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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Fiction

Lauren Almey

As he crossed the road and headed in her direction, she saw the unashamed, unafraid smile splashed across his face, and lit up inside.

She hadn’t yet heard what he was so pleased about or proud of or had found so hilarious. He hadn’t spoken; he hadn’t yet encompassed her in his all-consuming hug. But it didn’t matter. That matchless grin meant that something was making him happy, had elevated his esteem, or amused him.
That illuminated her from the inside out.

It had been raining torrentially all morning, catching her just as she had left the house at the crack of dawn, soaking the bottom half of her jean-clad legs. As she had sat at a table in the empty seminar room reading, the hood of her sodden coat had left her with a wet-patch on one butt cheek. It still wasn’t dry, come to think of it. How much more heat could a person apply before denim caved in, goddammit?

The reading she’d done had been arduous and unnecessary- in class the group had discussed five poems she hadn’t covered yet. The sausage and cheese baguette she’d ordered to keep her energy up as she trawled through literary works had been all cheese and no sausage. Someone had asked her if she’d realised she’d pissed herself.

After spending some time crawled up in a damp ball on a squeaking chair at a wobbly desk in the overcrowded library next to some chatty foreign students for two hours, she had decided her day ought to be done, and headed home. The rain had stopped. A boy on a bike had caught her toe and made her squeal as he cycled past. A few steps later, she realised she shouldn’t walk so near to the edge of the pavement after a passing vehicle sprayed her with puddle-water. It had left her smelling somewhat ambiguous.

Above her, the clouds had begun to rumble ominously again. The shadows of miserable weather were following her smugly home, and that was still half an hour or so away. And her housemate had called this a short cut!

She had just walked past someone peering into a badly lit shop window and pinched their arse with a giggle. How was she to know that her friend Stevie from her seminar last term wasn’t the only person with a penchant for American football team jackets and grubby blonde shoulder-length hair? That old woman had called her something she hadn’t even realised people over the age of fifty knew.
Leaving the shocking pensioner way behind, she had bumped into a person even more unexpected. Embarrassingly, it had been an actual bump. Elbows had clattered and shoulders had jarred as one clumsy girl encountered a peer with even worse co-ordination skills. Following two loud exclamations of "Oi" and also "Jesus Christ", they’d realised they recognised each other. She had felt her face flush, and her annoyance at herself had only heightened the crimson coating of her makeup-less features. The girl she knew cleared her throat.
"Hey, sorry about that."
"No sorry it was me."
"No, it’s me and this hood, its like having blinkers on or whatever, my arms just…"
One of those awful silences where her stomach gripped.
"So you off home?"
"Mm, yeah, been in the library most of the day."
"Oh, yeah, me too, surprised…well, funny I didn’t see you."
"Yeah. Well, I dunno, I guess we’d be on different floors so…"
"Oh, yeah, yeah we would anyway."
"Um…it’s starting to rain again anyway so…"
"Yeah, it is, I’d better…"
"Me too, better get going."
"See you later then."
"See you then, cheers."
She’d turned away and overstepped so that her boot heel skidded down the edge of the kerb, causing her to make this bizarre spine-jerk which prevented her collapsing but knocked down completely any sense of aloofness and dignity. She cursed under her breath, recycling the previously encountered pensioner’s choice of obscenity, aiming it at floor, weather, Clumsy Girl and, most heatedly, at herself.

One of these days, she’d promised, I will walk down a street without a care in the world. Essays incomplete, hair wild, coat trashed, hands full, feet saturated, day spent less than productively, strangers impressed, enemies ignored, friends adoring, demeanour cool, unashamed, unafraid, walking home without a care in the world.

But for right there and then, one of her cares was on the opposite side of the road, stopping, skipping almost, safely negotiating the vehicles and coming towards her. There had been a few days in the past where, if in this same situation, he may not have stopped. He may have merely risen a hand, politely, perhaps slowed his pace a little tentatively, not knowing what was the best thing to do.
And she might have returned the courteous gesture, might have mirrored his uncertain stance, and then quickened her step with stiff shoulders and an indignant air. All the desires, touches, spoken and unspoken words, frustrations, inadequacies, faded feelings, accusations, demands, fears, tears, arguments and apologies filling the gulf between them back then. The gulf that had weighed him down and torn her apart.

But right now, there and then, after those days and other days of forgiving, understanding, releasing and rebuilding, it was only sweet history and a line of cars lying between them.
He was so free. It struck her every time she saw his beautiful face. That as yet unexplained smile made her heart bloom. It didn’t, and wouldn’t, ever matter if he was pleased, proud or amused because of a reason other than her, ever again- she realised that as he sprung towards her and smothered her in a hugely warm, hugely genuine, hugely platonic embrace. All she cared about was that he always had a reason to smile like that. He should never be on the other side of a gulf, standing heavy, guilty, looking at her with sorrowful eyes, and a mouth in mourning.

They stood in the gradually building rain as he told her his reason. She beamed back her happiness at his happiness, without another care in the world.

© Lauren Almey November 2005

Night, Morning, Night
Lauren Almey
She had longed to believe in monsters...

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