The International Writers
In The Salad
Bale stood by the window in the office and looked out across Londons
docklands. It was 1987 and it was her year. She could feel it in
her bones, a tingling sensation that signified the oncoming of success.
The whole of the up and coming docklands were her playground. Each
office and skyscraper requiring her design flair, for she had won
the contract to all the interior décor in the redevelopment
out a sigh of contentment and a smile played at her slightly ruddy cheeks.
She was a petite girl in her early 30s with irregular but still beautiful
looks; Jolie-laide as the French would say. She ran a hand through her
brown hair and let her mind race through all the possibilities available
to her. Despite it being late in the day, she found she simply couldnt
switch off, the thoughts and designs came into her head at a rate of
knots, bubbling and spilling over onto her drawing board and in turn,
receiving praise from the other board, the board of directors.
She deserved this, she thought to herself. So what if she was obsessing
a little? It was better than the obsessions she used to have. She closed
her eyes and flared her nostrils, breathing deeply, as if to banish
out the dark thoughts, the years of addiction and the rehab centres
and counsellors and therapists. Those days were gone. This is a new
day, a golden age. Thatchers Britain is finally working for her,
rather than against her. And why not, she was middle class by right,
yet mistakes and the past, the awful past had led her to dark places
and bad habits, dole queues and despair. Now things will be different.
Shes got to where she always wanted to be, using her skills for
a job she had always dreamed of. Mother and Father would be proud. She
swallowed hard, bile rose deep within her at the thoughts of the past,
at the thought of her family.
Her phone rang out, a shrill tone bringing her back from her thoughts.
She crossed the floor and answered it. A gentleman to see her; wont
give his name, sending him up, came the reply. Nothing strange in that
she thought, probably some prick of an architect wanting to be enigmatic.
Yet why were the hairs on her slender neck starting to rise? She absent-mindedly
scratched at her cheek and placed herself on the edge of her desk, looking
outward at the vista once more. The golden summer sky was now darkening.
Fat spots of rain started to hit the window and blur the view. A storm
A small cough at the door caused her to spin around, and there he was.
Leaning against the doorjamb with that louche natural air. He ran a
hand though his floppy unkempt tawny hair and cracked a smile that made
his haughty hawkish features split like a pumpkin head. "Ta da"
he cawed, at the illusion of his own appearance. "Hello sis"
he finished, awaiting the applause like a cheap street magician.
Nina caught her breath "Alex" she said, and rose up warily
from the desk, smoothing down her sweater in the process.
"The very same, sister of mine" he said in his deep slurred
over enunciated tones and moved steadily towards her. He resembled a
Russian dissident, dressed in a long black coat. Yet there was also
something vampiric about his appearance. Something only those who knew
him and were tainted by him knew well. For Nina, vampiric was a good
description, as her older brother was skilled in the art of draining
the life from people who got to close to him, taking all that they had
in a predatory way that resembled a kind of studied foreplay.
She began to shift from foot to foot as he edged closer, his long limbs
taking an exquisite time to reach her. "Its
its good to see
you" she said with a smile, "How did
how did you find
"Friends, the grapevine" he explained, looking at her as a
hawk might eye up its prey. Finally and unexpectedly he laughed, a booming
laugh and flew open his arms to envelop his little sister in a big bear
hug of a welcome. She breathed him in deeply, his deep musky smell that
reminded her of so many times. Times both good and bad. He looked down
at her; he towered over her small height. "Well?" he said
"Yes it is rather" she said her eyes shifting up to see his
face, its perpetual smirk that played out on his acid dripping lips
and the wonderful raised eyebrows that suggested superiority. She could
not loom too long and found her gaze settling at the top of his chest.
"Where have you been?" she asked hesitantly "I mean"
she said, closing her eyes as a child might to chide herself at getting
an easy question at school wrong, "What have you been up too?"
"This and that," he answered hurriedly before taking her in
once more with his predatory gaze. "Prison" he finally answered.
"Ah" she said "Im
"Salright" he said, spinning round to view the office.
"I had it coming
guess" he drawled. "Youve
done well for yourself," he said and before she could say thank
you he asked; "Mother and Father," he said their names as
if they held a nasty taste in his mouth, "do you keep in touch?"
"No, um no, not really
well they wouldnt have much to
do with me after the rehab
and well, you know"
He ran a finger across the desk, "No, no I dont suppose they
would, would they?" he asked rhetorically again spitting the they
as if acidic. "You clean?"
"Two years now, almost" she said heavily, hopefully. "You?"
Alex waved his hand as if to say sometimes, sometimes not.
"Still, it was never really an issue for you was it? I mean you
saw it as a business, supply and demand" Nina stated finding a
new boldness, holding her gaze at her errant brother.
Alex sucked in air through his teeth and with a majestic flap of his
long coat tails sat down on the desk opposite. "Youd know
more about business these days sister of mine, joining the yuppie set"
he spat the last word before hurriedly adding "Im proud of
"Thank you" she replied, a little unsure. "Um, Alex,
was there anything?" Truth be told she didnt need this blast
from the past, family or not, it was scaring her, upsetting her perfect
vision. Outside the rain splattered more, the sun slipping, almost groaning
heavily down behind the skyline signalling the end of an exhaustive
day. Down on the hot streets below, flying ants scurried and made themselves
an itchy nuisance as the thunder rumbled.
"Ah" he drawled before flouncing up from the desk, his tails
flapping down like the wings of a bat before taking shape of The Count
himself. "Money" he answered.
Nina laughed in shock. "Alex, Im not exactly loaded, this
is only the start of a contract, Ive a long way yet to prove myself
"Shush," Alex soothed seductively through his pursed lips
causing Nina to pull herself up short. He was close to her again now,
she could feel his breath on her, see the fabric in his cheesecloth
shirt underneath his dark coat, see the stubble forming on his neck.
"Just a little" he explained "for old times sake?"
Nina gulped "Alex, you could work, Im getting contacts now,
it was hard for me too, getting started again, but..." she coughed
briefly as she felt his gaze studying her deeply. "With your skills,
you could easily get a job in animation or graphic design" She
said hurriedly, feeling uncomfortable. "Alex!" she said with
force, meeting his gaze. "Alex, its not too late" she
They stood like that, little more than inches apart staring at each
other as if in a battle of wills; the saved and the damned. The air
bristled both inside the office and out, as the first flash of lighting
struck. Finally Alex stopped his inspection and his features broke out
in a broad wry grin once more. Nina couldnt help but return the
smile but less confidently so. With a resigned air she placed her hand
into her pocket and producing her purse, peeled off five twenty pound
notes, bunching them in her hand she offered them to Alex. He placed
his hand over hers to take the gift, and firmly clasped her hand in
his. "Do you remember
how we used to play?" he asked,
his voice low and the words drawling even more than usual, "Before
it out of us" he said, his breath on the nape of her neck. Nina
closed her eyes to shut out the memories, a tear starting to form in
the corner of each. "Alex" she breathed out as if to ask him
to stop. She did not need those memories. It was her time now, please
let it be her time now. "Father never liked
the words dripped out of him. "Please" she called for it to
stop once more.
Alex Bale backed away from his sister slowly and with a little bow of
his head in thanks, made for the door.
Nina fought back tears. "It is good to see you" she said with
force, "Please, please take care"
"Ill endeavour to do my best," he said with his usual
caustic air, before adding "for you" with true and remarkable
Nina took a deep breath "Please" she beseeched "keep
in touch and think about the job"
He smiled "Red braces and striped shirts?" he said with an
eyebrow archly raised. He made to turn once more, before stopping as
if he remembered something. He plunged his hand deep into his voluminous
coat pocket and pulled something out that Nina couldnt quite see.
"By way of thanks" he said and threw the item across to her,
where it landed on her desk. She looked down to see what it was.
A small packet of cocaine.
Hurriedly she looked up to see her brother, but he had gone.
It rained even harder now. The noise of its heavy fall against the windows
completely taking over the room. Life wasnt perfect for Nina Bale,
but she had to try. Almost unthinking and without taking her eyes from
the door, where he last stood, she picked up the packet and threw it
in the metal bin at her feet. She had to try. Nevertheless, she knew
that it wasnt going to be easy, especially with her brother around.
Her dear, sweet, tortured Alex. He couldnt help it, and neither
could she. She had always liked a little vinegar in her salad.
Mark Cunliffe July 2007
Fiction in Dreamscapes
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