the prompt: this image
683 words ©Piper E McDermot 2015
That cold blue gaze made me squirm, even when it dropped to the pages lying on the desk. Manicured fingers flicked a page over and back again, perfect blood-red polish the only splash of colour in this concrete and glass box with its sterile air and tastefully neutral furnishings.
I curled my own fingers in my lap. The ache between my shoulders from trying to sit up straight in this ridiculous chair was exhausting.
“Well.” She looked up at me, and I pasted what I hoped was an attentive, but not too eager, expression on my face.
“I think we’ve covered all I need to know.” One red nail tapped a final, dismissive beat on the summary of my life. “Unless you have anything else you’d like to add?”
I drew a breath. “Ah..no.” Coward. “Thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure to meet you.” My smile felt off-kilter.
“We’ll be in touch.”
Yeah. Sure you will.
Nine blocks to the bus-station, an hour crammed into a seat between other grey-faced commuters, and finally the uphill trudge to my front door, was more than enough time to replay every moment a dozen times.
“Quite of lot of gaps here, aren’t there?”
I pulled the last dregs from the happy-box of cheap red, took a swallow to drown out the echo of that tone, the implied judgment that made feel almost ashamed, as though gaps were a greasy stain on my blouse that I hadn’t noticed.
Why do I do this to myself? I kicked off my boots, and was about to throw myself down on the couch when the phone rang.
“Hey, stranger! Where’ve you been? Are you coming over this weekend?” Emma. Best friend, terminally cheerful. “You have to come. There’s this friend of Cam’s. I think you’ll like him.”
“Hey. Er, no. Sorry…I don’t think I can make it. I’m doing that trip up to Namibia I told you about.” I stared down at my feet, wondering when I’d made that decision. My lucky socks leered back at me – the ones I wore whenever I set out on something new, something terrifying. Or to job interviews.
“Seriously? Wow. Aren’t you worried about travelling with a bunch of strangers?”
I was. Just the thought set my stomach jittering. I’ve always been painfully shy, but I’ve also learned how to hide it. It’s one accomplishment I am genuinely proud of.
“They seem fine, and with sharing everything it’ll be so much cheaper.”
“I wish I could just up and go like that.”
“So come with me.” I really hoped she would say yes, but knew she wouldn’t.
Emma cackled. “Ha. Ha. As if. I can’t just leave this lot, and Cam’s got this big job contract coming up, so he needs me to sort all the invoicing…”
I zoned out a bit.
These days, her life couldn’t be more different from mine. It hadn’t always been like that. I had tried, but sooner or later I’d begin to feel as if the life was being sucked out of me, as if my soul was slowly shriveling up, and I’d be off again. There was a cost, of course. Not least, nothing I could put on paper that would add up to a career to impress some cold cow in her glass box.
One of the holes in my left sock was so big, three toes were poking through. I scuffled my foot to get them back under the cover of worn-out wool. Maybe there wasn’t enough sock left to hold the luck.
“But I’m so jealous! You’re going to get the most amazing shots, you lucky thing. It’s not fair.”
After Emma hung up, I flopped onto the couch and raised a toast to my feet with the last of the wine. I flapped them around, scrutinising from different angles. Threadbare at the heels, more hole than sock at the toes. Perhaps it was time to throw them away.
The hell with it.
My life was lived in the holes, written in the gaps between.