Friday, 31 October 2008

The New Pan

The new pan

By J. Robert Douglas

Receiving something new always has the same reaction. Presents, either birthday or Christmas, even if I am simply getting an order from something I bought over the internet or on mail order I feel the twinge of excitement and wonder of what it is, when in most cases I paid for it and am expecting it to turn up. This time wasn’t like those times though, this one really took me back to when I was young. It was a package from my Aunt, my Mum’s sister, with the same handwriting I recognised every birthday when the big brown box would come to my door. It was always a big brown box; it was part of the tradition. Even if the contents turned out to be a book, or even a cheque, it would be encased in the most grandiose packaging. She once said she had a friend who worked at the local packing factory where she would get the slightly damaged boxes that weren’t good enough for shipping. Where they came from never bothered me, neither did the contents really, it was the anticipation of trying to guess what was inside. It had been a while since I had felt this feeling, a lot of things had happened, a lot of time had passed and all these distractions had meant that my Aunt had missed on her annual routine. Looking at this new arrival in front of me, sat on the dining room table, caused me to think about the time in between, of all the reasons that had caused it to be so long.

When my Dad died it had been hard on us all. My sister by that time was living away, moving from one place to another. It had taken nearly ten days before we were able to relay the news. When she did return home, it was brief, enough time to pay her respects and fill in the gaps before she went back to where she had been the day after the funeral. My brother, just out of University, had still been living at home. Like my sister he had been here and there, using my parents’ house as he base but never really spending enough time there to realise what had been happening. Being the oldest I was the one that did see it coming, the creeping sense that the cancer he had fought off twice before was closer to winning than it had been the previous times. The only other person who truly understood the road we were going down was my Mum.

As with all my childhood experiences, the box was bound the same way. The bottom and sides were taped with a thick grey tape that was near impossible to cut through with any blade, whist the top was secured by a thinner brown tape that could be broken and cut with a pair of scissors. My Aunt was an expert on wrapping presents. In past times, especially when the contents were a lot smaller than the box, I would open it up to find either crushed paper or tiny bits of polystyrene to make up the empty space. This time, however, I was met by the sight of another box. This one bore the design of some kind of appliance company. The second box had been wedge tightly inside the first, not knowing how fragile the contents could be the only sensible way to remove whatever was inside was to again cut through the tape on the top. This time I was met by the sight of polystyrene packaging. Slowly I slipped my hands down the side in the space between the white foam and the box and jimmied out what was inside. The foam creaked in my hands and the excruciating sound reminded me of the same sensation I got when Mr Dunne used to run his fingers down the chalkboard to get our attention at school. As it came free of the box I saw the gleam of something as the light above the table reflected in the silver metal. When it was finally free parts of the foam fell to the floor, complete in their job to protect what was now evidently a saucepan.

A couple of months after the funeral and all of the paperwork and finances had been sorted out it was clear she wasn’t coping. The house had suddenly become too big for her, rattling around inside it she found herself lost in the empty time each day contained. A time before his death she had given up work to look after him and spend more time with him in what she seemed to guess were his last days. She was even more reluctant to go back to work than she was to spend time alone. She said things had moved on in the world, that she wouldn’t understand how to work with other people, to fit in with their timetables and deadlines. Yet, being in that house alone seemed from everyone else’s point of view to be doing her even more damage.
It was impossible to get my sister involved with anything more than tacit decisions. Her focus was now on her life even more than it had been before Dad’s death. I had started to have more contact with her but it was becoming less meaningful, she always had children to bath or a husband to spend quality time with whenever I turned the conversation to more important matters, matters I needed her help with. My brother was even less reliable. Two weeks after the funeral he finally stopped using the house as his base. I couldn’t blame him in some ways, Mum had turned very dependent on everyone and him being in the house more than the rest of us meant he was being suffocated by her constant neediness. Reluctantly I made the move to take her in, at least for a short while.

It was confusing. Why a saucepan? The kitchen was by far my least favourite room in the house; I had even moved the microwave into the dining room for ease. With the freezer in the garage, there weren’t many times in the day that I spent more than a couple of minutes in there. As a kid it had been different but for now there was no reason for me to use a saucepan, let alone be grateful to receive one. In my attempt to understand the specific reason for the gift I looked around it once more for clues. Lifting the lid I found a piece of paper inside with the simple note, “For making soup.”

Within a couple of days I had started to feel what my brother had. I had been used to living alone in my house but now my guest was dominating the time I usually spent by myself relaxing. Probably more as a force of habit, or maybe as a need to be useful, she automatically reverted to her mothering instincts. As I returned from work each day I began to notice the different jobs around the house she had been doing. I had always seen myself as clean but the house started to take on a whole new level of tidiness. My dinner was always already in the oven when I returned, I was starting to feel like my Dad had felt when he used to tell his friends with pride how well trained he had his wife. As the weeks went on it turned into a routine, and the initial suffocation was now contentment that I didn’t have to worry about these little things. And although her company was sometimes not the most thrilling it was nice to have my Mum back.
Her cooking was exquisite, especially the soup. As children we had spent many afternoons in the kitchen with her making a soup for the evening meal, each of us with a different job in the process.

The saucepan remained on the dining room table for days. Each morning and evening I would look at it and the note sat next to it, wondering what I should do with it. There was no way I could return it, or give it away as the next time she visited she would ask to see it, the only option seemed to store it, but I left it where it was on the table.
About a week and a half later something changed. I had been in a local café with friends and one of them had ordered the soup. It was vegetable, just like Mum made with us all. Remembering this time again sparked something in my head. The next time I went to the shops, instead of my usual microwave meals I bought some vegetable and the other ingredients to make the soup. Getting home I added the new saucepan to the pile of washing up and washed it in preparation for using it.

Being an adult, I no longer helped her in the kitchen, but I used to sometimes stop in the doorway and watch her at work. We still had soup every once in a while and she executed the recipe the same way as she had always done. First she would peel the potatoes and carrots, before washing and dicing the leeks and chopping the onion. Next she would place the pan on the heat and drop a knob of butter into it, pausing her actions to watch it slowly melt before piling in the vegetables and sweating them for fifteen minutes. She would then take her time to make the stock and when the time had passed, add it to the now sizzling mash of vegetables. At this point she would go about cleaning down the surface and getting the bread out to warm, every so often returning to the pan to stir it and add just the right amount of seasoning. Watching from the doorway as an adult was as magical was being part of it as a kid. It was always my sister’s job to peel and slice the potatoes and carrots. My brother would stand on a stool at the sink and wash the leeks before passing them onto me to slice. My Mum would then see to the onion, cutting it finely in a way we never could. We would then all four of us take a butter knife and drop into the hot pan one each, all watching, all waiting to pile in the vegetables.

Stepping into the kitchen to cook was hard. The only use it got was for washing up and storing plates and cups. The fridge sat in the corner and contained the few fresh things I ate, milk, cheese etc. The light groaned out of lack of use as I turned it on. It was even rarer on a Saturday that I even entered for the washing up or the fridge.

Living with Mum now was usual, it was everyday and each time I came home, whether after work or on the weekend, I expected to find her there doing something. Things had started to change, she seemed slower, less focussed on things than she had been after settling in but getting on with my life I overlooked the signs.
On that Saturday I had been out the night before at a friend’s house to celebrate a birthday and stayed out. Returning home my eyes were bleary as I pulled into my space outside. Putting my key into the top lock I twisted it and pushed but I was met by the force of the bottom lock still in place. This was unusual as it was always one of Mum’s first chores to put out the rubbish and recycling from the day before in the morning, and by this time it was past ten. Finally clicking both locks open I went it. It was eerie how quiet it was as I passed over the threshold. I placed my bag and coat on the table inside the door and went into the kitchen. The light flicked on easily and filled the darkness of downstairs. At first I didn’t see her, the drip of the cold tape and the burr of the fridge door being open took my attention away from the floor.

With the light on I started to arrange my ingredients on the surface. I placed the vegetables into the different groups my Mum had always done for us. The ones to the peels on the chopping board, those needing rinsing near the sink and the onion by itself, set aside for her to do. Peeling was something I wasn’t used to doing; my sister had done it because my sister was good at it. She could take off the skin of one potato in one go whereas I would hack at it, often taking most of the potato with the skin. I moved onto the carrots and then washed the leeks, removing the dirt from inside the leaves. As I picked the onion up I selected the sharp knife from the block. In doing so I caught my finger. Blood dropped to the floor.

It had been the pool of blood that I was drawn to first. Her arm sprawled backwards and one of her fingers lay in the sticky wetness. She had obviously been there for a few hours, all night they later reckoned, as the immediate colour of red was now a darker copper, lying in contrast to the cream of the cupboards. Her legs looked awkward as she lay there and her head was propped up against the cooker, meaning her back was twisted at an angle to the floor. Her face was the last thing I looked at. Pale and worried around her mouth, her eyes seemed calm as they stared back at me.
I was later told she had had a bloodclot on her brain for a few weeks; it had obviously been jarred by something, more than likely a fall and she had collapsed on the kitchen floor during the night. When I later returned to the house, I noticed the only thing she had needed was the saucepan from the cupboard; the vegetable sat in groups on the side, the onion separate.

I wiped the blood from the floor, pausing, and continued the process. Once the chopping was done I took the new pan from the drainer and placed it on the heat. I mixed the stock and took the butter from the fridge. Slowly I placed four knobs into the pan. I stopped and watched the butter as it melted and swirled around on the new shiny surface. Dropping in the vegetable I considered the note: “For making soup.” For mending time.



By J. Robert Douglas

To Helen.


Every Wednesday morning was the same. Wake to the noise of the radio, pull on clothes, check email and start what was usually the longest and most gruelling day of the week. Jen hated this day and hated the feeling it brought. The reason Wednesday was so much more horrible than the rest of the week was the 7.30am American history class she had on the other side of campus. It was a required credit needed for her Major and he had no desire at all to learn about FDR and his work plans, she wanted sleep.
Slamming the halls door behind her she climbed the cobbled hill to connect with the main route way across the green. She was keen to be on time and secure a seat at the back of the room where she could properly wake up without Professor Windleby picking on her to answer his most inane questions. She couldn’t understand how a man in his 60s could be so alert and so forcefully focussed at that time in the morning. The other main reason she wanted a perch so far back was John.

Sally awoke to the rustle of Amberlina nosing around in the newspapers. She had only had the tabby kitten three weeks but already it was a routine noise. Glancing across at the clock the panic dulled to relief as she realised it was a Wednesday, her day off. Every other day she would be up jetting around the apartment in search of keys, wallet or whatever item had decided to be her time delay that morning. But not Wednesday. Wednesday meant a lie-in. It meant she could take her time and do things for herself.
After feeding her new best friend she poured herself some corn flakes and trotted out onto the balcony, the only major selling point of her otherwise boring living space. The clouds parted just as she took her usual Wednesday seat overlooking the back end of the park. Opening out in front of her was the scene of the early morning day. Energised young college kids walked with purpose across the path ways leading to their education, whilst other less energised peers dragged themselves along behind in a scene watched through squinted eyes almost represented two of the main stages of evolution. Sally had never been to college, indeed finishing high school was still on her to-do list but she felt a feeling of belonging amongst the undergraduates that she called neighbours. As she contemplated what she could do with such an opportunity filled, glorious morning, her cell next to her vibrated. It was a message from her current squeeze, Sam.

John was six foot, brown haired and not too dissimilar to a young Harrison Ford. For 4 weeks Jen had been taking this class and for 4 weeks John had been arriving late. He always made an entrance that failed to hide the fact that yes he was late and no he had no valid reason why it happened every week. Struggling with the door handle he would always fumble his way into the room, scan the already full classroom for a space and then head to the seat in a manner that disrupted as many people as he could. Then when he reached his desired destination he would come across the realisation that the seat he was sure was empty was actually occupied with a quite bulky, and therefore strangely unmissable football player, probably repeating the class for the second or third time, who had fallen asleep in the chair and therefore slumped out of John’s vision. The hero of Jen’s piece would then rotate, again with the most distraction possible to finally locate the only empty chair in the room, a broken and half rotting wooden stool that the janitors must have repeatedly overlooked on their rounds. Safely in his place Jen’s eyes would return to Windlebury at the front, or at least partially. The fact that the old Prof had continued oblivious throughout was a marvel that could never be explained.

The text message read: “Meet me at Casho’s. 3. Bring a trend.” Jo always found that last sign off amusing. It had been a staple for weeks when it had been picked it up from a quite over-slurring college guy at a party the two of them had crashed. Casho’s was a regular haunt on a Wednesday or any day when Sally didn’t have to work. It was guaranteed that if she had nothing better to occupy her time she would find Sam at Casho’s.
With the time and place set for her first major plan of the day, Sally re-entered the house to run a bath. Her bathroom was the size of a big cupboard with enough room to accommodate a bath, wash basin and toilet with no room to spare. The colour scheme was a wonderfully uninspiring yet practical white that made the space feel more like a void than a living area, which was a shame as Sally enjoyed the idea of living in her bathroom. Taking a bath was one of the few things in her life she liked to call an extravagance, a treat she could give herself every day if she chose. Other girls spoke of the delights of chocolate or a good Rosé, but all Sally needed was hot water and soap, or occasionally a fragranced bubblebath, a super treat.
As she ran the bath water and dropped in the soap to make the water softer and more inviting she slowly slipped off her dressing gown and admired herself in the mirror. There were few times that she was happy to spend more than necessary in front of her own reflection, but her Wednesday morning bath was one of them. Scanning her eyes down the image in front of her she focussed in on her naturally lightly tanned skin, one of her most drawing features to her and others. Working down past her collarbones her gaze paused at the top of her breast, small yet malleable Sally had always loved the way they looked naturally, a fact that had drawn many male admirers when she left them bare under a t-shirt of blouse. Her nipples began to rise as she remembered back to times she had distracted her friends’ boyfriends at parties when she wore white or had moved in a way that revealed their unexpected freedom. Moving on her eyes followed the track between her breasts down to her stomach, an area that in her teenage years she had been keen to flaunt in a way she couldn’t her breasts, but which now had become a part of her body she didn’t want to draw attention to.
The noise of the water getting louder pulled her eyes and concentration away from the top of her thigh and she moved to stop the taps. Testing the temperature with her elbow in the fashion her mother had always done when she was a child, she slowly lowered herself into the tub. Having already made sure her phone was turned off she was ready to escape into a place where everything stopped and she was able to dwell on the pleasures and relaxations of life. The otherwise disliked shape of her midriff was distorted by the lapping water into something she could accept. As the warmth of the water and the softness of the soap enveloped her and eased the strains that the extra hours of sleep couldn’t cure she felt the contentment of being with herself.
Her hands began to massage the froth of the soap into the arms that she raised above the waterline. Making sure not to rush, as was usually the case of a morning, she kneaded the cleansing into her underarms and around the back to her shoulders. As the hands moved downwards the way her eyes had done in the mirror she again paused on her breasts. This time instead of remembering the eyes of uncontrollable boys she flicked back to her most recent encounter with Sam. Closing her eyes and again feeling the warmth surrounding her, memories warped into fantasies of times she hadn’t enjoyed yet or situations unfamiliar yet inviting to both her mind and body. Leaving one hand to continue to massage her nipples her other slipped down pausing again on her stomach. The step into the dream world put her at ease with herself and her skin tingled at the physical memory of kisses and touches that had tantalised her to a level of enjoyment that was almost better than what was to come. The rest of her was eager for hand to continue down but her fingertips again waited before slowly stroking the top of her thigh. It was now between her legs that she felt the lapping of the water. Everything about her had started to focus on one part of her body and as her fingers began the soft caress she again imagined the touches and kisses of another on her. With her hand now rocking and rotating her heart began to beat faster giving the sensation that it was her whole self that was causing the water to lap at a high pace, and not just the effect of her wrist. Joining the movement of the water her other hand began to become more frantic and erratic as it longed to touch every part of her fulfilling the need to enhance the situation all over. Closing on her climax, Sally slipped her whole body under the surface, bringing the warm tide over her face and taking her deeper into her dream like state. Water from the tub sloshed on the floor beneath as she pressed her fingers further into herself to emulate the presence of another in her water. Untamed and unaware her body released the final end to her hidden story. Rising to the surface she drew in the air and let out a sign of satisfaction and a shiver of reality as the cold air hit her warm body.

Jen sat and watched John snore for about 15 minutes before she decided to wake him. The lecture had finished and the room had emptied but Jen had a strange compulsion to stay. She had no clue what she would once he woke, or indeed how long she would stay if he didn’t. It was partly amusing and partly intriguing to watch a man she hardly knew, who she had only ever had jolted small-talk conversations with, sleep next to her. She thought to herself that maybe it would be a way to start their next conversation, to tell a white lie and say the lecture had only just ended and hope that he didn’t look at this watch and work out the truth. She could steal his watch as well, she thought.
As these frantic and illogical thoughts were swirling in the head the door swung open and banged back on its hinges. The next class was to begin in fifteen minutes and the professor was coming in to ready his notes. John sat bolt awake. His head rotated, looking around the room like a startled owl, scanning his surroundings for an explanation of what was going on. Slowly his eyes focussed on Jen, who was now sat wondering how she could explain her being the only person, besides the new professor, in the room.
“Hi” he yawned, his mouth tasting the air as he spoke. “Did I miss much?”
“No” responded Jen, annoyed at herself for not answering with something witty or non-monosyllabic.
Glancing at this watched he half asked himself, half asked Jen what the time was. In an attempt to explain that fact that she was indeed the only remaining person, apart from John, from a lecture that had ended now twenty minutes ago, Jen sort for a conversation starter.
“I thought you were an interesting case study, I’m a psychology major, we’ve been looking at non-conscious behaviour.” Jen was unsure if there was such a thing as non-conscious behaviour and being an English major wondered to herself if it should indeed be unconscious and not non-conscious.
“What did you find?” John retorted, seemingly fully awake and ready to exchange witty chat with a girl who had been so obviously watching him sleep.
“Oh, not much. That you snore I guess. Anyway we should probably get out of here, the next class is due to start I think and the guy at the front seems to be wondering what we are doing here.” She said, whispering the last part. “Do you wanna grab a coffee? My treat for watching you sleep for so long.”
“I have to get back. Football practise in 2 hours. But if you want to grad a drink tonight I will be at the bar on the corner of fifth and State from seven.”

It was about 3.15pm and Sally was walking to the end of College green. She watched the people strolling past her, as would fit with the setting, most were college students. It was times like this that she loved, feeling like she belonged to something that she didn’t actually belong to. She dressed like them, listened to same music as them and probably read a lot of the same books as them but she was just Sally from Lakewood, Ohio who had moved south to work in a coffee shop for a change of scene.
Coming to the end of the pathway she quickened her step, conscious of the fact that it was fifteen minutes after the time she was meant to meet Sam. Sam wouldn’t be too bothered that she was late, she would probably not even notice, but Sally liked to keep appointments. Growing up her mother had always reminded her that she was sixteen days later arriving at birth and ever since she had made a concerted effort to make up for this, or at least she said. As she passed the shop that sat next to her rendezvous point she caught a glimpse of her hair in the window. After getting out of the bath she spent ten minutes arranging and then rearranging her style, using a new product she had picked up at the salon the last time she was there but had not had the chance to use. The sight of the reflection pleased her, she had manipulated it so that the ends flicked out. If she were to put a word to describe it she would have used pizzazz or even pow, some word that hinted at the energy and spontaneity she currently felt. Thinking about this feeling and its description put a new kick in her step and she entered the bar in a jovial mood.
Casho’s was so ironic it was almost beyond funny. Everything about the place was boisterously stereotypical. If it wasn’t for the fact that it sat in the centre of a thriving college town it would have been the kind of place where hobos and new divorcees would be welcomed as staple customers. It had originally been called Johnny’s as a nod by a former owner to Johnny Cash, and some of the old memorabilia sat in darkened corners. One year a former undergraduate who loved the town too much graduated and decided to buy the bar with borrowed money from daddy. To fit with the frat boy tradition of adding an ‘o’ sound to the end of perfectly respectable names and thus turning them into a jokey counterpart, he took the reference to the Man in Black and re-christened the place Casho’s. The interior was still as dark and shadowy at it had been in its former life, as you entered the first thing you were greeted with was the bar that sat dead centre. Dotted around bar stools and elevated tables cluttered the path to the counter, making it so that on busy nights it was a struggle to navigate the floor space without bumping into at least five people to get to your destination. On the walls hung pictures of differing sports team affiliated to the university along with famous people who had not drunk at the bar but had been made to look like they had but the means of photoshop. Directly about the bar as a centre piece was an example of this: a group of ageing frat boys, friends of the owner, gathered around a classic shot of Johnny Cash himself, made to look as if he was a long time drinking buddy of them.
Taking all this in for the thousandth time, Sally eased herself across the empty floor space to where Sam was sitting. Feeling playful she planted a kiss on Sam’s lips.

Jen had always enjoyed going out. It was something that seemed to be rare now compared to her first year at college. Back then her life, and those of others around her, was more party focussed. It went with the remit of being a freshman. But now things were more concentrated on schooling and aiming for graduation. She didn’t mind, it actually made going out more fun. The whole process of preparing for a big night, instead of just another evening in just another bar, and this time was even more special.
On practically the whole walk home Jen obsessed over the conversation she had had with John, in particular his part of it. He seemed so nonchalant about the whole affair, he would be in a bar from eight. It was the word from which was interesting. He gave the implication that he was going to be there anyway, that it wasn’t an arrangement as such, but an invitation to something that was already happening. He didn’t say, ‘shall we meet in the bar around eight’ or even ‘shall I been in the bar from eight’. He would be there, she could come. He might’ve well said ‘yeah see ya around’ to her come-on. It had obviously bothered Jen because she was again thinking about it has she got ready.
Having already showered she was going through the process of laying out potential outfits on the bed. This too was becoming a bit obsessive, however this obsession was not new. Ever since her first date in junior high she had gone through the same meticulous regiment of making what she saw as the most important decision of the night. Her grandmother, when she was growing up had always said that the most important reaction you get from a man is the reaction you see on his face when you walk in the room for the first time. She had many times enjoyed the story of when her grandmother had walked down the stairs on the night of her junior high prom and seen the expression of wonder, delight and awe of her to be husband, and Jen’s grandfather. For the night of her junior prom, Jen had hoped for the same thing, but a number of years and boyfriends later she was still yet to experience that reaction.
The decision was now between three combinations. Mostly they were mixtures of trusted clothing but even with prior knowledge she still questioned whether she would look good in what she had placed out of her bed. It was still only 1pm but this process would continue up until the last minute, just before she headed out the door. Each combination would elicit, she hoped, a different reaction and part of what she had to decide was what she wanted from the evening. Did she want to have an evening where she got to know John, discussed why he was taking their shared class, what position he played on the football team, what his home town was like? Did she want to get to know his friends who would undoubtedly be there and chat with them about how they knew John and what they liked to do for fun? If so, she would go for the outfit which sent out the message of her being stylish yet mildly conservative. On the other hand did she want to be flirtatious? Did she want to spend the evening with John by himself, wean him away from his buddies and give him the hint that in the future the two of them could spend their time in more intimate settings? If she wanted this, then she would stump for something with appeal, something that whispered her sexual side and showed off what she had to offer. The third option was a simple choice: did she want to get laid? Tonight? Did she want to bare enough flesh, with just enough modestly, to pull him out of the bar early enough that he could perform and get him back to her place? If she wanted this, she also had to decide how to tidy the tip of her room, and possibly clean the sheets. She had a lot of deciding to do and was glad to she had over six hours to do so.

Sally had spent many hours in Casho’s with Sam. The two of them had met there on the first occasion Sally had visited the place. She had gone with her friends from the coffee house she worked in and immediately she was taken by how dire and drab the setting was. After a few drinks her feelings for what she saw as uninteresting and generically soulless her lack of interest had turned to boredom and she went to the bar. There she met a slender blond girl who had the air of someone who was carefree and overwhelming engaging. She wore a t-shirt that bore the face of Brian Wilson and a denim skirt that on anyone else would have looked dated but on her fitted with a certain style that went against conventions and norms. Sam had been the first thing to distract her from a mood of wanting to go home.
It had been nearly 6 months since their meeting but every time Sally spent any time with Sam she had this same memory jump into her mind. In recent times she had become conscious of this and wondered that it meant. Part of her felt it was simply romantic nostalgia but another part wondered if long of the times when their relationship was young and exciting. Either way she was enjoying this time with Sam, her good mood taken from her walk to the bar had not been dampened by her surroundings. Listening to old rock and country songs playing through the speakers, choices which would be replaced by dance and hip-hop records as the evening revellers appeared, she looked around the room at the people choosing to inhabit this dark enclave on such a nice day. She and Sam looked out of place with the people around them, if it had been 8pm or later they would have been another pair of faces in the crowd, but their youth and unweathered skin seemed somehow wrong. In one corner sat a brace of men who looked like they wanted to join the Hell’s Angels but had been disappointed by the fact that members had to own motorcycles. In the neighbouring booth sat a couple, male and female versions of the same person, sporting long white scraggly hair, leather jackets and tight stonewash jeans. Their faces reflected the same expression as everyone in the room, pale and distracted, unsure where in the world they exactly were and how they got to such a stage in their lives. Looking further around the room Sally realised that although these sights were interesting to study and take in, it was also depressing to be in their company. Making an executive decision she started the first conversation in the bar for fifteen minutes that didn’t involve the words whiskey.
“If we could be anywhere else right now, where would you take us?” She asked of Sam.
“Chernobyl” said Sam glibly, not turning to face Sally.
“Auswitz” returned the response, not picking up on the seriousness in Sally’s voice.
“Do you know where I would take us?”
“New Jersey, just outside of Newark where all you can see in train tracks and water towers.”
“Sandusky, Ohio. Just outside where the lake meets the trees, the amusement park is in the distance but it is far enough away to not hear the screams. So serene.”
“Or we could be in bed.” Sam said looking around for the first time, smiling a grin that hinted at the playful nature Sally had seen on their first meeting.

It was now 6.55pm and Jen slowly descended the stone steps that led from her shared apartment to the sidewalk. Making sure she carefully worked her way down Jen thought about her plan for the evening. The outfit she had decided to go with resembled something between options 2 and 3. Her aim for the evening was the same as if she had gone fully for option 3, she did not want to be returning alone, but her outfit was more subtle that it would have been two years ago. Either she had become more mature or less confident but she wanted to be less blatant with her intentions.
She crossed the road and made her way to the entrance of the green. At the entrance along side a crest of the University stood a statue of one of the founders of the town. To Jen it reminded her of the dad who had died 3 years previously, he had the same jaw line and moustache as the stone giant stood guarding the gateway. Jen liked to walk this way for this reason, to be looked down upon and realise she could at least in her mind be closer to home than she was. This time, however, she did wonder what her father would think of his daughter setting out on a night that had the primary aim of sex.
The college green once one walked through the stone gateway was a vast of grass that had been cut up by multiple paths. Each led to different parts of the campus or linked to different sections of the main town. On a busy weekday morning if someone were to look down from one of the apartments that overlooked it they would see different images of students and professors making their ways to and from classes. Each person had their own story and each person had their own world. Jen loved the idea of how life even in such a small town could be made up of so many stories and so many destinations. The pathways of the green met at different points and on some days people would meet, either by chance or by routine and brush past each other or simply glance making the smallest of connections and recognitions that there were others or similar journeys.
Walking across the green, Jen wondered whether she would meet anyone one at this hour or simply walk through this part of her trail alone. Stopping to scan the space in front of her she located 2 possibilities. The first was what looked like a professor from the University, an older man with a grey sweater and brown trousers walked with his head down along the parallel pathway. He seemed lost in thought and contemplation as occasionally he would stumble onto the grass before realising what had happened and rectifying the situation. From what Jen could see, he was talking to himself, possibly running through a powerful equation or reciting an epic poem. Jen’s possible connection was halted as he stopped suddenly and sat himself on one of the benches dotted around. At this Jen retrained her gaze onto the second possibility. A young couple of girls, probably the same age as Jen were walking directly towards her, if they didn’t decide to deviate from their path they would walk past her probably in the centre of the green. They were walking arm in arm and seemed solemn in the way they were acting. One, the smaller of the two with blind hair, was looking around as they walked, taking in the evening and the birds fluttering in the overhanging trees above. The another was much more introverted, her eyes lay on the ground, counting her steps or surveying the landscape of the cobbles, she seemed to be avoiding the other who made fleeting efforts to distract the downward stare. Their picture was weird, an oxymoron of sorts. One the one hand their showed the signs on intimate friendship, two close friends embraced in their walk, if they had been male and female, Jen thought, they would be taken as lovers. But on the other hand they were in completely different places, on completely different journeys across the green. As they neared, Jen became intrigued with their stories, keen to quicken their meeting and hopeful they wouldn’t see her, she upped her pace bringing closer the meeting. For this time her thoughts of John and the evening to come, were forgotten, pushed to somewhere else in her head.
Ten or so steps away from the passing, Jen slowed to savour the moment. Both of them continued to play the same roles, it was the brunette, the one avoiding the blond that was most interesting. Conscious that her walk would take her directly through the pair she adjusted her movements to pull to the left, making her meeting closer to the brunette.
As the couple were about to pass, they met eyes. The brunette raised her head for the first time on the green. Glancing for a couple of seconds her blue eyes met what was a focussed stare from Jen. Her mouth seemed to want to smile as she looked at Jen but the emotions of whatever had happened made her lips frown. As she passed on by and continued on, Jen fought the urge to look back, the moment seemed to pass and slowly the purpose of her evening can back into mind.

Sally had been waiting on her bar stool for half an hour. The flirtatious remarks made by Sam had begun to dull as she watched the conversation going on by the restroom door. After the two of them had made a decision to leave Sam had nipped to the toilet before their walk to her apartment. However, as she pushed the door to enter the room she had been met by the outgoing figure of a person she seemed to know. To Sally she was a stranger but Sam seemed keen to forget their impending departure, or indeed her need to use the facilities, and was engaged in a hearty discourse. As she had watched this unfold over the past 30 minutes, seeing at least six people excuse themselves to pass the couple blocking the door who were making no attempt to move themselves or invite others into the chat.
The biggest issue Sally had was that Sam was touching and had started to do so from the moment she met with this stranger. When Sam was flirting, she touched. Sally had seen it once before from an outsider perspective and on that occasion Sam had successfully blagged the two of them into a student only event at the local nightclub. Apart from that the only flirty touching Sam did was on Sally, and this was becoming a rarer occurrence. The girl being touched was an interesting sight. Standing half a foot taller than Sam she had wavy brown hair that stopped at the bottom of her ears. She wore red-rimmed glasses that perfectly matched her red t-shirt, embossed with a design from the Peanuts cartoon. Her obviously planned outfit was made up of a black cord skirt that showed off her thin and gorgeous legs which were further extenuated by red high heels. As Sally’s jealousy grew she started to imagine her, what looked like expensive shoes, strutting up and down a sidewalk late at night looking for a floor to rest on for the evening.
Unsure exactly what to do with the fact that her girlfriend had spent the last half hour ignoring her and outrageously flirting with a bespectacled hooker, Sally weighed up her options. She could leave, walk home and try and save something of the evening. Or she could confront the situation and introduce herself into the conversation. She glanced at the clock, with all their people watching and now chatting to ramdons, in Sam’s case, it was 5.45pm. Reluctantly she dropped her feet from the rest on the stool and made her way slowly across the room. As she walked she tried to look and feel nonchalant about the whole situation, she was going to make a confrontation but not in a confrontational way. Easing her way through the gaps between tall tables and stools she stepped closer to the restroom entrance. As she neared the giggles and jokey tone of what was obviously an easy conversation became louder, what had looked like flirting from the other side of the room had become even more blatant from a closer distance. Sam stood with her back to her, while the object of Sally’s envy and distaste looked outward, glancing her eyes in non-recognition was Sally made for the door.
“’cuse me.” She uttered forcefully, placing a hand in the manner of a stranger wanting to pass on the small of Sam’s back. The hooker stepped back making room for Sam to get out of the way, a movement she had repeated throughout the last thirty minutes for the other passers. Breaking her flow only briefly, Sam muttered an apology and flicked her eyes towards Sally. Purposely not meeting the gaze, Sally brushed passed, only at the door looking back to see the reaction she got. Looking back at her, Sam did nothing. Her eyes were on the doorway and Sally but her concentration remained on the conversation, making no effort to realise her situation.
As the door swung back to rest on its hinges Sally hesitated for what seemed like four hours. Her attempt at confronting the situation had backfired. True, she could go back out and start her speech, using the fact that Sam all but denied her existence as evidence that something was happening. Yet, a huge part of her didn’t want to do anything. She moved onwards through the second door into the restrooms. The familiar settings, where she had enjoyed many conversations, hers and the overheard ones of others, now felt alien. For all the hatred she had of Casho’s and its discoloured interiors and dysfunctional clientele, she had rarely had a bad time there. There had been evening when she had been bored, or exhausted from work, but never a bad time. Until now. Standing amongst the stray toilet tissue, looking into the smeared mirror, she came to the realisation that her girlfriend was outside flirting with someone else, and even worst had ignored her as she walked past. Up until that moment she could have written it off as Sam getting caught up in seeing a long lost friend and forgetting Sally, she would have accepted this excuse from Sam, but the blatant denial meant something more. It was true that things between them hadn’t been great for a few weeks, but she had put this down to boredom, to not doing anything exciting and new, they had even had a conversation that concluded such ideas. But she had never thought it meant anything more than a down phase in their relationship.
Sally woke from staring at these thoughts and herself in the mirror by the sound of the outside door closing. Half thinking it to be Sam, either coming to explain herself, or at the very least complete the task she had set out on 45 minutes before, she turned to the doorway. Instead or her hoped encounter, the aged woman from the identical pairing came through. She glanced with a questioning look at Sally and entered the nearest cubicle. Conscious that her stance did indeed look weird, she entered another of the cubicles and perched herself on the rim. Completely unsure what to do, she cried. She had come from her wonderful morning, with the sun rising across the green and her following bath, to sitting in a toilet cubicle alone and unknowing of what to do.
About half an hour later Sally heard the outside door bang again as another person passed through it. She was sure the older lady must have left in the mean time, although she had not heard the sounds of flushing or the door going. Either way she guessed that the sound that had woken her from her daze was someone coming in. Like a child listening in a game of hide and go seek she held her breath to help her hearing, to see who had come to break her solitude. As she heard the far door bang, she exhaled, amusing that another customer had come to use the facilities, but this sound was followed by the bang of the second door in the same manner, the door next to hers. Finally she saw her door flex with applied pressure followed by her name. After a lack of responses the voice, now recognisable added,
“What’s up?”
The question seemed wrong, different to what she had expected. It was, to her at least, obvious what was up, what was wrong. She held her breath again and waited the silence out.
“I do hope it’s you behind the door….I guess I should be the one talking. Sorry about earlier, I didn’t know what to do. That was Kassy, you know the girl who works in the department store in the shoe department. My ex, Kassy.”
Sally knew who Kassy was. She had actually met her but at the start of their relationship both Sam and Sally had spent a lot of time talking about their previous partners and Kassy had been a name she had heard hundreds of times, mostly in anger but occasionally she had thought, in regret.
“Anyway, she was just passing through, making use of the bathroom and we got caught talking about the thens and nows and how we got here. I wanted to introduce you but….”
The end of the sentence hung in the air as Sam tried to find the right words to finish her excuse.
“You decided to ignore me and deny all knowledge of my existence and in turn our relationship.” Sally said, finishing the sentence for her. At this she went silent again, listening to the stifled sighs from outside the cubicle. She knew Sam well enough, she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about and was thinking of a retort that didn’t show her annoyance at what she saw as Sally’s petulance and childishness. As the silence and time passed, Sally weighed up the options. She decided that a toilet cubicle, which was beginning to reveal its deeper smells, was not the place to make relationship defining conclusions.
“Meet me in the bar in 5 minutes. Let’s go back to mine and talk.”
Hearing the sense of triumph in Sam’s response she heard the door bang again as she left. In her sense of despair Sally was unsure what exactly would happen on their arrival at her place, all she knew was that she wanted out of the dingy cubicle. Leaving across the bar floor she noticed the day time mainstays had started to be replaced by the night time revellers in need of somewhere to start a party, something she wasn’t in the mood for.

Jen’s confidence was turning to nervousness as she spotted to neon signs in the window of the bar come into site. She had been into the bar named Casho’s on one previous occasion and hadn’t taken to it. The place seemed ok on the outside but inside, especially of an evening, it was a dirty wateringhole that seemed to have pretensions of grandeur. Crossing the road the butterflies in her stomach were taking over. She had only spoken to John for more than five minutes once in her life, and that was an occasion when he had asked her to explain a homework assignment to him, twice. She knew he was a football player and she knew he had gorgeous eyes, that was all the information she had at her disposal to start a conversation, and she doubted the second piece would come in too useful.
As the door opened at her push, her eyes readjusted to the interior lights. Even at 7.15pm the place was starting to sweat along with the bodies in the room. Apparently Casho’s during the day was a different sight, full of drunks and lonely men, probably newly divorced, but at night it was the place to start drinking, though Jen couldn’t see why. As she scanned the room she took in the sight. There seemed to be too kinds of people that inhabited such a place at that time of day: the football or basketball jock, clad in fitted t-shirt and jeans topped off with gelled hair that pointed in more different directions that most of them could probably count; the second type of person was the female of the species, dressed in short skirt, tight strapless top and high heels. If someone had emptied the contents of a brothel into the bar it would be near impossible to an investigator which were the working ladies and which were the college girls. If Jen had really been a psychology major she would have enjoyed studying the body language of the girls, all seemingly keen to bag themselves man for the night. At this thought Jen almost felt hypocritical, knowing that she too was on the hunt.
Smiling to herself at this thought she looked again through the crowd. Searching for John, her smiled faded. He looked good, clad in the uniform of his kind, yet different, he stood out. Faces seemed drawn toward him, laughing at this jokes, one of the putrid hyenas being what looked like a girlfriend, his girlfriend. She was clasped onto his arm, revelling in being attached to the man of such attention, she stroked his forearm and beamed out across the bar, her eyes catching Jen’s for a second. If a psychology professor had been in the bar at that moment they would have hoped Jen wasn’t one of their students, because as she now realised, she had read the situation at the lecture hall wrong. John seemed hugely keen to have people around him. He didn’t seem now to be the same person that so clumsily came into class every Wednesday morning, his cluelessness was replaced by overtly forward confidence in social situation. Why he didn’t simply enter the room, declare the words ‘I am here’ to the rest of the class and then dispel with one finger a lesser student from their chair was unclear, as the John stood in front of Jen now seemed at home with such behaviour.
Jen had only one thing she could do. She left.

Sally met Sam outside. The night seemed colder now, changed. She took Sam by the arm without saying a word and let herself be led across the road towards her apartment. There were two ways to get home from the bar and as Sam started them both on the track for the first one, she uttered her first word since leaving the bathroom stall. On hearing the word “green” Sam seemed content in letting Sally decide which way to make their journey. It was slightly the longer of the two ways but Sally always enjoyed walking across the green and even in her current mood it gave her a feeling of comfort.
The fact that she was being led by Sam meant that her eyes were free to wander the landscape in front of them. She flittered back and forth from different sights on the ground and on the path keen not to meet Sam’s glances in any way. As far as she was concern there wouldn’t be any talking just yet, and even though it seemed Sam was very much in control, making her leave the toilet and then leading their way, Sally did have some growing feelings of where they were going. As they entered the green proper, Sally saw the familiar path ways in front of them spread out. They always represented possibilities to her, different options of where to go and how to get there, they also represented possibilities of meetings. At such a time it wasn’t probable that they would get many options, not like a morning, but in front of them a couple of chances were evident.
Directly in front of their path, going the same way as them was the figure of an older man. Without seeing his face it was hard to tell, but he seemed like he could be one of the many college professors, he also looked drunk. Every so often he readjusted his walk as he nearly stumbled on the grass, he was obviously talking to himself though the sound was muffled as his back was turned to them. Over his shoulder Sally could see the second option, a girl probably of the same age as them. As the man took a seat on a nearby bench, possibly to continue his conversation, the girl came more into focus. She too seemed to be looking around and once or twice their eyes almost met across the green. It was obvious from her dress that she was very pretty and that she was on her way to somewhere for a special occasion. She walked with a confidence that seemed either forced or trained on a certain idea. As they got closer to meeting, her steps slowed and she moved herself slightly to Sally’s side as her stride seemed to have broken her and Sam up, something that Sally wouldn’t have minded too much. Again averting her eyes to the floor, Sally flicked them back up at the last moment to meet the girl’s gaze. As she did she felt a recognition of some common feeling, insecurity perhaps. Passing by she turned her head ever so slightly, hoping in vein that the girl would do the same.
As they came towards the end of the pathway Sally felt distracted by her encounter. She had wanted to make a decision by the end of the green on what to do but as they passed under the gaze of the statue that watched the entrance she was still unsure. As Sam started to lead them left up the street to her apartment, Sally stopped. Unaware this was going to happen, Sam jolted, letting go of her clasp on Sally’s arm.
“We could go in and have as long a conversation as we need on the ins and outs of who Kassy is and what she means to you and us. But honestly, I haven’t got the energy. Your apartment is that way” she said pointing back down the road from where they had just come, “and I think that should be your direction.”
Neither of them made to move and for a split-second neither spoke.
“Ok.” Was the only response Sally got as Sam turned and headed for home. There seems an acceptance in her voice that this would have been the eventual conclusion anyway and therefore there was no need to string it out with the conversation Sally had alluded to. Still unsure what to do Sally stood for a moment or two to assess her movement. He apartment, within spitting distance, contained her kitten and her bath where she could end the day enveloped in water as she had begun, hopefully forgetting the time that had passed in-between. Instead she turned back towards where Sam was now a distant figure. After a few steps she turned right back into the park. The old man still sat on the bench and more people had started to make their way into town for the night, boys dressed in the same fitted t-shirts and jeans, girls following behind dressed not too dissimilar to Kassy, the hooker, none of them as near as pretty as the girl they had just passed. Sally chose a bench close to the statue and emptied her mind, catching herself up in the movements of the green.

Jen retraced her steps back across the road into the green. People passed her as she went through the entrance, anyone of them could have been one of John’s clique, dressed in the standard issue jock and hooker wear for the season. As she glanced back they too entered the bar she had just left, obviously keen to be where the party was. Walking out onto the green Jen slipped back into her routine of looking around for other people and their stories. She was bored of the people heading to the bars so looked past them and the more interesting sights she could find, and escape into. All there seemed to be was the professor, still sat on the same bench Jen had left him on a few minutes previous. He seemed content with working through some idea, oblivious to the people around him. Even though she tried to get lost in what he was possibly doing and where it could take her mind she was distracted by the need to get home and forget the night’s affairs.
As she neared the statue, she had a desire to sit under its sight, to think of her father and for a moment return to a time when tonight wouldn’t have bothered her. She had been rejected before, but as she got older the harder it got to move on. In high school even though she had yearned to have what her grandparents had had, she was fine when it didn’t happen. But now, looking back on the photos of her grandfather and her own daddy, both now passed, she wanted something to work out for her and not give her empty.
As she neared the bench she didn’t see Sally at first, but already Sally had sat upright and started smiling at the thought that the girl from before had returned. She knew it was her from the back of her hair as she looked up at the statue.
“Reminds me of Harrison Ford.” Said Sally, trying not to startle.
“Reminds me of my father,” responded Jen, seemingly at ease with who she immediately recognised as the girl walking across the park. She sat down in the space next to Sally and quickly but carefully turned her head to look at Sally before returning to the statue.
“He died 3 years ago.” She said.
“That can’t be right, I read the other day he was making a new action film.”
Before she responded, Jen turned her head again to see a playful grin on Sally’s face. Her incredulity was instantly replaced by ease at the situation. A couple of moments past and neither of them spoke, both sharing the time of looking around and taking in each other’s world.
“You looked pretty tonight,” said Sally breaking the silence, “walking across the park. Didn’t work out?” she added, seeming to guess what had happened in the bar. In response, Jen shrugged, not caring about what had passed, she felt completely focussed and at ease with this situation, like she had never before. As Jen reached her hand across the bench to touch the top of Sally’s wrist, Sally too was overcome with the feeling that everything seemed calm, that the warmth of the bath water was again around her; that everything was settled.