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Monday, 13 January 2014

A Taster: Life Class by Gilli Allan

"What makes Gilli Allan's stories unique is their sense of honesty, of gritty realism mixed with a twist of magic..."

1 - Christmas Eve

‘I work in the sex trade,’ was her usual answer. It amused her to watch the battle for self-control in the face of whoever had asked the question, and their dawning relief when she added the qualifier, ‘...the clean-up end.’
Her job had always had its lighter moments, but today, since she’d come back from her lunch break, her mood had plummeted. On the pin board above her microscopes, official instructions about hygiene, circulars and timetables jostled with the cartoons and jokes members of staff had attached. Her contribution – NEVER TRUST A SMILING HETEROSEXUAL – was boldly inscribed on a post-it note. Even though she’d become used to seeing it there, it usually it made her smile. Now it was neither funny nor relevant.
She had only seen the patient’s back view but had recognised the boy instantly. And it was impossible not to start putting two and two together, given who she’d spotted waiting in his car outside.

Earlier she’d walked back from the city centre, her mind buzzing, consumed by thoughts of the house, her mad offer for it ... and its owner. She’d had to juggle with bags, umbrella and key fob to get the boot of her car open and stow her purchases. Just as she slammed it shut, the sun had come out and a sudden flare off a puddle momentarily blinded her. She averted her eyes. In that instant she recognised the man she’d been thinking about, sat in the car parked next to hers.

What a come down. But it didn’t have to mean anything. Perhaps it was just a bizarre coincidence. Even if they had come together there was any number of explanations. Perhaps he’d come as a ‘buddy’, or in loco parentis to support the boy. She rubbed at her forehead. Why was she trying to convince herself that the obvious conclusion was the wrong conclusion? And what was it to her anyway? If you work in this field you can’t be judgmental, she reminded herself. Other people’s life-style choices are none of your business.

‘...And you’d rather miss your first life class? For Christ’s sake sis, there’s more to life than the speed of your Broadband!’
‘I don’t want to miss it, Fran, but the engineer should have been here an hour ago, and….’ Mobile cupped against her ear, Dory looked around at the packing cases that still took up much of the floor space in her small sitting room. ‘There’s still masses to do. I’ve boxes yet to open, let alone unload.’
‘There’ll be time enough for all that boring stuff. After all, today is the first day of the rest of your life!’
‘Have you been reading your fridge magnets again?’
‘Why do you think we fall back on platitudes, Dory? Because they’re based on universal truths. So?’
Glancing at her watch Dory walked back into the kitchen. Her sister had a point. Even if it had been against her better judgement, why agree to be enrolled for the class if she wasn’t prepared to make an effort to attend it? She reached across the sink to close the window. Below her 1st floor rented maisonette, a dahlia enthusiast had filled his small garden with the blousy blooms, their colours magnified in the morning sun. They weren’t a favourite of hers but, momentarily transfixed by the implausible flare of luminous pinks, reds and oranges, by the crazy deckchair stripes, she felt her spirits lift.
‘OK. If the BT bloke doesn’t arrive in the next ten minutes, I’ll reschedule the appointment. I might be a bit late but…. See you when I see you.’ Dory pressed the red button and breathed. Despite the tower of packing cases, a great deal had been accomplished in a very short time. Storage solutions still had to be found, but it would all be sorted. How could she regret the London house she’d left behind? What price prestige, location, success if you’re unhappy in your relationship, if you’re not doing what you want to do?
So now she’d taken the first steps to real independence, what was she going to do with it? How was she going to live the rest of her life? Maybe today would prove the cliché. It might yet prove to be the beginning of something, a different direction, a different way of thinking? After all, science had always come second to art, when she was growing up. How had she found herself in a science-based career?
The future was a clean sheet, waiting to be written. But it was her wish list, not her sister’s. In her mind’s eye Dory could see the words ‘Start a business (something creative?)’ as the first entry on that imaginary blank page. Ignore what Fran thought her priorities should be. There was little likelihood that ‘men and relationships’ would figure on the list any time soon … if ever.

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