The second snippet of my novella. I am posting snippets, not the full novella. The snippets are pulled out of the book, and they are in order, but they don’t follow directly from one to another.
The day had, as far as my perceptions guided me, been a success. I was relieved, in spite of a slight ache in my left thigh, that the only remaining task was to walk home; and I momentarily relished the thought of the evening sun closing in on my back as I strolled up the hill deep in thought. Lowering itself in the west, it made lengthy shadows across the car park, making playthings of Zelda’s motorcycle, the ailing birch in the corner, and my own unflatteringly overalled figure with a bump for my satchel.
There appeared, at the entrance to the car park, one new shadow. Two thin legs were clearly discernible, but further along there was a large quivering forest-like entity.
‘Happy birthday!’ came Oliver’s voice. I looked up to see the largest bunch of red roses I had ever seen, his pale hands wrapped around the stalks at his waist, a tuft of hair and his eyes and forehead only just managing to peek out to the side. He was wearing his skinny light brown Chinos and black brogues, from which I inferred that my resting time was to be postponed.
‘Oh, how lovely!’ I exclaimed. ‘You shouldn’t have done that!’ I gave this assurance with a little too much authenticity, which went undetected. His beaming pink face was all pride and nerves; it reminded me of when he had first asked me to walk to Bellumby with him for a picnic nine months ago. Somehow it was a little more goofy this time.
I took the heaving assemblage from him and stood to the side to enable him to plant a kiss on my lips. Just as I made to turn back, I caught sight of Mrs Johnson in the office window upstairs; she winked and smiled at me, and disappeared.
Oliver, relieved of his burden, smoothed down his pale blue cotton shirt and put his arm around my waist.
‘I’ve booked us in at Giordano’s,’ he announced. ‘I haven’t had the chance to treat you for ages.’ I must have betrayed a lack of enthusiasm, for he went on imploringly: ‘I’ve brought you the thing you left in my wardrobe. I thought you could just change in the restaurant?’
The ache in my left thigh seemed to intensify as I plodded down the hill after him in my soiled pumps, the bundle of scratchy stalks chafing my hip through the material of the dress. With the setting sun now directly in front of me, a squint was required to make out Oliver’s face.
‘I thought you might be held up, you know, with the party and everything.’
‘The girls ran it like clockwork.’ Activities had been managed perfectly to orchestrate a timely departure for all. I pictured Zelda advising Mrs Johnson that it would be unwise to expect to keep anyone beyond her twelve hours by asking her to complete tasks outside of the call of duty. The summer party was a known entity, a regular aberration from the norm, such that each member of staff slotted herself into a temporarily altered role for the day, and ensured for everyone’s sake that there was no overspill of immediately actionable work.
Three paper towels remained in the bathroom at Giordano’s. Having derobed, I removed my sheath dress from the rope-handled designer carrier bag and replaced it with my scrunched nurse’s uniform. With a soapy paper towel, I washed my body. Water ran down on to my underwear. Feeling, as one does, not quite as refreshed as intended by this effort, I used the other two towels to dab my skin dry, and pulled the garment over my head and shoulders. It occurred to me that this was barely any less than the cleanse we gave to the residents each morning.
When I returned to our booked table, Oliver was sitting smiling to himself, reading the menu; and the roses were carefully arranged in a vase on a chair next to our table for two. The bald, pot-bellied Giordano crossed in front of me carrying two towels; he caught my eye and winked, casting his eyes towards the whole display.
‘Everything OK, babe?’ asked Oliver.