Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Story: Callback: Part 2

This is Part 2 of "Callback." Find Part 1 here. Parts 3 and 4 to come.

When Sara at last stepped outside it was nearly half-past one. The night air was crisp and cool. From the narrow cobblestones of the alleway up to the bar door led a flight of six worn wooden steps; Sara stood for a moment on the landing, gazing into the night. Across the street from the bar rose a block of flats, five stories high; someone had left their window open even in the cold October weather, and the white damask curtains fluttered in the cool breeze. On one side of the bar was a shop that offered psychic readings; on the other, a bookstore. Every morning at nine the bookstore’s owner rolled out metal racks filled with dusty books, pages dog-earned, rounded with use. When Sara first started working at the bar, she sometimes stopped on her way to work and purchased a book. After work, she carried her treasures all unopened back to the flat she shared with her maiden aunt. There, she would brew a cup of lemon ginger tea, open a pack of digiestive biscuits, and open her book, drinking in the British spellings, the yellowed pages, the smell of cigarette smoke and coffee that the books carried. Recently, her budget had tightened (life in London was so very expensive!) and even the cheapest of books was a luxury.

Of course, the book shop was long since closed for the night. Sara descended the stairs, turned right past Rachel’s Psychic Readings and headed for the main road, heels snapping on the cobblestones, faint echoes behind her in the narrow alleyway.

She reached the main road as the night bus rolled up. With a hiss of escaping air pressure, its doors folded open; Sara stepped on, swiped her Oyster Card, and found a seat. A forty-minute ride, a ten-minute walk, and she’d be safe at home, in her tiny suburban flat, just before 3.00 – fairly early. Some nights she staggered home, bone-weary, at 5.00 or 6.00. She dragged herself in as the sun rose over the shingled roofs and church spire of Harrington, dragged herself back out four hours later for an audition. No wonder she hadn’t had a callback in months.

Only when the bus doors closed with a snap and the bus jumped forwards did Sara notice among the passengers the young man from the bar. Clearly he had climbed into the bus behind her, since he was just sitting down among the shadows at the back, though staring forwards – in fact, Sara realized with a shock, staring at her. She quickly glanced away, fixing her eyes on the grimy bus windows and the dazzling lights of London passing by outside.

Within minutes the bus had passed into the darkened streets of the suburbs. As they rolled past quiet houses, Sara’s thoughts turned to Ivy, likely at a party somewhere in Piccadilly. By now her friend was probably half-drunk, just enough to be sociable, celebrating her upcoming play. Sullivan would be there too of course, not drinking, ever watchful. His hand on the small of her back, he would guide her from theater director to stage manager to seasoned actor, making sure that Ivy met all the right people to advance her career. Together, Sara was sure, they would go far.

Unexpectedly, the picture of Ivy and Sullivan made Sara think of Brandon. In Atlanta Brandon was probably just arriving home after a long day at the clinic. Sara imagined him laying aside his medical notes and charts, washing up, eating a sandwich and drinking a beer with his reading (a physicians’ journal, maybe, or a three-day-old newspaper) propped against a stack of napkins. Later, perhaps, he would check his email. Maybe even send her an email.

With a jerk the bus stopped and its doors swung open. She shook herself in the sudden blast of cold air, gulped back the lump in her throat. Restlessly she shifted in the red vinyl seat, trying to ease the pressure on her aching legs and forget her growling stomach. Only two more stops, then she’d be home.

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