By Carina Tan-Van Baren
The coins fell, gently clinking, into his open hand. He felt their weight and dropped them loose into his trouser pocket, not bothering to count. Never break eye contact.
He smiled confidently at the shop assistant, holding her clear green eyes just a little longer than the transaction required. The girl blushed, not sure how to react. She tried to break his gaze by glancing at her feet. But when she looked back up, he was waiting, watching.
The corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement at her discomfort. A gazelle, separated from the herd.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” he said, finally. He felt her relief at the broken tension. Her shoulders relaxed a little and she allowed a shy smile. Pretty. Not beautiful, but tasty in that firm, fresh way of all young gazelles.
“I’m new – just started this morning,” she said, sweeping a stray blonde lock behind her ear. Her eyes widened a little as she leaned forward to whisper: “I’m a bit nervous.”
“Well, I’m privileged to be your first – I’ll be gentle.” He grinned suggestively, openly admiring the dusky view afforded by her confessional posture. Another blush and she quickly straightened, the soft, inviting swell hidden once more behind the starched blue of her uniform. She’s teasing me. Delicious.
He sharpened his gaze and moved a little closer.
“Natalie, time for your break – are you all done here?”
It was the store manager, a short severe-looking matron with a piercing stare, at that moment trained suspiciously on his baby blues. He smiled again, this time casually, as he picked up his bag of shopping.
“Yep, got all I need.” He winked at the girl. “I’ll see you next time.”
He strolled away, bag swinging as the automatic doors closed with a soft hiss behind his carefree whistle. Back to the herd little one. Plenty of time.
The heat rose in thick waves from the footpath, slow roasting his ankles and calves and the tender white flesh under his chin as it reflected off the grey concrete. In the distance, the distorted figures of tourists on the beach flapped like multi-coloured ribbons against a shimmering backdrop of gold and blue.
He turned down his street, still whistling, shopping bag swinging a counter-beat to his loping pace. The tops of his shoulders were beginning to burn through the thin cotton of his favourite yellow shirt but he ignored the itchy sting, imagining that the hot rays were flooding his body with Summer – a rising tide of happy goodwill and the luck that came with it.
Summer had always been good to him.
Each year of his life, Summer had carefully highlighted his already shining blond locks with sparkling white-gold streaks. The effect was to capture the sun in a light-filled cloud around his head – a natural spotlight that drew the attention of young and old, male and female, to a beautiful, shining specimen of physical perfection.
The mystical glow could even be made out in the faded black and white photos of his childhood holidays – a halo around the face of an angel, his mother had said.
The sun’s kiss brought with it another kind of magic. He discovered early on that, in the Summer, he could do anything. And later – anyone.
He had only to fix his mesmeric gaze on what, or who, he wanted and smile the easy, assuming smile of the naturally beautiful. Except that his beauty, in the Summer, was supernatural.
He skipped up the few steps to his front door, opened it with a practised twist and push of his key and flung the shopping on the kitchen counter, leaving the newly purchased carton of milk to sweat out its remaining cold in the stifling heat of the tiny apartment.
It was too hot to stay inside. He kicked off his sandals and threw himself into a faded recliner on his postage stamp balcony, sighing with happy satisfaction as he fell.
All in all, it had been a good morning. The girl was exactly what he had been looking for. And she was into him. He might go back tomorrow, pick up some ice-cream, maybe some grapes. Say hello.
It was only a matter of time and he had plenty of that. After all, Summer had just begun.
Summer had always been good to him. Except for the occasional cloud.
He left the shop with a swagger in his step. She didn’t recognise the tune he was whistling but it sounded a little off-key.
“You alright Nat?” her manager, a warm maternal type, gave her a light, encouraging pat on the back. Natalie turned away from the doors and smiled. “Yes, thanks. I wasn’t really sure how to deal with that customer. But I’m okay.”
The older woman frowned. “You did well. But be careful with that one, he’s an odd fish.”
At Natalie’s questioning look, she settled back against the counter to share what she knew. “He’s a regular – sweet as pie most of the year,” she said. “Comes in once a week, doesn’t say boo to a goose.
“Then, come the high season, he goes a little nutty. Starts waltzing in every day, chatting up the girls like he’s George Clooney or something.”
“If you ask me, the hot weather does something to his head. It’s creepy. For heaven’s sake, he’s older than my Dan and here he is, prancing about like he’s the red hot thing.”
Natalie nodded thoughtfully and looked back at the closed front doors, remembering the scrawny figure affecting the casual swagger of a player, a shock of bright white hair catching the light, almost absorbing it, as he stepped outside.
His skin was a dark tan from a lifetime in the sun, more wrinkled than her grandfather’s, and his slight body swam in the generous folds of a faded yellow shirt and ballooning khaki shorts.
That this creaky old-timer should so confidently engage any women – let alone the young and nubile – was unbelievable, comical.
Yet…there was something in his eyes…
Ahh Carina – so good to see you get something down and fire it off!! And what a first effort…engaging and intriguing. Fantastic what has emerged from leaping through that first window. If only I could get my window open. I think the paint has fused it shut…
I liked this story. It was very interesting. I think there are several ways to look at it. The underlying danger that comes through at the beginning fades as the he is revealed as a goofy old guy in baggy clothes, but it comes back at the end with Yet…there was something in his eyes…
A lot going on in a a short time. One that makes you think.
I enjoyed the surprise of the ending. It made me wonder if he was somehow magical; possessed of some glamour he could turn on and off when needed.
i really enjoyed reading this. the beginning pulls the reader in straight away and i instantly wanted to read more. i love the way you depict the man – so unsettling in the beginning, so sure of himself, only to be unveiled as something quite ridiculous. and then there’s the last line that leaves us all wondering…
love this, carina. but something very disturbing in its essence … like you’re seeing through the eyes of an old predator on the verge of a serial killer. i don’t think you should do too much more shopping. 🙂
You are a gifted writer ! Your story is spellbinding , I loved your words and how you command them into the story . Your character is so carefully sketched , just like perfect drawings , the correct light casting the desired shadow . (can you tell my background is in fine arts ?) .
I love the casual dialogue. I think I know a man such as your character…he is a little devil and cute.
You description is in detail and very warm. I think it is the way you tie in dialogue with a very(I hope this describes it) easy/natural manner.
This is one of the smartest prose I have read in a while—his skin was a dark tan…faded yellow shirt and ballooning khaki shorts. That is a story in itself.
Thank you all for the feedback. The story went so many different and interesting ways in my head that I felt the best thing to do was to leave it right there…where everything was still possible.