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The Opposite Direction

Page 4

Peter Farrar

Nigel slowly circled the table, topping up glasses. Port chugged out. His hand shook and a few drops missed, rolling down the outsides of glasses. He took out a tissue and mopped around the neck of the bottle. Our glasses smelt like over ripe plums.

“I propose a toast to baby boomer angst,” he said.

Gary asked after Shard. Was she still the life of the party? Making grand entrances? I shrugged, enquiring about Caroline. Saying her name took me back to her fingers spread on my chest like a starfish adhered to rock. Her bracelets tinkling, tendons straining in her neck as she looked away, teeth gritting as if in pain. I nodded as he spoke, not hearing a single word.        

I lost one hundred and thirty-six dollars. Plus twenty-three dollars contributed to the bottles of port. I stood at the end, hazy in smoke and tired from concentration. I watched Gary slightly stagger up. Every time I saw him, I expected he’d fix me with a thousand-yard stare, saying Caroline told him. Or he’d thumbed through her diary, finding my name, maybe several lines drawn through as if attempting to hide it, they way criminals wipe off fingerprints.     

Nigel announced he’d won enough to buy an investment property. We followed him down his hallway, a line of beach paintings blurring corners of eyes as if their paint ran. He stood back, shaking Gary’s hand first. Our handshake squeezed hard, still competitive.

“Mind those steps,” Nigel said. And I took them carefully as I always had. Same as climbing stairs when entering that dumpy two-room flat I once rented. Into the labour ward as Shard bristled and arched through contractions. Across customs as I returned from skin rashes and diarrhea in Malaysia. Then my steps took me in the opposite direction to Gary, until I heard him closing in on me.           

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