them,” I tell him. “I need to go out soon.”
“Do you? Oh.” He looks disappointed for a moment. “I thought we could just, you know, stay here like this for a while.” He smiles fondly at me.
I’m touched and a little disconcerted. I need to take a shower. We look at each other in the mirror. We’re almost the same height, but his head looks absurdly big on my shoulders and my auburn curls clash with the rest of his skin tone. I shake my new head slowly, unsure now. Meanwhile my boyfriend is beginning to preen himself, I notice.
“Let me wash your hair,” he says, twirling a strand round his forefinger.
Because I’m in a hurry now, I let him persuade me to stay as we are for a while longer.
“Remember, no chocolate; it’s bad for my complexion,” I warn as I’m leaving. “And don’t forget to use conditioner.”
We kiss. It seems strange this way round. Nice, but not quite right somehow.
“Are you sure about this?” I ask, hopeful that he might change his mind. This was my idea; I can’t be the one to back down.
He nods with unexpected enthusiasm. “Definitely. It’ll be an adventure.”
All week I worry. I try to call him on Wednesday but there’s no answer. I leave a message for him: I’ll rearrange my appointment at hairdressers. I’m too late, though. He calls me that evening; he’s already been.
“You’ll love it,” he says.
“I’d better,” I say.
By Saturday, I’m fed up with our arrangement. I hate shaving every day and food just doesn’t taste the same. And I’m getting twinges from a wisdom tooth.
“Right, time to swap back,” I say, holding up my hands. “You were right. Things were all right as they were. Oh, and I think you need to see a dentist.”
He looks glum. “You wouldn’t go for me, would you? You know I hate those places.”
“No,” I say firmly. “Not after what you did to my hair.”
“Hmm.” He sniffs dismissively, but the page boy cut really does look terrible.
“Oh, go on,” he pleads. “Just another couple of days. It’s been a real adventure. And I always wanted red hair…”
“A Sense of Adventure” Copyright 2010 A. F. McKeating All rights reserved
Two men stand in a lift.
“God, that was awful. Where were you?” the first one says to the other, loosening his tie.
“Where were you?” says the second man, tightening his. His smile is a bit lopsided.
“I asked first. Oh, all right then. Business planning session.” He looks mildly self righteous.
“That’s nice for you.”
They share a grimace.
“So where were you?” the first man asks again.
His companion rubs his jaw ruefully. “You know how it is. Business planning or root canal? I chose root canal.”
“Ah.” There’s a sympathetic silence. “How was it?”
“Better than business planning.”
He nods. “Yeah, that figures.”
“Excuse” Copyright 2010 A. F. McKeating All rights reserved
“Ooh, that’s a big cavity. You haven’t been for a while, have you? You’ll need a filling.”
“Sit back, then and we’ll have a look.”
She shifts nervously. I hate this.
“So, what did you think about the game on Saturday? It was a close one. Oh, sorry. I forgot. You’re not a fan. There does that hurt?”
Too bloody right.
She squeaks a little and grips the arms of the chair.
“And that? Thought so. Try and keep still, please. Sue, anaesthetic. We were robbed, of course. That free kick was a joke. Ref should never have allowed it. Must’ve been blind.” A terse laugh. “Does that hurt?”
She nods again, watching him through narrowed eyes. He knows I can’t stand football. I’ve said so twice already.
“Hurts when you have a cold drink, I bet. Yeah, neglect your teeth and they’ll let you know about it. Suddenly it’s payback time. And what a save it could’ve been. He wasn’t paying attention.”
Really? How interesting.
“Mind you, the last couple of minutes were a bit tense. I could hardly watch. Had my hands over my eyes.”
Will you stop going on about the fucking football?
“Course, you always expect them to cheat. That’s how they play. But when the linesman goes along with it, well… A bit of a prick now.”
“Lovely. No sense of fair play, that’s the trouble. Right, let’s get in there and have a proper look. Mm, nasty. Seen too many of these lately. Sue, suction, please. Depressing, really. Don’t know what I’d do without an outside interest.”
You might be quieter.
“We’ll do what we can to save it, anyway. All the decay’s out. And as for that new striker they’ve got. Don’t talk to me about him.”
“There, nice and wide for a minute. And don’t get me started on the subs. Waste of space. And how much money are they on each week?”
Probably less than you. I’ve seen your car.
“Right, have a quick rinse.”
She spits into the bowl glumly, the numbness making the side of her face feel heavy.
“Pop your head back again and we’ll get it filled. Lovely. Still, there’s always next time. You’ve got to look on the bright side, haven’t you?”
Hard to imagine right now, but I can try.
She closes her eyes, willing it all to be over.
“Just another minute and then we’re done. There. Have another rinse.”
Relieved, she gets out of the chair.
“All done.” He beams. “Make sure you come back more often. You’re such a good listener.”
“Filling Time” Copyright 2010 A. F. McKeating All rights reserved
Something stirs on the forest floor. Unwatched. Unnoticed. No-one is left.
The dust clears slowly from the pitiful remains of the atmosphere. Amidst the primordial greyness, there have been no days and nights; only a dull and endless now. The first ragged dawn peers through the veil at this still new world, the silence broken only by an echoing wind. No voices. No footsteps. No birdsong. Nothing disturbs the echoing wastes that stretch across the planet; the vast plains of emptiness.
Colour bled from the landscape during the final days of destruction. The desolation is unmarked by memories of the life that once swarmed here. Rock, earth, water. Silent witnesses to what once was. Little else remains under the pallid skies and everywhere is equal in its forsakenness.
The lonely wind brushes the forest. If it still deserves the name. The tattered canopy is sparse and the rays from a sickly yellow sun straggle through the vestiges. A gangling finger of light touches tentatively a dull patch of earth.
Something stirs. A minute something that seems little more than a movement of the light, a faint disturbance amongst the barren grains of soil. A something that is almost nothing. It is a start. Today – although no-one calls it today – the first tiny possibility has occurred and, ages from now, the first curious mind might look back and wonder what went before. Sometime. If nature is forgiving. Until then, this new insignificance begins alone, in silence, its journey into the future.
“Someting Stirs” Copyright 2010 A. F. McKeating All rights reserved
“There’s nothing to see here!” my mother hisses. “Get out before he wakes up!”
I slipped into the wardrobe earlier when she wasn’t looking. Tired of waiting, I must have fallen asleep. Now I poke my head out cautiously, wondering what I’ve missed. She looks at me in the mirror, appalled, as I hover half in, half out of the door. There’s a livid red mark on her shoulder and, noting my interest, she pulls her wrap a little tighter round herself.
“Does it hurt?” I ask.
“It’s only a scratch,” she says offhandedly. “Anyway, you’ve no business being in there.”
I peer round nervously as I climb out of the wardrobe. There’s a smell of damp earth and woods and dark things in the room. And fish. A strange silvery detritus is strewn across the floor around the bed and from one dark corner comes a faint flopping sound. I had so wanted to see what went on behind my parents’ bedroom door on those strange nights after my father had vanished into the woods on one of his “hunting trips”. There was so much that I felt shut out of. The huge crashes and groans that made me fear my mother’s safety. The occasional shriek. The complicit smiles they shared over the hush of the breakfast table the following morning. Her quietness.
I try to explain this to her: “I only wanted to see-”
I’m cut off by an enormous rattling snore from the bed. My gaze is drawn towards its source, a great round mass of glossy brown fur which shakes with each fresh eruption from its depths. I shudder, fascinated in spite of my revulsion. Then, hurriedly, I look away, wishing I hadn’t seen. I curse my curiosity.
“I’ve told you before,” my mother whispers harshly. “Listening at keyholes never does any good. Girls shouldn’t see…”
Her voice tails off as the sleeping figure stirs and mumbles in his sleep and I catch a glimpse of livid scarlet and white zigzags in the depths of those terrible jaws. I see the shiver that runs through my mother, but her eyes are shining. Our eyes meet again. Her expression is half alarmed, half defiant as she looks back at me steadily. She begins to comb her hair.
“Out of there now, child, while you can. You know he’s not himself when he first wakes up.”
My mother gives me a gentle push towards the door. I hover uncertainly by the bedside for a moment. My father’s snout twitches in his sleep and I have a sudden inquisitive urge to stroke his ear. My mother eyes me severely. “Don’t stand there gawping. Go down and set the table; there’s plenty of fish for supper.”
Chastened, I run from the room.
“Fish” Copyright 2010 A. F. McKeating All rights reserved
I’ve always been a big girl. Rubenesque if you want to be polite. Fat if you don’t. I’ve collected epithets like dog tags, remembering every kindly unkind word meant to nudge me back down the scales: fatty, podge, pudding. They named their fears and hung them on me. I was their scapegoat. Not any more, though. Now words are my weapons and a six figure deal says I’ve made it. The numbers on the cheque are the ones that count now.
“So, let’s do lunch,” said the editor. “Talk things through.”
She sounded edgy on the telephone. Here in the restaurant, I can why; the weight is her problem, not mine. I catch the flicker of disgust in her eyes as she surveys my ample flesh; less ample than it was, but still enough to disconcert the unwary and the wilfully lean.
In a show of bravado, I catch the dessert cart while her fork still hovers tensely over the main course. The distaste shows in her face as the Tiramisu slides down my throat. I’ve earned it, I think, but she’s worried about the publicity shots. Her slender hand picks nervously at her napkin as she talks about the photo shoot. I nod, savouring the bitter-sweet dampness of the sponge, the cool richness of the mascarpone.
Hungry eyes follow the fork to my lips. She’ll bite off my hand if I leave it on the table for too long; I’ll be sure to count my fingers before I leave.
I hate her for making me feel guilty, while she tries to impress with her celery and watercress salad. I watch as she tussles with a lettuce leaf.
“Save your energy, lightweight,” I think. “You obviously need it.”
I order the cheesecake to spite her. I’ll skip dinner if I have to. “To keep up my strength,” I say, nauseous with sugar and resentment.
She shifts uncomfortably. What does she care? Besides, I’m surely worth my weight in book sales.
Then she shrugs. I can see what she’s thinking: maybe they can airbrush the cover photo. With a faint sigh, she hands me a pen and I sign the contract. Then, sinking into troubled silence, she lets me eat in peace. I force myself to beam at her over the menu, giving and seeking reassurance. Cautiously, she returns the smile. Then her eyes gleam. “What the hell,” she says, suddenly cavalier, and beckons the waiter. “Black coffee with cream, please. And bring the sugar bowl.”
“Pudding” Copyright 2010 A. F. McKeating All rights reserved
“Tex!” He paces along the other side of the fence. It wobbles nervously as he slams a fist against it.
She peers over at him cautiously, hand tightening on her spade handle, as she enquires politely, “Missing something, are we?”
He scowls, beady eyes narrowing in his lumpen face. “Shut up, witch!”
“Charming.” She sniffs and turns back to her digging.
He thrusts his face forward. “Your cat’s been messing in my yard.”
She stares back at him, unmoved. “Your dog’s been terrorising my cat.”
Glares collide across the fence. He wavers first, eyes dropping for a second to the ground at her feet. It’s a big hole she’s digging over there.
She jabs a finger. “You should be more responsible. My cat could have lost more than its collar.”
He smirks, looking pleased with himself. “So?”
“So, I’d like the collar back, please.”
He crosses his arms, smug now. “My dog ate it.”
She leans forward, eyes gleaming. “I guess we’re quits then,” she says quietly. “I ate your dog.”
“Confrontation” Copyright 2011 A. F. McKeating All rights reserved