Shortlisted in the Funny Pearls 2020 Short Story Competition
It is only a little lie. Tiny. Almost invisible.
I fill in the remainder of the form, enter ‘pop music’ instead of ‘growing roses’ in the ‘interests’ section because I am looking for someone to share some fun. Sponging soil from zimmer frame feet isn’t fun. Then I flick through my phone for a photo. This is one of my favourites, me in that green dress. Now that diet really worked but they’re so difficult to stick to, aren’t they? I add the photo to the form and zap them both away before I change my mind.
I think I look quite – okay – in a dress, but only after the event, when I don’t look like that anymore, when the moment has disappeared like a bubble on a fountain.
It’s easy to feel isolated in your fifties. It’s not just me, it’s society. People stop including you. They think you’re past having fun, or, if you are single, a threat to their relationship. Their loss – most of the time. So sometimes you need to blur the edges, Vaseline out the boundaries, become a vignette of yourself. And it was only one tiny number, a four not a five, practically the same in the big scheme of things.
Grey is the new blonde, but not if you are already grey. I settled on purple and my long flowing curls shine like something from a Disney film. Lustrous. Perhaps the eyebrows were a step too far though. Turning sideways, I hold my breath and pull in my stomachs, but most of them spring back with my first gasp for air. Breasts that used to perch on my chest like small bantams have now flown south.
Over the next few days, replies plop into my in-box and I print them all until the coffee table is scattered with ‘possibles’. At my age, everything is a ‘possible’. From my sofa I am reminded of previous attempted relationships: the half-finished landscape painting on the wall, and, on the bookshelf, a pristine hockey stick and a snorkel still trailing a price tag.
Focusing on the current batch of hopefuls, I consign another glistening scalp to his tribe of discards and anchor the growing pile beneath my wine bottle. A man needs hair – in the right places – not sprouting out of previously unnoticed orifices. At last I find one with a good thatch and run a hand through my own curls, ignoring the tinge of lilac that shades my fingers. Closer scrutiny shows he sports a wig. Life is no longer black and white.
On a colour wheel, purple nestles snugly between magenta and violet, so I look for hair that is yellow, orange or chartreuse. The complimentary colours will make us a striking couple. It’s a little too soon to think about the right hue for bridesmaid dresses. An amber mullet captures my attention until I see his face. He has piercings like hand-holds protruding from every surface. I am reminded of adverts for assisted living.
Two more glasses of wine and I am left with Jude. ‘In my mid-thirties, laydeez, and looking for a sexually mature lady so we can make sweet music’. He plays in a rock band. An eon ago, the college folk club was the height of my social interaction and four of us had formed a group. We played at the Sally Army, Evergreens and were a particular hit with the Deaf Club. I air-guitar a few chord changes and feel an instant affinity with Jude. Can I remember how to play?
Jude has a nice face, puppy-dog eyes and a halo of shaggy ginger hair. Bonus. One of my stomachs, stirred by some distant memory, gives a nostalgic little flutter. Leaning back into the cushions, I close my eyes and picture us, side by side, instruments throbbing to the beat, strings twanging beneath our fingers. I tap out a reply: ‘Ready for you to rock my world, Jude. No strings.’ Chuckling at my own joke I lift his photo closer to my face. I screw up my eyes, and peer at it. Is it real or has he been photoshopped? Nah, a photo’s a photo, isn’t it? He’s just naturally cute.
He pings a reply. ‘Let’s raise the tempo and get those strings throbbing, girl. Vibrating to the beat…’
Suddenly warm, I drain my wine glass. That’s my boy. I’ll get myself a guitar tomorrow. We can make sweet music together. I plant a red wine kiss across his lips. I’ll practise every day until we meet. No lie, honest. Sweet dreams, Jude.
The green dress has shrunk, by several sizes. And the bust is too high. I’ve finger dried and scrunched my hair, and my left hand is purple. Will wearing one glove look pretentious? Madonna-meets-Michael-Jackson? Loo bleach removes the stain – eventually – but no amount of perfume can override the pine smell. Drenched in ‘Obsession’, I pour myself into navy jeans and overflow through the zip opening. Fastening them is only possible when I lie on my back on the floor. The muffin-hider top is loose and floaty, virginal-white, sexy. A glimpse in the mirror reminds me of Meatloaf. ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.’
There are just three other customers in the pub, all men. None of them remotely resemble my Jude. They look round when I close the door, probably due to the waft of ‘Obsession Pine’. The old man on the bar stool returns to serenading his beer. I recognise ‘Piano Man’ and concede that it takes skill to slur in three different keys simultaneously. There’s no danger that Billy Joel will be out of a job any time soon.
With one hip hitched onto a tall bar stool, I order a glass of wine. A lager would have been preferable, but there’s no way I can lie on the floor of the ladies to re-zip my jeans. A man in a grey suit sits at a low table, immersed in his laptop, tapping away with sausage fingers. He stands up to retrieve documents from his bag, and I see that his pate is as shiny as the generous seat of his trousers. Not my Jude.
A glance at my watch confirms it is five minutes past the allotted time. He should be here. Outside the window, a headless blue checked shirt is hanging up baskets of vibrant flowers along the front of the building. Trailing tails of foliage grab at his body and he eases them away from his toned, muscled torso.
The young man at the far end of the bar is drinking coffee. He gives me a longer-than-necessary look, so I return the favour. He caves before I do and looks down into his cup. Half full. He looks towards the door, glances at the bar clock and I realise that he is waiting for someone too. His slender fingers pluck at his cuff and he taps a long fingernail against his watch face. Checking. Sliding a hand over his dark hair, he smooths his ponytail between his fingers, tugging at the few strands caught in his sparse ginger goatee. There is something familiar about him.
Through the window, the basket hanger is loading tools into his van, his body flexing and pumping like a well-oiled machine. You blew it, Jude. I down the contents of my glass, slip off the stool and head off. Ponytail is a stride behind and reaches round me to pull the door open.
‘Fed up with waiting?’ I ask as we move out onto the pavement.
His brow creases and his eyes linger on my face for a moment before he gives me a curt nod. ‘Probably a lucky escape.’
As we walk off in opposite directions, the flower man pulls away from the curb. He sweeps his glance along the front of the building, checking on the baskets. His eyes slide over me, then come back for a second look. He gives me a wave and a smile.
‘Stagg 12 string electro acoustic guitar. Mint condition, reluctant sale. £150 ono.’ I add my phone number and press send. The pads of my fingers are still tender from the wasted practising, and I massage them in little circles against my thumbs. Almost instantly I get a text. Hi, locking fro a guitar. Cn I come and see it? My reply of Sure. Give me a call crosses with his Sorry. Predictive text. Looking for…. And then my phone rings. He has a nice voice, deep, resonant, tickling my ear, and I listen as he agrees to come in on his way home from work. I tuck my hair back behind my ear and forget to ask his name.
‘Hi. I’m Danny.’ He fills up the doorway. ‘Sorry about the rubbish texts. Big hands you see.’ He extends them towards me, and the rolled sleeves of his blue checked shirt creep further up his roped forearms.
‘Come in. Please. I hope it’s what you’re looking for.’ My head swims from straining my eyes upwards and it takes me a moment to regain my balance.
He steps inside and the smell of honest manly sweat hovers in my hallway. It overrides ‘Obsession Pine’.
‘I work at the garden centre…’ he pauses. ‘Don’t I know you?’ He has kind eyes, brown with flecks of caramel that dance when he laughs. And he does laugh when he remembers where he last saw me. ‘High Street. Hanging baskets.’
I nod and watch the way his lips move over his teeth. My voice is trapped in my throat, so I walk into the sitting room and watch as he lifts the guitar and strums a few chords.
Clasping his cash, I shake on the deal. His soil-grained hands are rough and there is no ring to rub against my palm. He releases his grip and teases a strand of my hair with his fingers.
‘Trailing verbena.’ His voice is soft, and I want to tilt my head so his hand cups my face, but I can’t move. A gentle furrow appears between his eyes, and I wonder if he has noticed the goose bumps that prickle my skin like stinging-nettle rash. My tongue is big and clumsy in my mouth and I can’t speak. Through the open door I watch him walk away from me down the path, slim hips scything through the air with an escort of lavender-border bees. My mind races and a cloud of warmth cocoons me.
I croak, ‘Danny baskets hanging?’ The words escape in disorder.
He stops walking, turns to face me and the caramel lights are dancing. ‘I was just thinking the same thing.’
‘Honest. Not a word of a lie.’