Tick Tock

by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Piers is standing alone in a hotel room with a clock in his head which is about to go off. He is waiting for Dylis because he needs a few moments of her sunshine, the way it used to be back in the day, before he gives her the envelope that he will make her promise not to open until she gets home. She will giggle and pretend to rip it apart to get at the contents and he will fix that image in his mind. The last time he saw her though, before the clock when ‘forever’ was another word for ‘future’, she was a monochromatic mother of two dragging unfulfilled ambition around like an empty shopping bag. He worries how she will be today.

Dylis bursts into the room with the gusto of a baby hippo, tossing her bag and coat, scarf, hat, and phone onto assorted items of furniture as she coalesces into place. ‘Not quite the Hilton,’ she remarks, casting eyes younger than her face around the room and twinkling them. ‘So what’s this about then?’ Dylis picks up the scarf and drapes it across her face, making cartoon Marta Hari eyes over the top of it, ‘Are we having an affair?’ The wool makes her sneeze and Piers laughs, ‘Course not,’ he says, and angles his face away in case the heat he feels leaks out as a blush. ‘Got a couple of business meetings here today, it seemed convenient.’ He wonders if she will buy that but also hopes she sees through it so that he can get on with things. But Dylis is in concrete mode, wanting to know what business, what meetings, and ultimately who was paying for it all. ‘My taxes I expect,’ she says, an imp’s grin chasing creases around her face until she lets it go for another question.

‘So what’s the consultation this time – global warming or the salt content of fish fingers?’ She laughs at him and he lets her because suddenly his old job looks ridiculous, but then she says, ‘When these reports come out, I always look to see if it’s one of yours.’ She shuffles briefly on the spot and they both look somewhere else; hands, feet, the carpet. Piers finds an escape route, ‘Coffee?’ he says, and puts the kettle on without finding her face or waiting for an answer, and while he watches it come to the boil a worry bubbles up with it – what if he can’t remember that face after she leaves? He tries burning it into his mind without staring and it blurs the young Dylis into the mother with the neat lipstick before settling into a blank sack of skin with no features. He feels dizzy with it.

‘Where’s the biscuits?’ Dylis says, checking the empty receptacle on the tray next to the teabags and sachets of coffee. She gives him one of her what can you expect from boys looks which he almost misses because of the blank face that is supposed to be Dylis. It’s still there, pink and featureless, but Dylis doesn’t know that and winks, plunging a hand into her copious shopper and coming up with a half packet of chocolate digestives.

‘Some date this is, I’ve even had to bring my own meal.’ She beams into Piers’ fog and holds a biscuit out to him but it crumbles and drops to the floor, each of them chasing it on its way down. Touching hands briefly, Piers comes close to grasping and holding her fingers, but she is up and away with the broken pieces, oblivious to his fumbling. Piers stays crouched while the tattoo beating in his ears begins to subside.

‘You ok?’

‘Give me a break, I am older than you.’ He pulls himself up, one hand on the table top where the kettle sits, the other avoiding Dylis’s as it stretches towards him. The drumming softens to a pulse. He imagines it to be red.

‘Only by three months so come off it. You never did have any stamina though; all brain no brawn.’ She pauses, cocks a glance at him, ‘So what’s this job and why all the cloak and dagger stuff?’

‘Job?’ For a moment, Piers is mystified.

‘You said you were leaving. Where are you going? I bet it’s America! You’ve been head-hunted, right?’ Her eyes are bright and she has her hands clasped in front of her like a child hoping for a present, ‘Well done you!’ she says, ‘Will you blag me a private tour?’

‘Tour?’

‘Of the White House, Dumbo! Goodness but you’re weird today. Male menopause perhaps?’ She giggles at him and feigns bloated stomach cramps.

‘Oh, right, the tour.’ He looks away from her; the game has changed and his service is broken, all he can do now is parry her shots. ‘How many boxed sets of West Wing do you have? You don’t need a tour. And anyway, you’d be disappointed – you do know Whatsisname isn’t really President?’ He turns away to finish the business of coffee while Dylis gets into the swing of embellishing her personal story about his new job at the nerve centre of US government.

‘No more sordid meetings in cheap hotels then, I expect,’ she says, excitement coloured by a touch of envy. She surveys the present surroundings with a chuckle and pulls a face at the swill of black liquid in her cup. ‘Will you have a White House email address? I can’t wait to tell everyone!’

‘I suppose – but it won’t be for personal use so …’

‘Shame. Well, your old one will work won’t it?’ Dylis looks at her watch; a big faced, loudly ticking thing that seems too heavy for her wrist but that accommodates creeping short-sightedness, ‘Jeez, is that the time? Sorry love, got to go; taking the computer to the repair shop and the dog to the vet, and I’d better not get them the wrong way round this time.’ She smiles at him and he thinks he sees the tiniest sign of regret in her eyes. ‘See you soon, Lovely Boy,’ she says, with that vestigial lilt she has.

She plops a maternal kiss on his cheek, gathers up her bits and pieces, and sweeps out of the door taking her baby hippo gusto and all the light and bounce and fun and hope with her. The room goes dark and the image of the bag of skin that is all Piers can find of her goes dark too.

He sits. He takes out the letter that he hasn’t given to her and weighs it in his hands. He tears it in half, then half again and drops it into the bin. At least the alarm didn’t go off while she was here.

 

© Suzanne Conboy-Hill 2016

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