Monday, 7 March 2011

Tailoring

Helen unbuttoned the white coat as they entered the restaurant. She shrugged it off as she walked, held it out for the waiter to catch as she passed, heading straight for the table in the corner.  Mark knew she’d want to sit against the wall, her back upright against the sludge-green wooden paneling. From there she could see across the restaurant; see and be seen.

He’d always been happy with it that way, watching her watching; satisfied enough by her decision to sit with him. He didn’t need to see the rest of the room; the looks of surprise exchanged between the other diners, their heads bending close as they whispered comments about beauty and the beast.

The waiter came to take their order; she always ordered for them both. At one time she’d have chosen different dishes, mouthfuls to be swapped, tastes shared.

“We’ll both have the beetroot salad. No starter.”

He looked at her while they waited for the food, while she studied the décor, the costumes of their follow diners. They didn’t speak, but he could almost hear her completing the judgmental checklist. He watched her run her fingers through her hair. To anyone else this might have looked like a distracted, thoughtless gesture. He knew better, understood her desire to demonstrate that, even at her age, she could still carry long hair. He knew that the blond colouring was carefully re-established every few weeks. He also knew how painstakingly the hairdresser recreated the dark roots growing through, doggedly covering any hint of grey.

The arrival of their meals stopped the silence from stretching. He watched as she sliced carefully through a piece of beetroot, noticed the purple juice seeping out like spilt wine, saw how it stained the white cubes of feta cheese. Her thin lips clamped down on the fork, enclosing the small mouthful of food. For a moment he imagined her with beetroot juice running down her chin, tried to picture her laughing and wiping it away on the back of her hand. 

When had everything become so constrained? It was almost as though each stitch through her skin had sewn up a reaction, closed in an emotion.

There was a sudden shriek from the next table. Mark turned just in time to see a man drop a smoking napkin to the floor; it must have caught on the candle.  His companion was smothering a giggle, hand clamped over her mouth to stop the laughter escaping, her shoulders shaking with the effort of keeping it in. He felt a sudden enormous urge to put his arm around those shoulders, to feel something other than taut skin, sharply defined bones. How he longed for looseness. Loose-limbed, lascivious, luscious, loveliness.He bit into a piece of beetroot, savoured the taste of sweet earthiness.

“Excuse me, I think I need the bathroom.”  So polite, even after all this time. He placed his knife and fork neatly by the side of the plate, knowing anything else would irritate.

Crossing the room, he came to a short corridor running across the back of the restaurant. To his right the toilets, to his left the exit to the car park.  He saw the white coat hanging on a coat rack by the door. He knew what it symbolized; an owner who had no need to use public transport, who had no fear of getting it soiled; a short-term seasonal whim, no need to make it last. God, how he hated the smug arrogance of that coat.

Mark paused, but only for the briefest moment, then without a backwards glance he turned left. As he unlocked the car he smiled ruefully, wondering how long it would be before she realised he wasn’t coming back. He pictured her calling for her coat, looking on in horror as the waiter handed it to her, seeing the rapidly spreading stain as the dark red juice seeped from the pocket where he’d oh so carefully placed the slice of beetroot.



36 comments:

Baglady said...

Brilliant. Love the description of her all uptight and pulled in. Reminds me of someone I don't see any more.

Fab ending.

light208 said...

Excellent. This did not head in the direction I expected. I love the extra sting of the beetroot revenge.

Starlight said...

Amazing; perfect descriptions as always. I was hoping it would end this way but I did't expect the beetroot in the pocket. Brilliant!

Mr London Street said...

This may be my favourite thing of yours to date. It's built around so many beautiful sentences that just leap off the page, but it's so balanced and elegant too. Not just that, but the image it closes on is just superb. Promise me you are going to submit this somewhere soon, it is just excellent.

Barbara L said...

This is my favorite post of yours to date. The ending was fantastic. Love it, love it, love it.

legend in his own lunchtime said...

That's the best short story I've ever read.

Happy Frog and I said...

I didn't think this story was going to go the way it did which made it even better. What a great post, outstanding.

Anthony Hodgson said...

I could picture her so uptight and his need to escape from it. I didn't think it would end like that well done a really excellent read

Shopgirl said...

I loved your descriptions of the silence here. Though it can be a symbol of comfort at times, it was suffocating in Helen's self absorbing "mental check list". Then the shriek broken the silence, I think, and so ended a certain silent suffering. Not sure if Mark made the decision at that point or in the corridor, but that made it all the more intriguing.

Robbie Grey said...

This was fantastic. I wanted to see her reaction to the stain.

Penny Dreadful said...

Fantastic :)

Nota Bene said...

Not been here before. It was worth the wait! Very enjoyable indeed.

Hillary said...

I love how you describe what the white coat symbolized. I can't afford to waste money on white clothing, let alone an expensive coat, because I inevitably destroy it. Hahaha! Sweet revenge of the beetroot!

Rohini Prasanth said...

Brilliant! loved the ending and every part of the description. sweet revenge!
I am curious though, why is it named tailoring?

Sally-Sal said...

I loved this. And it made me laugh, at the end, because I imagined him not just walking, but running to the car.

This was fantastic.

Olga said...

I enjoyed reading this post very much. Certainly, the ending was surprising. This is how it looks when love goes away.

caterpillar said...

Once I finished reading, it left me a with a lot of questions...a lot of why's, what's and when's...Brilliantly written...

Pat said...

Great - got me really involved. What a sod.

Nicole said...

This is smile inducing. Very nice piece of revenge. And I especially like the spontaneous napkin fire. I think intrusions into the storyline that are supposed to be turning points are often unwieldy and too obvious---unbelievable. This was none of that. I very much believed the barely held in check laughter. I believed that smothered giggle helped Mark decide to escape. Well done.

Jeannie said...

I had a terrible feeling about beetroot when I read "beetroot salad," and no wonder! LOL I'm left with a disturbing feeling in the pit of my stomach and I don't think it's the pie I had tonight ;).

Nicely done, GG!

Pat said...

'From there she could see across the restaurant; see and be seen.'

This reminds me of two actresses I knew in the sixties. They were great friends and went on a trip to Venice together. Every night in the restaurant they would have a heated debate as to who should sit with their back to the window - both had always been used to that privilege and bitterly resented sitting with their back to the 'audience'.
On the way home they weren't speaking to each other and the friendship was never the same.

Maryx said...

Wow fantastic! I love how he very nicely shows her the finger, really. It's satisfying. I don't like uptight people.

Dani said...

I can only echo what everyone else has already said: what a lovely, lovely piece of writing. You just feel his frustration, long for her to break out!

Nessa Roo said...

Applause from the entire room. I read this one aloud to my eighteen and fifteen-year-old sons, and they cheered!
The pocketed beetroot was the perfect touch.

Sharon Longworth said...

I've been bowled over by the comments on this - thank you all so much for your support and I'm thrilled that so many of you liked this story.

Baglady - this was prompted by a fellow diner in a pub a few weeks back - and uptight and pulled in was exactly how she was - I'm so glad I was able to convey some of that.

Light208 - I struggle so much with endings, I'm glad you couldn't see this one coming. Thank you for your comment

Starlight - too kind, as ever. I'm glad you liked it.

MLS - I'm still smiling as I re-read your comment - what you've said means an awful lot - thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Barbara - thank you, thank you, thank you!

Legend - I only ever dreamed of someone saying that to me about my writing - I can't tell you how much I appreciate it what you've said here.

Happy Frog and I - thank you so much, I'm glad there was an element of surprise.

Anthony - thank you for reading this, I'm really pleased that you enjoyed it.

Sharon Longworth said...

Shopgirl - thank you. I think in my head the shriek was the starting point for Mark's decision and seeing the white coat confirmed it for him. Thank you so much for reading, thinking about it and commenting.

Robbie - thank you. I'm not sure my skills are quite up to describing her reaction!

Penny - thank you :)

Nota Bene - hello and welcome to the blog - I'm so glad you enjoyed this and thank you for leaving a comment.

Sharon Longworth said...

Hillary - yes I know, the whole idea of a white coat just seems far too extravagant to me as well!

Rohini - thank you so much. I think the title was meant to suggest a combination of her being all tightly sewn up, and the tailoring of the white coat. Hope that makes some sense?

Sally-Sal - thank you! I like the idea of him running as well - and maybe whistling to himself as he drove away?

Olga - thank you. I'm very pleased that you liked it.

Sharon Longworth said...

Caterpillar - I'm glad there was something here to leave you with some questions - I really like the idea of giving people something to chew on after the story has finished. Thank you for your kind comment.

Pat - do you really think he was a sod? - I think I imagined him as some sort of long-suffering hero, but as ever, there is always more than one perspective.

Nicole - thank you. The flaming napkin was an incident from a real night out with my beloved - it was hilarious at the time and too good not to use it in a story.

Jeannie - I'm sorry for any unintentionally caused stomach upsets, but very very pleased that you liked it. Thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Pat - that's a great story in itself and I'm so glad you came back to share it. Thank you.

MaryX - thank you, I'm really pleased you enjoyed it - and I agree it's very hard to like people who are too uptight (which probably includes me sometimes...)

Dani - thank you so much.

Nessa Roo - I can't tell you how thrilled I am by your comment - I'm touched that you read this out loud to your boys and I'm so pleased they liked it. Thank you.

Rebecca Emin said...

Oh this is absolute perfection! I was willing him to turn left!! Go, Mark, Go!!

Philip said...

I was there for the situation that inspired this and I think you have turned it into a good story. I know that sentence doesn't contain gushing compliments but I phrased it carefully.
A good story, and it was you that turned it into that.
Loved the burning serviette detail. What fool would do a thing like that? I also loved the beetroot thing.

Pat said...

'Pat - do you really think he was a sod? - I think I imagined him as some sort of long-suffering hero, but as ever, there is always more than one perspective.'

Sharon I've read it again - often one reads too quickly and forms a judgement too hastily- and although I could have put it more elegantly I still feel the same. Obviously I am in the minority but I feel If one isn't honest about one's reactions, one shouldn't be blogging or indeed writing.
She came over as a sort of Margo in 'The Good Life' who just can't help herself and the universal opprobrium smacks to me of bullying.
I think he was a coward and should have had the guts to tell her how he felt without behaving so spitefully. But then of course the story wouldn't be so telling.
You see what you've done? Given me an hour or so of soul searching. The sign of a good writer I should say.

Kim said...

Brilliantly written...just brilliant!

Sharon Longworth said...

Rebecca - hello and thank you for stopping by - I really enjoyed your story, so I'd dead chuffed you liked this too.

Philip - your carefully considered feedback means an awful lot to me - thank you. And, I think you know that I have am enormous amount of affection for anyone who can set light to a napkin...

Pat - I'm incredibly touched that you went away and thought about this, and then made the time to come back and comment again. You are so right to show us all that there is never a single view on a situation, and that people behave in the way they do for different reasons. Thank you for making me think about my own reaction to this story as well.

Kim - thank you so much!

otherworldlyone said...

This is one of my favorites.