From the novel in progress “Return to Cocoa Yard” … continued from “The Wheels on the Bus – a dedication.”
“That was nice,” said Anna, as they lay on her bed afterwards.
“Nice?” Walker said.
“You made me see colours,” she said.
Walker didn’t know what that meant but took it as a compliment though said nothing. Tied together by the post-coital chord, he could now see the eczema on her flesh, itchy maps of countries she used to be self-conscious of but now was liberated from, or so it seemed. It was ages since he’d fucked a woman, he’d spent so much time on his own and travelling that sometimes he’d wondered if he’d ever fuck a woman again. He certainly didn’t expect a fuck tonight, with a woman he’d only met that afternoon while drinking with the five o’clock dregs of The Barrel in some dead town in Yorkshire.
“I know I said I wanted casual sex,” she said, “but I think it’ll be more than that. Causal not casual, if you know what I mean.”
“Yea I know what you mean,” Walker said, not knowing what she meant. Privately he feared this was getting deep and she might want to see him again so wondered if he should add that he was moving on tomorrow, but decided it’d be impolite in the circumstances so added only silence.
After he’d left the pub in tears following Harry’s musical lucidity, he’d bought a limp sandwich from a pound bakery and sat on the dead town square chewing things over. Amid the sorrow at seeing such a strong, hardworking man with a good brain wasting, he couldn’t help feeling selfishly irritated. He’d always been the optimist, hated negativity, but he’d been made to feel far from positive about life itself. What did it matter? What did anything matter? What the fuck was it all about? True he’d been nagged by the dog all his adult life, or at least since Pip slammed out on him, and the dog is by definition pessimistic, and true that he’d battled with his gambling addiction. But he’d always chosen to view this as a hobby, a positive, because with betting there was hope. Yet meeting Harry had left him questioning that very thing – is winning or losing and the journey to either so important? He’d give it some thought, he thought, as he threw the crust of his limp sandwich to the pigeons gambling on a meal at his feet, spinning and clockworking like hungry avian robots.
“I’d hoped you hadn’t gone far,” she said, just as he was about to walk away into the warm night.
“Hello,” he said.
“I just wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me? Why?”
“The way you spoke to my dad. You didn’t know him yet you seemed to give him life. Mum said I should go after you.”
“Thing is,” she said, “May I sit down? It’s so hot.”
Walker moved his rucksack along the seat and she sat and said, “I can’t be long, mum needs my help.”
“You do a brilliant job,” he said, “I could see it’s hard.”
“You mean I look tired,” she said, smiling, and suddenly he saw the dark rings around her eyes dissipate and her beauty for what it was before.
“You look like it’s taken its toll,” he said.
“I hate it,” she said, “it brings me out in eczema. That’s why I cover up. I can’t tan like you.” He hadn’t noticed this in he pub, but now saw how pale was her skin, and how she was wearing more clothing than many in such heat.
“I was meaning your dad,” he said.
“Sometimes I wish he were dead,” she said, “that must sound cruel.”
“Not really. You mean an end to suffering.” With that she nodded, sombrely, and Walker found himself explaining how it’d made him feel – the way it made him question life, which now seemed as meaningless and arbitrary as pigeons.
“Who said anything about fucking pigeons?” she asked, again with that smile.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, smiling back.
“Well anyway mum and I talked. She said she could see a spark in me, when I talked to you. Sorry if this sounds stalkish but she said I needed some fun, and I should go after you.”
“What for?” Walker asked, wondering and liking and nervous about where this was going.
“Fun I guess,” she said.
“Some say I’m not much fun,” he said.
“You mean your girlfriend? Wife?”
“Single,” he said, “she walked out on me years ago. Been single ever since. Just me and my rucksack.”
“Are you an explorer?”
“I prefer experientialist. Just me and my rucksack and my experiences.”
“Well that’s fun,” she said, “what else do you do for experience?”
“Gamble,” he said, “horses, football, where I’ll go next…”
“So where will you go next?”
“That’s what I mean, I never know till I get there.”
“You won’t stay long in this dump.”
“Don’t you like it?”
“Dead,” she said, “Nothing ever happens. I don’t even know why the fucking pigeons insist on staying.”
“So what do you do for experiences?” he asked.
“I’m single too if that’s what you mean.”
“It wasn’t but anyway.”
“I was married. Went down the toilet. I mean it was great at first, childhood sweethearts, thought the world of him, he was my world and yet…”
“Tony always wanted kids,” she said, looking across the square into the distance of memory, “but I didn’t. I loved him madly but couldn’t see myself having kids while living in this hole. I’d’ve wanted more for them than growing up here. Tony said we should move away then, but his job was here and so was mine. Then with what was happening to dad. He couldn’t handle that. I understand why but I resented him for not caring enough. So in hindsight I realise that was the beginning of the end. Two years later we were divorced. That was a year ago.”
She didn’t reply to that because she couldn’t, because she was crying, so Walker just let the moment linger, wondering whether to touch her arm, give her a tissue or something.
“Thanks,” she said, taking the tissue, “you must think I’m bonkers.”
“I don’t think you’re bonkers at all,” he summarised.
“I ought to get back to mum,” she said.
“Of course. But look, I’ll give you my number. If ever you want to talk…”
“But you’ll be moving on.”
“I can still talk,” he said, “that’s why we have telephones.”
“I’d like to do more than that,” she said, laughing at his joke which he actually thought was pathetic. And then she paused, looked him in the eye and said, “I wonder, and feel free to tell me to fuck off, but will you have dinner with me tonight?”
To be continued with “Anna’s Story”…