Read Wait Till I Tell You Online

Authors: Candia McWilliam

Wait Till I Tell You (5 page)

BOOK: Wait Till I Tell You
7.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

‘It’s a calculator works by the sun’s rays,’ said Elise, for something to say, because Craig was that old, sixteen, and she thought it might be greedy to pass comment on the fritters. Her fingers were grease to the bone, and there was salt in her papercuts and sugar in her bunches. It was brilliant, but she’d no idea what to say to her mother when she got in late that night.

‘Just tell her you’ve been to America,’ said Craig, but he took her home good as gold and explained about the calculator and the examination and the obligation he’d felt to give Elise a wee something to say thanks. After that he was in her house most days. Her parents bought him a calculator for his seventeenth birthday. She began to worry they’d put him off by being keen. He showed no sign of this however and seemed to like being asked to do the things a son does, but for her parents, not his own, who were busy with their garden pond and fixture concession. They travelled sometimes, for the sculptures, that arrived twice a year in a big lorry, wrapped in blankets, looking like a grey extended family arriving at hospital, complete with pets.

Craig cleaned her parents’ old lawnmower, even though his own mum and dad had a Hayter Hovercut, on summer sabbaths, easing its tired blades and joints with 1001 oil, before pouring the bin of fine clippings into the compost tip. Before going home on a Wednesday night, if he’d been over to her house, he’d save her mother and put out the dustbin, a drum of hefty pale shineless metal, ribbed like something military. She’d kiss him after that and be at once interested and bored by the possibilities that lay in so adult a routine so early in her life. It seemed dignified and glamorous to be kissing someone who knew that her mother disinfected and dried the bin on a Thursday, someone who now smelled of the peelings and papers in that bin. It was exciting to imagine being with Craig so long that she knew everything about him. The feeling that they were both old and young was good. The being old was a fantasy like being beautiful or dying, things that could never happen.

Never did she feel that she had leapfrogged something she might miss, for she saw her friends who went from boy to boy looking old and messed, like babies too late for bed.

Positioned about Lillie Langtry’s at certain points where no real, weighty human might rest were life-size rag dolls dressed in Edwardian clothes. Lillie herself sat on top of the Liqueurs section, legs crossed and diamanté-buckled shoes hanging too loosely to be coquettish in front of the yellow and blue and green drinks in their mad scientist’s bottles. At the back of the bottles was a mirror, so you saw double the drink. The rag figures were stuffed with kapok, soft lumpy stuff that they very slowly shed through their loose lock-knit bodies, so that there lay about each floppy figure, after a time in the one pose, a faint sheepish shadow. The faces of these big dolls were stiff, flat and starchy. Nostrils, lashes, dimples and brows were achieved by stitching. The hands of the dolls were like seal’s flippers, the fingers inseparable.

As time passed at Lillie Langtry’s each evening, the dolls, that had begun the evening seeming to have little to do with the actual appearance and bearing of humans, seemed to grow more real, as the drinkers and diners, courting couples and spouses, sacrificed their individuality to the softening forces available at the bar or in one another’s company, or bestowed by the advance of night. The dolls remained unchanged, slumped, inward-looking, but not so inhuman as they had appeared, simply preoccupied.

By the morning they had become empty again. It was part of the interest of going to Lillie Langtry’s to see where the staff would reposition the dolls next. Although to move the dolls was the prerogative of the staff at the restaurant, Craig had a friend Murdo who’d been sacked from his position on the garnish and maintenance side for posing two of the dolls in a way that was felt not to be tasteful or even historically accurate. It was true the dolls had a reserved look about them that made it hard to think of them taking anything like the kind of initiative Murdo had in mind.

Elise forked the mince out of her pitta, mashed it around in a swarfy tangle of raw carrot and swallowed it with a go of the Lilt. There were women arriving for the riggers now, great-looking girls on heels, carrying backwards off a few casual fingers short jackets with fur on at the neck. Drinks arrived, ice, and small bottles of tonic. Coral nails flashed as the women palmed their nylons smooth over their insteps and up over ankle bracelets. Only a woman couldn’t groom herself like these ones would put the ankle bracelet on over the stockings, Elise had noticed. These women wore the bracelets like wedding rings, seriously, to say something about themselves.

Although it seemed that the women who had just arrived hardly spoke, the noise from the group of riggers grew. The men seemed to fill out, their voices too, in the presence of the women. The women looked in small mirrors at parts of themselves, eye-teeth, frownlines, upper lips, glimpses of throat. When they had put their mirrors away with snappings and zippings and wary lumbar movements of roosting, they started to try to get a view of parts of themselves harder to see, shoulder blades and elbows, knee-backs and the inner surfaces of nail ends; some looked at the tips of their high heels as though checking that nothing had been impaled there since the last look. One or two of the women spoke to one another to enlist help in checking some part of the construction that was hard to see by even the utmost craning, the hang of a dress over a buttock, the alignment of a belt with a hem at the back. It all looked private, but public, as though the women knew what gestures pleased the men, suggesting to them things about which they had been thinking for weeks out in the North Sea but could not name here or now.

Lillie Langtry watched with unsighted approval. Elise looked on and wondered where you learned those things. Was it from men or from other women, or was it born in you like knowing how to walk in heels and never telling people you’d heard their story before, and being unpopular with dogs?

Craig had returned to their table with his next lager. He’d filled out in America. He’d been that busy he probably had no time to eat right, just grab strange things. He’d not even had the time to be in touch with her, though he’d thought of her, he said, and here was the woollen jacket to prove it. A nice cut, with room for growth, she noticed; a jacket for the future, for when she’d a trout in her well. She thought of the old words he’d always used for the time when they would start a family, and knew herself lucky to be so young and with an unbroken past, shared with a man she knew so well she knew his way of using words. Right enough.

She smiled to herself in a way of which he had always been fond. It irked him now because it was the smile that told him she was happy. A trout in the well, Elise was thinking. Then after it’s born, it’s let loose in the stream.

Craig’s gift to Elise was some kind of jacket for playing sports in, very American. It was made in China, she’d seen on the label that said ‘ALL AMERICAN DIENAMIC SPOTSGEAR’. It was a nice shade of grey, with big numbers on it in purple. It’d be good for walking Bonnie, her Airedale cross, before anyone got up and before Elise changed for work at the library.

No one noticed what you wore at the library, Craig said, which made Elise take more care than ever. There were people came in there saw no one but the library staff from year’s end to year’s end. Why should they think the whole world lived in stained flannel and clotted wool?

Craig had been watching the women with the riggers, while he stood at the bar looking as though he was deciding what vintage of Tennant’s to ask for. If you were with someone from sixteen it was natural to look at women, thought Elise, and these women were for looking at. He’d’ve been half the man if he’d not keeked.

Nonetheless, Craig returned to their table looking as though he expected her to start in on him about it. Had he not noticed she never did?

Craig was fidgety. One of the women in the group was getting under his skin. It was a bother that she kept looking at him. How was he supposed to jilt Elise with that slatch looking on? She was a redhead with the skin of a brunette and a suit all bobbles in lilac, chained over the bosoms. It was her drink told Craig why she bothered him. She was drinking a schooner of something that was lilac too. It was Parfait Amour, that looks like meths but moves slower out the bottle, held back by the sugar. There’d been a fuss at the Lonnachs and Creel bar of the inn on Loch Lomondside when that liquor had been called for by a handsome woman with a high-spending oilman fresh in from Texas to Glasgow. Craig’d had to cycle over to the stores at Ardlui and there was no Perfect Armour there. They tracked it down at the minister’s house; the bottle had been a gift from his son-in-law who worked for human rights somewhere they didn’t have them and got queer gear duty free. It had been this very redhead had wanted that purple drink he’d cycled for, Craig was sure. It stood to reason. She’d a right nerve to be here too, that one.

Elise watched Craig scrape the black off of a courgette on his dish. He hated the skin, so he just ate the part of the veg that remained between the charred part and the skin. It was mostly seeds, that he picked out of his teeth with one of the cardboard Lillie Langtry’s matches that got soggy very quick. There was a little pain behind her heart as she thought that he wasn’t enjoying his food this evening. She felt for him like that, in the anxious everyday way. When they were married, she’d help him with everything so he needn’t end up an evening out full of charcoal and compost even if ate off of an oval plate with dishwasherproof lilies painted on. They could choose things together then.

‘I’ll just off and get myself a poke of scratchings,’ she said, and walked over to the bar. Closer to the group of laughing men and preening women, she smelt the burst and fallen smell of big flowers that was the mixed perfumes of the women, and saw that the men were having floppy steaks, from which the women were cutting wee ribbons that they ate off forks as if the meat were pasta.

The redheaded woman in her suit that was like bunched lilacs saw Elise and envied her, independent, neat, fresh, and able to buy herself a pack of snacks any time and eat it. She raised her half-full purple glass to Elise and smiled with her cheeks at her over it. Her smile said, ‘

Elise smiled back. Her smile had no words behind it because she had no answer to the comment in the plural.

‘You’re very free with your foolish grins,’ said Craig, as she opened the scratchings, did not take one and put them in front of him.

‘She’s nice. She smiled. Nice to see a person smile here at a stranger.’

‘You’ll be getting plenty smiling in the library, no?’

‘It’s quieter.’

‘Smiles don’t make sound do they, Elise? Eh?’

‘There are no ladies in purple raising their glasses to me in Reference, Craig.’

Here they were using their names against each other on this night when she wanted to please him and he wanted to hurt her in the least noticeable way.

It was she who unfroze first.

‘Will we have a sweet? You’ll’ve had great sweets in the States.’ The moment she had spoken she heard her foolish eagerness.

‘Aye, the usual things.’ He finished the most recent lager. ‘There was Mississippi Mud Pie, Key Lime Pie, your Banana Toffee Pie. The usual things. Pies.’

Elise said nothing. She looked down at the Lillie Langtry’s menu, where these very puddings, described in shocking detail, were listed. She decided to pursue her curiosity. If he was this bored, or that out of it, he wouldn’t notice.

‘There’ll’ve been lovely women over there.’

‘Och, gorgeous,’ said Craig, bitterly. ‘Gorgeous.’ He might just have received a bill for the gas. In his mind there paraded the beauties of the kitchen on Loch Lomondside, three married women and a wee wanting girl who peeled potatoes all to the same size and said she ate the peelings at home at the hostel in the evenings.

This was dreadful. He was wanting to tell Elise the truth.

He looked over to the purple woman. She was starting on another of her drinks. She gave him a very familiar look, not flirtatious, but reproving. The cheeky besom, who was she to give him a ticking off? He finished the scratchings, and told the waitress he’d have an Irish Coffee with the sweet, and another lager just for now.

A pretty woman sitting for some reason above the racks of bottles looked kindly at Craig. She understood him.

Then he realised his mistake, and looked away from the Lillie Langtry doll as though it’d seen through to his own stuffing.

Elise asked for a cup of tea, which was moody of her, he thought. For relief from her familiarity and from her clean parting and nice teeth, he looked at the purple lady, who had put down her drink now and was smoking. Through the smoke he saw her face, and it knew him and knew what was in his mind. This painted woman was judging him through her filthy smoke.

He’d a good mind right enough to go over to her and tell her what a troublemaker she was wherever she went with her Parfait Amour and legs and eyes. No, first he must be cruel to be kind and make Elise see there was no big day ahead, just the usual small ones.

‘Elise, while I was in eh America I did em a lorra thinking. I thought a lot. Know what I mean?’

‘Uh huh,’ said Elise, looking forward to her tea and wondering how she could get Craig to let her drive without upsetting him. When he used to say ‘Lorra’ he was either drunk or trying to impress someone. But now it was maybe an American accent.

This American thinking had been effortful, she saw. And, that tired with the trip over from the States, he wasn’t sober, either.

BOOK: Wait Till I Tell You
7.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Sauron Defeated by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Trouble With Moonlight by Donna MacMeans
Where Futures End by Parker Peevyhouse
The Edge of Honor by P. T. Deutermann
Rembrandt's Mirror by Devereux, Kim
Tempting The Manny by Wolfe, Lacey
The Fire Still Burns by Crystal-Rain Love
To Make A Witch by Heather Hamilton-Senter