A hole in the pavement, p.1
A Hole in the Pavement, p.1Tahlia Newland / Romance & Love
A Hole in the Pavement
A short story by Tahlia Newland
Editor: Sandra Wilson
Cover art: Kimberley Newland
Published by Catapult Press, December 2011
Copyright, December 6th 2011, Tahlia Newland
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author at email@example.com
A Hole in the Pavement
A Matter of Perception
Praise for ‘A Matter of Perception’
An excerpt from ‘Mistril’s Mistake’
About the Author
A Hole in the Pavement
Norris stared into the hall mirror and straightened his bow tie. A speck of dust clung to his suit coat. He brushed it off, patted down the wayward tuft of brown hair above his right ear and checked his watch. Precisely seven forty five. He opened his front door as he did every weekday morning and glanced to the right. As usual, the Goddess left her home, three houses closer to the bus stop, at exactly the same time.
Today, she wore a black tailored jacket and a short red skirt, and he followed her down the street acutely aware of her swaying hips, long legs and extremely high heels. She’d be tiny without them, but he liked that. Not that it mattered what he liked when he couldn’t even find the courage to speak to her. What would he say if he did? The best he could manage was to walk behind her every morning.
Norris sighed. The goddess stumbled and Norris’s heart lurched as she fell to the ground. He wanted to run and help her up, but he wasn’t sure if he should and the thought of pushing himself forward like that made his legs go weak. Suddenly, he jolted downwards, like the bump at the end of an elevator ride. He looked down and discovered that somehow he’d fallen in a rather large hole in the pavement. Norris frowned. How had he not seen it before? He didn’t even remember taking a step. However it had happened, street level was now above his knees and he had to figure out how to take the huge step he needed to escape without getting dirt all over his suit.
It required a certain amount of rocking backwards and forwards to build momentum and by the time he’d heaved himself out of the hole, it was too late to help the Goddess. She’d already climbed to her feet and was dusting off her jacket. Another opportunity missed and his life ticked steadily on towards a lonely old age.
She flicked her long dark hair over the elegant curve of her shoulder and glanced around. Norris looked away, saving her the embarrassment of knowing someone had seen her blooper. Mr Sutton’s flower garden was always worth a look, though the blooms looked a little wilted this morning.
When he heard her heels clicking on the concrete, Norris resumed his journey, following at a discreet distance. At the spot where she had fallen, he discovered the likely cause, a rough spot in the pavement. The thought crossed his mind that perhaps he should phone the council and ask them to fix it, but the usual anticipation of seeing the goddess’s face at the bus stop quickly eclipsed that idea.
It appalled him to admit that this glimpse of beauty was often the best part of his day, but he also rejoiced that he had at least that. As usual, she didn’t turn her head when he joined the little group at the bus stop, so he only saw her profile. Even so, her pale skin, high cheekbones and full mouth made him tingle inside. He tried to imagine what those dark eyes would do to him if they ever looked at him. But they didn’t. The bus came on time. The moment passed and still she didn’t know he existed. He swore that if she ever fell like that again, he wouldn’t hesitate to help her and wouldn’t care if it was appropriate or not. However, a distinct sense of unease followed his impassioned vow. Since when did goddesses need the help of ordinary mortals, anyway?
She stepped onto the crowded bus and Norris waited for the two schoolgirls and the young man in jeans to board before following. He clipped his ticket and made his way down the aisle, pleased to discover a spare seat right behind her. She sat next to a curvy blonde, but the school kids behind him made so much noise that he couldn’t hear a word she said. Not that he was trying to, of course.
Three stops before his, she left the bus and the world instantly became a duller place.
At precisely seven forty five the next morning, Norris walked down his path, opened the creaking wrought iron gate and turned down the street. The goddess did the same, only several metres in front of him and she wore navy to his grey and walked with a great deal more elegance than he did. The beautiful woman before him and the fragrance of Jasmine in the warm air put a spring in Norris’s step. He barely noticed the double story terraces he passed. The rusty fences, cracked paths, faded paintwork and builder’s rubble held no interest for him while she was in sight.
She tottered and fell. Again. In the same spot. Norris hesitated. Then he remembered his vow from the previous day and took a step, but his knee hit something hard. He looked down and found himself in that hole again, his knee against the edge of the pavement. He frowned, wondered how he’d managed to fall in again, then noticed that it wasn’t as deep. With a bit of a grunt, he heaved himself out and ran to the fallen goddess’s side.
She sat in a heap, hair dishevelled and muttering to herself. “Why do I willingly spend my days in a horrible job in an office with that creep of a man? Because you can’t afford not to have the money for the mortgage, that’s why.” She sounded irritated and bitter, not how he thought a goddess would sound.
Norris steeled himself and offered her his hand, praying that the pavement would swallow him up if he saw any indication that she considered him a creep. She looked up, wide-eyed and a little flushed, and the moment her eyes fixed on his, his world shifted into another reality, an alternate universe, one he’d only dreamed about, one where she saw him and registered his presence. In this new reality, he fell into the endless depths of her eyes, swum in their glory, and basked in the blissful light of her attention.
“Thanks, but I’m fine,” she said. He lowered his arm. Had he been presumptuous? She climbed to her feet and brushed at her short skirt. “I’ll swear this hole wasn’t this big yesterday,” she said as she stepped back onto the footpath.
Norris stared at the pavement behind her. The hollow from yesterday was now nearly a foot deep. He looked up and caught those stunning eyes watching him and blinked several times too often.
She offered her hand. “Thanks for your help. I’m Georgia. Nice to meet you.”
“Oh, yes, I… um, didn’t really do anything but…” He trailed off and looked at his shoes. Men do not blush he told himself to no avail. The sweaty heat started at the back of his neck and worked its way upwards.
“Aren’t you going to tell me your name?” she asked.
“N…Norris.” He didn’t dare look up.
“Well, thanks for caring, Norris. I’ve got to go now. I’ve got a bus to catch.”
“I know.” Whoops. That’s exactly why he didn’t risk talking to women. One of his big feet was always trying to get in his mouth.
But she just nodded, apparently not scandalized. “Right. Have a nice day then.” She walked away and he returned to universe number one, the alternate thread closed forever.
Even so, he felt like skipping and wished he still had the star chart his mother had made for him to record his social successes on, one star for saying hello, two for one sentence and so on. He’d get at least two stars for this morning’s effort. Unfortunately, a real conversation, worth ten stars, was still a long way away.
Norris sighed then followed Georgia to the bus stop as usual and arrived just in time to get on the bus. He smiled as he passed her seat, but she didn’t look up and he pretended that the heavy feeling in his chest wasn’t disappointment. Three stops before his, Georgia left the bus. Norris stared out the window at her, not caring that he probably looked somewhat like one of those puppy dogs with big sad eyes.
As the bus pulled past her, she looked up and waved.
He grinned so wide that his skin stretched tight and he felt like one of those hideous photo-shopped images with grossly distorted mouths.
Norris stared into the hallway mirror as he retied his navy tie one more time and smoothed it flat. He preferred a bow tie but maybe fashionable women like Georgia didn’t. His reflection, a very ordinary visage, not handsome but not unpleasant either, looked a little pinched this morning, no doubt due to the tense feeling in his stomach as he waited for his wristwatch to tick over to seven forty five. He even tapped his foot on the floor, keen to leave yet terrified at the same time, all because now that he knew her name and she knew his, he wondered if he should say hello. He had a terrible feeling that if he didn’t say hello this morning, he never would.
The old hallway seemed particularly dingy this morning and that trace of fustiness was back in the air again. He peeked through the little window at the side of the door and into the sunny street, torn between the desire to see her again and the desire to hide in the hallway until she’d gone. It was the minute hand ticking onto the nine that made him turn the door knob and step into the day.
Georgia and Norris reached their respective gates together, though metres apart. She never looked his way and he couldn’t bring himself to call out. He would never be Norris Turnbull, explorer extraordinaire, just little Norris, too shy to talk to girls. He sighed then pushed through the gate and jerked back, his eyes wide. He had barely escaped falling into an enormous hole in the pavement.
Clearly, the ground beneath his street was unstable and the edge of the hole didn’t feel particularly solid either. At least he hadn’t fallen in. He could have broken his leg. As it was, he looked from the ragged-edged hole to Georgia and back to the nearly metre deep gap between them. To get from his gate to the other side, he would have to tiptoe around right on the edge of the hole, the only bit of ground left between it and his fence, and since the bottom was full of rather sticky looking mud, the thought of falling in was distinctly unappealing. He considered going inside and calling the council but Georgia stumbled and disappeared from sight, as if the earth had dropped away from beneath her.
His body moved before his brain had time to protest. He grabbed the iron fence and held on, placing one hand over the other while his feet moved cautiously around the edge of the hole. One foot slipped away beneath him, sending gravel and chunks of concrete sliding into the hole. His arms ached as he gripped the iron bars even tighter and his feet flailed until they found stable ground again. Only then did he breathe again. He pushed himself off the fence, stumbled onto the sidewalk on the other side of the hole and ran to where Georgia had disappeared.
He found her in the bottom of a hole around one and a half metres deep. She sat huddled in the corner, dirt on her clothes, tears streaking her lovely face, and her hair awry, not like a goddess at all, more like a lost child.
He knelt on the edge and reached out a hand. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
She shook her head and sniffed but didn’t look up.
“It’s Norris. Are you hurt?”
“Go to work,” she muttered. “It’s too late for me.”
“We can take the next bus.”
What was the matter with her? “You’re sitting in the bottom of a very large hole. I can’t just leave you here.”
“Because I’m a mess.”
“No, you aren’t.”
“I am, you just don’t know it.”
“Then tell me.” Where was he getting all these words from?
Silence. He waited and watched, wondering what could be so bad that staying in the bottom of a damp hole made a better option. A moment later it all came tumbling out, words upon words, long and colourful, short and grey, and harsh black against the white of silence.
“On top of everything else, I’m doing part time uni and it’s killing me but if I give up I’ll never get a better job. I can’t sleep, I’m so stressed, so I’m exhausted all the time and if you saw me without makeup, you’d see how terrible I really look. I have thunder thighs and my waistline is expanding but I can’t give up eating ice-cream. And I hate high heels but I’m a midget without them. Now I’m rambling and you don’t want to know, so go away and leave me alone.”
“There’s water seeping in,” Norris said. She must already be feeling damp.
Georgia scanned her prison with the slightly pleading look of a lost kitten. Water darkened the hem of her jacket. Norris reached out again. “Take my hand.”
She shook her head and Norris fought back a flush of irritation. “I’d still think you beautiful without your makeup,” he offered, then wished he hadn’t. Far too risky, but it seemed to work.
She looked up. Her wet eyes glistened in the morning light, though no sun penetrated the gloomy hole. “You haven’t seen me.”
“I do see you,” he replied, then realised how that might sound. “I mean, not really, not like through a window or anything. It’s like, I know that you’re beautiful. Inside, where it counts. I can see it.” He stopped before he made a complete idiot of himself, but her face didn’t show the horror he expected, instead it softened. She didn’t smile and he realised that she never had in his presence. Was he that dull?
She wriggled to her feet and took his hand. “Good,” he said, “now hold on tight.” The warmth and softness of her hand surprised him, and the delight of her touch was a balm to his soul. He pulled, but she didn’t move.
“It’s no good. I’ll never get out,” she moaned.
Words from his childhood came to mind. Platitudes like, you can if you say you can, but he didn’t burden her with them. “You can get out, just don’t let go,” he said instead
She held on, but slumped backwards, landing on her bottom with a splash and jerking him half over the edge. He lay on his belly, his hips perched precariously on the lip of the hole. “Um. You had better let go now or I’ll be in there with you.”
She released him as if stung and his hand keenly felt the loss of her touch. He wriggled back to safety and onto his knees again.
“See, I’m no good to anyone,” she muttered into her lap.
“That’s nonsense.” For the first time in his life, Norris sounded like his father, but he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
She looked up, her eyes widening, but said nothing.
“You have to want to get out,” Norris said. “You have to help me help you. That’s all. You’re going to stand, I’m going to take your hand, you’re going to put one foot up the wall, then you’re going to push off from the ground and I’ll pull at the same time.”
She thrust her bottom lip out in a pout worthy of a three-year-old. “I’ll still have a horrible boss.”
“We can fix that.”
She shook her head.
“I’ll help you, but we have to get you out of here first.” And make sure you never fall in again, he thought.
“I know this place,” she said, that bottom lip quivering now. “I’ve been here before, lots of times.”
“But you got out.”
“No. I woke up. This time I’m not asleep and I’m stuck.”
“You. Are. Not. Stuck,” he told her. “You’re just being negative and stubborn.’
She poked her tongue out at him. He smiled but she looked away.
“Do you want to get out of this hole or not?” he asked.
For a moment, neither of them moved. The traffic hummed, a parakeet squawked overhead and Norris noticed his knees aching, but he said nothing. It was up to her now. She sighed, then stood, splashing and shaky, took his hand and put one foot on the wall.
“Right. One, two, three, push,” he coached. She jumped and he pulled her over the top where she promptly fell on top of him. Her weight, slight as it was, felt deeply comforting, but he didn’t get to enjoy it long and the time she was there, he spent fighting with himself to stop his arms from wrapping around her.
As it was, she wriggled off him and got up, muttering thanks and blushing deep red. Norris wondered if she found his crimson face as utterly charming as he found hers. Unlikely. “Well done,” he said.
“We’ve missed the bus,” she said, pouting again.
Norris checked his watch. “The next one is in three quarters of an hour. That gives you enough time to change.”
She looked at her clothes and grimaced. “My boss fires people for being late and he’d never believe this.”
“I thought you didn’t like your job.”
“I hate it, but I can’t afford not to have it. I’d lose my house.” Tears threatened again.
“I’ll call a taxi then. Is twenty minutes enough time to change?”
Her eyes widened. “No.”
He raised his eyebrows. “How long do you need?”
“It’s not that. It’s enough time, it’s just, well, it’ll be out of your way.”
“No, your stop is before mine.” His heart sank a little when he realised that she hadn’t even noticed.
She paused, then blurted out. “I can’t really afford a taxi.”
“My shout then.”
She shook her head. “No, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to be…”
“Indebted? You wouldn’t be. It’s my gift, no strings attached.”
“No, it’s all right, you go. I’ll take my chance on the bus.”
Norris frowned. “I wouldn’t want you to fall into another one of these holes and have no one around to get you out, and they do seem to be appearing with alarming regularity.”
Georgia blinked solemnly. Her huge eyes seemed to be assessing the truth of his statement. Finally, she nodded, apparently satisfied and turned towards her house.
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