By Jensine-Bethna Wall
“Man muss noch Chaos in sich haben,
um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können.”
“You need chaos in your soul
to give birth to a dancing star.”
“I miss you, Emily!” he said quietly into the phone.
“I miss me, too,” Emily whispered into the phone and hung up. Her face was still hot and wet from tears, but she felt cold. She shivered and looked at the clock on the wall. Three am. Pulling her warm wrap tighter around herself she sighed, no use in going to bed now, not after that conversation anyway. She uncurled herself out of her big stripy armchair, stretched and walked towards the kitchenette in the corner. Her thick woollen socks were slippery on the wooden floor and made a soft padding sound. It was dark and the only light coming in through the window was from the street lamps outside. It dipped her small world into a slight orange haze and gave everything fuzzy corners. A world without sharp edges, how nice, she mused, while filling the kettle.
‘Good night symphony’ – like every night she dropped the herbal tea bag with the delightful and promising name into her favourite mug, or bucket as her mum liked to call it. Doubtful, that anyone really could sleep better after drinking this, but it did taste nice and had no caffeine, very important for insomniacs like Em as Fran says. Or maybe she meant it as a joke, one never knew with her. As Em poured the boiling water into her mug she watched as the hot steam billowed around it. Strange how the night changed everyday things into mysterious looking objects from another world.
Cupping the mug in both hands Em slowly walked towards her desk at the window. Reaching out she moved the little pink mouse on the desk. At once her laptop awoke from its sleep and the screen was filled with three faces. Em smiled; this was her favourite photo of the three of them. Francis, Rain and herself, Emily.
Francis is on the right, her wild red hair taking up more than its fair share of the space. Her heart shaped face is covered with light brown freckles and her eyes are full of mischief. She is holding a red marker in her right hand and leaning towards Rain, the tallest of the three at nearly 5ft9. Rain’s dark hair is cut in a chin length bob which always makes Em think of her as a pixie with extra long legs. As always Rains beautiful green eyes are hidden behind glasses, which she doesn’t really need. The ones she is wearing in the picture are dark brown with pointy corners, like the ones secretaries wore in all those Doris Day films. Her left hand is wrapped around Francis wrist holding the marker away from her face. Her mouth is tight but the dimples on her cheeks show that she is trying hard not to laugh. Em is on the left. With her long brown curls and blue eyes she was the least exotic looking of the three. She is watching the other two while holding the camera out to take the photo. That is probably why some of her face is outside of the shot. Still the overall effect was great and the photo shows their true personalities. Francis always up to no good, Rain in control and Em, a bit on the sidelines, observing and quiet. Three best friends, each as different from one another, as sweet is from sour, but it’s the mix that makes it perfect.
Still cupping her mug Em plonks herself down on her bright pink swivel chair. What her mum had been thinking when she bought this designer item was still a mystery to everyone, but it was surprisingly comfortable when you sit on it and you don’t have to look at it. Em’s right hand reached for the pink mouse, a gift from Rain to go with the chair, and she clicked onto her email account. There, among all the unwanted spam, was the nightly pick-me-up from Fran. How she did it amazed Em. While jetting around the world, having affairs and millions of mishaps, Fran managed to keep her word and write an email every day. A surge of love for her friend rushed through Em, making her miss her even more. Fran, knowing of Ems sleeping troubles had replaced their nightly phone-calls with emails so that Em didn’t feel so alone when the rest of the world was dreaming.
I arrived in Prague this afternoon, but I will only be here while I am waiting for this job in Austria to work out. I met this guy who said that you could get work no bother during the skiing season, so I sent my CV to a few places and am now waiting to see what will happen.
It’s freezing here but gorgeous. And tell Specs that you don’t need the language to meet cute guys. This lovely guy called Vlad (I think) took me out to dinner (not very nice some kind of dumplings and lots of meat but no sauce! Very dry.) and then we went to this fantastic Jazz club. Did you know that Prague is famous for its Jazz? I didn’t, but then I don’t know much about Jazz anyway. Well Vlad kept buying drinks, trying to get me drunk (and possibly into bed) but I snuck out and am now in the hostels community room.
I didn’t get to see much today, but I promise to go sight seeing tomorrow and tell you all about it. But from what I could see there are tons of old buildings around, really cool. Specs would be able to tell you all about the style, but from what I can see it’s all about size! Big, lots of ornaments and very old. Got to go, my eyes are falling asleep without me.
And as Fran Lebowitz once said: Life is something to do when you can’t get to sleep.
Love you F.
Em just had to laugh, that quote could have come from Francis herself. Where did she find them? As long as Em had known Francis she has been quoting all these random, mostly dead people. She never seems to write any down, but she always has a quote at hand, and ended her emails, postcards and very often her phone calls with one. Not that they always exactly were appropriate for the given situation, normally they just seemed to be a way of ending something and leaving a thought behind.
Em glanced at the clock in the corner of the screen. Four am. Maybe a quick email back and then call Rain, who would be up and getting ready for her day by six am. How she can be so disciplined is something that always baffled Em but at least she knew her friend always had time for her. Maybe she even had it scheduled: Every 90 minutes, 10-15 minutes for Em. Em giggled; she could just see it written in Rains neat handwriting on her day planner. Or better yet maybe she used a code like they did when they were kids. Something that would baffle her secretary: M15e90. It does sound a bit like one of those file names Rain always had lying around her flat or poking out of her bag.
Rain looked at the bright neon numbers in the dark, in five minutes the alarm will go off and she will have to get up. She yawned and stretched under the covers. Making a list of things to do in her head, her thoughts soon drift and she thinks of Fran. She envies her the freedom, the zest for life that she exudes everywhere she goes. How everyday things like shopping turn into adventures and mishaps just don’t seem to matter. But Rain had chosen her life, just the way it was. Nice and orderly, predictable and structured, and yes maybe a bit boring … but safe.
Thinking of all those times as a child, when she came home from school, starving and her mum was out somewhere chanting with friends, and all that was on the kitchen table was an ‘organic’ apple and a note. Or when instead of a birthday cake all she got was a ‘whole-meal’ scone with some raisins. She had grown up free and without money, and she had never felt safe.
The alarm went off and the most annoying high-pitched screech brought Rain back to now. Just as she pressed the off-button her phone rings. No need for caller ID, she knows it’s Em and she smiles.
Like so many days Rain thanks whoever was responsible for bringing Em into her life. Whatever had prompted the two of them to sit together on their very first day of school was a miracle, because from that day they had been the best of friends.
Ems mother always said they were like night and day, but Em insisted they were like Sun and Rain, taking great pleasure in being the sun in the scenario. Ems family was everything Rains wasn’t. There was always a lunch ready after school and dinnertime was a family must. The house was always warm and cosy; they had real heaters and not just the ‘organic’ ones as Rains mum called the woollen blankets. Birthdays were a big deal and there was always at least one multicoloured sugary cake. Rain loved being in the semi-detached house at the end of the cul-de-sack. But Em always dismissed it as just normal. But that was exactly what Rain wanted, normality in all its sugary, warm glow. So at the age of seven, when she blew out the candles on her birthday cake, lovingly backed by Em’s mum and iced in bright pink with little white roses on it, Rain wished for a normal, safe life and that was what she was working so hard for. But sometimes, just in those quite moments in between being busy, she wondered what she was trying to be safe from.
“Hi Em, how was your night?” Rain asked as soon as she has the phone at her ear. Always the multi-tasker, she went into her small compact kitchen and started making her first of many coffees of the day.
“Not good, haven’t slept at all actually,” Emily hesitates and sighs, “He called.”
Rain froze as her brain made sense of what Em had just said. He called, after all this time he called! What did this mean?
Fran stretched her legs from under the covers and sighs. The sun coming in through the dusty window just above her bed was warm on her face and she felt content. The night out with Vlad had been a good start to her time in Prague and she was glad that she had kept her wits about her and not gone home with him. She really enjoyed waking up on her own and starting the day on her own, at her own time, no talking just being and dazing. Even if the “being” and “dazing” was in a cheap hostel room that she had paid double for just so she didn’t have to share it. A pity the beds where bunks and she didn’t have the luxury of a double mattress. But her budget was tight and this was as far as she could make it stretch. And anyway the lower bunk was perfect for dumping things on, like her rucksack, laptop and of course her precious camera plus bag, the nick-knacks she collected wherever she went and all the other mess that seemed to follow her no matter where she was.
Slowly she opened her eyes looked up at the window. The dirt on the panes softened the sunlight and made it seem more yellow. As she watched dust danced in the rays and she remembered how she, as a child, had thought they were little fairies and how she use to try and catch them. And how upset she was when all she ever ended up with was a pile of dirt. A bit like her life really, she mused. She was always running around and chasing all these big, colourful dreams and mostly ended up with a pile of unpaid bills and bad jobs. Well as the opera singer Beverly Sills once said “In youth we run into difficulties. In old age, difficulties run into us.” Francis would just keep running and see how many difficulties she could find to run into, and who knows maybe there won’t be any left to run into her when she is old. Francis grinned as an image of old Em and Specs popped into her head. She could just imagine the three of them sitting on a bench somewhere and gossiping about what ever old people gossip about. One thing was certain though, Specs would be delighted that she would finally need those silly glasses she always wore.
As she reached for her mobile phone, which she always had under her pillow while she slept, Francis heard a knock on the door followed by a stranger’s voice shouting a string of words she couldn’t understand.
“Sorry, not up yet,” she called back and looked at the time on her mobile phone. It was way past breakfast time in the hostel so she would just have to find a cheap café somewhere. Maybe somewhere with a cute waiter who can later show her all the sights? After all she did promise Em that she would tell her all about Prague, so she better see something worth writing about.
Em pressed the little red phone icon and frowned. She thought she had earth-shattering news and all Rain could say was “oh”. Sometimes Rain really had the communication skills of a man. Maybe that is why she is into numbers. All that jibber-jabber and left-brain thinking sometimes really made it hard for Em to understand where Rain was coming from. Possibly Rain had the same problems with Em. As much as she loved Rain and trusted her, she never was really sure if Rain completely understood how she felt. But then the fact that she was Em’s polar opposite was the thing that she loved most about Rain. She was everything Em would have liked to be, ambitious, straight talking, really smart and absolutely gorgeous.
The light coming in through the window was now from the sun. Although it was still low in the sky it was bright enough to see. What to do with the long day that stretched before her. Em had no work lined up for the day, or the week for that matter, so the day was completely empty, no plans. It was still very early, she could always try and go to bed for a few hours. But too many thoughts were swirling around in her head and she just knew that dreams were not amongst them. Maybe if she tried reading that book Rain had given her. She knew she meant it as a joke but somehow it did sting a bit when Em had read the title “What to do with your life … for Dummies! A guide to finding out what you really want and can do.”
But as always when she didn’t know what to do, Em ended up sitting at her little fold down kitchen table flicking through recipe books. Sometime just reading about all the ingredients and seeing the beautiful images of plates laden with unbelievably beautiful food was enough to soothe her mind and calm her soul. Not today. Today she would have to actually pick up that wooden spoon (or in her case a wonderfully stripy plastic one) and create to take her mind off things.
She hadn’t been shopping in a while so it would have to be something simple, something with just the basics and what she had in her pantry. Or the long thin cupboard wedged into the corner between fridge and wall that functioned as such. Em turned her CD player on and 80s music filled her little granny flat. She started weighing out the flour and beating the eggs while dancing and singing along to Abba, Cindy Lauper and all of the other great 80s divas.
She felt so lucky to be able to live in the flat on her own. It was the only place in the world where she was completely be herself and could be who she wanted to be at anytime day or night. Two years ago shortly after she had moved back in with her parents, Mrs Doherty had mentioned to Em’s mother that her mother-in-law was thinking of renting out the granny flat at the bottom of the garden.
At the time Em had imagined Mary Keane to be just like her daughter-in law or even worse like her son. The Doherty’s, only now in their late sixties, had always seemed old. Mr Doherty, always in greys and browns, would go to the corner shop on a Saturday morning for his paper in his green and orange checked tweed-like slippers. They made him walk with a shuffle and even when he wasn’t wearing them his feet still seemed to think they were and kept close to the ground.
Mrs Doherty, always wearing pale pink lipstick, had a perm and Em couldn’t remember her hair being any other colour than the same kind of blondy-white as one of the Golden Girls. Em had never seen Mrs Doherty in trousers; a skirt and matching twin-set seemed to be her uniform.
Em could remember hating having to ‘pop’ down to the Doherty’s for some milk or sugar or what ever it was her mum had run out of. And she didn’t recall Mrs Doherty ever ‘popping’ around for anything; she just didn’t seem to be one of those women who would run out of things. But every time when Em would turn up at their doorstep with a cup or container in hand Mrs Doherty always made her come in and visit, as she called it. She was perfectly nice and offered Em sweets and biscuits or juice, but even then Em just thought that the Doherty’s were just not very interesting. So when Mrs Doherty promised to ask her mother-in-law if Em could maybe rent the granny flat Em was hoping the answer was no.
But a few days later Mrs Doherty gave Em’s mum the address and told her that Em was to drop around to her mother-in-law that same day. Driving her mum’s tiny red Cinquecento down toward Clontarf, Em was torn between wanting to move away from her mother and moving in with someone like the Doherty’s. But Mary Keane turned out to be Em’s fairy-godmother with a loud voice, a love for sherry and a passion for mess. She was nothing like her son and told Em he, like all her children (11 in total) came after Her John. They had liked one another instantly and two weeks later Em moved into the annex at the bottom of the garden.
Em had once asked Mary if she wasn’t lonely in the big empty house but she said that after living most of her life in crowded spaces it was nice to have a lot of rooms to herself. Her John had died seven years ago and Em never was sure if Mary had loved or loathed him. He seemed to be always present and most things that went or had gone wrong were his fault. But when Em asked Mary about it she gave her a funny sort of smile and said “Sure isn’t that the same thing?”.
Her John had been into property or building or something like that and Mary was ‘well looked after’ as she told Em. The only reason why she was renting out the granny flat was to prevent one of her many children moving in to the main house and making her move down the garden. Em thought this notion was funny, as she couldn’t see anyone make Mary do anything she didn’t want to do.
Em loved living in the little flat and she even had her own little patio with a few overgrown trellises shielding it from the main house. Mary had told Em she could do what she liked, and after asking a few times if she could put up a shelf here or paint the kitchen green Mary told Em quite firmly to stop annoying her with tedious questions about things she didn’t care about, Em believed her and did what she pleased. The flat only had two rooms and a small bathroom. The main room was her kitchen cum living, cum dinning-room, cum study. The smaller room was her pale green haven, Em’s bed-room. And she loved every squared cm of it.
Still, it did sometimes feel a bit strange being the resident of a granny flat when the owner was more then twice Em’s age and lived in a house the size of a small mansion.
Em was just putting the tray of biscuits into the oven when the phone rang and made her jump, nearly dropping the tray. After a small juggle and save she pushed the biscuits safely into the oven and answered the phone.
Rain looked at her watch. This telephone conference call was going on much longer than scheduled which meant her whole day would need to be restructured. What was it with men and meetings? Why sit and talk for ages about something when the time could be much better used to just do it? She had recently read that men needed meetings to remind others of their status. A bit like peacocks strutting their stuff to make sure every one knew who had the most colourful and biggest tail, men in suits would puff out their chests and present their ties, look all stressed and bark at one another about figures and statistics and slap one another on the back. In Rains opinion all just a big waste of time. In the same article it had said that meetings held while standing took less then half the time to end, as everyone would feel the need to get moving. Maybe she should suggest that to her boss, the smart but smarmy Mr Harris. But then he seemed to love feeling important, busy and absolutely irreplaceable so probably not the right person to talk to.
Rains eyes drifted to the big window to her left. She could see the Liffey sparkling in the sun and it actually really looked pretty. The way the light was dancing on the water made it sparkle like diamonds or fairy lights. You could nearly forget how dirty it was and how many bikes and trolleys lay sunken at the bottom of it.
As she watched the waves move the light across the water Rains mind started to wander back to the conversation she had had with Em. Maybe she had been a bit harsh in not acknowledging the fact that He had called. Maybe she should have asked Em to give her all the details. But she had heard in Ems voice that she had been crying and that man had already had more than his fair share of tears from Em, she didn’t want to bring on more. And she couldn’t ask, “Why didn’t you hang up on him?” That would have hurt Em even more. She just couldn’t understand that Rain didn’t feel the need to talk things over and over and over again. She had enough talking growing up at home. Her hippy parents sure had seen to that. They had talked about everything from how she spread the butter on her toast, over primal screaming therapies, to the female right to orgasms. As always she thought that in all the talking the listening had been forgotten.
“Are you with us Fraulein Mayer?” asked her boss who was suddenly standing uncomfortably close beside her chair.
Rain hated it when he did that. Calling her Fraulein and making fun of not only her heritage but also her singleness.
“Actually I was just thinking Mr Harris,” Rain answered back in her clearest voice, making sure the big boss on the other end of the phone could hear it, “how odd it is that we are meeting to talk about cost efficiency and time management, seemingly getting nowhere really, when I have clients waiting for briefs and asking for quotes.”
The stunned look on the faces around her told her she had hit home. And the deep, throaty laugh coming from the speakers surprised her. Who would have thought that someone in this company had a sense of humour?
“Quite right Ms Mayer. I think we should all get back to what pays our salaries,” said the disembodied voice through the speakers, “and maybe next time we can have a more structured approach to the topic. Ms Mayer I am sure you can see to that!”
Wonderful thought Rain, more work. Well at least the Big Boss noticed her, be that good or bad was yet to be decided.
As so often when she was travelling, Fran just walked around losing herself in the unfamiliar alleys and streets, taking photos of people and places, forgetting the time and the weather. Prague was a perfect place to get lost in, especially in the snow. Funny, how she always felt most herself while wandering around strange cities not knowing where she was going, or why she even was there. She looked at up at the hundreds of steeples that towered above Prague. The January sun was out and Fran understood why people called Prague the golden city. The light reflected of the gilded roofs and bathed everything in a golden light. And even though the snow was a bit slushy from all the pedestrians the over all effect was really very beautiful, such a shame she had no-one to share this with. But at least she would have lots of photos to show Specs and Em.
Fran loved being on her own, loved to travel and see the world the way she wanted to, but every now and then she longed for someone to share moments and memories with. Of course she always had Specs and Em back home but that was not the same. She wanted a man in her life, not just a string of adventures to share a few nights with but someone who would last and let her be who she was. She sighed and tilted her head back as far as it would go. She starred up into the blue sky till she felt a little bit dizzy but very much alive. Pushing all unhappy thoughts aside Fran spun herself around a couple of times and set off in a direction that looked unfamiliar. Her next plan for the day was to go and find somewhere to eat. Somewhere cheap and where locals went. It didn’t matter that she didn’t understand the language, Fran always found that pointing, nodding and smiling got you most things in life you wanted. And who knew maybe, just maybe she would meet someone to share the evening with.
Fran followed the street till it opened up onto a small square. There seemed to be some sort of market on and Frans heart jumped up and down inside her. This was her element. Specs had brains to spare, Em could bake a cookie to die for but Fran could haggle with the Berbers. With a big grin on her face Fran walked over to the first stand. Somewhere in this maze of stalls and goods she was certain she would find something for her friends back in Dublin. She only wished she had worn thicker socks. Her feet were cold and starting to get wet. Well maybe they had some thick woollen socks here, after all if she did go to Austria she would need them so it would be a justified investment and a keepsake all in one go. She just had to keep reminding herself that her purse and her passion for shopping just do not match. As Errol Flynn so aptly put it “My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.” In Frans case it was more no income. But an optimist by nature and a survivalist by habit she wasn’t going to be put off by the small problem of money. Sure she wouldn’t be in Prague if that were the case to begin with.
Em smiled. Good old TJ. He always called her when he needed a hand in the office. It was great to know that she didn’t always need to relay on the temp agency for work. And an extra bonus was that she would get to spend her lunch break with TJ and his mad colleagues. Em always enjoy going in to the big law firm TJ worked for. It was in the middle of town and even though the whole building was full of solicitors and other men in suits she enjoyed putting the files in order, sorting out the mail and typing up letters. It was work that stopped her thinking. If she was lucky there would be some big case on, creating a buzz about the place. Not that she ever had anything to do with these cases, but she still got the sense of being in the middle of things. Maybe she would be able to set up a meeting with Rain and TJ this time. They were both such high-flyer types and Em was sure they would get on with one another. But as Rain worked mad hours and hated meeting new people Em had not yet succeeded in getting the two to meet.
TJ was one of Mary’s many grandchildren. But funnily enough the only one that was anything like her, at least from the ones Em had met up until now. He was loud and funny and seemed to be too messy to be a lawyer. With his tie always at an angle and his shoes never polished he looked more like someone who worked for a bookie. But he seemed to be very good at what he did and had made a bit of a name for himself. It wasn’t until the first time he asked Em if she could do some work for him that she really understood how good he must be. TJ was the youngest partner in the firm and handled all the big clients.
Em remembered the first time she stood outside his office door and realised how high up in the food-chain he actually was. She felt slightly in awe and a bit embarrassed about a bad joke she had made that Saturday about him needing her to help sabotage the firm. Em was wondering if she should even bother to knock, when the door flew open and TJ stood there with a big grin on his face and a stained tie around his neck. He asked Em if she wanted to do the filing in the hallway and with that she knew that TJ was TJ no matter where he was. And now whenever a secretary was sick or on holiday or if they need some extra filing done, TJ would give Em a ring and she have opportunity to work somewhere she actually liked and got paid extra to boot.
Now her empty week was suddenly filled with long hours in an office and Em was left with a problem, which would not be so easy to solve. What to wear? As much as she loved working with TJ she hated dressing for it. Em was more the jeans and T-shirt kind of girl, maybe a skirt now and then but simple basics were her style. But simple basics were just not good enough for TJs office. Even though he was able to get away with stains on his tie and a bit of an unkempt look, his suits were from Boss or Hilfiger. Em on the other hand only had Primark or Top-Shop. If only she could swap clothes with Rain who had a whole designer wardrobe full of beautiful and classic suits and blouses. But being more than two inches shorter and at least two sizes larger ruled that out completely. And even if Fran was around her wardrobe was worse than Ems. She wasn’t even sure if Fran owned one pair of black trousers as she was normally in combat trousers, tatty jeans or hippy skirts. A pair of black trousers and a white blouse would have to do. A quick iron and a pair of black heels was all she needed to complete the somewhat ill-fitting and cheap looking outfit. The only thing that made the outfit Em was the fact that she always wore a pair of earrings. Em had hundreds, all different, all colourful and from all over the world, most of them dangly and quite large. Rain said she could always tell what mood Em was in by looking at her ears. Of course the most extravagant ones she had were from Fran. Em believed Fran had turned it into a sport to find the biggest and most colourful earrings known to mankind, and by the look of her collection Fran was winning. So, not surprisingly, some of her favourite pairs were from Fran. The more expensive earrings with real stones or precious metals, all very elegant and beautiful were from Rain. Unlike Fran she didn’t look for big ones but for ones she thought Em could wear forever. Classic and clean, just like Rain, they hung amongst the chaos of colours and whenever Em wore them she felt sophisticated.
A few years ago Fran had even made a special earring rack for her to hang them all up on. She had hammered some kind of mesh wiring onto an old wooden ornament frame and spray painted it bronze. It sounded tacky but was quite stunning and very unusual. Em had hung it up opposite her bed and it was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes in the morning. As she mostly slept with open curtains, light would fall onto all the little metal bits and glittery stones creating a glimmering piece of art that looked different every day.
Each pair of earrings had its own story and Em always felt devastated when she lost one. She kept all the singles and they hung all together to one side. Fran called it her earring graveyard and wondered why Em didn’t just throw them away. But for Em they were more then earrings, they were memories and very often the only thing that she had left that would remind her of certain events or people. To Em the earring rack was like a photo album, or a very unique kind of scrapbook.
Today Em chose a pair of wooden beads that had been covered with lots of little colourful trends or yarn. Each earring had three beads, going from small to large: one teal, one wine and one navy. She had bought them a few years back on a trip to west coast with Rain and Fran. It was a girly weekend away and it was the last time Em remember being completely happy. Today she wanted to be reminded of that happiness.
Fran emerged out of the market laden down with flimsy plastic bags. She walked towards a little café she had spotted earlier and ordered tea hoping that the pastry she had pointed to was sweet and not savoury. This was the bit she loved most about shopping, reviewing your purchases and being delighted about all the money you had saved while spending more then you wanted to. The café was empty so she chose a large table by the window. Her fingers itched with excitement as she emptied out her goods. The stripy woollen socks she had bought from a stall were to be used straight away. She untied the laces on her acient, green dock martins and pulled the damp cotton socks from her freezing feet.
While she was massaging some life back into her cold toes, a small child, wandered over from behind the counter. She smiled at the little girl with tiny white blond pigtails. The little girl pointed at the plastic bag on the table and started talking. Fran wasn’t sure if it was because the child was so small that she didn’t understand her or if it was because she was speaking Czech. But it didn’t really matter it seemed obvious that the little girl wanted something. She kept pointing and came closer inch by inch.
“Well little girl, I really do not know what you want,” Fran said and wondered what to do next. The little girl was now trying to get up on her knee and on impulse Fran reached down and picked her up. She had never been the maternal type. She just wasn’t one of those women who stopped and stared longingly into prams and asked to hold every baby that passed her way. That was one of the few things she and Specs had in common. But this determined little person just was too persistent to ignore. Guessing ages of children was another skill she lacked, but this little girl looked too old to be a toddler, to young to go to school, maybe three or four? A perfect little preschooler, old enough to get into trouble, young enough to no know anything about consequences, just Fran’s kind of girl.
Suddenly Fran remembered that she had bought a small wooden toy for her sisters little boy. It was a bright green car with flowers painted all over it. It looked a bit like a combination of a hippy VW bus and one of those advertisement cars for the Innocent smoothie range that use to drive around in Dublin. It was cute and funky and something you just didn’t see any day. She really wanted to buy it and as the only person close to her with kids was her sister she decided it would be for Charlie, her nephew. Normally they didn’t do the whole gift-giving thing but the car was too different to not buy. She wasn’t going to see her sister in ages and knew it would be actually really silly to carry the toy around with her on her travels.
“Well little miss, you are in luck,” Fran said tugging one of the toddlers pig-tails and reaching for the car, “I’m feeling generous and you look like the kind of girl who should get what she wants, but hardly ever does. A bit like myself really.”
The little girl was staring up at Fran as she was talking and seemed to have forgotten why she had climbed up onto her lap in the first place. Maybe she wasn’t used to someone talking to her in English, maybe she was fascinated how the light made Fran’s red curls shimmer. Or maybe she was just taken by surprise by how deep Fran’s voice was for a woman, a dark, rich voice that most men told her they found very sexy. The child’s blue eyes seemed to take up most of her face but when Fran held out the car to the little girl and this seemed to confuse the toddler even more. Unsure what to do she started talking again and stroked the car with her little, somewhat grubby fingers.
“It’s okay,” Fran said holding the car even closer to the child, “you can have it, I think it wants to be yours!”
The little girl grabbed the car, slipped off Frans knee and ran as fast as her skinny legs could go, back behind the counter. Fran laughed out loud and started pulling one of the stripy socks over her cold foot. As she was adjusting the other one she heard crying and steps coming towards her.
Looking up she was startled, a tall, over six foot, man was standing in front of her holding the sobbing child in his arms and a wearing a frown on his face. The man was holding the little car in his big hand and was looking at Fran with an apologetic smile. Fran could not help but think what a hunk and went into flirt mode.
“I’m so sorry,” the hunk said in perfect English with a hint of an Irish accent, “Eliska must have taken this from your table.”
He held out the car to Fran and tipped his head towards the crying child. The little girl was trying to grab the car and her sobs were tearing at Frans heart.
“No,” Fran answered raising up her hands and giving the hunk her best smile and eyelid lift, “I gave it to her. It’s hers, that is, if you’re okay with it.”
“I shouldn’t really.” the hunk said, as he smiled back at Fran but seemed unfazed by her flirtatious manner, “The little minx is quite spoilt as it is. Here you go Eliska, you seem to have won after all.”
He gave the little girl the car and was rewarded with a massive grin, a squeal of pure joy and a kick to his stomach. Slightly winded the hunk bent down and let Eliska slide to the ground.
“Well it looks as if coffee is on me,” he said to Fran rubbing his tummy, “my name is John by the way.”