Photograph by Faye Thomas, Story by Isabella Thompson
He’s hot. He can feel the sweat dripping down the back of his neck. He shifts in the plastic chair and wishes that he’d picked a table inside, but they are all taken now. He glances at the only other person sitting outside, an old man in a short-sleeved shirt and large sunglasses. The old man is eating a croissant with his mouth open and reading a newspaper whose headline reads “Heatwave Horror: Man Found Frozen in Fridge”.
He looks into his coffee cup and swills the remaining lukewarm mouthful. He doesn't drink it. He looks at his phone.14.16. He sighs and crosses his arms. He watches the street. People shuffle between the thin patches of shade stretched across the hot pavement. The end of the road ripples; cars and empty buses shimmer and come into focus like giant insects crawling from a mirage.
Then he sees her. She’s walking quickly. Her long legs are brown and bare, her breasts bounce under her thin t-shirt. He watches a man take her in as she passes. When she sees him she smiles and waves. As she gets closer, he realises she’s cut her hair. He gets up and they hug. He feels the heat from her and smells lavender oil. He thinks of long mornings between the sheets.
‘I’m so sorry I’m late. Someone fainted at the bus stop so I helped until the paramedics came then I missed the bus and when I got to the tube, they had closed it because of the weather!’ She runs a hand through her cropped curls and fans herself with the other. ‘I can’t believe how warm it is. You know it hasn’t rained for almost eleven weeks now.’
‘They’ve got a water shortage in the south.’
‘Like a hose pipe ban?’
‘Worse than that. What would you like to drink?’
‘Um, a glass of wine please.’
When he comes back outside, she’s sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette. She dabs the fallen tobacco and flicks it into his coffee cup. One of her legs is crossed over the other and it swings back and forth. He sits down and hands her the glass of wine.
‘Thanks.’ She presses the cold glass against her cheek and takes a drag on the cigarette. ‘So how have you been?’
He sips his beer and shrugs. ‘Alright thanks. Work is still a fucking nightmare.’
‘I thought you were going to quit?’
‘And do what?’
‘What happened to teaching? You always said you wanted to teach.’
‘I don’t know, it’s still an option I guess. I’ve had a lot of other stuff on my mind recently.’ He leans back and stretches his arms above his head. ‘How’ve you been? What happened to your hair?’
She sniffs, wrapping a ringlet around her finger. ‘It was so hot when I was away, having all that hair. It felt like it was time for a change anyway.’
He nods. ‘How’s your mum?’
‘She’s ok thanks, slowly getting better. She said to send her love.’
Behind them, three Spanish girls fall out of the cafe into the sunshine, laughing loudly and shielding their eyes.
‘So, how was Florence?’
‘It was amazing. The colours, the weather, the people.’
He nods and scratches the back of his head until it burns.
‘The course was incredible. I learnt so much. You would love it there.’
‘Not sure I like Italians enough.’
She sighs as she takes a long piece of loo paper out of her bag. She blows her nose. ‘Why isn’t all loo roll recyclable?’
‘Why are you changing the subject? You always change the subject.’
She looks at him for a while, then down at the table. She circles her finger around the wet ring left by her glass. ‘I don’t know what to say.’
They lie next to each other, their chests rise and fall in sync. Pearls of sweat collect in the dip between her breasts. He pants softly. In the corner of the room, a fan shudders and clicks. Jazz drifts through the open window and they watch the evening light flicker across the crack in the ceiling. Someone closes a door upstairs. She sits up and rolls her neck before reaching out for the half smoked cigarette in the ashtray. He traces the pattern of an & sign on her back, his fingers finding the spaces between her bones. She pulls one of his hairs off her stomach and gets up. She climbs onto the windowsill and lights the cigarette. The smoke meanders through her fingers, white with sunlight, and he watches the slow silhouette of her body, her short hair exposing the perfect curve of her neck. The sound of an ambulance fills the room as it rushes past.
She finishes the cigarette, stubs it out on the window ledge and jumps down. She finds her pants on the floor and sits on the end of the bed to put them on.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Oh. Are you back at the pub then?’
‘Yeah, just for now.’ She pulls her T-shirt off the bed and kisses him gently, her fingers on his cheek. She finds her bag and her sandals and he realises that she’s crying as she slips them on. He sits up.
‘What is it? What’s wrong?’
She smiles and shakes her head, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. ‘Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. Do you remember that puppy we rescued in Sri Lanka?’
‘Yeah of course I do, we called her Dido because she was such a howler. You found that little bell and tied it around her neck.’
She laughs and nods, the tears running down her face. ‘Yeah. And do you remember the first time we took her to the beach? The sand was covered in crabs. She wasn’t sure at first but then she started to chase them. We sat there for hours. God we laughed. We laughed so much it hurt.’