57 plus 51: The conversation

Posted: 7 October 2021 in 57 plus, 57 plus new fiction, fiction, new fiction, writing
Tags: , , , ,

Housekeeping note: This will be the penultimate piece of new fiction before I take a few weeks’ break until November, and that’s only if I decide to a run until teh new year.

I’ll wrote one more tale, next week, which will technically extend ’57 plus…’ to ’57 plus 58’… merely because I want to continue to honour the promise I made to an old friend to write one piece of new short fiction every week during these runs.

So, by next week, there’ll have been sixteen pieces of new fiction. Sixteen pieces of fiction that didn’t exist before I put fingers to keyboard. I’m rather pleased by that.


Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

When I decided to honour a promise to an old friend, and write new fiction once a week for the ’57…’ run, the first week’s was based on an image I’d come across serendipitously. And since then I’ve kept an eye out for images that spark something, that provoke the storytelling parts of my brain.

So that every week, I can write something brand new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, inspired by an image I come across entirely by chance.

I came across this picture by chance.

And here’s a story about overhearing a conversation you weren’t meant to hear…. or were you?


The Conversation

The door was open. That’s the only reason I heard them.

Bitter words, angry words, flying between the two of them, a man and a woman.

I’d been walking along an unfamiliar high street, taking my bearings, while I killed a couple of hours before heading home. A business meeting behind me and nothing awaiting me until I got the train back, I indulged a preference for wandering in the cool early evening air. I’d turned off the main road upon smelling chocolate from a side street packed with small shops, and was walking towards it when I heard the raised voices. I’d glanced towards the open shop door out of no greater than mild surprise, as the tone seemed out of place coming from an antiques shop.

“You’ve never loved him, not like I do!” the woman said, and before I could even form a thought as to what the man could reply, he responded with a “you say that, but he prefers me in bed!”

I struggled to hide a laugh, and somehow smothered it, but allowed myself a smile as I left them to it and continued on my way, passing windows with tasteful presentations of old jewellery and older books, against black velvet curtains. Across the road was an old-fashioned toy shop, wooden toys in the window, and next to it, a tea house that looked like it hadn’t changed in decades. Tea. That sounded good.

And that’s when she said my name.

I slowed, my left foot slowly making its way to the ground. I don’t have a common name, that’s true, but neither is it uncommon enough as to be wholly rare. It was just curiosity that made me loiter just a moment longer, I swear. I merely wanted to know more about this poor soul who shared parents equally stupid.

“Prefers you in the sack? As if!’ the woman shot back at the man, and proceeded to list in detail what she and my namesake had gotten up to the previous night. I was torn between pushing the door shut to save them embarrassment and further listening; my more prurient nature won out. There was darkness inside the door, but streams of light from behind another heavy black curtain. I wondered how the sound had made it out, but no more than idly

There was silence after she’d finished her recitation and then a short sound, part laugher, part derision. “Is that all?” the man asked. I had to give him credit; her descriptions had been both explicit and impressive. My namesake obviously had more imagination than me for a start, as well as greater stamina, even allowing for a tad of exaggeration. But apparently, according to the man’s reply, no exaggeration was necessary; he appeared to accept her word as gospel, and responded with a description of his last encounter with whoever shared my name as evocative as her own, describing a sexual position that raised both my respect for his suppleness and agility and concern about his long term health.

My namesake apparently had looked after himself better than I; that was apparent from the descriptions of his strength and the awe with which the two of them spoke of his body. I envied him; I’d always been a weedy child, and my hopes that puberty would fix that deficiency had sadly gone unanswered. Oh, my height had increased from childhood, but never to the ever-hoped for six feet; I was always just a little shorter than my peers, and a little weaker; hair a little thinner, and a bit paler, a little less noticeable in a crowd. I’d gotten used to it over the years, but I can’t say I enjoyed it.

There’d been a pause in the conversation and I wondered whether to walk into the shop; I was now curious about the couple, what they looked like. Did my namesake at least have good taste? I wasn’t that shallow as to pretend to know their true personalities from overhearing an argument. Well, perhaps not shallow enough.

Then the man said, almost thoughtfully, “What do you think is his sexiest body part?”

And the woman replied, “Oh, that mole. On his right cheek.”

And I touched the mole. On my right cheek.

The man disagreed and said, “I like his nose. The way it never quite mended after he broke it.”

And I touched my nose, the kink in the surface that never quite mended properly after the car accident.

The temperature in the street hadn’t dropped, but I shivered, suddenly cold and wanting to be anywhere other than listening to these two people argue. It was a coincidence, no more than than that, like hearing your name across a crowded room and seeing someone else answer the cry. Or a taxi turning up after a night out and two people standing upon hearing the driver call their name. Nothing more than that.

OK, it was more than that. But not much more. Coincidence. All right , coincidence upon coincidence.

I wanted to leave, but wanted to stay.

A vibration in my pocket startled me, and automatically, my hand slipped into my pocket and flipped the mobile phone reminder off. I’d set it when I left the meeting but couldn’t quite remember why; I still had loads of time before the train and my curiosity, anxiety and, yes, my nosiness, obliged me to stay. It would be a good tale to tell the office when I got back.’ You think you know coincidence? Hah, you don’t know anything. Wait until I tell you what happened to me…’

The sort of gentle mocking office oneupmanship without which civil war within an office would take two or three days longer to erupt.

There was movement inside the shop and one of the curtains in the window twitched, before a vertical slit opened and a small cat came into view. A hand swiftly followed, retrieving the cat and I scratched the back of my hand, then my neck, an instinctive repulsion to the beasts.

No, that was it. Enough. I lifted my wrist to check the time and then I heard, a hesitant voice, the woman’s, “Do you think he loves you more than me?”

There wasn’t even a moment’s silence before almost apologetically, the man’s voice said, “yes, but you love him more than I do. Isn’t that enough?”

“No,” she said. “No it isn’t.” A long sigh. “But it will have to be. At least I get to cuddle him afterwards. He said he never cuddles you.”

“No,” the man agreed. “At least you get that. He doesn’t like cuddles with me afterwards. He saves that… for you.” And there was just a trace of bitterness in his tone.

“I think it’s his hair. I love burying myself in it,” she said.

“Well, we both like…”

“No, not that hair,” she said with laugher, “higher!” And then they laughed together. And I felt queasy, awkward.

Again, I was overwhelmed with curiosity, about him, about them.

I reached down towards the door knob, catching a look at my reflection in the tinted window. My hair looked fuller in the reflection. Darker colour I could understand, but thicker as well.

Before I could reach it, the door swung open, and they were there, waiting for me, welcoming me inside.

“Where have you been?” Joanna asked, but then she always worries about something or other..

“We were worried,” said Peter, embarrassed at the admission. It’s sweet how they both worry.

I love them so much. I have, ever since I met them.

 

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


Just dropping this in here, as I was asked by message the other day: the best places to contact me outside the blog are via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk and @budgie on Twitter.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

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