Walking With Einstein

Submitted into Contest #44 in response to: Write a story that starts with two characters saying goodbye.... view prompt

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Lee listened with half an ear as Greg listed the advantages and setbacks he had recently discovered in converting his wine shop to a home delivery service. Einstein yanked on other end of the lead held in Lee’s hand, similarly impatient to get going. He’d spotted a cluster of pigeons pecking at picnic leftovers that had tumbled from one of the park’s many overflowing bins.

“…but what can you do, eh?” Greg shrugged his shoulders in theatrical self-pity, eyes crinkled in merriment. The two acquaintances both knew what was being left unsaid – Greg was one of the lucky ones. Lucky to still have a job. Lucky to still have his health.

“Well, indeed,” said Lee, deeming it to be an appropriate response, tone commiserative while his eyes scanned the perimeter of the park, where people laid dotted around the shady spots with books and tablets, or chatting excitedly at safe distances with friends they had not seen in weeks.

“Anyway, best get going,” said Greg, waggling his phone. “More orders coming in. I swear more people are going to be signing up for AA by the end of this.” He guffawed and Lee tittered politely, thinking now was probably not the best time to mention his mother having died of cirrhosis. “Nice seeing you pal. And this fine fella.” Greg nodded at Einstein, whose distinctive name he somehow never remembered, but at least correctly identified the gender.

“You too mate. Look after yourself.” Lee smiled a farewell and twitched the lead. “C’mon Einstein,” he said, emphasizing the name for Greg’s benefit. “Let’s see if we can find you some squirrels to chase.”

Einstein began trotting off in the direction of the birds, little comma of a tail wagging. But Lee had caught sight of prey of his own and jerked the lead in the opposite direction. “Not that way, boy,” he whispered. “There’s something for both of us over there in that corner, don’tcha see?”

Einstein’s furry circle of a face turned up questioningly to Lee’s, not understanding a word, merely thrilled to be in his master’s hallowed company. The two walked side by side to where a dark haired woman sat idly scrolling on her phone, the dog’s short legs doing overtime to keep up with his owner’s long strides. Einstein paused to sniff a dandelion, then his little body violently shook with a sneeze.

“Yeah, none of that mate. Get it out your system before we get there. We don’t want her thinking you’re carrying the virus,” Lee said out the corner of his mouth. He briefly toyed with the idea of raising Einstein’s red bandana a notch to cover the dog’s nose.

Lee once again said a silent prayer for whoever invented mirrored shades. He could study his the women, judge whose body language was the equivalent of hanging a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign on a door, ones who just wanted to catch their breath after a jog, sipping from flasks and gazing at the row of windfarms standing steely guard on the ocean horizon, and best of all, those that would life their eyes smilingly to Einstein’s dark brown round ones. The ones that would rarely have cast a glance at Lee before he brought his prop home from the shelter. Einstein had done more for his chances with the softer sex than any paid subscription to a dating site he’d taken out over the years since splitting from Beth. ‘My little conversation starter,’ Lee would think fondly while topping up Einstein’s water bowl in the kitchen at home. He thought less kind thoughts when getting up in the night for a glass of water and tripping over the bowl that Einstein loved to take to new places with the force of his snuffling. But Lee thought that and the pavement hotdogs he had to scoop up were a small price to pay for the return he got on his investment, overall.

Lee glanced curiously from behind his shades at a pale woman with a snake tattoo coiling around her thigh, stretched out on a patch of grass that had become bleached a coarse yellow by the sun. She was scribbling furiously in a journal. Either struck by the muse, or a writer on a deadline, he guessed.

The sounds of the children playing around the dark haired beauty grew louder as he approached. Their game was not conducted in a language he was familiar with.

The woman uncrossed her legs, laying them outstretched, flicking a big toe with its nail painted maroon at a fly that had mistaken it for a piece of fruit. Lee peered over the tops of his shades and admired the colour of her shapely legs. Her skin fleetingly reminded him of how Sian, his ex mother-in-law, had liked to take her tea – about two thirds milk. He shook his head to banish the memory, disguising the gesture as shooing away an invisible troublesome fly of his own. Funny how the ghosts of his failed marriage came back to haunt him. He often wished the shelter could have offered an animal that would have chased those apparitions away for good.

He was in about five metres of the woman now, who’d put her phone away at last and was watching the children, who were arguing over one of the rules of what looked like a complicated version of tag.

“Hey! Ab, be kind to your sister.” Ab flinched. His face darkened for a second in annoyance before shrugging and grinning. “Okay mama.”

Lee saw his way in.

“Hi,” he said, shifting his sunglasses to the top of his head and smiling widely. “Sorry, couldn’t help but overhear – you’re their mother?”

The woman nodded, a cautious smile on her heart shaped lips.

“Wow! I gotta say, from a distance you looked more like their big sister!”

She laughed good-naturedly, hand flying instinctively to her mouth. Lee, watching, thought perhaps that was a habit left over from a previous time of braces wearing, then remembered the virus. He glanced at the ground between them and calculated he was still the recommended two metres away. It had been months since the regulations had been announced, but living in an overcrowded seaside town it was easy to be accustomed to rubbing shoulders with residents.

“I’m Lee, by the way. And this lil mutt is Einstein.”

“Noura,” said the woman, visibly relaxing. Einstein was working his scruffy magic, simply by laying down and being adorable, his tiny body quivering from his panting.

“Noura,” said Lee. “Lovely name. And what do you do, Noura, when you’re not watching over these two?” They both looked at the children, who were now playing wizards and witches with some twigs they’d found.

“I’m a nurse,” said Noura.

Lee placed a hand on his heart and bowed reverently. “Thank you. Everyone thanks you. What an amazing job you’re doing!”

Noura laughed again but her mouth had a bit of a swerve to it. Lee thought perhaps he might have overdone it. He was still on a learning curve. A hill fraught with obstacles. But he was determined to make the most of it while the sun was out. It beat sitting in his poky house while the rain streaked the windows, swiping through filtered face after face on a rectangle.

“I’m a delivery driver. A ‘keyworker’ too,” he said, trying to do air quotation marks but getting a thumb caught up in the lead he still held. “Bakery,” he added, which usually piqued women’s curiosity. A man who could bring cake and croissants to your door was definitely something to establish early on, a female co-worker had once asserted when Lee had started tentatively saying he might like to begin dating again.

“Excellent, excellent,” nodded Noura, the sun shining on her hair bobbing along with her. Lee couldn’t help noticing how her hair almost fell to her waist, although reminded himself now the sunglasses had moved, his eyes couldn’t linger there politely. He tried to concentrate instead on her eyes, brown with flecks of gold.

Lee tried to keep up the small talk. Noura said little; a language barrier or the sheer exhaustion from her day job catching up with her, Lee wasn’t sure. He was sure there was no ring on her finger, however.

Einstein whined, causing both Lee and Noura to jump a little.

“Whassa matter, boy?” asked Lee. A large shadow then crept over the dog. He looked up to see a man built like a fridge and seeming to be effortlessly carrying the contents of one in a plastic bag with handles stretched to their limits in hands like judges gavels. Lee stifled a little whine of his own. From the thinning salt and pepper hair and crow’s feet, Lee judged the man to be in his early fifties.

“Sorry I was gone so long, hun,” the fridge said gruffly. “You should have seen the queue.”

“Anyway, it’s been nice meeting you Noura,” said Lee. “And thank you once again for all your hard work! Gotta be getting this one home now, nearly his dinner time. Ta ra!”

Noura lifted a delicate hand. “Goodbye!” she called after him. Lee turned to flash a quick apologetic smile, but the woman’s attentions were already turned to the hunter-gatherer.

“The type who wants a sugar daddy,” Lee mumbled to Einstein. “Should’ve guessed it. Well, it figures. She takes care of others all day, only right she has someone to look after her. Better luck next time eh boy. Onwards and upwards.”

Lee continued muttering in such a vein until they left the park and neared the busier part of town, where he couldn’t get away with talking to Einstein without receiving funny looks.

The mountain of a man lowered himself beside Noura.

“What did that guy want?” he asked.

“I think he was just being friendly, Dad,” said Noura.

June 05, 2020 16:28

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1 comment

14:28 Jun 11, 2020

I liked the way you wove references to Lee's failed marriage into the story, it made me want to know more about what happened! I was surprised that he automatically assumed what the relationship between Noura and the "fridge" was because the description led me to think the "fridge" was a relative. I find myself intrigued by Lee's intentions. With the ease in which he moved on from Noura, it appears he is just looking for a date, but earlier in the story, he referred to women as "prey" which suggests something darker. I really enjoyed ...


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