The Next Move
She slipped him her telephone number in a totally discreet way, quite unseen by anybody else. Engineered so cleverly, right under the noses of everybody else in that room, nobody had the slightest inkling of what had really taken place.
It spoke unquestionably of
premeditation. He could imagine her carefully tearing the square corner off the
sheet of paper, writing her number on it and then folding it once and again.
Yet where had she concealed this, ready to join the envelope she handed
to him, in full view of anybody who happened to notice the movement?
How had he reacted? Exactly
as she hoped he would.
Beneath the surface, though, his heart had missed a beat. He recognised that he must master all his inner resources to remain absolutely calm, to appear unmoved, to react normally. If he had hesitated for a second, the chances are that he would have slipped up, even if only in the timbre of his voice by saying “thank you” in a way entirely unexpected in that environment. Because he knew, as soon as he caught a glimpse of it, exactly what was written on that piece of paper and he knew, too, that he had immediately to continue its concealment from everybody else’s view.
So his brain super-rapidly
concentrated on the practicalities.
This is marvellous, he thought. Our thoughts are chiming together precisely and those thoughts are, first and foremost, discretion.
Now, however, his once again beating heart was beginning to beat faster as he realised that this was the first move, the opening gambit, of a potentially glorious encounter which, she had now clearly signalled, had the potential to be played to the full.
Was it actually the first move, though? This sleight of hand had not arisen completely out of the blue, he had to admit that. Just how their previous amicable conversations had initially taken on an extra dimension he wasn’t sure. He couldn’t recall the first time he had said anything which might be considered particularly overt, or used specific words to convey his inner thoughts but a woman can pick up on the hidden things: the inflexions, the body language, the subtle nuances of voice or look or posture. He had always tried to act normally in her presence but realised that, over time, he must have begun to give away his deepest desires.
His mind went back over
their previous discussion - after the last such dinner event - and he could
recall the casual, almost throw-away reference by her to his coming round to her
home sometime. “You might be out”, he had replied. “I would hate to be
disappointed”. Her response, given in a calm, unruffled manner had been
“Just phone me up first so I know you are coming”. It was as he had
responded “I don’t know your number” and she had answered “Let me write
it down for you” that somebody had interrupted their little bubble and dragged
him away to sort out the urgent needs of the speaker.
His thoughts were coming
quickly now as, just as happened the last time they were conversing together,
other people were stepping forward to engage in discussion with him. In those
last seconds of the two of them being tête-à-tête, he wanted to be absolutely
sure she knew that he appreciated something extra had been placed in his hand
that evening; that her action had not gone unnoticed by him.
He couldn’t openly refer to it, for others were now within earshot, so
he gave a rapid dart of his eyes down towards his pocket and an imperceptible,
except to her, tiny nod of his head.
He didn’t have another opportunity to be alone with her that evening but later, when general goodbyes had been said to all and sundry and the chores were finished and the lights in the hall had been switched off and the door locked, he had time to think.
Stepping out into the
chilly night air seemed suddenly to clear his brain and he realised, perhaps for
the very first time, that he was up against a problem. As he walked slowly home
that problem seemed to increase in enormity. Quite
simply, once he crossed the line he would be potentially doomed.
She had clearly
demonstrated discretion so far but, with a rare revelation of foresight, he
guessed that things could change at some point in the future. What if, he
thought, he were to turn round after a while and say, effectively, “That’s
it, no more”. She might think “Well if I can’t have him any more I’ll
make sure nobody does”. She would only need to say one word or drop one hint
and he would be finished.
To him the whole tantalising enterprise, which until an hour before had appeared so alluring, now appeared as being far too risky, too close to home and with too much riding on it. Had he just been fantasising? Is that all his thinking, his dreaming, his subconscious Socratic verbalising were destined to become – mere unfulfilled fantasies? Even if they did become real, he would have to live with the guilt of deception.
That was, perhaps, the biggest issue about turning such fantasies into reality – he would need to lie, to cheat, to pretend, to scheme. He would need to cover each track, every turn, invent watertight alibis, be always looking over his shoulder, always anticipating. He was getting too long in the tooth for that. He knew, somewhere along the way, there would be a slip up. He would forget something or not foresee something, or somebody else would put two and two together. He could anticipate that very quickly the whole situation would spiral out of his control, out of their control; that the whole fragile house of cards would come tumbling down.
How he wished he could be somebody different. Somebody whose heart didn’t rule his head.
He clung to the words he first heard years ago in “Say Hello Wave Goodbye”, a song by the group “Soft Cell”: “A nice little housewife, who’ll give me a steady life and won't keep going off the rails”. That is exactly what he had. Was he really prepared to sacrifice everything? Could he stay on the rails too?
The re and then the turmoil in his head subsided and he determined to see it through, at whatever cost. He simply could not ignore such an invitation, one which might never come his way again.
Realising he was nearly
home - there, a few yards ahead of him, was the turning into his street - he
abruptly stopped under a convenient lamp post. Whipping out his mobile phone he
reached down into his other pocket and retrieved the secret paper, nestling
there amongst all the blue envelopes which he had gathered together. Trembling
slightly and with a dry mouth, preparing to touch in the number, he flicked open
the folds on the paper.
Written on it in a tiny, neat hand was this: “So embarrassing – I only had a £5 note on me for the Gift Aid envelope. Will pay extra next month. Sorry”.
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire February 2016