Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead. Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.
The Power of Love
This picture comes from outside a favourite café in Dulwich near where I live.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake.’
George stared at the man’s back, the muscular frame, the neatly trimmed brown hair, the nicely ironed shirt. Perhaps the green stripe was a little brash.
‘Sorry, I’m in your way.’
George came out of his daydream. ‘No hurry.’
‘This is the most stupid contraption. Look at it. It must be 100 years old and a death trap.’
George glanced at the battered steel fusebox and the hazard symbol on the outside. He said, ‘Should you be tinkering with it?’
The man smiled. Nice teeth, lips a bit full. Soft brown eyes…
‘That’s what the wife says. You a nag too?’
George sighed. Straight. The shirt should have given him a clue. A woman’s choice. ‘I wondered if I could leave a poster in your window. Dance classes.’
The man nodded. ‘Ask at the counter.’ He bent back to the box.
‘Oh hello.’ It was the man from the cafe.
‘Yes of course. You’re alone?’
‘Yes. It is for beginners. I’ve never tried.’
George watched as he wiped his hands on the sides of his packet.
George beamed, his professional persona taking over. ‘Perfect. Yes and a solo man is always popular. Generally we have a surfeit of ladies.’
‘Hope I don’t crush their feet. I’m Harry. Harry Lock.’
‘George Storgen.’ He let his gaze linger. Harry gazed back, then smiled. He said, ‘I think I’m going to love this.’
Harry held Denise carefully, much as he might a valuable if awkwardly shaped ornament. She pulled him closer. ‘Come on Harry, I won’t bite.’
Harry nodded, clearly not especially comfortable.
Denise said, ‘Married?’
‘Divorced. Is it left first?’
‘For you, yes. So a free man? That’s a rare treat.’
‘Hardly…’ Harry squirmed. He didn’t want to talk about himself.
George stepped forward. Three weeks in and he really liked Harry with his dry humour. ‘Can I dance with you? It might help you nail this turn.’ He held Harry enjoying the proximity.
Harry met his gaze. ‘Like an old gay couple, eh?’
Was there…? George shook the thought away and said, ‘You’re not old.’
‘Fifty this year.’
‘Well I’d have said not a day over forty nine.’
‘Thanks. I’m the oldest here, I bet. I thought I’d be the youngest.’
‘The Strictly effect. And I’m older by a year.’
Harry leant back. ‘You are never fifty-one. I suppose dancing keeps you fabulous.’
Fabulous. Now that was an odd choice of words. ‘I only do this in the evenings… It’s slow quick quick slow here…’
‘So what’s the day job? Male pole dancer?’
‘Ha. Hardly. I can’t carry off the g-string.’
‘Oh I don’t know.’
Was he teasing or joking? Stop it George. ‘I work on the railways. Pretty sedentary.’
‘And there’s me on my feet all day and I’m the one carrying the pounds.’
‘You look fabulous too.’
George waited for the retort but there was nothing just a slight stiffening in Harry’s shoulders.
Denise mopped her forehead. ‘Well that was hard work. You coming to the pub. First Tuesday of the month.’
‘I should get back. Mildred will be a little anxious.’
‘She won’t mind an extra 30 minutes.’
‘No, Harry you can’t drive. Please give me your keys.’
‘Oh god, I’m sorry George. You must think me a fool. My life’s a total mess and here I am dumping on you.’
‘I’ll drop you. Where do you live?’
‘Flat above the cafe. Bloody hell. Don’t you drink?’
‘Gave that up long ago. Anyway, let me take your arm…’
‘I.. Oh lord.’
George struggled as Harry tripped. As if in slow motion the two men sank, not very gracefully onto the grass outside the pub. George lay still checking nothing hurt. He was aware of Harry giggling next to him. ‘Sorry old fella. I must be sozzled. Let me…’ Harry tried to stand, slipped and fell on top of George.
George was aware of Harry’s face close to his, his beery breath on his cheek. They were kissing. George found it difficult to compute as he felt Harry’s tongue seek his mouth. Then just as quickly as it started, Harry rolled off. He was mumbling. Apologies it sounded. He struggled to his feet.
‘I … Look… I don’t know. God what an oaf. I’ll …. I’ll get a cab.’
George stared at Harry’s head, his features in shadow. His heart went out to him. He must be having some issues at home, if he wanted that kiss. He could easily imagine what Harry was thinking. He’d thought it for years. He couldn’t fancy men. It wasn’t natural. His family would hate him, disown him. No one would trust him. No men anyway. It wasn’t true. Yes he knew some at work had found it difficult when he’d come out but most had been brilliant. And thank heavens he’d not had to tell his parents. He let Harry go. He’d not see him again.
‘Oh hello Demise.’
‘Morning Harry. You dropped this last night.’ She held out his wallet. ‘George asked me to drop it off.’
‘Thanks. I thought it must be in the car. Look you fancy a coffee.’
‘That would be lovely. This place looks fantastic. Do you run it yourself?’
‘No. My wife – my ex – and I own it jointly. These days she mostly does the food and I’m front of house. Weekends we have a couple of youngsters who help.’
Denise sipped her coffee. ‘So how is that, working with your ex?’
Harry laughed. ‘You always go straight to the point, don’t you?’
She nodded. ‘No point beating about the bush. I think if I split from Patrick I’d kill him before I worked with him.’
‘It depends why you break up I think. Ours was civilised.’
‘That must be it. He’d have shagged some pneumatic bimbo. Nothing very civilised about that. So why’d you stop playing happy families?’
Harry studied Denise’s face. Her eyes roamed the room. Did he want the woman knowing? Did she know about the kiss? Maybe it would be good if she knew.
‘I came out.’
‘Sorry.’ Suddenly he had her fully attention. ‘Came out?’
‘It took me a while but I realised I’m gay. It took marrying Sally to be honest with myself. We’d been running this place for a year and put all our savings into it. She said she knew, but I think she was just being kind.’
‘Does she live here too?’
‘No she has a boyfriend. Barry. Works in insurance. Nice car and pension. She’ll be fine. They live a few streets away. He’s a good man, good for her.’
‘Not so easy for you.’
He nodded once. ‘No. I’m having to learn a whole new etiquette. Bit too late really.’
He looked down as her hand covered his. ‘Never say never, Harry.’
He took his hand away. ‘So what about you? Busy week?’
‘How was he?’
George knew Denise’s enquiring stare and what it meant. She was about to share which, in his experience wasn’t always a comfortable thing. ‘He was pretty far gone. I just hoped he’d got back safely. You know.’
‘How long have I known you George?’
‘Um. Twelve years.’
‘Right. And you’d consider us good friends.’
‘Yes. Of course. Absolutely.’
‘And you know I’d only say something if I thought it would do good.’
He hesitated. He didn’t doubt her good intentions only her lack of judgement.
‘And in that time how many relationships have you had?’
He didn’t need to answer another rhetorical question. If only he could be sure all her questions were going to be rhetorical he thought he might just cope.
‘Exactly. I’ve seen the way you watch him in class. You basically eat him whole. And him you.’
‘Oh Denise, I’m not a teenager. I…’
‘You’re a sex starved adult. Well, love starved anyway. Where’s the harm in asking.’
‘He’s married. He’s straight. What more do you want?’
She patted the seat next to her. ‘Come to mummy. I have a story to tell.’
Friends are wonderful. Mostly. But sometimes, thought George, they cause more stress. Harry was gay. Demise said. He had been married but wasn’t. He had kissed George but had been pissed. He hadn’t come to dance classes since the kiss. He had cut George dead in the High Street. George was too old, to set in his ways to waste precious time on getting hurt. He’d spent his life getting hurt, hiding in alcohol until he realised he could die or be honest. If he’d made one promise to himself it was to avoid situations where the odds were stacked against him.
And yet, increasingly he found himself passing the cafe. Lingering.
One afternoon a woman appeared in the doorway and beckoned him across. ‘You’re George, aren’t you?’
‘Yes. You’re Sally.’
‘The ex.’ She laughed. ‘That’s me. Come in. He’s off at the dentist.’
George left with a feeling that his heart would explode. Harry was having similar dilemmas, the only difference being he talked about them to Sally. ‘That stupid kiss. I’ve just put him off.’ George and Sally agreed she would say nothing; he would come around at 4 when they closed.
He could barely keep still. He paced, he peed, he perspired. As he approached he saw Harry crouched over the old metal fusebox.
As he heard George’s voice Harry began to turn. George watched in horror as Harry stumbled and grabbed at something. There was a huge blue flash, smoke and Harry stretched prostrate and inert on the pavement.
‘Oh god.’ George knelt at Harry’s side. He fumbled for his throat hunting a pulse. Instinct took over. He pulled Harry onto his back and thumped his chest before moving to hold his nose and cover his mouth with his. As he did so he felt a faint breath. Harry’s eyes had popped open, staring at him. ‘Christ, you’re keen.’ And he put a hand behind George’s neck and pulled him down.