Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Born Yesterday

Copyright © 2006

An older man gets picked up by a beautiful young woman.  He was right not to believe his luck…

There’s no fool like an old fool. That’s what they say. I think they’re right. I’ve been a bloody fool. I don’t feel old but, I suppose, my grandson thinks I am. Why did I do it? I don’t know. Loneliness, perhaps? Yes, that’s what it was: loneliness. I just got sick and tired of doing everything by myself. I should’ve seen it coming... but she turned my head. Can’t blame me for that, surely; I mean, you should get a look at her: and she certainly knew how to turn on the charm.

I was flattered, I suppose, a man of my age appealing to a much younger woman. I didn’t believe it at first but she was very persistent. Eventually, she had me convinced and I swallowed it hook, line and sinker. I mean, it’s not as if I had a pile of money to get her attention with: just the opposite...

We met in a bar one wet Friday night. I was getting a drink and she backed into me, laughing. Something one of her girlfriends had said, I think. Anyway, she turned around just in time to see me drop the large single malt the barman had just handed me. Of course, it went all down my trousers.

She looked horrified. She looked lovely, actually. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, and she put her hand on my shoulder and looked me in the face. I just looked back at her and allowed my annoyance to evaporate in the radiant warmth that came from her eyes. Romantic-sounding twaddle, I know, but that’s how it felt. ‘Let me buy you another,’ she said, meeting my gaze, ‘what are you drinking?’

‘Glenmorangie,’ I said, ‘but that won’t be necessary.’

‘I insist,’ she said, waving at the barman to get his attention. She turned and looked at him, and I cocked my head to one side and stared at her profile, stunned. What would it be like to kiss her, I wondered... She carried on talking, ‘A Glenmorangie for this gentleman,’ she said, ‘and make it a double of whatever he’d ordered.’ The barman nodded as he took the twenty pound note she proffered and reached for a clean glass in the same motion then headed for the optic. She turned back to face me and smiled. ‘I hope that will be OK,’ she said.

She was a good ten inches or so shorter than me, and she looked up past long dark eyelashes, her face framed in a well-groomed brunette bob. She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen; at least, she seemed so just then. I smiled back. ‘That’s more than generous,’ I said, ‘The one I dropped was already a double. You’ll have me drunk.’ We were standing quite close already because of the crush, and the noise meant we had to lean in to hear each other properly. I hoped my breath didn’t smell. I smiled back, and I think she caught the embarrassment in my expression: I think she understood why I was embarrassed, too.

She looked away to the floor, fluttered her eyelashes, and looked back into my eyes again, held my gaze. She held out her hand to me. ‘Anna Roberts,’ she said.

‘Delighted,’ said I, taking her hand and telling her my name. Her grip was firm, and we lingered a little longer than would have been polite if we were not flirting.

‘Your drink, sir; your change, miss,’ the barman said. She let go of my hand and took her money and I lifted my generously full glass from the bar.

‘Is it “Miss”?’ I asked her, tentatively. I heard her girlfriends snigger.

‘It is,’ she said, turning back to me and smiling, ‘Are you married?’ Her eyes darted down to my left hand, where a band of gold flashed its alarming presence.

‘Widowed,’ I announced, lifting my hand into clear view. ‘Five years ago. Can’t quite get used to the idea of not wearing this.’ One of her friends cleared her throat, as if in warning.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, her expression changing slightly, I was uncertain whether out of suspicion or sympathy. ‘How did it happen?’ Her face took on its horrified look again. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I don’t mean to pry.’

‘That’s OK,’ I said, ‘I don’t mind talking about it now. It was very painful back then. It’s much less so now.’

She read the poignancy in my tone and expression and seemed to draw some reassurance from it. ‘But not entirely without pain?’ she posed.

‘No.’ There was an uncomfortable silence. ‘She was killed by a drunk-driver,’ I blurted, trying to fill the space, ‘at a bus stop, along with five others, including my daughter, our only child in fact, and two children, one of them our granddaughter. It was on the News and in the papers.’

It was her turn to look stunned, although for a different reason. ‘I remember that,’ she mused, ‘It must have been dreadful for you.’

‘Yes,’ I said, and fell silent once again and pensive. ‘Well, thanks for the drink.’ I raised my glass as though in a toast and took a sip from it. We stood in silence amidst the cacophony of shouting punters and distorted rock music. I began to pine for her, as the encounter seemed to be drawing to a natural end.

She made to turn back to her friends but suddenly stopped. ‘We’ll be moving on to somewhere quieter soon,’ she announced to me, ‘why don’t you join us?’

‘Well, I er...’

‘Go on, it will be fun. I promise.’ She flashed her eyes as she said, ‘I promise,’ and my heart jolted in my chest.

‘Well, I er ... OK.’

‘Great!’ Her smile floored me again. She introduced me to her three friends, each of whom displayed a different attitude ranging from annoyance to intrigue. Before anyone could say anything, a table became vacant in a quieter corner – not much quieter but you could hear yourself think – and the girls made a dash for it before someone else spotted it. Anna took me by the hand. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘sit with us.’ Her eyes were big and round and dark and her smile warm and inviting.

‘Of course,’ I said, ‘yes.’

She let go of my hand and pushed through the throng to the table and I followed on behind her. All I’d noticed of her up to that point was her face and her height. I hadn’t been able to take my eyes off her face and this was the first chance I’d had to take in the rest of her. Unobserved, as it were. She twisted and wriggled through the crowd and I got a good look at her. She was... well, unbelievable. By the time we got to the table my innards were well and truly knotted. I was glad of all the commotion because I was able to get myself sat down behind the table before things got too embarrassing – from an onlooker’s point of view. I mean, she was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and I was completely blown away.

She’d shooed the others round to empty seats to make sure that I sat next to her, and she leant hard against my shoulder to shout in my ear, ‘We’ll move on when we’ve finished our drinks. We’re going for a Chinese. Is that OK with you?’

My heart was pounding by now and I thought that if I had an aneurism in my head, this is when it would pop – you think about that kind of thing when you get to my age, and my mother had had one when she was not much older. What a way to go, I thought, but not just yet, please...

‘Great,’ I said, ‘my favourite.’ Well, actually, I prefer curries but I’d have eaten dog food and enjoyed it, if that’d been what she’d suggested. I took a large mouthful from my glass; I wasn’t thinking quite so clearly by now, and it was nothing to do with the alcohol.

‘There’s no great rush,’ she said, with a half-smile and eyebrows raised at my eagerness to finish my drink.

Oh yes there is, I thought, this is one fantastically great rush. I realised I had a mouthful of malt and that my tongue was beginning to tingle. I had no option but to swallow. I gasped, and coughed, and she laughed. ‘Sorry,’ I said, half-choking, ‘I’m just a bit...well...off balance with the sudden change of plans for the evening.’ She put her hand on my knee and just smiled at me. Why me? I asked myself, and smiled right back at her. I put my shaking hand on top of hers.

One of her friends told a joke. Well, she shouted it really, because of the noise. It was the most vulgar thing I’ve ever heard from the lips of a woman. The other two girls laughed riotously, one cackling, the other snorting, and the joker joined in with the dirtiest laugh I’d ever heard in my life, never mind from a woman. Anna simply squeezed my knee and smiled at me, and ran her hand up the inside of my thigh. She leant into me again and said in my ear, ‘We could lose these three, if you’d prefer.’ She wrinkled her nose in distaste.

And have you all to myself? I thought. I leant into her and put my mouth next to her ear. Her perfume was wonderful and had my head swimming. I so wanted to kiss her. ‘I don’t want to spoil your evening,’ I shouted, and moved my head to hear her reply.

‘Quite the opposite,’ she said, brushing her lips against my cheek.

I thought I would go crazy. I thought I had gone crazy. I’ve been picked up, I thought. For the very first time in my life, I’ve been picked up!

She leant across the table, and I couldn’t help but notice her full chest resting on its surface, and she shouted something at her friends. One of them raised her eyebrows, one frowned, and the other, the coarse one, shouted back, ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ Anna shouted something like, ‘Of course I do, he’s a pussy cat.’

She turned back to me and smiled again. There was that feeling again – total inward collapse. ‘OK,’ she mouthed, ‘we can go.’

I finished my drink then stood up, leaning forward, making a show of struggling past the table, in an attempt to disguise my embarrassment, smiling and nodding and waving goodbye to the others. ‘It was nice meeting you,’ I lied. She slid across the chairs in my wake without giving her friends a second glance. She took my hand and we worked our way through the crowd to the door. Once outside, she slipped her arm through mine and clasped herself on with both hands as if she were staking her claim on me, or making it clear to the others in the street that she was already with someone. She leant against me as we walked. I leant back on her, of course, only partly to keep us moving in a straight line...

I needed some money, so I stopped at a cash machine and withdrew £150. She chatted on the whole time, holding onto my arm; that didn’t make entering the PIN any easier.

She let me choose the restaurant. I wanted to make an impression so I took her to the Rising Moon. Expensive, and very good food. On the way there, we talked about the usual stuff – you know, where we lived, what we did for a living, hobbies, interests outside work. She made me go first, which was flattering, and she made little noises signalling her approval all the time I was talking. Once we’d settled on a table – I’d rejected the first one we’d been offered in favour of a more secluded setting – I made her tell me about herself. Well, I was amazed how much we had in common, although her family background was quite different from mine: she lived with her folks in a very well-to-do part of town and, as far as she could remember, had always done so. She said how impressed she was at what I’d made of myself, having been so less privileged. There was nothing patronizing about the way she said it. I said that it was nothing, really, that I’d just taken the opportunities that had presented themselves and the risks had paid off.

‘I think I’m really going to enjoy getting to know you,’ she said. That was when I first seriously thought that she was after more than a one-night stand. It was a thought I nurtured and played with and allowed to take root as I listened to her and as we ate. We only picked at the food, really; we neither of us seemed to have an appetite – not for food, anyway. We drank the first bottle of wine and ordered a second.

Eventually, over the China Tea, and I had had to do this, I raised the matter of the age-difference. ‘I think I should tell you my age,’ I said, ‘Only, I look much younger than I actually am.’

‘Let me guess,’ she said. She examined my hands and pulled at the slack in their skin and watched it retract. She smiled. She touched the side of my face and ran her fingers over the crow’s feet beside my eyes. ‘Hmm,’ she said, still smiling, ‘I would guess that you are in your mid- to late-forties.’

I had studied her face as she had examined me. She had clear skin, and was wearing very little makeup. There was just the slightest hint of a wrinkle forming near her left eye. ‘And you,’ I said, ‘are about twenty-eight?’

‘Twenty-seven,’ she said, ‘You’re good.’ She paused, still smiling, still holding my hand. I got the impression that the late-forties presented her with little concern. ‘How good am I?’ she asked, tilting her head and narrowing her eyes.

‘Well...’ I paused for a long time. ‘If I’m honest, will you let me kiss you at least once before you go?’

‘What makes you think I’m going anywhere?’ She rubbed her toes against my shin and reached for my knee. I shuddered inside.

‘I’m a bit older than that,’ I said, so quietly that she had to lean forward to hear me, removing her foot from my thigh as she did so. She was still smiling, an enigmatic, almost serene smile, and I flashed a nervous smile back at her. I cleared my throat and announced, ‘I’m fifty-three.’ I fixed my gaze on her eyes, straining to see the slightest evidence of disappointment in her: she never flinched. ‘That means I actually am old enough to be you father... In fact, my daughter, had she lived, would be much the same age as you...’

She leant back in her chair, and her foot slid back up my shin. ‘I like mature men,’ she said. ‘Young men have only one thing on their minds, if you know what I mean. Older men have more patience... They know how to treat a girl, how to woo her. A younger man wouldn’t have brought me to a fabulous place like this on a first date, for instance. And, actually, my father is much older than you: I was a very late addition to our family.’

I didn’t dare tell her what I had on my mind at that precise moment, and how impatient I felt about it. To be honest, what with her playing footsie, I was wondering what she had on her mind... I began to feel more hopeful about our possibilities but my confidence slipped a notch with her next comment, ‘I have a brother your age. I think he’ll like you.’ She noticed that my hand was trembling and she sat up and reached across the table to take it in both of hers. ‘Your age doesn’t bother me,’ she said, pointedly, ‘does mine bother you?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘except inasmuch as at my age I’m hoping for something... well, meaningful and, with any luck, long-term. And, well, a woman like you is Everyman’s dream. And I guess I’m wondering how long it will be before I wake up. And I’m worried that you might find me a bit too set in my ways and go off looking for someone younger. And I don’t know if I could take much more of the pain of losing someone. And my imagination is running away with itself.’ I shook my head and laughed and looked down at the table and our now interlocked fingers.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘I grew up with older men around me. I really do prefer older men. And, anyway, who knows where this or any relationship will lead us? We can’t know unless we try. It may last a week; it may last for always. I think it’s worth the risk.’ She looked at me with the most sincerity I have ever seen in a face but with a sparkle in her eye that offered excitement and adventure. She kissed my hand.

‘You are so beautiful,’ I said, my heart once more pounding against my ribs, ‘so, so, beautiful.’

We didn’t notice the time as we talked on into the night. The waitress brought the bill without being asked for it and the staff began turning the lights out as I reached for my wallet. Anna wanted to pay her share but I insisted on paying the full amount. I’ve never before spent so much on a meal and eaten so little.

Outside the restaurant, she linked arms with me again and we rubbed hard against each other all the way to the taxi rank. She took me by surprise as we passed the end of a dark passageway between two shops. ‘Come in here a minute,’ she said, pulling me by the hand into the darkness. Well, needless to say, I didn’t resist more than was necessary to disguise my eager willingness to follow. Once we were hidden by the darkness, she pressed herself hard against me and looked up into my face. I kissed her. I couldn’t stop kissing her. I felt like I was melting in her arms, turning to liquid; my head was swimming and my heart pounding like an Olympic sprinter’s. She kissed me back just as passionately. Before long there were no holds barred for either of us, if you know what I mean – but we didn’t, well you know, I wanted to, and I got the impression she did too, but we didn’t…

‘Easy, Tiger,’ she said, pulling away from me, looking into my face with a soft smile and dreamy eyes, ‘It’s late, and this is our first date.’

I could have felt cheated but, the way she lingered as though she was having second thoughts, I felt a tremendous respect for her and ashamed with myself for behaving like a hormone-inflamed teenager. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, rather sheepishly, and bit my bottom lip.

‘Patience,’ was all she said as she touched the end of my nose with one outstretched finger.

It took us a few energy-charged moments to help each other to pull our clothing straight and we sauntered out into the street again and joined the queue in the taxi rank.

We caught a cab after about half an hour of standing around chatting and a little somewhat more restrained kissing. We took a route that went first to her home, even though mine was nearer and almost on the way. On the way, she asked for my mobile phone so she could give me her number. ‘Don’t be a stranger,’ she said as she punched out the digits. The cab bounced through a pothole.

Her parents’ house was fantastic: large, detached, set in its own grounds, with a long, sweeping, double-entrance driveway. We stopped on the road to avoid waking the house with tyres in the gravel and slamming doors. We promised to meet again soon and kissed one long, lingering kiss, which, with a taxi waiting, was all we had time for. Before getting out of the cab, she thrust a twenty pound note into the driver’s hand. ‘That should cover the fare for us both,’ she said to him. She waved my objections aside. ‘I’m not a gold-digger,’ she said, pecking me on the cheek as she opened the door. She hopped out, shut the door, turned away, and headed towards the house. She turned and waved from the gateway as the taxi pulled away. I watched her until the corner approached. She disappeared into the darkness beyond the gate as the taxi turned.

*

The next day, after a dream-filled sleep, and waking very late in the morning, I tried to call her. I got some guy in Scotland. Damn! I thought, she must have mistyped the number because of the jolting of the taxi. I called the phone company’s directory enquiries and asked for Anna’s number, giving the address of her parents’ home. They didn’t have the number listed. Now, I’m well-used to the inefficiency of phone companies when it comes to being helpful, so I thought nothing of it and went to another directory enquiry service that I’ve found to be more reliable. They didn’t have the number either. Nor did they have a number for her parents’ house. Since I had the impression that her family was quite well-off, to say the least, I could only assume the numbers were intentionally unlisted.

The only thing left was to call at the house and hope she wouldn’t mind my meeting her folks so soon in our relationship. To be honest, I was a bit anxious about that myself. I knew what her views on the age-difference were but her folks may take an altogether different stance. I could think of no other adult way of getting to see her again. Then I decided to put the event off by waiting outside, like a love-sick pubescent, until she came out. I drove over and parked on the road where I could see both drive entrances but couldn’t be seen from the house. I sat there for about an hour until I needed a coffee and a pee. I’d seen a café back along the road as I’d driven up so I walked back to it, visited their loo, then ordered a latte to take away. That’s when I missed my wallet for the first time. I reached into my coat pocket but it wasn’t there. I searched through the other pockets. Damn! Where was it? Had I left it at home? No, I hadn’t. I’d worn this coat last night and hadn’t bothered to empty the pockets.

The passageway! I apologised and explained that I’d lost my wallet and then, leaving the coffee for which I could not pay, dashed out of the café and back to the car. I drove into town and pulled up on the double yellow line at the end of the alley. I ran down to where we’d been the night before, and scoured the ground for my wallet. Nothing. No surprise really.

The taxi! I dashed back to the car and drove off to the main office of the cab firm. Needless to say, nothing had been handed in or reported found and all their drivers were, of course, very honest and would have handed it in if they’d found it. More than their jobs’ worth not to. I should try again tomorrow, though, because some of last night’s drivers would still be asleep and wouldn’t be in for hours yet. Was I sure I had it last night? Well, of course I was. Could I have left it at home this morning? I was less sure about that and had to acknowledge the possibility.

I drove back to the house and waited outside for another hour. In the end, I decided I could have missed her while I was searching for my wallet, so it was time to act like a grown-up and call at the house. It took ages for anyone to answer the bell. A frail old man opened the door. ‘Mr Roberts?’ I asked, ‘I’m a friend of Anna’s. Is she in, please?’

‘Who?’ said the old man, bewilderment all over his face.

I shouted, ‘I’m a friend of Anna’s, Mr Roberts. Is she in?’

‘I’m not deaf, young man,’ he said in an annoyed, almost angry, tone. ‘And my name isn’t Roberts and there’s no-one here called Anna.’

Well, I was stunned. I just stood there with my mouth open, not understanding.

‘I think you’d better leave.’

‘I’m sorry. My mistake.’ I turned and trudged to the car. What was going on? I heard the door of the house close behind me. I drove out and wondered if I’d called at the wrong house but there were no others like it in the road. No, that was the house that Anna had gone into, and this was the road where she had left the taxi from which I’d watched as she walked into the driveway, turned to wave, and vanished into the darkness. There was no mistake on my part. I drove home in a state of confusion and, for once, keeping to the speed limit.

Back at home, having failed to find my wallet anywhere in the house, I started going through my filing cabinet for my bank and credit card details and calling the emergency numbers to report my loss. One by one, the agencies reported activity on each card: Internet transactions, cash withdrawals, shopping deals. The total bill was enormous. Fortunately, most of the cards had a limited liability clause in the contract. But who could be doing it? Who would know my PIN? I’m always very careful with that because I use the same number for all my cards; it makes it much easier to remember, although, I suppose, much easier to abuse if you got hold of my cards and my PIN, as someone very obviously had. Eventually, I got through to my bank.

‘What was the last transaction you remember?’ the young woman on the line asked me.

‘Last night, at about 9:45, a £150 withdrawal from a cash machine on the high street,’ I answered. ‘A friend was with me. She could verify that… except…’ An unpleasant thought occurred to me and pieces of the puzzle began to slide together. Anna saw me typing in my PIN… No! that’s ridiculous, I thought. I finished my conversation with the bank.

I sat down and, in utter disbelief, held my head in my hands. Anna. I think I’ve been well and truly had. But how did she get my wallet? I went over the evening in my mind. All that fumbling in the alleyway… That’s when she took it! She had me far too distracted to notice what else she might be doing... The story about her family, and liking older men – no doubt because they’re more easily duped by the attentions of a beautiful young woman – a pack of lies, all of it. The house: I never actually saw her go in; she just walked into the drive and must have turned back as soon as my taxi was out of sight: a taxi she’d probably paid for with my money… And I fell for it good and proper.

*

At least I wasn’t the only one that was born yesterday. It turns out that I’m the first one to report the scam. The police checked with the guy in Scotland. He’d had about half a dozen calls from men asking for Anna Roberts, and a few more for several other women. He cooperated with the police and allowed them to trace the other callers from his telephone company’s records. They’ve all been interviewed and it seems they told a very similar story and had been too embarrassed about being taken in to report it themselves. They’d all had the same problem I’d had in giving them a description: she was too beautiful to describe; but I’d know her if I saw her again. I don’t suppose I ever shall. Shame, really…

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