… and a glass of champagne. To be delivered to the birthday girl’s table.
Finally ready to tread the miles home, he picked up his coat, walking stick and wallet shorn of emergency funds. The strike wouldn’t end any time soon, and all the apps in the world couldn’t find him a taxi or minicab.
He pushed open the bistro door and groaned. It was still torrential; pools of water had turned into dark lakes, and water beaded and streamed off every street-lit surface.
For a moment, he contemplated ignoring the plaintive female voice, but sighed and turned.
‘That was really nice, what you did.’
He shrugged at the dark-haired girl who’d been serving behind the bar all evening. Girl? She was barely younger than him. He’d thought of flirting with her, but she was stunning, and out of his league. Like the sombre, plain woman in the corner, quietly celebrating her birthday while counting pennies with another sombre, plain friend. They were all way out of his league.
‘Why are you leaving now?’
‘They’ll want a handsome prince, I’m a scarred toad.’
‘You’re no toad.’
He shook his head. Maybe before the insurgents’ raid, he could have been considered handsome. Not now.
‘Have you far to go?’
‘A few miles.’
‘But, it’s pouring!’ She’d heard him on the phone. Seen him slump and accept his sodden fate, had given a sympathetic smile.
‘I was in the Army, it’s not far.’
‘But with your leg…’ she trailed off.
‘Legs.’ The prosthetics clunked when he tapped them with his hated stick. ‘They’ll be fine.’ They weren’t fine – the fit of one cup wasn’t quite right, and he could feel a sore developing.
‘Can you wait just a while longer?’
He drew his shoulders back, lifted his chin up. ‘Sorry, I have to go now. Goodnight.’ And stepped out into the deluge.
Fifty yards later, he was wishing he’d kept the thirty quid to offer any driver still brave enough to be on the roads. Along with wishing that he’d chosen any other night to venture out. His arranged date had failed to show, citing a work emergency. He suspected she’d arrived at the restaurant, seen him and backed out.
He lifted his face to the darkened heavens, enjoying the sprinkling of autumn rain, reminding him he was still alive. Unlike his mates, blown to pieces in that desert-dry country. Until the pervasive drift of wet fingers reached duller scar tissue.
Some bleak days, he thought his mates were the lucky ones, to have experienced a quick death rather than the protracted withering of body and mind.
Enough malingering. He pulled his collar up, focussed his eyes on the end of the street, the first leg as it were, and continued.
Such was his concentration in setting one foot in front of the other, he didn’t notice the buzzing to his right. ‘Sir?’
That voice again. This time louder. The girl from the bar, hunched on a moped, shadowing him on the road. He stopped. ‘What are you doing out here?’
The buzzing stopped. She rested a foot down. ‘Would you like a lift? I have a spare helmet.’
He looked her over. A coat covered her torso, but a short skirt bared her already-soaked legs, running with water. ‘Aren’t you a bit underdressed for this weather?’
‘I w-wanted to catch you. Please, get on.’
He wanted to say no. But she had gone to so much effort. He sighed, and nodded. The corners of her mouth twitched up, flashing dimples. He took the helmet she offered, and clambered on.
‘Where do you live?’
’10 Swansby Road.’ His hands on her coat barely touched her.
‘Hold me properly please, I don’t want to lose you.’
Her waist was narrow, he could feel her every breath. He soaked up the human contact.
The streets didn’t exactly fly by – his sparse weight was enough to slow the machine– but they arrived at his building sooner than he’d wish. His hands reluctantly released her, and he busied himself with untangling his legs.
He handed the helmet back. ‘Thank you.’
‘It w-was an hon-honour.’ Her smile had stiffened and her whole body tremored slightly.
‘Do…would you like to come in to dry off?’
A catch of breath, and her eyes shone along with her dimples. ‘W-would you mind?’
‘Not at all. You’d be welcome.’
An unexpectedly light feeling grew in his chest. Hope.
This is a short story I wrote for a competition, using the prompt, ‘He spent his last £30 on a plate of oysters and a glass of champagne.’ It’s the first story I’ve written featuring disability, something I know a little about myself.
Unfortunately, it didn’t place, but I still enjoyed writing it.