A short story—two characters who knew each other a long time ago meet unexpectedly.
‘Jennifer? Is it? It is you. Jennifer?’
‘Oh my god, it’s…’ Jennifer’s instantly back at school being told off by Miss Evans while Esme stands behind the teacher smirking.
‘So good to see you,’ says Jennifer, ‘you haven’t changed a bit.’
‘Neither have you. Why, even your hair…’
Jennifer’s suddenly hyper-aware of her jeans and scruffy T-shirt.
‘Yeah, don’t say it, same old style.’ Jennifer sighs.
‘I’d have known you anywhere… got time for coffee?’ Esme tilts her head at the doorway of the coffee shop. She points; the gesture shows off immaculate red nails, bracelets tinkle. She raises a shapely eyebrow. Jennifer nods and follows her into the cinnamon laced air of the café. They order and sit watching the busyness of the town. They glance at each other over the top of their cups. George walks past the window and picks his hand up to Jennifer. Nice to see a friendly face, thinks Jennifer and waves back to him.
‘Are you still in Allistown, Esme?’
‘No. Visiting mother. She’s in a nursing…’ Esme’s voice trails off.
‘Which one?’ asks Jennifer.
‘Just local. What are you doing?’
Esme might have asked a question but she’s not interested in the answer. Why did I agree to coffee? How typical of Esme, she won’t even say which nursing home her mother’s in. So secretive. She always was, of course.
‘Well,’ Jennifer says, ‘since John died I’ve been…’
‘Ha ha, “Dear Reader I married him”?’ Esme snickers, again raising her eyebrow as she sips her skinny latte.
‘Yes, you would say that.’ Jennifer shuffles in her chair, looks in her handbag, realises it would be rude to look at her mobile right now and closes the bag; she puts it on the floor, smiles. When Esme ordered the latte she couldn’t help but think: ‘don’t be a latte fatty.’ Esme, as ever, is like a lathe.
‘I always liked John.’ Esme pats at her hair.
‘Yes, I remember.’ Jennifer has a vivid picture of Esme hanging around John at the Methodist youth club: the way he would turn away from Esme; try to discourage conversation. They sip their coffees.
‘Do you remember?’ Jennifer asks.
‘What?’ Esme’s eyebrow is up again.
‘You were always the one who had everything,’ Jennifer says.
‘I was?’ Esme waves her free hand as if brushing the words away, the bracelets clatter.
To Jennifer’s surprise, she sees tears in Esme’s eyes.
‘Are you all right?’ She hands Esme a tissue. Esme dabs at her eyes carefully. Jennifer touches the back of Esme’s other hand, she’s not sure what for, but it seems the right thing to do.
‘Of course I’m all right.’ Esme snaps moving her hand away from Jennifer. ‘Such a do-gooder, so loved. So helpful. So bloody helpful all the time.’
‘You make it sound wrong to help people.’ Jennifer frowns. ‘I like to help out when I can.’
‘I knew I shouldn’t have stopped. Couldn’t help myself. Wanted to know about John.’
Jennifer suddenly feels cold, ‘Why would you want to know about John?’
‘He meant a lot. Even though he was seeing you, I liked him,’ says Esme.
‘Yes, he knew that.’ And I did too. You made no attempt to hide it.
‘He still married his goody-two-shoes. Goes to show…’ Esme sounds bitter.
Jennifer tries to change the subject.
‘The children are grown now. Do you have children, Esme?’
‘Good god no! Can you imagine me? No way.’
Jennifer finishes her coffee and gets to her feet. ‘Well, lovely to see you, Esme. I hope all goes well with your mother. Maybe see you again some time.’ She can’t get out of the coffee shop fast enough.
Polly Stretton © 2012