Doors of Tunis

His face seems to soften as he glances through my notes, making comments, offering suggestions. That’s Nick – he knows something about everything, or so he pretends. Fatherly Nick, Nick the nice doctor. Hello Nancy, he says, his voice posh and controlled. Hello Nancy, it’s me, what you up to? Finished marking yet? Oh, I’m just sitting here, you know, just chilling for five minutes. Just sent out the last patient. You should see this place, you know, you should visit. There’s metal grilles on the windows, and when the sun’s in the right position you get shadows just like spider webs on the wall. You’d like it. Very film noir.

Hello Nancy – that slow, precise way he speaks my name – hello Nancy. Just the usual – birth, disease and death. Listen, I could come over to Manchester later. If you’re not busy, that is.

Nick hates farewells. He never wants a goodbye kiss. It reminds him of being sent to school, the whole family standing on the platform until at last the whistle blew and he could go inside. On its way through London, the train went past his house. His parents might be back home already, listening to the news, feeding the dog, as if he’d never existed. He could almost see his Airfix models hanging in the bedroom window. Nick, it’s me; don’t you know me? I nearly take his hand. I almost say, this is stupid, there is no other woman, you’re making it all up. But it’s too late. Twenty-five past six.

When I come out of the toilet, he’s vanished. My big empty coat’s sitting in the chair, the sleeves concertinaed where I pulled my arms free. I wish I could escape. Maybe there’s another exit, but of course there isn’t. I can see him waiting on the street, his back against the window. Putting on my coat seems somehow complicated. I watch my bag overbalance, the DVDs clattering to the floor.

The arts couple are splitting the difference. Someone else is sitting in the Spanish guy’s place, and Miles Davis is playing So What. The girl behind the counter smiles at me on my way out. Nick always leaves a generous tip.

Sometimes he looks so defeated. I wish I knew how to help him. He looks so old sometimes. He’s standing there in his Rupert Bear scarf like a dim reflection, an arm’s length away, stubbing out another half-smoked cigarette. One minute to go. What happens now? Do lovers shake hands at the end of the match? Do we embrace like shipmates, bidding farewell? Or kiss for one last time, surreptitiously warming ourselves on the heat stored in our bodies?

‘It wasn’t all bad, was it?’ he says. ‘I know I’m hard to get on with, but we had some good times, didn’t we?’

‘I suppose so.’ I shrug. ‘Well then, see you’ – except that’s the wrong expression, because I know I shan’t, not ever. I turn down the street proudly without looking back. I’m walking fast. I’m walking fast towards my class to stop myself from falling.

Ailsa Cox has had stories published in various magazines and anthologies, including Manchester Stories 3 and The Virago Book of Love and Loss. Her first collection is due out on Headand Press in 2009.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5



One Response to “Doors of Tunis”

  1. October 31, 2008 at 2:05 pm, rob said:

    good read!
    im just like nick – mayb all blokes r!


Leave a Reply




Via email: