By Eilish Mulholland
James feels himself staring at the building. In it there is Angie and he is outside. He feels creepy just gazing after her like that. He swears, shakes his head from side to side as if to rid it of some coarse picturing and makes himself walk the rest of the way to his work. Without her, without Angie it seems even duller than usual. He irks his way through the streets. His face feels sweaty and damp. When he walks up the short concrete steps to the record shop where he works he feels disenchanted. It is as if something huge has been revealed to him and now he’s walking round disenchanted with the world. He spends his day letting cups of tea go cold, switching up the records on the sound system and taking deliveries from a suspicious looking van his boss always hires for new shipments. He organises the pop collection, deals with young kids who impatiently ask for the latest Top of the Pops lists and generally tries not to think about her.
On a smoke break, he imagines what she’s doing at this precise moment. He imagines she’s holding a wittty conversation with a co-worker. From the look of the building he wasn’t exactly sure what her job was. A series of Angie’s ran through his head. She could be Angie the Receptionist, firm and polite and efficient at answering telephones and having an egg sandwich at her desk for lunch. She could also be Angie the waitress. That big house could be a hotel or a tea room ran by some spinster woman with severely parted grey hair and a cotton blouse. He imagined Angie having fun at her employer’s expense as she served soup, sandwiches, cut up little crusts off toast for the morning breakfast, made coffee and tea in great silver teapots and scrubbed the floors in a white apron and hat while pocketing her tips from kind old ladies and sleepy men. Then he thought harder and wondered if Angie was actually a teacher. Such houses were often for private tutoring or houses for welfare children. This image made the most sense to him and he began to wonder if she was a teaching assistant or something. He imagined her then on her hands and knees playing with shy children, scrubbing a crying face with a clean handkerchief, marking assignments from her leather bag and making sure each child enjoyed his or her self. He believed in this with such vivacity and conviction that it surprised him when Angie came in a few weeks later when the shop was empty on a wet Thursday morning that James nearly fell off his chair in disbelief.
He spied at her through the revolving displays. Her hair looked different, sort of poofy and piled up on the centre of her head like a crown and James noted how it accentuated her eyes. She was flicking through the indie section, methodically ticking away at the record sleeves and nodding her head to the music that was playing over the speakers. She looked up, her eyes scanning the shop and when her gaze rested on him, her face broke out into a smile and made him feel tingly all over. He raised his hand, waved and watched as she shufffled her way over to him with a Carpenters record in hand exclaiming excitedly at him.
“James! Hello again.”
“Hi Angie, fancy seeing you here.”
“Yeah! You just browsing or?”
“Er- I actually work here.”
Her eyes went wide and she looked round excitedly.
“Ah cool. Must be great to listen to music all day.”
“Yeah, just hate it when I have to change the records ya know?”
She giggled and he felt his heart rising in his chest like a soap bubble.
“You want to buy that record?”
“Yes please. I’ve been hearing their music in my head all day.”
He slid the record into an embossed paper bag with the shop logo on it. He twisted the ends, twirling them round so the bag wouldn’t gape open before handing it back to her and scooping up her change from the plastic till.
“Enjoy it then.”
He was aware of the queue forming behind her but he couldn’t stop himself from asking her.
“Um would you like to get a cup of coffee sometime?”
“Like a date?”
“Well-I mean-it doesn’t have to be, we could go as friends or-or”
She laughed at him and cuffed his arm.
“James I’m messing with you. Coffee would be lovely. I’ll meet you here then say Friday?”
“Yeah, yeah. What time do you get off?”
“Half six. That okay?”
“Great, see you then.”
She smiled, turning to go and he couldn’t stop smiling. On the bus on the way home he couldn’t wait to get to work tomorrow morning. He even set out his nicest shirt and jeans so he’d have a change of clothes for after work and washed his hair in the sink in anticipation. It was when the clock struck six the next evening that he almost hustled everyone out of the shop before ducking into the back room to change into a clean shirt. He drew his hands through his hair, crouching before the small mirror in the staff bathroom before locking the back door and setting the security alarm. He noticed when he walked out of the front door and closed the metal grill over the shop windows that Angie was walking towards him. He felt his hands quiver but he focused on his task, clenched his fists and looked at her.
To him, she seemed even more beautiful than when he had seen her before. She had changed her outfit and was wearing a plaid skirt and platform heels. Her shirt was a light shade of pink and matched her lipstick. When she saw him she waved and rushed forward to him.
“James. I came as requested.”
“And on time too!”
She looked up at him and smiled again and he noticed that her front teeth were slightly crooked.
“So whereabouts are we going?”
“Ah just over the road there. There’s a bit of a nice cafe there. Great music.”
They crossed the street and he lightly pressed her elbow, guiding her but not leading her against the crowd. He noticed she didn’t shirk away from him but allowed him to touch her elbow. He knew it was because she felt safe around him, trusting almost but he knew not to expect anything. All of this was done in perfect symmetry, as if someone was manufacturing this walk across the street into an event that had been broken down into many pieces and the scattered again so these brief steps across a road seemed to take ages. It could have been a year or a century when they finally sat down at that cafe table. Their vision was lightened only by the candles that illuminated the table and Angie remarked that they looked like choir boys with their stiff high necked gowns because the wax had hardened in such a peculiar fashion. James said it reminded him of spider’s webs and she laughed and said that he had a more romantic eye than her before they began discussing the merits of pasta and tiramisu because the waitress who took their coats said it was the special tonight. The food was rubbish so they left early and went back to the record shop with some chips and half a bottled wine Angie had nicked from the table next to them as comeuppance for a botched version of what they called bolognese sauce.
They both sat cross legged on the shop floor. James switched the sidelights on so a to not draw attention to the shop front after hours and the two of them listened to the street noises of people laughing, yelling and stumbling home over the slow hum of the record player that skipped and turned in the background. The wine made James feel warm, like a little candle had been lit in his chest and was flickering, nodding its head in the draft as he blew air through his nose and made it dance for the fun of it. And then there was Angie. Close, within a handspan of air laughing and occasionally changing the record and pouring more wine into mugs for the two of them and talking about the carpenters in an animated voice. Her cheeks had grown slightly flush from the wine and her hair had escaped its clasp.Little tendrils curled around her ears and bobbed when she spoke. James was in a trance just watching her. He felt giddy, delighted to even be within a hair’s breadth of her and to watch as the orange street lights that sliced through the metal grill soften her features even further until she was dripping into his vision. Her nose, eyes and ears appear gradually to him from the black blanket of her face like a paper mask small children on his street would wear when out trick or treating at Halloween.
James noticed that with Angie the conversation flowed like water. First it was little droplets that they doged. Polite commonalities between schools, family members and favoured sandwich fillings before the fresh aroma of their shared ozone set in. A condensed cloud would begin to swell perceptibly over their heads, admitting a fire hydrant arc of steam before the full watershed would commence. This imperceptible rain would come on suddenly with a flash of thunder, words would roll, their mouths moving and jaws expanding until with one gulp he found himself kissing Angie full on her mouth and he knew then that he was drowning into her. He felt her hand reach round to touch the back of his head, her fingers working against his scalp and sliding over his hair as if she was searching for something hidden in his skull. She grasped the nape of his neck, bringing his head closer to hers and felt their mouths clash against each other. He felt the material of her blouse crackle underneath his fingers and he sighed, letting the air drain from his body as he sunk deep with her. They were falling in-between the cracks of the floorboards, their bodies positively liquid and they didn’t stop falling. They made it past the concrete foundations, mingled in the storm drain and danced in the gutter until they came together in the soil, breaking apart between heartbeats to drag themselves back to the floor of the record shop. They were alone. Angie’s skin was glowing in the moonlight and she brushed James’ hair off his forehead and looked at him.
“The music sounds strange.”
James turned over and lifted the record off the centre spindle.
“It’s stopped is all. It’ll play again. It has to.”