Eunice Yeates

Not Before Thursday

 

Trevor irons his shirt while the kettle boils. A sharp crease in each sleeve and he’s done. He wets the tea and goes upstairs to finish dressing.

Back in the kitchen, he spreads rough-cut marmalade on lightly toasted bread. The radio hisses the morning news and Trevor drinks his tea, watching out the window for anything of interest. No one passes except a child from the new estate, late for lessons and looking like she’d slept in her school uniform; a miserable sight. Trevor drains his cup and puts the breakfast things away.

He is locking the front door when he notices a small fleck of marmalade on his cuff, desolate and darkly sticky. Is there time to change? There isn’t. Damn. He lets himself back inside, hurries to the sink and dabs cold water on the spot, swearing softly. The house relocked, he checks his watch again and walks briskly to his car.

—Morning, Trevor, calls Mrs. Hammond, startling him.

She is standing in her garden like a ludicrous mannequin in wellington boots, a shapeless housecoat over her nightdress. Mrs. Hammond scatters bread for the birds every morning, and several times a day in winter.

—Good morning, yes, says Trevor stiffly.

—That was a hard frost. They said it would be a hard frost and it was; it was a hard frost, so it was. Look!

She stamps the wet grass and looks at Trevor almost combatively.

—Right. Yes.

Trevor gives her a vague wave, and fumbles with his car keys, his shoulders rigid with vexation and cold. Damn.

At the shop finally, he switches on the heating and the lights. Three orders sit on the counter where he’d left them the night before. He is processing the orders when the bell over his shop door chimes and he looks up to see a young woman wiping her feet on the mat. She is holding a mobile phone to her ear.

—But that’s not what I meant, she’s saying into the phone.

Trevor keys an order number and glances at her again. There is a brief sparkle of some cosmetic at the corners of her eyes when she blinks.

—I never said that – wait – I don’t, please – no, you listen – I can’t –

No more words. She holds the phone aloft a moment, then snaps it shut.

—Gaaahhh!, she says across the shop floor, smiling widely at Trevor and jamming the phone into her coat pocket.

Trevor remains motionless. He notices her silver necklace, a turquoise pendant near her throat, and then she’s at the counter.

—I’m sorry about that, she says with a small laugh.

—May I help you?

­—Well, I hope you can, she answers brightly. My laptop is acting up, I think it’s overheating. Can I leave it with you?

—Certainly. I’ll just need you to fill out this form.

—OK, great. Here’s the thing, though. I really need to have this back tonight.

She touches his forearm for emphasis when she says ‘tonight’. Trevor straightens some documents on the counter to disguise his consternation. He doesn’t say anything.

—It’s my lifeline, she adds, eyebrows raised.

Oh, the arch of those brows. Now she’s taking her laptop out of the bag that hangs diagonally from one shoulder. Trevor sees the line of her collarbone and looks away furtively when she speaks.

—Well, here it is. Here’s my baby.

—It can’t be tonight, says Trevor, despising how he sounds.

—Oh, no. Really?

—Not before Thursday, he says superciliously. Damn.

Trevor knows she is weighing her options and may leave right away. No forms filled out. No display of her handwriting. No contact information.

—I send these out, he tells her, adding after a pause, I’m sorry – his voice unyielding in spite of himself.

She drums her fingers lightly on the countertop. Her hands are perfect, thinks Trevor. Then she picks up the laptop and holds it to herself.

—Not to worry, she says. I’ll figure something out. She smiles and walks to the door.

—Thanks, she calls out, returning the laptop to its bag.

Once more he fails to reply. The bell above the door decrescendos and Trevor observes the pedestrians, dressed for the weather, quickstepping along the pavement outside. He turns back to the unfinished orders and sees his marmalade-stained sleeve, ugly and crass. He begins typing slowly, evenly, and then he jabs the return key with some violence. He does it again. And then again, whispering, damn, to himself. Damn.

 

 

 

Eunice Yeates left Belfast in 1997 for one year, but forgot to come back until 2010. Following adventures and misadventures in Japan, the US, and South Africa, Eunice writes educational materials by day and fiction by night.

 

 

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