Tuppence was the kind of girl who looked you in the eyes and demanded, without saying a word, that you justify yourself to her. Her world was full of words people had used but not meant, and yours had better not let her down.
I let her down.
It’s not that I didn’t mean what I said, it’s that I was too careful, too afraid, too … predictable.
It was her surname. Halfpenny. Pronounced “haypney” … that put me off for starters. Then there were her eyes – looking at me. Deep deep brown eyes you could curl up and lie down in but then the piercing cold demand of her right eyebrow. Arched. Imperious perhaps. And then her disappointed shoulders – collapsing as if two vertebrae had fallen away in a spinal landslide. The momentary loss of her gaze, the swift flare of her nostril and her eyes snapped back to lock on mine until I couldn’t take it any more and my eyes fell to the floor in shame.
I picked them up, dusted them off and put them back in their sockets where they belonged.
A tear welled on my eyelid: hot and fat and salty. It wasn’t the lint I had missed as I dusted off my eye, but the thought that she might never learn to trust me enough to just laugh freely.
I blinked and the tear rolled heavily to the corner of my mouth and the salty tang, the brine of my fear, let itself kiss my tongue.
I saw her chest rise as she prepared to speak. Pray God I wasn’t staring at her chest, that distracting plunge of skin and that mole – did God really need to put a mole just there – drawing my eye and. Oh no. I definitely looked that time and she’s still looking at me. She’s seen me look right at moley and then over correct. EYES. Yes. Got them – there they are. Completely devoid of mole, though I swear I can see it sitting just on the valley wall there, teasing me.
I could do with a drink. My mouth has gone from being perfectly functional to slightly salty and now it’s an oral Atacama; moisture a distant memory. Something cold and long. Something sophisticated perhaps to show her I have taste. Maybe iced water with a slice of lime and an olive. Maybe that would taste awful or be too showy. Maybe just a cold glass of water with the beads of condensation coalescing into tears of their own and tumbling to the table. I should probably get her something too. She’d like that.
I really need to fart. I’m not sure how much pressure I can apply before it defeats itself and turns a tiny gas slip into a trumpet fanfare. Hnnnh. Not good. And now I need a wee. Should I get these drinks in first ? Oh God I don’t know. To pee or not to pee …
Shit. She’s asking me something. What was the question again ?