The Duty of Strangers

Often I Give myself an exercise, I generate randomly letters and then make up words with those initials and then write a story based on that. Today I thought up the letters D and S. Dull Squids, Dirty Socks, Data Square, Dairy Signs, Drams School, Duty Squash, Despotic Silliness and finally Deployed Suction. I decided on the Duty of Strangers……..
She’d been reading a self help book, found on a library shelf. Under one arm she had a romance, The Duty of Strangers, by Jill Eutard.

The self help book the preserve of strangers to common sense had drawn her in. Richard Billet had written a book, The Sex of Love or How to Gain Erotic Magnetism. She opened it at Chapter 7 entitled Erotic Space and Tension and read, ”Attraction met and chased, repels it away, whereas attraction acknowledged and withdrawn from draws it closer.” Yep that was the problem, the too and fro of attraction and repulsion.

Gwen was a professional woman, trim, the gym played its part, and she ate very little. Her face said it all, she smiled but not with her eyes. If you looked at her eyes and that was nigh impossible as she was uncomfortable with that, you would have seen, a mix of fear and arrogance covering her loneliness.

She wanted people to have a good opinion of her but had no idea how to get people to like her as she’d never really liked or been liked. She was clever with figures, an actuary and well compensated. She liked her job and it took many hours out of her day. Still she was too embarrassed to try to take a self help book about erotic love and a romance past the librarian. She wanted more than anything to find some meaning in her life but one of her greatest motivators for her was the good opinion of others. She did not want to be seen like a loser, like her sister.

She’d seen Gail, recently, slightly limping down the street. It was a shock seeing her, she looked older and her long black coat flapped open at the front revealing her skinny brown legs. Gwen had been in a taxi, slowed at the lights, she saw her sister raise her hand in greeting and a man in a hat loped across the road towards her. A gasp of recognition passed through her. The loping man was a gardener she had used to repave her patio.

She’d been reluctant to have it done as it meant a stranger in her house. A stranger in her house, early in the morning. He could see into her kitchen and see her at her early morning rituals, makeup-less, tea cup in hand. She’d watch him lift heavy objects and without it being sexual had admired his body. She thought she should feel attraction but he was kinda licentious, his eyes slid around cunningly over a red, veiny drinkers nose, still he had strong arms, they made her shudder, memories, memories….

Helplessness young helplessness, strong arms, not moving….she sighed, blinked, turned the water hotter and rubbed her neck, it felt stiff, but it usually did.

The therapist had taught her to take a deep breath and stretch, she’d managed to get off the anti depressants after six months, but the memories came back. Still the garden looked great, her sister obviously knew the guy. So what’d ya know.

She put both books under her arm and finding her library card steeled her resolve, fear of ridicule, fear of being judged, fear of someone talking about her behind her back, sucked the air out of her life. The librarian didn’t twitch a muscle when he scanned the books. A young man kept his face dead pan and smiled with his whole face as he handed the books to Gwen. Poor woman, he thought, pretty face but astringent.

Paul watched the woman leave, her body was graceful but she looked tense around the shoulders. She must have sensed him watching her, she turned and her face coloured and tightened, her eyes propelling blue shards of ice at the boy.

Rather than complimented, Gwen was angry at the boy’s look. He must think I’m such a loser, she thought, fingering the self help book. Actually Paul hadn’t even registered the book’s title, he was a librarian and people took books out. It was not his job to remember or even make an inward judgement on their book choices. Gosh what was that all about, note to self, avoid that woman.

Outside the library Gwen immediately forgot the boy, she was always defensive so this new incident was just normal to her. Paul was a simple gay man, young, pretty, sweet but street wise, you get to be at least a little wary when you grow up in a working class area and go to a school where racism and homophobia was if not rife then at least not unknown.

Paul had been confounded by the icy barb and a little piece of it stayed in his awareness and slightly poisoned his day. That evening his sister came to dinner. His share house was walking distance from the library and the sky roared with reds of sunset as they sat in the garden eating risotto and sipping cold white wine.
“Gosh it’s been a long time since we met like this. By the way this rice is gorgeous. You’ve put a lot of herbs into it?”
“Just the ones you see in the garden, I think it’s the fresh factor.”
“Did you see, the doco dad put out about the vintage cars of America.”
“’Fraid not. Hummm, he’s such a petrol head. ”
“Yep he’s taken up editing with a vengeance, he’s even taking all the old family footage and putting it on a disc, and promising to make a family history.”
“Bless his little cotton socks.”
“That’s the basil, it’s a red variety and behind you my oregano and marjoram.”
“You always avoided the garden when we were kids.”
“I now have a doctor who gives me as much anti histamine meds as I need, to live the life of an iterant gardener.”
“Huh, you are sooo not a gardener Mr Thee-atre.”
“Wha, da ya expect? I’m a fruit.”
“You seemed a little subdued, tired when I got here.”
“Yeah had an odd day, the computer system was slow, the boss-lady was having a menopause moment or 10 and right at the end of the afternoon a sour but sad lady gave me a look of such awful hatred it was chilling.”
“Nothing to do with you, little cabbage.”

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