Mid Somerset Festival 2013 - MSF Award winner
The Last Encounter, by Jade Ford
The moment he appeared, she recognised him. Even after their last angry, heart breaking encounter all those years ago he was hard to forget; and she thought starting her new job would be hard enough without this. Her boss, a young man who was chubby in the face and reminded Ellie of a hamster, scowled her way and she tried not to trip over her shaking legs as she brought the man his coffee.
If it weren’t for his vast change in appearance Ellie might not have placed the mug so gently in front of him. He was lost, no longer in the room, his pale blue emotionless eyes staring out the window at the cold day outside. The person she had once known as a pristine business man had grown his hair past his ears, hadn’t washed his clothes nor shaved his face since the last series of The Apprentice had finished, and lost his pride as well as his good looks.
He didn’t look up, he didn’t say thank you. Ellie hovered though, hoping for some recognition, even just to be able to pour the coffee over him. Instead he leaned over the mug in one of the mis-matched chairs the coffee hut had to offer and sniffed.
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For an hour he sat and didn’t move but to lift the mug to his chest with both hands. He didn’t drink and Ellie watched on the other side of the counter, wondering if he would even be able to pay. Ever since he had left she had been told it was a mistake and she was not to feel guilty, but if I wasn’t her fault and she wasn’t to blame what was this knot in her stomach doing and why was her throat closing up?
She noticed the look she was getting from her boss, gulped down an apology and forced herself to focus on her tables. Mike was not the type of person you could make excuses or argue with, unlike the man who had now got out a ragged leather bound book and started to scribble furiously.
Ellie turned back to the customer she was serving and reminded herself to smile. Her attention on the lady’s face, although she was doing more thinking than seeing, she pushed the hot chocolate too forcefully and the burning liquid travelled down her hand. Trying not to swear off the pain she wiped her hand on her uniform and made an escape for the toilets, cradling her throbbing fingers.
A grubby hand with dirt under its nails and pen around the tips of the fingers reached out for the pained arm. It was cool and comforting and caused Ellie to relax more than she had that whole day.
“Sit,” croaked the man, and to see his lips move, even if not in to a smile, even if it sounded so angry made her feel happier than she had been since he left. She realised she needed his forgiveness like a boy his mother’s side.
He didn’t say anything; he sat with his hands at his sides and slipped back into his rigid posture. His eyes scanned every inch of her face, making her uncomfortable so that she looked at her crossed knees, hoping she looked lady like, mature and more than anything, sorry.
Eventually his eyes moved to the little A5 boo and he silently pushed it her way before doing up his frayed parka. Ellie knew the words she had to say, she had practised them a million times where her mother wasn’t home, but her throat was still closing up and she knew if she were to speak she would choke. He gave the book a loving stare, one she had seen many times but never directed to her and left. She didn’t take her eyes off his back until he was gone.
The book was full of thick drawing paper and was curled on the bottom right ride of each page. Ellie took in each drawing slowly, the one of her mother and the man smiling, copied from a photo that used to hang in the hall, and the last page was of a much younger Ellie, crouched in the corner with her hands covering her face. It described how she felt so perfectly, how she had felt since the arguments had broken down the relationships in her family. In the corner were the messy words ‘I know.’