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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

His Turn
by Thomas Baines

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It was twelve minutes to one in the afternoon - he had better hurry or he would be late. He cursed, though he nearly always arrived at the last minute for appointments, this was one occasion when he had planned to allow himself plenty of time. It would have to be today when he had a puncture - no trouble with the car for two years, then one last week and now another when he was on his way to a very important engagement. He drove as fast as the traffic conditions would permit, whilst at the same time making sure he didn't exceed the speed limits - he wasn't going to ruin a clean driving record, not even for her!

He had thought of booking a half-day's leave from work - just in case. It was only a luncheon appointment, but who knows what could develop afterwards - it wasn't every day that an opportunity like this arose. He dropped the leave idea on remembering all the trouble that giving short notice caused. Instead, he resorted to deceit. He hated to do it, but there was no other way. So at exactly ten minutes to twelve he had fainted, making damn sure that as many people as possible saw him. What he hadn't counted on was a stretcher being rushed in for him, and despite his protests he was laid on it and covered with a blanket. It was a very embarrassing experience for him as he was then carried to the medical room, especially when they passed the typing pool office - all heads were turned in order to see the invalid. The thing that had really made him panic in the medical room was when "old man" Swales himself came to see what was the matter. A further crisis arose when Swales insisted that a firm's car should take him home. Only after definite assurances that he felt well enough to drive and would see his doctor as soon as possible, was he allowed to go home.

The road traffic signs showed that he had reached a de-restricted area, so it was with a feeling of relief that he speeded up to sixty. Fortunately the traffic was now light. Five miles in nine minutes - that's what he needed to do, it allowing for two minutes to park the car and get into the place. He relaxed back in his seat, comforted in the knowledge that he would most likely make it there on time.

Rosemary Lambourne occupied his thoughts as he controlled the car as if by instinct.

She had left the firm only a year ago, but it had seemed an eternity to him. Her going had caused quite a few to express great regret. She was a corker, being the hottest piece of crackling that the place had had in many a year. He, like many others, had thrown caution to one side in an effort to gain her sexual favours. They used to chat her up on every possible occasion - that in itself was a bit risky with "old man" Swales nearly always hovering around the office. It was clear that she was keen on it, and tales emanating from those who had been out with her seemed to confirm she was sex mad. Alec Richardson kept a list of her lovers and would-be lovers - she only ever went out with any of them once. His forecasts, whilst not always being correct regarding the strict chronological order, appeared to confirm that anyone who fancied his chances would get there in the end.

Then came the day. He had just been making one of his suggestive remarks to her, when she laughed then exclaimed, "Well, what are you going to do about it?"

"This is it!" he thought, "It's my turn!" - and it was. There was no difficulty in fixing up a date for the following evening. All thoughts of Doris and the children were temporarily evicted from his mind. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. It would be a one-date affair, and then he could go back to being a faithful loving husband and father. The way he had planned it meant that there was little chance of him being found out. Then, just his luck! On that very afternoon he suddenly showed signs of having an acute appendicitis, resulting in him being rushed to hospital at once. He was then in bed, but not the one he had been looking forward to. There were complications with his illness, resulting in him being off work for over eight weeks. During that time he had phoned her, but she didn't seem keen to speak to him. Eventually she asked him not to phone again. He was shattered when he soon afterwards heard that she had suddenly left the firm. The place would never seem the same without her.

Then last Thursday evening, Rosemary arrived at the weekly meeting of the Writers' Circle.

He had been sat there discussing present tenses with a dear old lady, when in she walked with that middle-aged chap who had spent all those years in India. He was thrilled and amazed. She looked absolutely stunning in a bright red two-piece outfit, white blouse and blue high heel shoes. All eyes turned to look at her - those belonging to male members being constantly drawn towards her for the rest of the evening. The women soon had her weighed up, and many showed their disdain in the form of quietly spoken caustic comments about her and her obvious male admirers - her escort for the evening being a much sought-after victim. Arthur, the chairman, didn't utter any of his usual witticisms. Instead he just sat there for most of the evening gazing at her while biting on the stem of his cold pipe. Harold, the man who collected the subscriptions, dropped the box containing the money when she spoke to him.

She had nodded and smiled at him when she came in, and for the rest of the evening gave him what he took to be enticing looks - but it eventually occurred to him that she was most likely doing this to every other man in the room. Of course he wanted to speak to her, but unfortunately she was sat on the other side of the room. He realised that his opportunity could come at the coffee break. But as it turned out, this was thwarted by the other men who all crowded around her. He sat there wondering what to do, when one lady said that she was pleased to see that he was above that kind of thing, not like the others. He gave her a knowing smile and nodded. At last he thought of a way. He would write her a short note - the others would merely assume he was correcting a story. Then he would slip it to her when an opportunity arose. This he did - the opportunity arising when the monthly bulletin was passed to him. He pretended to have a quick read, then took it over to Rosemary's escort. As he handed over the bulletin his eyes signalled to Rosemary that something was in his hand for her. She at once responded by taking the note when it was discreetly slipped to her. Shortly afterwards she left the room for a few minutes, presumably to powder her nose. When she returned he assumed she had read his note, though gave no indication of having done so. The evening drew to a close with the reading of part of an autobiography by a lady from South Africa. He knew he had to speak to Rosemary before she left, or all was lost. But how was he going to get her by herself? When he saw that she and her escort were preparing to leave, he had no choice left but to go and speak to her. He went straight up to them, and just as he was saying that he hoped she had enjoyed being there, she slipped a note into his hand. He was almost sure that nobody else had seen, but the Circle's secretary gave him what he took to be a suspicious look as she gathered her things together. It was with feelings of great relief that he quickly bade his farewells and took his leave.

Once in the car he could see that she had written on the back of his note. Her message simply stated, "Phone me tomorrow night between seven and eight at Central 43927." He felt exhilarated. He was on course again - he was going to have his turn after all!

The Cavandish Hotel is one of those posh-looking places that caters for the type of middle-class customers who think they are a cut above the rest - who else would pay the high prices? It is a large attractive-looking building, having one of those superior designs of the nineteen-thirties. The place certainly looked impressive to him as he turned the car into the drive of its ample grounds.

As he parked the car his thoughts turned to her. He, on the night after their meeting at the Writers' Circle had, as arranged, phoned her and tried to fix up an evening date, but she resisted - actually sounding as though she wasn't too keen on seeing him at all, until he mentioned the Cavandish Hotel, then she agreed to have lunch there with him.

With feelings of thrilled anticipation he walked towards the main entrance. As he approached a taxi drew up and out stepped Rosemary. "Just the job," he thought, "she's planning that we go in my car afterwards - perhaps to her place!"

She gave him an attractive smile as he walked up and paid the taxi fare. She certainly looked terrific in what appeared to be a brand new outfit in burgundy red.

They were soon sat at the bar, he drinking a half of bitter, she, a large "gin and it".

He was amazed how talkative she could be - this was somewhat of a relief, for sensual anticipation had made him a little tongue-tied. She spoke mainly about people at the office, though she never even hinted at her many affairs - one thing about Rosemary, she always kept her mouth shut about such matters.

It was obviously getting towards the time when the management wanted the diners to retire to the restaurant - a waiter with a large fancy menu came along to various people and started booking down luncheon orders. He stopped the waiter as he passed and asked if he could order.

"Have you booked, sir?" was the response. Of course he hadn't, having assumed that a large place like that would always have vacant tables at lunchtimes.

He felt his face go red as he answered, "No," and was about to qualify this when the waiter said, "Sorry, sir, but we're booked up." He then moved on to the couple along the bar.

Rosemary looked clearly annoyed - he knew that he must act quickly, otherwise his afternoon of illicit fun was in danger. He waited until the waiter had taken the couple's order then went across and stopped him, saying, "I'm sorry, I didn't have time to book - but I'm sure you can do something about it." As he said this he slipped a fiver into the man's hand. He knew that a couple of pounds would probably have done, but the chance of a lifetime depended on everything going smoothly.

After looking around in order to make sure that nobody had seen, the waiter said in a quiet confidential manner, "Just one minute, sir, I'll see what I can do." He was back within a minute, asking what Madam and Sir would like to order.

The prices were surprisingly steep even for that place, and everything was à la carte. Our man was a little taken aback when Rosemary ordered the most expensive things on the menu. He didn't want to appear mean, so he reluctantly ordered the same. After all, this was a very special occasion.

The meal progressed at a somewhat leisurely pace. The food, together with the wine, released some of his inhibitions and he was therefore able to talk more freely. Their conversation was not limited to office matters, nor was there at any time mention of the real reason for the get-together. She surprised him at the amount of food she consumed - there were liberal helpings of everything and she didn't leave a thing. As is usual with food-devouring of this nature, the meal was spread over quite a long period of time, with lengthy intervals between courses. Normally, this didn't worry him, but in this case he was beginning to get a little perturbed as he kept glancing at his wristwatch - the time for the afters was being cut into. As a matter of fact, he had tried to hurry things along by pointedly hurrying his eating when each course arrived. However, this did not make much difference, for not only did she masticate the food the recommended usual number of times, but also appeared to subscribe to the view that mealtime was not just for eating purposes but was also the time for leisurely and pleasant conversation.

At last they had finished the meal. The waiter presented the bill to him - he was a little shocked to see how much it came to. Fortunately he had enough cash to cover it plus an obvious liberal tip.

When Rosemary rose to leave the table he dashed around and pulled back her chair. As he did so, he happened to look at the occupants at the table that had been behind him. To his horror, there sat Mrs. Robertson the vicar's wife, together with that renowned gossip, Evelyn Cartwright. He recovered quickly enough to say hello in an apparently nonchalant way. The two women didn't reply, but glanced at each other then nodded at him in a smug way. What was he to do? He could just say an obvious goodbye to Rosemary and then walk away. This would mean that his affair would be abruptly terminated. But on the other hand perhaps, just perhaps, they may think that he and his luncheon partner were merely casual acquaintances. He quickly put that thought out of his mind - realising that even if his luncheon date with Rosemary had been on a platonic basis, they would still besmirch his name with scandalous gossip. No matter what he did, Doris would quickly find out and naturally assume the worst. Therefore decided that he might as well carry on as planned - he had nothing more to lose. He was conscious of the women's stares as he escorted Rosemary out of the room. Rosemary possibly noticed his discomfiture, but didn't comment on it.

Once outside, the cool air made him feel less tense as he said to her, "Well, what shall we do now?"

She hesitated, looked at her wristwatch, then replied, "I-I think I had better be getting home. I didn't realise it was that time already. Thank you, for such a lovely meal."

He suddenly felt excited, for that appeared to be the opening he had been waiting for. "Home, then bed!" he thought as he said, "May I take you?"

She pretended to deliberate, then replied, "That's very good of you."

He was very surprised when they arrived there, for home was in a luxury block of flats.

As they drove up to the main entrance he commented, "I didn't know you lived here - these flats must be very expensive."

She blushed then replied, "Oh, I have a regular boyfriend who helps me out."

"A kept woman!" was his instant thought. This didn't put him off in any way, on the contrary, it added more spice to the proceedings.

When the car stopped she released her seat belt then turned to him and said, "Thank you, I've enjoyed it so much."

He took a sharp breath and responded, "Aren't you going to ask me up to your flat?"

She pretended to be taken aback as she replied, "Oh, no!" She then almost at once appeared to be having second thoughts, adding, "Well, em - do you promise to behave yourself?"

He threw all caution to one side in retorting, "Certainly not!"

She gave him what appeared to be a startled look. Then all pretence dropped as she gave a short laugh and said, "You can't stop too long, my boyfriend calls most early evenings."

"Does he ever stop all night?" was his quick response.

"Oh, you are cheeky, it's none of your business - you had better park the car down there," was her light-hearted reply.

They both laughed as he drove the car in the general direction of the flats' underground car park.

They arrived at the front door of her flat.

As she reached forward to put the key in the lock, he attempted to put his arms about her waist. She shrugged him off, saying, "I told you in the lift, you're too impatient, you must learn to wait!" He repeated his manoeuvre once they were in the luxurious lounge. She again shrugged him off, and as she then walked in the direction of a bedroom, said, "Give me a few minutes." The door was left slightly ajar.

He tried sitting on the settee as he waited, but found that he was too restless and excited. Therefore he paced up and down the room, forever giving impatient glances in the direction of the bedroom door.

At last his wait was over - her soft voice was heard, saying, "You can come in now."

He almost ran into the bedroom, slamming the door after himself. With that, dear reader, he shut us out of what was after all a very private act between a man and woman - he was having his turn!

The clock on the mantelpiece had just chimed five when the door to the bedroom opened.

He was putting on his jacket as he walked slowly into the lounge. Rosemary followed, wearing a floral dressing gown. Both looked contented and fulfilled.

She went over to a wall mirror and started to brush her dishevelled hair. He joined her there and combed his. When he had finished he tried to kiss the back of her neck. She resisted while at the same time giving the clock an anxious glance. "No more!" she exclaimed. Then proceeded to lead him by the sleeve out of the room, adding, "You had better be out of here before my boyfriend arrives."

As they reached the hall he grabbed and tried to kiss her, saying, "You were fantastic!"

She pushed him away, but nevertheless laughed as she retorted, "Some of you men are never satisfied!" She again got hold of his sleeve and was playfully leading him to the front door, when, grabbing her round the waist he turned her towards him and said, "When can I see you again?"

"I don't know," was the reply as he pulled her close to him.

He held her tightly, saying in a determined voice, "I've just got to see you again! If I don't I -"

He was interrupted by two short sharp rings of the front door bell. These were immediately followed by the sound of a key being inserted then turned in the door's lock. They stood there, being momentarily paralysed by surprise and fearful anticipation. The door swung open and a voice shouted, "I'm here, darling! I'm a little early. I was abl-"

"Old man" Swales stopped abruptly when he saw the embracing lovers, his face suddenly contorting into a look of furious hatred. They immediately parted and instinctively faced the intruder. She was clearly shocked, whilst he stared wide-eyed ahead with a look of horror on his face as he suddenly went rigid.

His body went stiff as his feet slammed on the brake and clutch pedals, bringing the car to a sudden halt. He remained that way for a few seconds as the shock of reality registered in his mind. He had been daydreaming and had almost gone through the traffic lights at red! Breathing quite heavily, he relaxed his body back to a state approaching normality. Then he was conscious of the sound of a blaring car horn - the driver behind him had seen what happened, and was furiously shaking his fist and shouting obscenities.

He experienced a feeling of great relief when the traffic lights changed to green, thus enabling him to proceed on his journey. He knew he wasn't far off the hotel, but needed to stop and calm down. But there was nowhere to park - he was in a no-parking area. Therefore he drove on, his mind being full of his daydream, recent happenings and the reason for his journey.

As he tried to concentrate on the road ahead, he thought of Rosemary, "old man" Swales, the firm, the two women in the hotel, Doris and the children - especially, Doris and the children! It came to him what a bloody fool he was, he was risking everything - his wife and family meant much more to him than an hour or two of passion with a-a... the word seemed to avoid him.

As the car swung into the hotel's drive he was suddenly clear about what action he should take - Rosemary could go to hell! He was going directly home - he wanted to see his family more than he had ever done before. He would drive straight through to the hotel's other entrance gateway.

As the car approached the hotel's main entrance door he saw Rosemary standing there looking at the outside menu board. "I hope she doesn't see me," were his thoughts. It was then that she turned round and saw him. Immediately, her face lit up and she smiled as she gave a wave. He scowled at her and shook his head a couple of times as the car passed her. She stood there completely baffled and amazed.

The car reached the gateway, and when the road was clear he drove back towards the town. He now felt a lot better; he was going home. What a relief he was no longer in danger of losing everything that he held dear - everything was going to be all right.

As she saw the car depart, Rosemary felt a surge of great anger come over her - she wanted immediate revenge. She was furious as she muttered to herself, "I'll soon settle his hash!" With that, she strode into the hotel's foyer and made for the public telephone kiosks. Frustration added to the anger when she found that there were no telephone directories there - resulting in her storming into the bar room and up to the bar in order to demand one. The surprised barman obediently handed one to her. She was about to take it away, when to her amazement found it was tethered to the bar by a length of string.

Before she could react, the barman explained, "Sorry, madam, but it's the management's rule." She ignored him as she savagely whipped the pages over. At last she found the page and entry she was seeking, and quickly memorised the required telephone number.

Leaving the open directory on the bar top, she quickly strode in the direction of the foyer.

She was approaching the bar room's entry door, when a man coming in the opposite direction held it open for her.

She completely ignored him as she passed, that is, until he shouted after her, "Rosemary, Rosemary Lambourne!"

She was surprised. She stopped and turned round.

"It is you!" he exclaimed. "Imagine meeting you here!"

She gave a gasp of delight when she saw it was Godfrey Schofield - he used to be the programmes manager at the firm. He had left about three months before she did. "Oh, it's you, Godfrey!" she exclaimed as he walked towards her. "What a surprise meeting you after all this time. I thought you had moved to London."

"I have," he replied. "I'm up for a meeting - I've just booked in here. Where are you going?"

She hesitated before replying, "I was suppose to have lunch with a friend, but she has left a message saying that she can't make it. I was going to phone for a taxi."

He looked eager as he said, "I tell you what - why don't you have lunch with me? I was just on my way in there."

She tried to look surprised before replying, "That's very kind of you. I'd love to!"

He put his arm around her shoulder in order to guide her back towards the bar. As he did so, he looked very pleased with himself, with good reason - he knew that if things went the way he wanted, then there was a good chance that it was going to be his turn!

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