It seems his guardian angel remained at a distance during his next encounter. No doubt she was curious to see how well he would fare flying solo. And there’s somebody else out there who might be amused by his struggle, too. That’s why I’m posting it.
* * *
Joseph Bentley leant on the tall trash can that stood outside the doors of the supermarket, smoking a cigarette before heading homeward. He was idly engaged in watching the unprepossessing samples of mundane humanity going about their business. As usual, he felt disconnected. But then, just as his curiosity was falling into the sear, his eye was caught by something a little more engaging heading in his direction.
She was young – maybe sixteen or so; it was difficult to tell at that distance – but had an air about her that transcended any commonly assumed markers associated with physical age. What captured his interest initially were three things: a shape, a walk, and a dress. The shape was slim, but not skinny. The walk was upright, smooth and athletic. The dress was white, loose-fitting, gathered at the waist with a belt, and had a hem that brushed her slender legs about halfway between knee and groin. The soft shoes and easy walk evoked the illusion of her being barefoot.
As she came closer, Joseph’s attention was attracted upwards to a face that was uncommonly pretty, but had a granite edge to it. Her eyes conveyed the same impression. They were hard, clear and uncompromising; they seemed to know their business better than most. Her hair looked naturally blond, and hung straight and unselfconsciously to collar length, lightly feathered but not fancy.
She ignored Joseph’s interest until she was within a couple of languid strides, and then stopped and turned her face to his.
Joseph was startled, but only briefly. He retained his composure.
‘Impressive – that you should challenge me I mean,’ he said. ‘It vindicates my suspicion.’
‘That you are the very embodiment of Nabokov’s Lolita. Maybe a little older, but not much.’
He expected the statement to win the confrontation, since he expected the girl to be unfamiliar with the reference. It was an error of judgment. Her face remained impassive for a couple of highly charged seconds, and then she said:
‘Sorry, Mr Whatever-you-name-is, but you’re too old even for Lolita. Nice try.’
The confrontation was well lost, and the sucker punch had been the last two words. He hadn’t been ‘trying’ anything, except first to observe a startling phenomenon, and then to extricate himself from a mildly embarrassing situation. But he was magnanimous in defeat. As she walked away without paying him even the compliment of disdain, he called after her.
‘Bravo,’ he said. ‘Impressive.’
The girl stopped, turned, and walked back to him. He waited for the slap or the tirade of abuse or both. He summoned up the inner defences needed to remain cool under fire, but he had underestimated her again. Instead of unleashing a thunderbolt, she leant towards him and briefly placed her lips against his.
‘For that you get one kiss,’ she said. ‘Fair recompense.’
And then she walked away again. As she reached the shop doorway, she looked over her shoulder at a man now slightly enthralled. Her face softened and she smiled the smile of a girl.
‘Bye,’ she said, waving as she disappeared into the store.