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Drinking had been a mistake because now he had to piss and he hated unfamiliar toilets, he just clamped up.
‘Excuse me,’ he said to the woman at the far cubicle who was tucking into a container of dark meat. ‘Where are the…?’
She tilted her head and a bead of brown sauce escaped onto her chin.
‘The toilets, where are the toilets?’ he whispered.
She pointed and smiled releasing more sauce, showing the gristle in her teeth.
It wasn’t going well. He was standing and waiting. He re-read the sign that explained how the biologically active cube in the bowl below had made flushing with perfectly good drinking water obsolete. Next to this was a cartoon of a desert with a mesa and cactus. He thought about deserts, desiccation and parchedness.
‘Biological bullshit,’ said the man at the next urinal. ‘It’s just a perfumed blob there to hide the pong.’
‘You’re new,’ the man said zipping his fly. ‘Dave Fowler.’ He stuck his hand out.
‘I’m just waiting.’
‘Now don’t leave me hanging pal.’ So he reached over and shook his hand.
Fowler raised an eyebrow. ‘You want to get that looked at mate. Prostate effects nearly thirty percent of men in your bracket but if you get it early—’
‘—It’s not…I’m just tense. The interview.’
‘Chairman running it?’ Fowler snorted. ‘He’ll have had three or four bottles at lunch with his dingo mates and a belt back at the office. Soon enough he’ll be snoring on the sofa in his office. It’s company policy, we always save the bad news for Friday afternoons.’
‘Don’t worry pal,’ Fowler said. ‘By Monday they won’t even remember your name.’ A swoosh of the door and he was gone.
‘Toby Weinstein called,’ He said to the empty bathroom. ‘Said you were a fucker.’
‘It is you. I knew it,’ she said.
She’d come up to him in the street put a hand on his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek, kissed him for just a fraction longer than you would if you were hello-ing just anyone.
She stood back shaking her head. ‘How long?’
He shrugged smiling, trying to place her.
‘Here,’ she handed him her card. ‘That’s right, I’m Elizabeth Ferris now. Teddy wanted me to take his name. Insisted. You do all sorts of fucked up things when you’re in love, right?’
Her wide red mouth was slightly apart, sharp little teeth peeking through. High school? College? He went through the list while telling the story of the airfare, hotel and the missed interview.
‘They probably already had someone.’
‘They could have called. It’s a waste.’
‘The important thing is you’re here and you get to see your mum. How is she?’
He tried to abbreviate the story but somehow it extended: here was the funny-sad line about the dynamic retirement community, the specialists, psychs and social workers who were now his mother’s support team (although you could never get them on the phone when you needed). While he talked he watched her listening: how she held herself, getting through the time, getting through the story being told.
‘…so I thought if she’s up to it, a movie. Has that Sandra Bullock one opened here?’
He knew he should ask about her family but wasn’t there something? A thing he really should have remembered? So instead, he went on and on about Sandra Bullock. He couldn’t stop himself. ‘…It was after the FBI ones where she was a dancer in Las Vegas and now she’s CEO of some company and has to marry her assistant who has no idea and that’s where the comedy—’
‘Shit,’ she said looking at her watch. ‘Look, come over tonight. Teddy will want to meet you.’ She wrote an address on the back of her card. ‘You’re so alike, it’s amazing.’
‘If we’re not there dead on eight,’ she said turning to go. ‘Just go on in, it’ll be unlocked. Have a swim. Bring your swimmers? No? Well who cares?’
And then she was gone.