Drawn Tight in a Straight Line The thin hiss of the gas fire kind of pissed Jack off, but he needed its warmth. His dog lay like a sleeping sack of nothing by his feet, too damned thin and refusing to eat anything in the past week. He held his pencil in his bunched up fist close to the tip while he sketched. He had to finish this project before the start of the week because driving back home in a tired white van wasn't going to fuel his creativity and nor would the presence of his dumbass lazy son or cunt wife. He was drawing the inside of a house, a family room or something, wasn't sure what yet, just built it up in patches as they came to him. A chair, fireplace, pair of eyes. The kind of thing you've seen a hundred times before but with the difference of all of the living things in it being dead. So that pair of eyes belonged to an old man with his head slung back and no one to remove that wild expression from his dead face by closing his lids. The lead snapped as he shaded a corner. He swore through his teeth and the dog at his feet lifted his ears up and then put them down again. The dog huffed. Jack waited for the room to return back to something like silence before he carried on. Any little sound drove him mad. Sometimes he couldn't bring himself to draw for his own breathing and the scratching of his pencil made him think somewhat of being buried alive and scratching at the heavy black wood of the coffin. And he'd read about that once, being buried alive. Developed a fear of it from reading some dumb article in a tabloid when he was a kid and it grew in him like a weed so that now he figured cremation would suit him just fine. There was a knock at the door. Jack dropped his pen and almost stood on the dog. Damned hell and blast. He opened the door guessing it would be Ted with some beers and had already prepared his response, sorry buddy, little time left here and gotta be getting on, but you bring those beers round next month and tell paddy about it. But stood there wasn't Ted. Was some little girl looking uncertain, and she was a standing a few feet from the door. She was wearing a dress which barely covered her thighs, and her face, which was only dimly lit, was angular and fragile looking. --H-hello, Sir. He was happy enough to see it wasn't Ted and that he therefore wouldn't have to make his excuses, and was mighty happy that it was such a damned looker of a girl. --Well step forward I can't see you for the light, he said. Thas better. And how can I help you sweetheart? --I guess, well. If I could come in? He smiled and touched his forehead with the bottom of his palm. He pushed the door open further and stepped back and swung his left arm out by his side to beckon her in. She stepped past him and looked at him out of the corner of her eyes. And those eyes were green and narrow and heavily made up with lines of black which ran on past their edges. He took at breath and touched his palms to his trousers and closed the door. She reminded him of a girl who had invited him to the school dance in 6th grade. When he turned up he looked out for her and finally caught her with a group of girls all wearing short tops that showed off their stomachs. His mum had bought him a corsage of tiny pink flowers to give to her and he held it in his fist. But as he walked over to her she had put her hand to her mouth and turned away from him and all the other girls had started to laugh hysterically and point at him and he had turned and dropped the corsage and walked straight out and sat on a bench in a park nearby until it was time for his mum to pick him up. * * * He sat in the armchair. He looked down at his hands which were clenched around a mug of tea. He looked up at her sat on the couch. Her own mug was squeezed between her thighs and her
hands were placed over it to warm her palms in the steam. Her dress was very short. He lifted the mug and touched the tea to his lips but it was too hot. She was staring down at her feet. Her thin shoulders bunched up by her ears like earmuffs. They sat there like two strangers awaiting news of an ill relation. --You done this before? she said. --No? he said, as if trying out how it sounded. No. --Nor me. He nodded. She leant forward and put her mug down on the coffee table and it made a thud sound and both of them jumped and some tea spilt over the sides of the mug. --Shit, she said. She looked up at him and smiled and the makeup around her eyes cracked. --No worries, he said. Don't worry about it. He got a towel from the kitchen and when he returned she was wiping the table with the end of her dress bunched up in her hand. --No, no, he said. He took her hand and her dress between his hands and pushed them away gently. Her hand was warm and soft. He took a deep breath and wetted his lips with his tongue. He wiped the table and winced at the dark stain, wondering what it would cost, if he'd lose his deposit, and then he sat down next to her leaving a space between them and leant back and huffed and closed his eyes for a second as if to say, well, now that's sorted out . . . He opened his eyes. She had turned to face him and her hands were now either side of her, palms flat against the couch. She blinked slowly and her eyes appeared too big for her face and the shape of her body seemed like an invitation. He ran his hand over his cheek, its rough stubble, wondering when he'd last shaved, or washed for that matter. No distractions, he'd always told himself when working. Too often, though, it meant no eating, no washing. And he had to stop himself now from lowering his nose to his armpit and sniffing. He felt hot. His shirt was wet against his pigeon chest and beneath his arms. She began leaning towards him very slowly. He worried she that she would smell him and he tugged at the front of his shirt, peeling it away from the skin. Her large eyes were still and almost sleepy and focussed upon his mouth or neck. He touched his neck lightly with the tips of his fingers. He looked at her chest and the slight lift of the material there and at her thin waist and at the tight pinch of the dress at her hips. No distractions? Hell--he'd be damned if this wasn't the wildest distraction he'd ever had. He could feel his heart pounding from his chest, through his neck, and into his head. He felt a hollowness low in his stomach, a softness that was almost a kind of nausea but which soon drifted lower and became a hardness. And he felt bold and instinctive. He could feel the heat from the fire against his right side and could imagine the tiniest drops of sweat beading along his neck. When he breathed in he felt a slight ecstasy that seemed to run the length of his spine. He felt his muscles fill with blood and quiver with a rare hardness. He thought about asking for her age and then he forgot this thought and imagined what could begin in the next five minutes if it hadn't begun already. The landline started ringing from another room. He sat up. He looked around the room, at the dog still sleeping, the hissing fire, the bundles of rolled up canvas and paints, the bare legs of the young girl, her floral pumps; he looked at the reflection of them in the window and hell, he thought, he looked slumped and skinny and old. Before he could stand up the ringing stopped and he muttered, damned cold callers. --How old are you, sweetheart? --Well I told you how old I was. Few times. Didn't I?
--Where did you come from anyhow? You get lost? --No I found it just fine. Wasn't late was I? --You know I was just sketching and I could've sworn you'd be my buddy Ted from up on the Sea Road and heck, I haven't even asked what you're doing here. --Well, sir, I just thought you wanted me here at seven. Was I too early? You like my dress? --You're not lost? She looked around. --I'd say no. I don't believe so, no. She whispered this, her voice cracking. Her hands were squeezed tightly together and her knees were touching one another. Her mouth was closed and drawn tight in a straight line. A light came into the room from outside and a truck grumbled past but neither of them shifted. --You must be about my sons age. --You didn't tell me you had a son. How old's he? she said, and then as if to herself, didn't tell me you had a son. --Well I didn't tell you anything, nor you me. And he's just coming on 15 this year. --He's older than me then. --You got someplace to be? --Thought I was supposed to be here.