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It was twenty past and the house was dark but the garden was lit, sprinklers on the lawn, peppermint gums high over the path. So he went on in.
The only light was from the pool and there was a swimmer going back and forth, tumbling at each end in a neat wash of legs and ankles.
He turned a light on in the kitchen. After a few more laps, the swimmer stopped and climbed from water. She was young, maybe fifteen, an angry red scar marked her cheek, down her neck and onto her shoulder.
She was towelling her hair. ‘Anders right? She rang said I’m to entertain you until they get here.’
‘I’m May,’ she said. And then she smiled. ‘You brought wine, goody.’ She pulled glasses from a shelf.
‘Aren’t you a little young?’ he said.
‘We always have wine. Mum says it’s European.’
She stopped in front of a mirror, posing. ‘Not quite a six-pack but better than Fiona’s. What do you think?’
He looked at her pale stomach, the lip and curl of her navel.
‘Fiona’s such a slut,’ she explained. ‘Always flashing her midriff at the boys. Get this, she wants to work in a gym when she leaves school. She’s been working on a mix tape for ages. What a dope.’
‘Well, Dad says engineering or geology just like him, so that’s out. Definitely. She doesn’t care. Says do anything or do nothing, whatever as long as I’m happy. Anyway, I haven’t decided.’ She took a glass from him. ‘I’m just a kid. Right?’
They sat on the sofa.
‘You know you’re here under false pretences,’ May said.
‘I knew your mother in…school,’ he started.
’She does it to hurt him,’ she continued. ‘Here’s how it will go: she’ll sit right up close to you, laugh too loud at your jokes and rub your knee, all the time looking at him, making him jealous. And as the night goes on she’ll drink more, get louder, get you to dance.’
’It was this afternoon,’ he interrupted. ‘I had this interview and they didn’t show. And then out of the blue—‘
‘Didn’t you say?’
‘In the end there was no-one.’ He explained about the airfare and the hotel and the taxis.
‘What a waste,’ May said.
She sat up. ‘When I’m old enough I’m going to Switzerland and I’m going to get that cosmetic surgery. I’ll put up with the skin grafts and the lasers. Live in a bubble if I have to.’
‘Does it…?’ he asked.
‘It was a car accident. Nothing special except for the fire and the ten-year old in the back who got petrol on her while they were trying to undo the seat belt. They put a blanket over her to quench the flames.’
‘I dream about it. I hear my hair crackling and there’s bees on my face and that sour old blanket, like putting my face onto a wet sheep.’
‘Bah-ah-ah,’ she laughed. ‘Your turn Anders, you’re pretty ancient tell me some tale full of regret.’
After a while, he told her about his mother: her restlessness after the stroke took her speech. Trying to hold a marker up to the little personal whiteboard they’d given her: ‘She’d written six books and now she can’t even make her own name.’ She’d slapped him when they had to sell her home. They’d both cried.
‘I’ll take her to the cinema tomorrow,’ he said.
‘How about a vampire movie?’
As he was leaving May kissed him on the cheek. She put her small, cool hand on his face and kissed him for just a moment longer than you would if you were farewelling just anyone.
In the cinema he held his mother’s hand like a fallen leaf and thought about May and her theory of movies.
‘The clothing changes,’ she’d said. ‘And the lighting and the time of day but movies are really about beauty talking to itself. It’s only us who know that someone, like Ryan or whoever, is beautiful. He doesn’t know it does he? I mean he’s inside, looking out. He can’t see what we do. Even in a mirror and with everyone telling him how great he is, he can’t really know, not really. It’s only us who see him and make him perfect in our eyes.’