Encounters ‘ E’ …All about Ian’s narrow escape that sends Ali running scared.
Ian’s weekend was without end and stretched out before him. He just didn’t know how he was going to get through the next twenty-four hours. He was living with someone who didn’t even acknowledge he lived in the same house!
The weather was grim and there was nothing on TV.
It was almost ten when he came into the kitchen still in his dressing gown.
“Looks like you want breakfast kids?”
He put some rolls and cereal on the table.
“Corine makes us pancakes,” Magda said looking at Amy, giggling.
“Well, she’s not here, eggy bread?”
“Mummy said she’d take us to a movie”Magda said.
“That’s out, she’s not feeling well and the roads are bad.”
“Will you play I spy Dad, pleeeeeeeease?”Amy asked.
“After breakfast maybe, ah.. here’s Corine. Hi…you OK?”
“Yeh, just getting coffee, too cold to go out.”
“I know it’s miserable.”
The TV blasted out with noone watching it. Mobiles were buzzing. A bang at the door, a neighbour wanted to borrow a torch. Amy and Magda tease each other, Amy shrieks, snatches the beach ball from Magda and races upstairs the ball under her arm, tripping. Magda hangs onto Amy’s plait. They know ball games aren’t allowed indoors. They yell and scream…
“She took my ball!…she hurt me, I hate her, I hate her…
SHUT UP YOU TWO, ANYMORE AND YOU’RE GOING TO BED! NOW!!
All this and still Ian couldn’t get Ali out of his head. He sends another message…just text me, let me know you’re OK. He drags his feet as he goes into his study, slamming the door behind, his heart dulls as he opens his emails and reads the depressing words – no new messages to download.
He knows he’ll see her Monday and starts counting the hours…“Stupid, bloody stupid” he shouts, hurling his can of lager across the room. But he can’t shake off the ache in his heart, the sick feeling in his stomach.
Next the children fling his study door open and storm the room, clambering over him. He prises them off.
“Keep out, how many times have I… where’s Freda?” he yells.
The doubts continue. Where was Ali? Why no answers? Why? Why?
What if she’d slipped in the snow? Was her mobile flat? Why had she gone off like that? Had she lost her mobile? It was hopeless, he could do nothing ’til Monday, at least he’d see her at work.
A snow sky weighed heavily over Brighton and Sunday afternoon lazes on. Ian goes to the window and fixes his eyes on deserted streets, and beyond a grey choppy sea.
His stomach rumbles. He thinks about the down and outs, bagging their spaces in shop doorways for the night, some with dogs curled up on top of their duvets, trying to steal a bit of body warmth. A dog that didn’t care how their owners lived or how they smelt, all they needed was food and shelter.
Ian is sitting at the dining table, staring at his phone, swigging his eighth can of lager. Like a hurricane Freda bursts in, puffing at a Benson and Hedges dropping ash everywhere. Quickly Ian picks up an old Sunday supplement and pretends to read . Freda switches on the coffee machine then, like a disgruntled zoo animal starts pacing up and down the room, stops for a second then sidles up close to him, her body reeking of stale perfume. She swivels round back to the coffee machine and stands by it, her back to Ian.
“No paper today?” she asks sarcastically.
“The kids had a snack, what about dinner?” Ian asks.
Freda bristles. Takes two strides and stands, hands on hips uncomfortably close to Ian.
For a moment he’s not sure what she’s going to do, he catches sight of her throbbing veins standing out on her neck and is aware of the stink hanging round her. The stained housecoat she’s wearing is undone, hanging loosely around her body. Ian glances at her naked parts, for once they do nothing for him.
“Do you really think I’m doing dinner? she says her voice rising, loud bangs making her look up at the ceiling.
“Sounds like they’re coming through!” Ian laughs
“You just don’t care do you? Won’t you look at me for God’s sake!” she shouts.
He carries on reading the supplement, drumming his fingers on the table.
Freda blows cigarette smoke into his face, turns and goes to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of
“Send the girl out, takeaway, I know she’s in. I need fags.”
“It’s her day off isn’t it?” Ian says, looking up from his magazine.
Ian feels like a fox, trapped by hounds. If he were a trapped animal he’d be clawing at the cage, biding his time ready to pounce on his prey.
There was no escape, even the pub down the road was shut.
Like a dog with a bone Freda had refused to let go. On and on she went, questions questions, all about the computer course. She swore and swore. Ian waited, hoping she’d run out of steam.
The last row about the course had ended with him telling her she was paranoid, would she like someone at work to phone her, tell her about the course?
“Don’t be stupid” was her answer.
“Well, for Chrissakes shut up then.”
Ian, the first in at work, walking into the eeriness, just the sound of his footsteps, passing rows of empty desks to his own one at the front. A cleaner with her mop and bucket gives him a look then disappears through the double doors at the far end of the office.
He sits at his desk, carefully putting the flowers he’d bought in the footwell, and opens his emails, nothing.
He looks up at the clock, he’d do anything to turn it back. To see Ali, touch her, feel her skin, her beautiful smooth skin. To be in the pub with her, in the hotel, anywhere. He just had to get her back. How could he start again? She’d be here soon, he didn’t have a bloody clue what he was going to say. His mates down the pub had told him women didn’t always know what they wanted, you could persuade them. She must have been scared, so near to bumping into Freda, why hadn’t he talked to her? She never gave him the chance! Could he email, invite her to lunch? there was a new Italian café in Lewes, and it was just far enough away from Brighton.
The sun was doing its best to melt the snow, but the cold air, like Jack Frost’s fingers had crept everywhere. Ian rubbed his hands together and sipped his third coffee.
Staff began to drift into the office. Meaningless chat, about TV, the weekend, moaning about the weather and Monday. Ian was glad it was Monday, he’d waited all weekend for it.
The office starts to fill up, Ian looks up at every person coming into the main office. Nine o’clock comes and goes, Ali’s desk stays bare and empty, again he checks his emails, lowers his head and looks up some websites, nothing to do with work. Phones start, people walk around with files, someone tries to talk to him but he makes out he’s in the middle of something important.
It’s ten minutes past ten.
He calls out.
“Anyone seen Ali?”
Someone a few desks down shouts.
“Think she’s called in sick.”
“Oh” he says burying himself in his computer, reading a report for the second time, still not taking it in.
Robbie, an HR member walks past his desk.
“You OK Ian? good weekend?”
“Yeh fine, just hungover.”
“Must have been good then.”
It’s Wednesday. Ian still hasn’t heard and heads down the corridor to the HR offices.
“We’re all a bit concerned about Ali, she lives alone, maybe one of the girls could call round? Don’t suppose you have an address for her?”
“We’ve spoken to Ali Ian, she’s fine, sorry its company policy, we don’t give out addresses.”
The girl turns back to her computer. Ian stands at the girl’s desk not moving. The girl looks up at him.
“She should be back at work soon, OK Ian?”
Ian saunters back to his desk and emails his boss telling him he’s going to be working from home.
Corine comes in bringing the noise of the children into the house. They jump all over Ian, giggling, talking all at once.
“You having tea with us Daddy?” Amy asks.
“No luvvie, not tonight.”
“C, you ask Daddy.” Amy says.
Corine kneels down and pulls Amy and Magda close, hugs them tightly.
“No, you go on. I’ll put a DVD on later.”
“Oooh, the new one?”
“Yes but after tea.”
The next day at work, just when Ian had given up his mobile flashes “Ali calling”.
He can’t believe it. Grabs the phone and jumps up from his desk.
“Hi, so good to hear from you,
…almost dropping his phone, hang on a minute I’ll go outside.”
My God, WOW! He punches his fist in the air.
He stands in the smokers doorway, oblivious to the cold.
“Sorry, can speak now, how are you? How are you?”
Listens to words he doesn’t want to hear. Words that jab like a knife piercing his chest.
It’s over, she can’t go on. No, she won’t see him. No, not ever, it’s over.
He’s not about to give up, not after what they had together, the times in bed when he’d felt closer to her than anyone else in his whole life. He’s sure Ali had felt it. What the hell happened?
He listens, careful to say he understands, saying sorry again and again.
“Let’s meet. Let’s talk, to… to clear the air…?” “Will you?”…please?”
It’s the last thing he wants but he can’t let go. It would do for now.
Ali hesitates but finally agrees.
“But that’s it Ian, just friends, I’m hanging up now.”