Random Writing 2

Andrea collapsed forward slowly, resting her head on the table. Richard imagined her relishing the cool ellipsoid of skin where her forehead pressed against the faded yellow laminate. She let out a deep sigh, a miasma of despair so thick that he could feel his muscles tense up as the sound washed over him.

"Why us," she breathed. "Why us?"

Richard took the straw in his mouth and sucked, drawing out the faintly coke-flavoured meltwater that had escaped from the ice-cubes. The bottom of the straw gurgled, and Andrea raised her head just far enough to stare at him, a baleful, narrow-lidded stare. Richard put down the drink.

A pair of teenage girls sat down at the table next to them - big coats, tiny skirts, so that they must have felt an unbearable temperature gradient in the chilly air outside. Or perhaps, he thought, the fast blood of the young evens it all out.

"You know," he said hopefully, "it's not just us."

Andrea left her head drop down again.

"Very helpful."

Richard balled up his fist, but even as he was doing it he realised that he couldn't tell whether he was genuinely angry enough to hit something or if it was just something he'd seen people do in movies. He took a deep breath and blew it silently out of his mouth, imagining exhaling a picturesque cloud of smoke. It's true, he thought, films do make smoking seem cool. He held his index and middle finger up in a close, curved V, brought them up to his lips, and took an imaginary drag.

Glancing to his right, he saw that one of the girls was staring at him with an incredulous look on her face. He looked away, embarrassed, and dropped his hand to the table. He heard a sharp bark of a laugh, but when he looked up again the two girls were looking at something on a mobile.

"I mean we don't have to feel like we've failed," he said weakly.

Andrea snorted.

"You mean, you don't have to feel like you've failed."

"What?"

"Do you know what I feel like?" She asked. "I feel like I've done everything right, and despite that somehow someone has managed to find a way to mess everything up."

Robert felt cold, and it seemed to him as though he was looking at his wife from a long way away, hearing her over the telephone. His calves ached, and in his chest was the feeling he got when trying to stop himself cry at a sad part of a film, like a choking heave in his lungs.

"I.." he started. Andrea met his eyes, and he saw in her own a sudden nova of emotions - so much anger in them it was almost as though they were exploding, but then with a crest all that was gone, and just a calm sympathy left.

"I didn't mean you," she said quietly. Then she looked away, and - as she had done decades ago, back when they were first married - she kicked him gently under the table. "How much do we have?"

Richard fished the battered leather wallet out of his pocket awkwardly, suddenly aware again of the two girls on the next table, not wanting to look as though he was some kind of pervert. He flipped it open on the table and flicked through the notes. The credit cards were useless, of course, the debit card had maybe a hundred euros in their current account. In hard cash, a twenty, a ten, and a five, plus the pocket of change. He showed them to Andrea.

"What are we going to do?"

Andrea balled up the burger wrappers and stuffed them into the cardboard container their chips had come in.

"Stop eating this rubbish for a start," she told him. "Fifteen euros and I'm hungry again already."

"They put something in it," Richard said. "I think I read that once. Something that makes you feel hungry. I know it's Chinese that, you know, you always want another in ten minutes. But there's really some ingredients in burgers that do that, it's some kind of chemical."

"Greed," she said. "Greed, human greed. They've got a big tank of the stuff in the back, they wring all the ambition out of their staff, that's why they always look like that." She stuck her thumb over her shoulder, gesturing at the two asian boys behind the counter. "A bit of ambition's healthy, but you collect gallons of the stuff from minimum wage secondary school kids, and it all goes rancid. That's greed - ambition that's been left to curdly in a big pot."

"I wouldn't have guessed poverty would make you so poetic," he told her.

"I'll be swearing next," she said grimly. She let her head fall back down to the tabletop, and they were silent for a while. One of the girls on the table next to them plucked a bag from the seats beside her and took out a pair of yellow leather boots, which her companion admired as though they were newborn twins.

"We could stay with your cousin," he suggested.

"John or Caroline?"

"Well John's in Australia, so... Look, I know... well, we couldn't stay for long, but..."

"If I have to stay with her for one night I will go mad."

"Okay," he conceded. "Someone else then."

"How long do you think you can stand up for?"

He looked at the girls, and wondered if showing off yellow leather boots to each other would be an accurate precise of their lives. Perhaps, he thought. I wonder how long they could stand up for in those boots. They don't have much of a heel, I suppose.

"Why do you ask?"

Andrea shrugged.

"There's a twenty-four hour Tesco around the corner," she said. "It'd be warm in there, we'd just have to look like we were doing some shopping. You know, for like eight hours."

He stared at her, dumbfounded.

"We could get a trolley, give us something to lean on."

They looked at each other, then away. What are we going to do, Richard thought to himself. What are we going to do with one hundred and thirty-five euros and no house and too old to have any parents to go home to? He ran his hands through his hair and brushed out the few strands that had come out between his fingers. Andrea dropped her forehead onto the yellow plastic tabletop again, then gently tapped it - once, twice, three times.

"Fuuuuuck," she said slowly, and when she looked up she was smiling. Richard felt the corners of his mouth curl up for what seemed like the first time in week.

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