“Pardon… what was that? I didn’t quite catch it”
I had not really been listening to what was being said, well not, not listening, more just staring empty minded, not really thinking much of anything, out at the road across from where we were sat. Jenny turned her head looking over her left shoulder at me
“Didn’t you catch any of that? I’ve just read out a whole article and you just blanked the whole lot”
She tilted her head forward a small amount, her semi curly, loose brown, partially drying hair fell forward as she looked over her tortoise shell sunglasses, her faded red pencil thin hairband kept the majority of her hair from covering her shiny dark brown lenses. I turned my head my head right to look at her face on.
“No, I was listening, it was just that last bit, you know, sorry, my mind was wondering”
“Did you mean the part about when the fridge blew up or where the author was from?”… “what were you thinking about anyway?”
“What bit where the fridge blew up? Thats not what you were talking about, there wasn’t a bit about an exploding fridge,” “Just the road, I was staring at the road over there”
“Were you even listening at all? And yes there was a bit about an exploding fridge, that was the point of the whole story, look, the long and short of the last bit was this, the guy’s fridge started smoking lots, so he panicked because he was hungover possibly still a little bit pissed. He threw his washing up bowl of water over the fridge because he was worried it would set on fire, what he didn’t realise was that he was stood in a pool of water created by the broken fridge. The water he threw shorted the fridge, and the sparks or whatever from the fridge electrocuted him where he stood and the fridge blew up,” she looked at me through the tortoise shell sunglasses her head tilted up again now “why were you staring at the road?”
I looked forward towards the road again “Because look how it’s steaming now that the sun has come out, I haven’t seen that happen since I was in the Alps in the springtime” I turned back to look at her, Jenny was facing the road looking at where I was staring moments before.
“Where did you make that story up from?” I asked “You were reading me an article on how much money the non royal royals get given to them”
She turned back to look at me dropping her eyes above her sunglasses again
“Well, I just checking to see if you were listening to me, you looked a little glazed over staring into space, sorry, at the steaming road”
I lifted up the glass of beer that was on the table between us and took a small sip, it was about halfway through and staring to get on the warm side of the cold beer that I had ordered less than 10 minuets ago.
“Just checking?” I asked mock offended after the small sip of beer had slid down my throat, “Why did you make up such a ridicules story anyway? even if I wasn’t listening I could still tell that you were making that storey up and trying to get away with it” I put the beer back down on the table next to her glass of red wine “Can’t you see the steam coming off the road? Maybe its because your wearing shades. By the way, why are you wearing sunglasses under here? You haven’t taken them off since you arrived”
Jenny picked up her glass of wine by the stem, there were still a few droplets of rain from where I had run the short distance between the bar entrance and the covered tables, she raised the glass to her mouth and then stopped just short and turned to look at me.
“Well, it was sunny when I left the flat so I decided to walk, and then it started to rain on the way here so I’m going to keep them on until I go the bathroom” she lifted the glass back up to her mouth and stopped short for the second time “ and it’s not a ridicules story its actually printed below the whole royal expenses story. Isn’t that a heat haze?”
“Isn’t what a heat haze? I replied confused as she lifted the wine glass and took a sip this time
“God this wines a bit sharp” jenny pulled a slight grimace as she swallowed “ the steam coming off the road, isn’t that a heat haze?” she took another, slightly larger sip of wine and didn’t grimace this time.
“No, a heat haze is a bit more like moisture evaporating from under the ground, whereas that is …well, more like, surface water evaporating I think, well…i’m not sure but I think its different to a heat haze” I took another small sip of beer from the warming glass. Jenny was looking at me with a half smile, the right side of her mouth raising slightly. “Why when you go to the bathroom?” I asked puzzled
“Why what when I go to the bathroom? Are you sure its different to a heat haze or are you just making it up to sound like you know what your going on about?”
“Well, you may have me there, but I am sure its different, I’m not sure how, but it is. Your sunglasses, why wont you take them off until you go to the bathroom?”
“Oh. Well, I put make up on not thinking it was going to rain and now my mascara has probably run, so I’m leaving my sunglasses on until I go and fix myself up in the bathroom” she took another sip of wine, again not grimacing at the taste as she had the first time, it was probably just for effect I thought.
“Oh fair enough. Why didn’t you go in there straight away when you got here? Anyway I just saw your eyes a second ago it didn’t look like your make up had run”
I looked back across the table at her, we were both sitting sideways on to a small wooden topped square cafe table, someone had tried to etch a name into the surface, I couldn’t quite make out what it was meant to be, but it looked like Bach, probably not though. It was more likely to be someones name or girlfriend from when they were 16’s name.
We were sat at one of the tables nearest the road outside Rosa’s, it was one of the few tables that had covering from the awning that jutted out from the side of the cafe. Both our bodies faced the road across from which was a small piece of derelict land. TThe land had once been a high rise council block or two but this had been levelled about three years ago to make way for new apartment developments that had never happened.
“Well, I wanted to talk to you for a bit first, plus you already got me a drink” she shifted upwards in her chair to sit upright more and turned her head back towards me “I know its run a bit, I can feel it”
I picked up my beer off the table and swilled the last inch or so around the glass
“Oh so it wasn’t the company, it was the wine you were after? What was that storey about the electrocuted man all about then?”
I swallowed the last inch of beer and turned my body sightly to the right so I could get my cigarettes out of my left hand pocket, jenny looked at the newspaper in her lap and then looked back at me
“Oh some guy they found dead in his flat around the corner from your place, they said it was suicide until some forensic person or other became sherlock Holmes for the day, and figured it wasn’t suicide, just plain old human stupidity.” “Can I have one of those?”
“One of what?”
“A smoke, your supposed to offer a lady before taking one yourself you know”
“Oh sorry” I offered the pack across the table and flicked the bottom with my left hand index finger, two cigarettes popped out, one a little too much, this fell on the table.
“Smooth” jenny mocked, in a rubbishy fake New York accent
“You know me” I said “So? The quitting going well then?” I offered a light across the table, she put the cigarette in her mouth and lent her head down in my direction, waiting for me to light it for her. I adjusted the lighter in my grip and flicked the roller which flinted a spark, in turn lighting the gas in to a small flame. She sucked softly on the smoke and when the tip of the cigarette glowed she lifted her head up, removed it from her mouth and exhaled the grey silver smoke straight ahead.
The smoke ploughed on dead straight in a line until the force was spent, then it drifted slowly up into the air where the breeze took it out from under the canopy.
“Yeah amazing, all I need to do is have on of these every now and then and the craving just goes away” she smiled a thin smile as I chuckled faintly and lit up my own, I blew the smoke in an upwards direction so it caught itself under the canopy where it ruffled around itself trying to find an escape route into the open air. I turned again to look at her
“Human stupidity hey, well its catching around here you know, you’d better not hang around too much”
“I dont think anyone could accuse you of stupidity, more a bit of bad luck. Anyway I’m going to order at the bar on my way to the ladies, same again?”
She took out her purse from her small green handbag as she rose and dropped it on the table
“I dont know about luck, just more a bad judge of character I guess. Oh and yes please, a demi moreti please, it’s ok I’ll get it” I said in reply to her leaving her purse on the table.
“No no, its my shout, plus you got the first ones in before I even got here” she turned around, her yellow summer dress floating as she did, and started for the door to Rosa’s.
“what was the wine you got me?” she asked turning as she reached the doorway
“Fair enough, I wont bother arguing with a woman” I replied to the air behind her. “Barollo, make sure its the 95, I had the 97 last week and it tasted like my old socks”
I sat staring at the end of my cigarette for a few seconds before exhaling across the tip of it, it glowed red and then back to dark as the fast air on it died. I reached into my right pocket and pulled out my phone, nothing. I was not surprised really, although a small sense of deflation crept over me, the type that always does when you build up some hope in your mind, even if only for a second. I let out a little sigh, more of a breath really, when I was woken out of my thoughts by the feeling of someone behind me. As I turned around to see bernie, rosa’s long suffering husband with a tray of drinks in his hand, his other hand was holding a glass of red wine which he was lowing to the table.
“Why do you bother to look at your phone when your with such a beautiful woman thomas? You should be dating her my son, not confusing her, she smiles like the sun, eh”
He placed the wine down and picked the beer off the tray without looking, something that would have ended in disaster and a trip to the bar to get replacements if I had tried.
“Na she’s just a friend bern, if I followed your advise I’d have at least 20 wives by now!”
“HA” he laughed as he placed the demi glass on the table, “Not wives thomas, no no no, girlfriends, not wives, look at me, you know what my first piece of advice to someone who comes and asks me about how married life is eh?”
Bernie was about 50 something, half spanish, born to an spanish mother and an italian dad. He believed he was spanish, but he would claim either nationality depending on who was doing better in a football competition, I had seen him switch his shirt from spanish to italian at half time after italy scored 2 in the first half, only to change back after the italians crumbled and let in 3 spanish goals.
He was dark olive skinned and had a kind of plump but not fat structure, he was as strong as a bloody ox though. I once saw him lift a full 22 gallon beer barrel onto the back of a truck when the driver dropped off the wrong one and refused to put it back on the cart. He almost threw it at the driver while swearing very non biblically at him in italian, spanish, french, english and possibly even german. His hair was silver and although he would never admit it, thinning so much that he was starting to comb it over a bit.
“Enlighten me then bern” he’d been married to rosa for over 20 years and although she gave him a hard time, you could tell he loved every minute of it
“Well, these boys they come to me and say Bernie, I am thinking of marriage, and wonder if you have any advice for me?” he tapped his back pocket with his hand “This wallet, it used to have money in it, then I tap my head and say, this head it used to have hair on it. Both these things I used to have before I got married so if you want any of my advice you’d better ask her, because she’s got everything else of mine, HA HA HA!” he roared a quick ruckass laugh then bent down again to me, still holding his tray of drinks steady in his hands “Do you want know what my father told me when I told him I was coming to England to marry Rosa?”
I looked up at his big boyish smile “what was that bern?”
He said “son never ask a married man for advice on women, ask a bachelor ‘whys that papa I said?’ because single men know more about women than married men, if they didn’t they’d be married too! HA HA HA!” with this he punched me in the arm, “oh, I brought you the 97 borollo, the girl, she asks for the 95, pa” he did a kind of spitting motion with his mouth “the 95 tastes like my daughters cooking, and we all know that young ragazzo doesn’t follow her around for her ability in the kitchen, HA HA HA!” He turned his attention to another table away to my left, ruffling my hair as he did. I cant remember the last time bernie had charged me for a drink, I think he was just glad of people to talk at.
“Whats he so chirpy about?” she had returned without her sunglasses now, I looked up and saw she had a small cut at the bridge of her nose, it looked like she’d cut herself maybe the day before or so.
“Marriage advice” I rolled my eyes to the air.
“Have you been telling him your women traumas too now” jenny asked, she took a long sip of the red and grimaced slightly, “I thought you said the 95 was ok, I wished id ordered the bloody 97 now.”
“That is the 97, Bern thought the 95 tasted like Rosa’s cooking”
Jenny made another grimacing face and started laughing “God, I remember when she cooked for us all at Jules’s engagement party, jesus, even the strays outside thought twice about eating it!” she lifted the glass and inspected the contents suspiciously “Well if you think the 95 tastes like your old socks, which I happen to know dont taste good at all, and the 97 tastes like Rosa jnr’s cooking then I might have to have a beer”
I looked at her mock offended “Hang on, how do you know my old socks dont taste good?”
She looked up at me through the wine glass “Spain 99, truth or dare, I had to down a bottle of san miguel through your sock!”
I laughed out loud almost snorting “Ha I remember that, you almost threw up on Ians lap”
She looked at me half smiling “wish I had of, now I know the fucking shit he turned out to be on that holiday”
“That would have been amazing, do you ever talk to him any more?”
I took my cigarettes of the table and offered one across to jenny who took one out of the middle of the pack, she lent over the table aiming it in my direction, I lifted the lighter off the table and sparked the flame as she dragged on the filter and smoke plumed out of her nose as she exhaled
“Not since he caught me in his house collecting my stuff back” she picked up her wine glass in the same hand she was holding her cigarette “so what happened with amy then? You guys seemed fine the last time she was up from London”
“Oh nice change of subject” I had lit my own cigarette by now, I took a long drag and picked up my cold glass “She decided that as she wasnt going to move up and I wasnt going to move down there was no point” I took a sip of beer “she also said I was too work obsessed”
“well she was never going to move up from london was she, so why didn’t you want to move down? You are a little obsessed by work though are you not?”
“No I’m not, I care about my job, but i’m not obsessed, I admit my new boss is a hard ass so i’ve been working a little bit harder this last 6 months or so, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed”
“when did you last not look at your work computer then?”
“Thats irrelevant, I check it everyday because I have to make sure nothings happened, i’m not doing anything worky”
Jenny raised her eyebrows at me and let out a small laugh “when, when was the last day you didn’t look at it then?”
“I’m not sure, maybe 2 or 3 weeks ago”
“Dont you believe me? And why shouldn’t she want to move up here?”
“well she has an amazing job that she wouldn’t be able to do up here and her flat is amazing, she wouldn’t want to move out of there”
We both suddenly looked up from our conversation as a siren’ed car, possibly a police car screamed past, its noise deafening for a split second as it quickly fades out into the distance, momentarily changing its pitch an octave or 2 lower as it rushes through the railway bridge at the end of the street. I take a sip from the final dregs of my glass, the beer starting to warm slightly beyond room temperature.
“And no I dont believe you, have you looked at it today?”
“not today yet, I didn’t get up till late, then I had to walk next doors dog”
“next doors dog?”
“yeah, you remember Bethany? Well she had a knee operation last week so were all taking it in turns to walk her bloody spaniel”
“you dont even like dogs do you?”
“no but everyone else said they would and I didn’t want to be the outcast nasty bloke, plus I was thinking about asking her… never mind”
“asking her what? You dont fancy her do you? Bethany? Christ you need to get out more thomas”
“NO, of course I dont fancy beth, she’s got back fat and that laugh.. ugh”
Jenny cut in before I even finished what I was saying “you want her work contacts dont you! You cant leave it alone can you”
“well, its better than asking her out, but yes she does have some good contacts, I found out when she invited herself to Bri’s birthday at circo, so you know, no point not making use”
“so your walking her dog, thats low..even for you!”
“no…well…thats different, thats because everyone else is, anyway to answer your question I haven’t looked at my work today”
“yet, I bet you do by the end of the day”
“maybe, we’ll see hey”
“Thomas its a bloody Sunday, have a day off once in a while, no wonder amy left you”
“she didn’t leave me, we decided that it wasnt going to go anywhere if neither of us moved,”
“Thats such a boy thing to say”
I downed the last of my beer “hmm, look i’d rather not talk about it”
“fair enough, seriously are you ok about it?”
“yeah I think so, I think I did something stupid though”
“tom, what did you do?”
I batted away a fly that was hovering around my head, buzzing around trying to get close to my empty glass or maybe it knew that it was going to rain again soon. The rain had stopped about an hour ago now and the uncovered English sun had dried the ground, the road was no longer steaming, but it still had a feel of sticky damp in the air, the kind of feeling you only get in cities when the buildings hold the rising moisture in the air around you. It gives a feeling of a small film of sweat if you try and move too much.
It felt like it was going to rain again soon, but then again maybe it wouldn’t and it would settle into perfect summers evening, the kind where the heat stays in the surroundings and you can sit out side long after the sun goes down, who could tell.
I hesitated sightly, like I was going to say something on the matter, but didn’t “do you want another drink?” I was rising to my feet
“Thomas what did you do? You phoned her didn’t you, when you were out on Friday you phoned her”
I stopped rising and sat down again “I did but she didn’t pick up, but I may have left a message on her phone” I paused as jenny looked at me seriously “I cant remember what I said but she emailed me yesterday”
“what did she say?”
“it just said a few things, but the main gist of it was, ‘If you really meant what you said the other night, then we wouldn’t be in this situation, so I dont think you mean it’, then she said something about actions and words, but I deleted it straight after I read it and I cant remember it fully”
“she probably has a point, but i’m not going to lecture you. Your old enough and stupid enough to know better” she swilled the last of her wine around in her glass, “this 97 is actually ok when you’ve had a bit, shall we get some food? Im starving”
Jenny stood up and started for the door as if to assume my answer was yes, I felt quite hungry now she mentioned it, it was just after four in the afternoon and I realised I hadn’t eaten yet today.
The outside of Rosa’s was getting a little busy as the sun became more likely to stay out for the rest of the late afternoon. Jenny and I took a table next to the side window, not that it made a lot of difference, Rosa’s was a place that held about 15 tables in a space that would have been comfortable for 8 maybe 9 tables at a push. Rosa jnr came over and we kissed on cheeks, despite how busy the cafe was getting she pulled off her apron, hung it on the back of the chair next to myself and jenny and sat down. Jen and Rosa jnr had a hug and started talking in a quiet manner between themselves, sniggering. I looked across the room to where they were both half looking and saw a boy of about 18 nursing a bottle of san miguel with short cropped hair and fair skin, he was looking slightly meek, wearing a white t-shirt trying not to look over in our direction but failing badly.
“That your young man?” I tapped Rosa jnr on the shoulder, she and jenny glanced in his direction, looked at me and laughed a little bit too much to keep it quiet “I’ll take that as a yes then” I decided to leave the girls to it and went up to the bar to order some food and a couple of drinks. Bernie was leaning on the bar watching the weather on a little TV perched on the end of the bar. I ordered a bottle of 95 Rioja and a couple of spaghetti dishes and grabbed some olives, lord knows where Bern got his olives from or what he does to them, but they are always ten times better than any other olive i’ve ever had.
Rosa Jnr went back to work when Bernie started getting testy at the length of time she had been chatting to Jenny, “he wouldn’t get ratty if Rosa was here” said jenny “she’s sat here for hours before with me”
“yeah, but he wouldn’t say anything inside this place if Rosa wasnt visiting home in Italy, she’d slap his wrists for even having an opinion in this place”
Jenny laughed out loud as our spaghetti arrived at the table “your right she really rules the roost here, I dont think I’d offer an opinion in her company if she was in a mood with Bern”
“What you two bambinos laughing about?” said bern from behind us as he brought over some fresh parmesan and a grater
“Nothing Bern, just telling Jen that joke you said about marriage advice earlier” I replied, jenny tried to stifle a laugh as she almost spat out the mouthful of wine she had just taken.
“Ha Ha Ha, I dont remember it being a joke thomas, but at least the chica finds me funny” he began to walk off “you should take some lessons in how to make a girl laugh off me thomas, if you make them laugh you can win their heart”
“maybe I will bern, maybe I will”
“you should my son, you should be married by now, look at you”
Bern went off into the kitchen, jenny raised her eyebrows at me smiling while wiping wine off her lips with the back of her hand.
We sat ate our food with relish, I dont think i’ve ever had a meal that I actually ordered from the kitchen, this was a shellfish spaghetti dish, i’m sure the special that I wanted was a carbonara, but i’ve never had a bad meal either so i’m wasnt going to upset the balance by moaning. We had another bottle of the 95 Rioja after we had eaten a cheesecake laced with blueberries. We left Rosa’s around twelve, overfed and well oiled after being plied with cheese, port and brandy from Bern’s own cupboard, again something that only happened when Rosa was out seeing friends or back home in italy. We left to many hugs and kisses from everyone we know and met that night as so typically happens on a night in Rosa’s
I walked Jen to the front door of her block of flats in the industrial district of town, it wasnt the best place she could afford, but her flat was large and she had been there for a while, plus it was next door to the gallery where she worked allowing her to wake up about 5 minuets after she was supposed to start work and still only be her standard 10 minuets late. It was a small detour on my way home, but I’d rather know that she got home safe despite the fact she had never had the slightest problem in the 5 years she had lived there.
We kissed each other cheeks and jenny hugged me for a slight bit longer than friends really should normally, something she always did when she’d had a few drinks. I promised I’d phone her sometime in the week. I walked the short distance to my flat back past the entrance to the street where Rosa’s was, I could see the faded yellow paintwork glistening in a combination of the moon and streetlight, as the condensation started to make and appearance now the sun had gone down.