Assignation

“Just here, please.”

The taxi shuddered to a stop. Nathan took out his wallet. He handed the driver a twenty without looking at the meter.

“Keep the change.”

“Thank you,” the cabbie called as Nathan climbed out of the car.

The little suitcase bounced up the driveway behind him. When he reached the front door he dug his keys out of his pocket.

“Hello,” he called as he stepped into the hall.

The house was warm compared to the autumn chill outside. It smelt both familiar and foreign all at once.

Her perfume hinted of apple blossom and honey. It caused his nose to tingle. As the sea breeze picked its way across the dunes and tried to pry open their coats, she hugged him tight. Strands of hair, pulled free from the clasp of her scarf, tickled the back of his neck.

“I’m in the kitchen.”

Nathan let go of the case and leaned it against the wall. On top he carefully placed his black leather gloves. Through the door at the end of the hall he found his wife removing cutlery from the dishwasher.

“Hey, you.” She turned away from her task as he entered. “How was the trip?”

“A waste of time. I don’t know why I bothered. It could all have been done on video conference.” He stepped up to her and placed a kiss on her cheek.

Soft lips, tiny cushions of warmth. He expected them to be dry, carrying a taste of lipstick, or sticky with salve, but they were none of this. Moist and welcoming, they drew him in. One of her hands held the back of his head, pulling him closer. There was no escape even if he had wanted it.

“But still you had to go.” There was no resentment in her voice.

“Well,” he pulled a stool from under the breakfast bar, “if I’d had a choice I wouldn’t have bothered. I’d much rather have stayed here with you.”

“Oh, I bet, and miss out on all that French food and wine.” She gave him a wry smile.

Nathan could not help but grin back. “Okay, so the hotel was great, and I might have sampled a few glasses of red.”

“Glasses?”

“Bottles. But still …”

“Oh, shut up pretending you don’t like it.” She closed the door to the dishwasher. “Do you want a coffee?”

“I could murder one. The stuff on the plane was worse than vending machine crap.”

Tight jeans drew his eye down her form as she reached to get two cups.

The sea breeze pushed the folds of her skirt up against her legs as she span away, carrying off her laughter at the same time. He took up the chase and she danced further ahead. She ducked down as she rounded a dune. The last glimpse he caught was of her white knitted hat pulled tight over her long brown hair.

Nathan got up off the stool.

“I’ll go unpack while you do that. I could do with getting out of these clothes.”

“Okay, honey.”

He glanced at her as he left the kitchen, but she did not look up, instead concentrating on spooning sugar into the two cups.

Upstairs he dropped the suitcase onto the bed and slid the zip around. He took out the two bottles of wine he had crammed in. The wash bag, bent shoes and work papers he put to one side. Then he emptied the creased clothes into the laundry basket. His red t-shirt was the last to tumble out.

Her bra was red. He could see it under the thin straps of her dress. It hinted at something more, something he hoped to uncover later in the evening after they had left the restaurant. For a moment he was lost in that one flash of colour. Her words passed him by. The effort to shift his eyes was more than he thought he could manage. In his mind his fingers traced across her pale skin, slipping beneath the fabric.

“I picked these up for you.” Nathan placed the two bottles of wine on the kitchen counter. “Got them from a little shop I found.”

She glanced up from the paper that was spread out in front of her and reached for one.

“Very nice. Did you try some?”

“No, not that one.” He pulled out a second stool and sat down opposite. “The guy in the shop could speak pretty good English and he recommended them. I’m hoping it’s not just the rubbish they sell to all the tourists.”

She put the bottle down again and passed him a mug of coffee.

“Thanks.” He took the handle once she had let go of it and quickly removed his other hand to avoid it being burnt. “Do you fancy going out for some food tonight?”

She had returned her gaze to the paper. “Um. I don’t mind. Have you seen this? A love letter from France has washed up on the coast this morning. Some woman pining for the man she’s lost.”

Nathan kept the cup pressed against his mouth hiding the rising colour in his cheeks.

Somedays, there was comfort as a stranger far from home
Sometimes, a hunger and a longing not to be alone.

— Halfway Home, Nerina Pallot, Fires

—————

30 October 2009
A wax sealed bottle containing a love letter (written in French), along with a lock of hair, was washed up on a beach in Cornwall, UK. The three page note was from a woman who tells of her longing for a lover who had to return to his wife.

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