Supposition and Speculation, p.1LibO'Neill
Supposition and Speculation
A short fictional story by Libby O'Neill
Copyright 2015 Libby O'Neill
There are several routes around town that I follow when walking to keep fit. Sometimes these repetitive paths get a bit boring and I try to think up ways to keep my walks interesting. For example, I tried this system for a while. When I arrived at an intersection, I took the first left, then the next right, then left and right again and repeated the pattern. It filled in some time and took me to a few different areas around town and on one of these days I saw something unusual that got my imagination ticking.
One early autumn morning I was following a long stretch of road on a cement pathway beside a local park. To follow my pattern of left, right, left then right again, I had to walk the entire length of one side of the park in order to reach the next left turn. The air was cool but pleasant and the deciduous trees were already putting on a magnificent show of colour. There was a spattering of yellowed leaves strewn on the ground. The leaves were roughly heart-shaped and had fallen from tall poplar trees which I was admiring, when I noticed a young man emerging from a small block of toilets just inside the park perimeter.
The young man came through a gateway, turned and walked in my direction. He fished deep into his pocket for his mobile phone. He proceeded to text as he walked and then his phone rang. The ring tone sounded like a dull bleating sheep. When he was almost level with me, I could see his face had a slightly crumpled look. His cheeks were flushed and strands of thick dark hair clung to his damp forehead. Was he sick? Was he about to cry? Had he been jogging? As he passed by me I could hear him say, 'No. Come an' get me! You said you'd come get me after it was done.' I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but he wasn't being quiet and I could hear every word he said.
Then I noticed a middle-aged man stepping out of the same toilet block. He adjusted his sleeveless woollen pullover at the lower hem and strutted towards the gateway. It was then I realised I knew the man. It was the paper shop man, the owner of a local newsagency. His name was Robert. My husband and I had an account there. His staff delivered our daily newspaper. I bought my father's scratch lottery tickets from his shop. They kept my husband's fishing magazines aside for him and sometimes we got bulk photo-copying done on the copier at the shop. I didn't know him personally, only as a customer, but there was something about this man I'd always thought a little odd. At that moment he looked calm and the only other word I could think of to describe his demeanour was, satisfied. For a brief moment, for some unknown reason, I thought of turning away and crossing the street to avoid him, but I kept walking and it was then that he saw me. When he did see me, he visibly stiffened, but only for a second.
'Ah, hello,' he said in a pleasant enough tone, pausing awkwardly on the footpath.
'Good morning,' I replied.
'I've been for an early morning walk,' he said very quickly.
'Great,' I said. I had also stopped and not really knowing why, I asked, 'Do you know that boy back there?'
'That boy,' I said, turning slightly and pointing in the direction I had just come from.
'Um, no. Just some bloke out for a walk, I suppose,' he said.
I persisted with my enquiry. 'He looks like he might be in his teens. He looked upset or sick maybe. Did you notice anything?'
'No. Nothing. Must be off. Cheerio.' He dashed across the street and let himself into his little blue Subaru and sped off down the road.
A little further along I had almost reached the corner and a small, orange, dilapidated car came hurtling along the road behind me. I could hear it before I saw it, loud music was thumping and as I turned my head to the right I could see it contained four boys, or young men I suppose I should say, but it was hard to tell what age they were. There were P plates on the rear of the car and as it went by I thought I could see the dark head of hair belonging to the boy I had seen. Then I was sure it was him, because the car slowed to turn left at the corner where I stood and the he turned his face towards me. Through the car window he looked dreadful. Perhaps he really was sick and his friends had come to pick him up? But then I thought about what he'd said, "you said you would come get me after it was done." What had been done? Had he committed some crime? Been up to no good?
Something niggled at the back of my mind. I couldn't let the incident go and I thought about it as I went through my daily chores. Over the coming days my mind invented various possible scenarios. Had something untoward happened to the young fellow? Was it simply coincidence that the man from the paper shop appeared shortly after the boy? Perhaps the boy had been out jogging and simply needed to use the toilet on the way home? Or was it something else entirely? Had the boy and the man met for a secret assignation? Then my mind turned to another side of life. Had the boy met the man for a sexual purpose? This was possible. And if so, was it a dare? Had his friends dared him to go through with it? Was it a way of integrating himself into the group? Had he done it to secure money for himself and his friends? Had he done something for money in order to buy drugs? I didn't like to think of the dark-haired boy in some intimate position with the man that sold me my copy of the Women's Weekly. He was a married man too. Then I remembered the look on the young man's face, as though he was ill, or had been exposed to something that made him feel ill or loathsome. Had he been forced into a situation he didn't want to be in?
I tried to forget about it. My husband says I play the detective too much. He says I'm always reading too much into things. 'It's just supposition on your part,' my husband commented. 'You have no proof or real evidence that those two are connected in any way. I just don't see that bloke as some sort of pervert. You'll be reading tea leaves next.'
I admitted it was a silly encounter that had no major impact on me personally. But still, I couldn't seem to forget it. I discussed it casually with a friend. What did she think about it? 'Nothing. If something happened it sounds like they were two consenting adults,' she said.
'But what if it wasn't consenting?' I insisted. 'What if he was underage?'
'Well how old do you think he was?'
'It's hard to say, I suppose he could have been over sixteen. He was quite tall but he might have looked older than he really was.'
'Look, you don't even know if anything did happen, do you? You don't know the kid, so you can't ask him and you can't go and ask paper shop guy what he was doing in a public toilet, can you? How would that look? There's no law to say he can't go inside a public toilet. Don't go obsessing...it's probably best forgotten,' was her final advice as she tossed the remains of her cold coffee down the kitchen sink.
However, when I went to pay the paper bill, I watched this Robert fellow. Because that was how I'd come to think of him - that Robert fellow. I decided he was definitely odd and my personal theory was that he had been up to no good with the young boy in the toilet block. In the newsagency, I browsed the magazines and the gift card section and as I browsed I watched him serving other customers. I took particular note as to whether he smiled with genuine friendliness or if he seemed to be leering. He held the gaze of a pretty young woman for quite a long time and pressed her change securely into the centre of her upheld palm. I noted that he laughed a little louder than what seemed necessary as he discussed an I.T. magazine with a young high school boy. The boy was with his mother and he was about twelve or thirteen, dressed in a private school uniform with the school emblem boldly embroidered in navy blue on the upper pocket of his pale grey blazer. Yes, odd. I watched as this Robert fellow fidgeted with the cuff of the sleeve of his blue and white stripe shirt and then, there it was again, that twitching
Yes, it was odd, but autumn passed and my husband and I went away for our winter holiday to Cairns. We enjoyed three glorious weeks on the hinterland with views across to the ocean. It was vastly different from our cold-climate town in southern Victoria. The weather was warm and balmy and we forgot any thoughts of shivering or piling on three extra layers of clothing. But all good things come to an end and we returned home once more.
At home, there was an endless list of chores to be done. Washing to be dealt with, mulch to be prepared for the garden and lawns to be mowed. We sorted the mail and paid the gas bill. Amongst the mail was a note from the newsagency reminding us we had magazines put aside in our name and also to advise that the business would soon have new owners. My husband was off to his Rotary meeting and I said I'd stop in and collect the magazines and arrange for the paper to be delivered again when I picked up some groceries at the shopping centre.
When I arrived at the newsagency, I was greeted with a fresh set of friendly faces. The new owners were Paul and Cindy and their daughter Amelia, who would be helping out on uni break. But what had happened to Robert and his wife Sandra?
'What about Robert and Sandra?' I enquired. 'Where have they gone?'
'Oh, they're not too far away. Enjoying a well deserved break, I imagine,' explained Paul.
'Robert and Sandra will be in the shop next week if you need to see them,' said Cindy.
'Oh, I don't need to see them. I was just wondering.'
'Well, pop in if you're in the area,' said Cindy with a smile.
I made my way out into the corridor of the shopping mall. I called at the butcher and I asked the fellow serving me if he knew what had happened to the couple from the newsagency.
'Sorry, love. I'm only in three days a week. I didn't know them that well. But the shop's definitely been sold to the new people.'
My last stop was the hot bread bakery and I spoke to Kim, the little Vietnamese woman that ran the business. I commented to her on the new owners of the newsagency across from her.
'Yes, new owner,' said Kim, nodding her head in confirmation.
'I wonder what happened?' I said. 'I wonder why they sold up like that, so quickly.'
'They getting divorce,' she said in a serious voice, nodding her head again. Her face was serious and her mouth was set in a straight line.
'A divorce. But, how do you know?' I asked.
'She tell me...his wife...Sandra...she tell me.'
'Yes. Good thing,' she said, her voice getting a little louder with every short sentence she uttered. 'He bad man. I no like him! One time, he try get me go out with him. While he married to his wife!'
'Really?' This was interesting. 'What did you say to him?'
'I say, no way! He creepy. And, he try get my little brother go with him in his car! Bad man,' she said again, shaking her head for emphasis.
'Your little brother?' I was racking my brain trying to remember his age.
'Yes, he sixteen now, but he try get him go in car.'
'To go where?'
'You know...spend some time with him...I don't know.' She shrugged her shoulders. 'Very creepy.'
'Did he tell you this, your brother, I mean?'
'Yes. After they sell up and gone. I glad he gone. I glad she get divorce from him.'
'But he didn't go with him, did he?'
'No, not go, no!'
'Right. Well, perhaps it's best they have gone,' I said and took my baguette and wholemeal bread rolls and made my way home.
I couldn't wait to tell my husband Kim's piece of news. As I drove home I thought about it again. Fancy that, they've gone, sold up and getting a divorce too. I wondered what had brought it to a head. Was it me and my intense staring? Was it the disapproving lady from the hot bread bakery? Was it the boy from the toilet block? What really had happened on that day, I wondered. Did paper shop man's wife know what he was about all along? Then I thought, come to think of it, to be fair, what was he like? After all, I didn't know all the real details, did I? It was a lot of speculation on my part. They say there are two sides to every story. I sighed and couldn't help wondering what might have happened if I'd decided to take the opposite route that particular autumn day - take the first right, then the next left, then right and left again and repeat.
Thank you for reading this story, I hope you enjoyed it.
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Supposition and Speculation by LibO'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on19 votes