‘Encounters B’ left Corine running from Gilles, taking Corine a step closer to her Encounter with Ian and Freda.
Leaving the garage door slightly open Corine squeezes past her Dad’s car, ducking down, edging her way under the glass panelled window of the door that led to the kitchen. Her eyes dart round the garage looking for a hiding place. She curls herself up and climbs under some work tops in the corner of the garage. She can hear the radio, the Bee Gees “How Deep is Your Love” – slush music her Dad called it. She can picture her Mum moving to the music. Now noises of cupboard doors opening and closing, a machine starting, all a bit too close. Corine’s shoulders tense, it was just a wall between her and her Mum, it would be easy, too easy to go to her, tell her what happened, but she couldn’t do it. The thought of being in that house, her parents closing in on her made her cringe like a dog that’s waiting to be hit again.
It was Friday, her Mum would be going to the market soon like she always did, and Dad was out of the way at work. There was nothing to do but wait. Again she thinks about going to her Mum, but she wouldn’t understand.
Cramped in her corner Corine looks round the garage. Neat rows of paint pots; jars of screws; garden tools hung on walls, everything labelled. An old bike of hers propped in a corner.
A cloying smell of grease and damp makes her desperate to cough, she stuffs some of her T shirt in her mouth and holds it there, and now her left leg has gone dead.
The music stops and soon after the sound of the back door being closed. Gagging, coughing, she crawls out stretching her body, glances at her watch and opens the door leading to the kitchen. Goes to the fridge, takes out a bottle of chocolate milkshake and gulps it down. Slumps at the table and pulls out her mobile.
“God its early!”
“I know…I know, Dom, just listen, I need your help.”
“Calm down, I’m listening.”
“I’m going to England, can’t say why, do you understand?”
“Why? can’t you tell me? What’s wrong?”
“Shut up, it’s money I need, money.”
“Christ C you know I don’t have any.”
“This is serious, your savings. I’ll pay you back, promise”
“Corine, I just don’t want to…”
Corine cut her off “You won’t help me then?”
“It’s not that, I’d like to but….”
Corine turns off her mobile, rushes upstairs to her room, yanks open drawers, chucks things on the floor, stuffs things into a rucksack. What the hell to take?
She sits on her bed and writes a note to her Mum.
Checks her mobile, three texts from Dom, she deletes them.
The carefully folded note is left propped up against the kettle, it’s too painful for her to write ‘Mum’ on it. It’s money she’s desperate for, then it comes to her. Dad puts money in a teapot, yes, she’s seen him, a teapot that lived on the top shelf of the kitchen dresser.
Corine’s heart thumps and her chest hurts, this was Dad’s special money, money he saved up to buy more coins for his collection. Dragging a chair over to the dresser she gets up on it, it wobbles. Lifting down the teapot and feeling inside she pulls out the wad of notes stuffing them into her jeans pocket.
“Sorry Dad,” she whispers.
Before she left Corine stood in the kitchen and looked round. Mum’s apron was on the back of the larder door; on the notice board, a poem she’d written when she was a child; holiday photos; all the family on the beach; a photo of their dog they didn’t have any more; a ‘to do’ list, a table of church services. On the kitchen table the letter about Uni and a recipe book left open; a smell of a stew cooking; a washing machine going; a sad looking pink cyclamen on the windowsill that she’d given her Mum on Mother’s Day. Unlatching the back door Corine walks into the cold air and doesn’t look back.
It was one of those crossings when it’s touch and go if the ferry sails, heavy seas were unleashing waves as tall as houses and the forecast was grim.
The boat lights of the Seaways ferry glinted, waves sploshed and slapped against the boat’s hull. The decision was taken to sail and departure was imminent.
Changing twice to get to Calais the train journey cold, boring. Strangers shove into her as she boards the boat, a small crowd on the quay wave their goodbyes. Travellers struggle with their bags and jostle for seats, Corine finds a corner on the lower deck and pulls her collar up round her face. As she’s getting a book out of her bag she feels the motion of the boat beginning its passage to Dover.
Her mother would have read the note by now, Corine checks her mobile, missed calls from Dom and Mum, she switches it off. She looks up, her body flinches, two men in uniform are making their way along the aisle towards her, stopping, picking out people to question, they’re getting nearer. They’re looking for her, she knows it. They get to her seat, one of them catches her looking at him, but they stop just before her, turn and climb up the steep metal steps onto the upper deck. The younger officer glances back at her to get another look.
Her ticket is booked through to Victoria, she boards the coach, filling up with bored, tired passengers, finds a seat at the back, putting her rucksack on the seat next to her, faces the window and closes her eyes. At last the driver in his glass cage starts the engine and turns the huge steering wheel, manoeuvering his way out of Dover’s coach station.
For the first time Corine lies back and thinks about Gilles. The ghastly ending. Was she right to go? She’d felt their closeness, was it all for nothing? She knew he’d felt it too, or had he?
The coach speeds along the M20, taking her away from him but she can’t get him out of her head or stop thinking about every single detail of what happened on that last night.
Corine wakes as the coach is pulling into Victoria Coach station. The noise grows as people wake and reach for their bags, ready to go to their destinations. Her heart thumps. At least my English is good she thanks God. From nowhere she remembers something, something the girls at school had talked about. Was it God helping her? There were jobs in Brighton they’d said, it was easy to get a job there!
Victoria train station. A dense blur of noise. Crowds, people walking in all directions, craning necks, staring at indicator boards, people rushing, people who knew where they were going, to meet friends or going home to children, or to people they loved, to dogs, dinner, TV, a warm room, and a sofa. Corine looks up at the boards and sees there’s a train to Brighton in twelve minutes, hoists her bag on her shoulder and heads for the ticket machine.
It’s getting dark as the train pulls into Brighton . Taxi drivers shout at her as she stands outside the station.
“I’ll take you luv.”
But Corine has spotted a flickering sign and follows the arrow “B and B 500 metres”.
She looks up at the grimy terraced building, a rusted handrail leading up to the front door. Grey half pulled nets at the window border a flashing “VACANCIES” sign. Rubbish piled high on every step leading to the basement. She hesitates then rings the doorbell. An old man who could be mistaken for one of Brighton’s down and outs is slumped at a battered desk. He’s about five foot. His crumpled clothes make him fade into the background, there isn’t much going for him. He looks up, bleary yellowed eyes fill with lust as he looks Corine up and down. She pays and he hardly turns to take the key off the hook behind him, he’s done it a hundred times. He beckons her to follow him up the dimly lit stairs, she sniffs at the stale smells of old food and dirt plus the stench coming from the old man. The old man puts the key in the door, unlocks it and puts the light on.
Turning round he stands in the doorway, leering and starts to undo the belt of his trousers. Corine cries out and crashes past him yanking the key out of the the lock. He lunges but he’s too slow.
She’s inside. With an almighty shove she slams the door against him, gasping for breath, her back against the door she waits a second then swings round, pressing her knee and shoulder against the door and turns the key. Waits. Waits and listens to his revolting snuffling noises that sound like a disgruntled hog. Again she thanks God as she hears the sound of shuffling, the old man going back along the landing to the stairs.
It’s a small room with a big damp patch on the ceiling, wallpaper hanging off the walls, furnishings old and stained. Corine thinks of her own room, fresh, comforting.
Who was here before me? Has anyone died here? What’s under the bed? She sighs and sits on the edge of the bed, staring up at the bare lightbulb. A horrible feeling of uneasiness comes over her, she tries to remember if she’s ever really been alone before. This is what it’s like. How did she get into this mess? Corine thinks about going home but she’s too tired. Not bothering to undress she climbs into the small bed, pulling the duvet over her, lays her head on the lumpy pillow and in minutes she’s asleep.
The cry of seagulls wake her. Morning light is sifting through the threadbare curtains. For a second she can’t remember where she is, pulls her jacket round her and rolls a cigarette, blowing the smoke into the millions of dust particles lit by the sun. For a moment she sees the beauty.
There are two couples in the dining room who half smile at her. Nobody speaks, just whispers, plates rattle, the landlady is shouting something. A door bangs, breaking the stuffy silence.
“Full breakfast dear?”
“Its in the price.”
“Oh some toast, an egg?”
The landlady sighs.
Corine can’t face the egg swimming in oil, but gulps down the lukewarm coffee, out into North Street she tags behind people going to work and Mums taking their children to school. At the bottom of the hill there are lines of red double decker buses queueing like giant dominoes. She breaths in the salty air walking past shops, agencies, amusement arcades, every kind of takeaway. Into a bureau de change, counts the twenty pound notes, stuffing them into her rucksack. There are streets going everywhere, she decides to give the busy arcade a try, searching every window. Then she spots a sign. “ JOBS NOW – APPLY INSIDE ” . A girl behind the desk glances up and smiles.
Into a ‘Made For You’ store and counts her money again, buys a black skirt, black pumps, a white blouse, and changes in the public toilets, puts some lipstick on and pulls her hair up away from her face into a ponytail. Trudging up the hill she leaves her bag in the station’s left luggage office.
The receptionist gets up pulling down her tight fitting skirt, goes over to Corine who is waiting at the door. “Come in, sit down” she demands, pointing to the sofa. The girl tilts her chin up, she’s read that it makes you look important. Her eyes are plastered in black make up giving a ghoulish appearance, standing out against her almost opaque skin. It’s a dingy cramped office, polystyrene cups and open newspapers are strewn over the reception desk, a phone is ringing in another room. The girl starts firing questions, Corine concentrates hard to get the answers right, or the ones she thinks they want to hear. The girl gives her a long look, could she see how red Corine’s face felt?
“I’m just going to make a call, we may have something.”
“Glad I caught you Freda, its Home Matters here, we have a young French girl who could start straight away?”
“Yes, her English is very good.”
“Sure she can make that.”
“Not problem, glad we can help. I’ll email the paperwork.”
The girl shoves some stapled papers across the table .
“Here, fill in, read it, sign at the bottom. I’ll write down the address, three thirty this afternoon so you can meet the kids OK?”
Clutching the signed contract Corine leaves the office, in less than half an hour she’d got a job, she can’t believe it. The references she’d given were false but she’d worry about that later.
“Away, away,” Ian shouts through his study door.
“Later, later we’ll go to the park.”
But still the kids bang on the door.
“Daddy, we’re bored!”
“I’ve work to do, GO AWAY!”
Magda looks at Amy and shrugs her shoulders.
“We can wake Freda?”
“No, she’ll kill us,”
“Let’s dress up.”
“OK, race you.”
They fly off down to the basement to get the dressing up box.
Now at last Ian can get back to what he’s desperate to think about. As he left work today, Ali, one of the secretaries brushed past him and gave him a smile, now he couldn’t get her out of his head. They’d already given each other ‘looks’ as they passed in corridors. Every morning he’d watch out for her, waiting, imagining, trying to guess what she’d be wearing, Ali wore clothes that showed off her body. At home, work, everywhere, Ian fantasised about her, he was bursting for Friday to come round, on Friday lunchtimes all the office went to the Mash Tun pub.
Ali would be there.
He’s so deep in thought he jumps as Freda marches into his study..
“Thought you were taking the girls.”
“OK, OK, just working on something.”
Ian stares at his computer shaking his head, he can’t believe it and just doesn’t know what’s happened to the woman he fell in love with. It was so good when they first got together, now they couldn’t get through the day without some almighty great bloody row. Freda had stopped bothering about herself, only doing herself up when she went out with some girls she’d met, never for him.
The kids scream all the way to the park, Ian flops down with a sigh on a park bench and mutters to himself. He watches Amy and Magda run over to the play area then he glances along the benches.
He looks again, it’s Jake, yes, Jake from rugby.
“Hey, so good to see you.”
“It’s been a while.”
“Is that your little one?”
“Yes, Ben, he’s four now”
“God…what you doing now?”
“You know, same job, boring really.”
“And you?” Ian asks Jake.
“It’s OK, I’m with someone else, she’s something else”
“I’m in trouble myself.”
“Really, with Freda, it is Freda isn’t it?”
“Yes, she’s a mess, doesn’t take care of herself, gone off everything, you know?”
“Yeah, I know the feeling”.
The children come running over.
“Ian, we’re hungry!” demands Magda.
He looks at Jake and gets up from the bench.
“Better go mate. You free next week? a catch up? a drink?”
“Great, I’ll text you.”
Ian races the kids to the car. The children fight over where to eat, Ian decides on Pizza Express.
Magda and Amy have finished their pizzas and are decorating their ice cream with scoops of sweets from the trolley, they shreak with laughter and Ian laughs with them as they try to catch the sweets rolling off the table.
“How about a movie kids?” They squeal with excitement and chatter about which one to see.
The kids loose themselves in the movie and Ian gets lost in his thoughts of Ali. He hates the thought of going home, but it’s late and he can’t put it off any longer.
They get home, the kids disappear and Ian goes straight to the fridge for a beer, the kitchen reeks of stale tobacco, there’s dirty plates and left over food littering the table.
He reads his texts, there’s one from Freda. She’s out and will be back late.
“Thank God,” he says out loud.
The children are screaming from upstairs, he yells at them to get to bed, turning on the TV to watch the replay of Spurs v Villa.
The shiny black door was familiar to Ian, it was a door that harboured his secret, a secret he wasn’t keen to share with anyone. Ian couldn’t remember when it had all started and now it was a drug.
It was an ordinary looking door leading straight out onto the street, no letter box, just a slim grey keysafe.
Ian punched in his password and pushed the door into the lobby. Up a flight of stairs going past rooms marked ‘private’ that led to a landing where he spoke into a machine and posted a wad of notes into a slot. A key spat out onto the tray at the base of the machine, Ian’s heart missed a beat as he saw the number sixteen on the brown lable attached to the key.
A key that would take him to Tanya.
Tanya was sitting cross legged on a huge circular bed waiting for him, naked except for a pink thong. Her slanted eyes smiled at Ian as he came through the door. Ian placed a few twenty pound notes on the bed next to her, the notes almost touching her body and told Tanya what he wanted, and how he wanted it.
Hours went by, Tanya’s musky perfume making Ian feel heady, or was it the few whiskies he’d had in the pub earlier? His requests became more daring, after each encounter Tanya would nod to the pile of notes and Ian would reach for his wallet.
By the time his session was over notes were strewn everywhere, on the bed, the floor and sticking to Tanya’s body.
On the way home Ian stopped off at work to visit the showers in the executive suite, showering made him feel good, it washed away his guilt.
At work Ian shifted at his desk reliving his time with Tanya. Tanya would do anything he asked, how far would she go? Tanya was like no other woman Ian had ever met and he couldn’t get enough of her.