Sophie's Loves

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
DARK FANTASY
A Lovelorn Lonely Story for Our Time

Submitted: May 21, 2019

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Submitted: May 21, 2019

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Sophie’s Loves

 

Now, where have I seen that man before?

He couldn’t have been much older than 23, 24? A youthful man with a beautifully round café crème baby face and a closely-shaven head. A smartly-dressed man in an immaculate pin-stripe Savile Row suit, plain white shirt and gold cuffs, matching navy-blue polka dot silk tie and handkerchief, a new pair of shiny black brogues.

A thoughtful man who enjoyed chewing his lower lip which, anyways, never once left the inside of his puckered mouth. A perfect man who hadn’t a single hair out of place. A man who didn’t blink once.

Oh, boy! He’s quite a dish. Maybe he fancies me, Sophie hoped.

She crossed the road. He turned away and entered the station. She followed him through the ticket barrier and upstairs to Platform 2 for the next train to Romford, Stratford, Liverpool St.

‘Ah, this is my train,’ she cried, so that all of the other commuters could hear her, heads turned.

‘The next train does not stop here! Stand back behind the yellow line on Platform 2!’

‘Here’s my train,’ she smiled, edging forward.

‘Fast train approaching!’

He saw her. It was still dark, early. He saw her.

She padded up to the platform edge and stood there testing, gripping the edge of the platform.

‘Hello, train!’

‘Stand back! Stand back! Look out!’

He pulled her back at the last minute. as the train sped by.

‘You could have got yourself killed!’ he yelled… 

*****

Who’s that Man? Followin’ me to the Tube?

Who’s that Man? Watching me on the train?

Who’s that Man? Watching me on the bus?

Now there’s just one thing: he floats, he doesn’t walk.

And there’s just one thing: I never heard him talk.

Who’s that Man? Watching me through the glass?

Who’s that Man? The one with the nice little bum?

He’s quite a dish. I think!

Oh, boy! Maybe he fancies me, Sophie hoped.

*****

‘Naomi, love?’

Naomi’s beaming smile lit up her little coffee face from ear to ear. She was wearing wavy black tresses ‘n gold-highlights braided, twisted ‘n tied back tight in a pony. Sophie approved.

‘No make-up, no jewellery, no nail varnish, no studs, no rings, no watches. Just bring your best little smile, your cleanest hands an’ remember, Girls: flutter those pretty little eyelashes an’ raise those little brows in your big surprise when you serve The Customer,’ Sophie had primed, proudly, drawling, ‘an’ you won’t go far wrong. Now have a nice day, yawl!’

 The whole Team fell about laughing, hysterical. Naomi loved Sophie. Thought she was cool!

 ‘Yes, Naomi?’

She’s concentrating, trying so hard, observed Sophie. Busying herself before breakfast on our opening day. Setting out that deli bar with some dexterity, much precision an’ a fresh pair of peel-on-blue food handler gloves; according to Gigi’s exact colour print specification. Sophie had discovered little Naomi under cardboard, under the Embankment railway bridge, taken her in, trained the stray herself. Now look at her! Naomi’s Deli Manager at Gigi’s brand-new branch in High Street, Ken! She wiped away a trickle-tear of pride.

‘Now, remember! Keep those Veggie, fish an’ meat fillings apart an’ always check through that menu for those nasty little allergens with Blanche, our Deli Chef, Drew, our Team Leader; an’ the Girls before service starts,’ Naomi reminded herself, after Sophie and Mike’s early morning team briefing. Mike was Gigi’s Development Chef, assisted Sophie with all the new openings.

‘Who’s that beautiful Man?’ Sophie asked.

‘Which Man’s that? I can’t see no Man,’ laughed Naomi Hulme from Kingston, Jamaica.

She knew! She knew Sophie wanted, needed a Man. Heavens! That poor woman deserved a Man! After all she’d done for the Girls. Forty-two years young an’ not even a musk scent of a Man. Oh, well, Sophie, lucky in life, unlucky in love, or so they say.

That Man, love!’ Sophie said, pointing through the shopfront window, ‘See him, Drew?’

Drew Sharp, a busty honey-blonde reformed crack addict from Adelaide had just wriggled her butt into a sensational backless, silver skin-tight Gigi uniform an’ matching silver light foil-effect tabard; name badge firmly pinned over her bulging left breast. Gigi Girls served great deli, sure! They dressed to kill an’ dressed to sell, too; Sophie had shown them how. And how! Gigi sales had increased 25% year-on year, since she’d joined the flock five years earlier, when these fledgling birds were yet to fly the nest. 

‘Sorry, Sophie. Stud’s gone!’ Drew crowed.

And so, he had…

Who’s that Man?

*****

Sophie Smart managed 15 new diet-deli bars for Gigi, the remarkable new Mediterranean diet-deli bar chain, managed by Gorgeous Gherkin, that took the high street by storm. The ultimate experience in healthy-heart street food was conceived a year earlier by three identical triplets; the charismatic, enigmatic, Gherkin sisters Julia, Jenny and Gloria; and their mother, celebrity chef Candy Gherkin, legendary author of ‘Candied Sweets’.

Between March and May 2023, Sophie Smart, the tall, sweet, and frothy Operations Manager successfully opened all diet-deli bars. Gorgeous Gherkin won their first three prestigious City corporate hospitality contracts… and Sophie opened all of them.

Gorgeous Gherkin occupied a tiny office overlooking the Auto-Mart in Fenchurch Street. The little catering outfit mushroomed quickly; something had to give. For Sophie, the rapid business growth meant tighter deadlines, increased pressure, endless reviews, a never-ending deluge of e-mails, and stress. As Operations Manager, the lion’s share of responsibility fell squarely on her shoulders; more occasionally into the small hands of the small hands-on Board, and Mrs Gloria Soares, Finance, Office, Legal and IT.

*****

Ms Julia Gherkin, 25, CEO, MD of Gorgeous Gherkin Ltd, called a pre-meeting of the Board to review the latest medical report on Miss Sophie Smart, Operations Manager, Gigi.

‘The poor love clearly has a nasty problem with her reflexes,’ she observed.

The Board shook their heads in sympathy. Sad really.

‘The symptoms appear mainly in Sophie’s face and limbs,’ Jane Doe, 36, HR Manager said, ‘They’ve developed a mind all of their own. Can you believe that?’

The Board shook their heads in disbelief. Really sad.

‘Miss Smart’s condition appears to have started with an involuntary curling of the lip, a ‘kiss’, a tiny tic, an egregious eye spasm here, a flagrant flickering of the face twitch there,’ read Mrs Jennifer Pole, nee Gherkin, 25, Sales & Marketing, and Operations.

The Board nodded their heads in agreement. Tragic.

‘Miss Smart has since developed the full-blown symptoms of extreme work-related stress: involuntary muscular contractions, convulsions; and snapping and unfolding of her joints, neck vertebrae and spinal column,’ continued Mrs Gloria Soares, nee Gherkin, 25, Finance, Office, Legal and IT.

The Board threw their arms up in disarray. Some reached for a cafe top-up. Some risked another of Gaby’s delicious honey and lemon butter cookies. All went into CYA mode. Work-related?

‘Let’s be fair now everybody. This is a condition she has struggled with valiantly, in my view, in order to control her spasms,’ pointed out Mike Sharps, 48, Health & Safety Executive.

But no one was listening to Sharps point. Work-related stress? Oh, my God! Panic set in. The Board were standing up, pointing at each other, singling out individual blame-hostages to brand as ‘Cruel to Sophie’ and hang on high above the Auto Mart. Blaming everyone but themselves. Blaming Smart for working too hard.

Blaming her for doing such a great job. Blaming Smart. How dare she work so hard and do such a great job. Who the hell did she think she was anyways? Bitch! It started with a kiss. They never thought that it would end like this.

‘Order! Order!’ cried Julia.

‘Jane,’ she added, ‘As our HR Manager, what’s your take on this Smart issue?’

‘Well,’ said Jane, choosing her words carefully, ‘The performance issue certainly blots Smart’s blemish-free copybook. Blights her previously excellent disposition. And it does appear to be getting, worse by the day…’  

‘Julia, I really think we should terminate her this morning and schedule her replacement to start as soon as possible,’ interrupted Gloria.

‘Jenny?’

‘I agree 100% with Gloria,’ Jenny said.

‘Jane?’

‘Pharrell’s waiting outside in reception, can start today.’

‘Excellent, Jane, well done!’

Jane blushed; promotion beckoned.

Julia Gherkin pressed a red button.

‘Sarah.’

Sarah was varnishing her nails: Peach Blush.

‘Yes, Julia?’

‘Would you send Sophie through now, please?’

*****

 In February, the whole obsolete office IT system crashed. Only Sophie’s personal drive, leadership and outstanding organisational skills prevented services from grinding to a halt. As well as keeping the deli-bars and hospitality up and running, she frequently worked through the night helping Gloria and Marc Stringer, the dashing blue-eyed blonde IT Consultant, to re-organise the office administration system, online reporting and communications portal. Sophie worked herself into a frenzy, narrowly avoiding a nervous breakdown. By the end of April, they’d completely transformed the office.

*****

On Thursday 17th May, Sophie Smart, 42, was summoned to a meeting with The Board. As she entered the Boardroom, she glanced up at the silent sweep atomic clock, noticing that it had moved forward five minutes closer to twelve o’clock. ‘My doomsday!’ she laughed, ironically.

Down and out on the Street, the driverless traffic stood silently in never-ending queues. Taxis no longer chattered, red buses no longer growled. Hordes of cyber-secretaries thronged the Auto-Mart. Flitting, like gaily Painted Ladies, between pigeon-holes. Groaning with lead-free leaves, tumble-dry tomatoes, genetically-modified gudgeon, sulphuretted cubes of dehydrated chicken.

Meanwhile, the denizens of the murky pre-construction deep, mainly foundation-diggers and pile-drivers, tucked into fatless filo turkey pies in the privacy of putrid public houses. As the sushi samurai strained through pots of pho in search of morsels of shredded shrimp. Only the salaried elite could afford to pick at the plentiful platters of prawn, salmon, pâté and humus provided in the privileged parlours of the rich, the Gigi Delis.

What’ve I done wrong now? Smart thought, naturally enough, upon entering the inner sanctum, carefully closing the door. Behind her back.

Behind her back, her right arm suddenly folded, reaching up between her shoulder blades. Behind her back, her right hand turned onto its palm and crept its way up inside her smart primrose yellow chiffon blouse until it reached the nape of her neck.

Behind her back, her right hand tiptoed up into her bush of wispy walnut wavy hair, scratching away at her scalp. Then her left hand stirred and began to wander up in support of the right, behind her back.

Stop it! she instructed herself.

‘Got an itch have we, Smart?’ enquired Pole nastily.

So, it’s ‘Smart’ now is it? What happened to ‘Miss Smart’? she wondered; shaking her head, hastily snapping her double, and triple, joints before unfolding.

‘No, I…’

‘Just wondering.’

To her astonishment Board rose as one. Gherkin, Pole and Soares gathered round, gave her a quick bear hug… and promptly sat back down again.

‘Take a seat, Smart,’ instructed Pole.

She wheeled up a seat. Feeling a lump of pride swell in her throat. Feeling her too-tired eyelids squinting, sprinkling warm saline onto her irises, like emotional watering cans. Feeling herhH

 endless hours of blood, sweat and tears melt away, relieving the stress that squatted, like bad heartburn on her heavily-laden chest.

Feeling a little better, she took a deep breath, sniffed and blew, copiously wiping both nostrils on the back of her sleeve; before sinking down next to Soares who reeked of ‘Dirty Velvet’ and peppermints after her late-night soiree with Stringer.

Mrs JE Pole wore auburn gold shoulder length hair, rouge lipstick in ‘ruby copper’, a fake tan; a plunging short-sleeved black mini dress worn above the knee; bear-brown unshaven legs and a natty pair of Louboutin high heels.

Gherkin resumed, ‘Board would like to thank you for all your hard work, Smart. We’d never have managed our way out of the IT crash without you.’

‘Hear! Hear!’ chorused the other Directors.

‘Smart?’

Sophie eased her jet black, button-back, anti-clockwise-rotating swivel chair back from the incongruous teak-veneered, antique club-footed boardroom table. Board watched in stupefied amazement as her left foot rose and led her left calf up high over her right knee. Her left knee then settled atop her right thigh, bending her left calf tightly round her right buttock.

Then her right leg stirred and wandered up to join her left leg, up and over her left leg, well up her thigh, before finally wrapping itself cosily round her left buttock.

Stop it! she instructed herself.

‘Would you stop fidgeting, please?’ Gherkin asked, ‘Are you listening to me?’

‘I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I suffer from an unconditional reflex.’

She’d actually suffered from a recurring, irregular and highly regrettable reflex since becoming overstressed at work. Not that the uncaring Gherkin sisters had noticed. All they noticed was that she looked well past her best before date and over the hill.

‘A reflex!’ Pole and Soares chorused, sarcastically.

Stop it! Smart repeated. After several minutes, she managed to snap her double, and triple, joints open and generally unfold.

‘Smart, are you listening to me?’

‘Yes, Ms Gherkin.’

‘You seem to be in another world this morning, is all.’

‘Are you sure you’re feeling alright?’ she added.

Truth be told, she wasn’t ‘feeling alright’, she felt extremely strange inside her head, but didn’t let on, fearing an enforced medical suspension, a highly invasive brain intrusion by their automatic head-shrink in Harley Street.

‘I feel fine, thank you,’ she said politely.

‘You don’t look fine.’

Ms J Gherkin wore teak brunette shoulder length hair, warm nude ‘barely there’ lipstick in ‘crime of passion’, a full-on chocolate hazelnut tan; a plunging sleeveless wraparound crimson mini snug worn on the knee; sheer black stockings and natty Louboutin high heels.

‘Now, Smart, pay attention,’ she lectured, ‘Board has approved your request for annual leave. Please make sure you leave your Smart-phone, laptop, security pass and tablet with Miss Cabal when you leave the office. Try to get some rest. Try not to think about work while you’re away. It’ll still be there when you get back. You will rest now, won’t you?’

‘I will, Ms Gherkin, thank you.’

Smart felt her head nodding obediently, involuntarily, like a nodding-dog in an auto-car back window, before giving Gherkin several involuntarily cheeky flaps of her ears and one or two highly deprecating sideways twitches of the nose.

Stop it! she insisted to herself.

‘Good,’ concluded Gherkin, ‘Why are you flapping your ears at me like that?’

‘Am I? I’m sorry, I didn’t realise, it’s the reflex.’

‘The reflex!’ Pole and Soares chorused again.

Gherkin, Soares and Pole stared at each other, having arrived at the same sad conclusion at exactly the same time. As identical triplets do. There was something very wrong with Smart. Something extremely unusual had possessed Smart. Not good!

The Gherkins had a business to run. They weren’t interested. They didn’t want to know. But the bald facts about Smart were inescapable as Miss S Cable, the Directors’ irrepressible copperhead PA had been only too keen to point out:

‘Smarty-Pants is an incurable workaholic,’ Cable had informed Board, maliciously, ‘She plans to spend her holiday working in its bedsit above Toni’s Turkish hair salon in Leytonstone. She has lost the plot. She represents a certifiable health risk. I refuse to have her anywhere near me; disjointing, and folding up, snapping open, and unfolding, like that. Either she goes or I go.’

Board’s inevitable conclusion was that Smart was beyond help, that their once-competent operator had turned into a convulsive, twitching, self-folding, disjointing freak. Board had concerns. For once, Board had to do something.

By coincidence, Pole had recently enjoyed a flat white with Dolores Footwall-Chepstow of Online Rapid Recruitment. By chance, Pole had managed to coerce Cable and Stringer into perusing Smart’s personal calendar. Gherkin had gone so far as to discuss Smart’s summary dismissal with Ms J Doe in Personnel. By selectively hacking Smart, Soares had, discreetly, security-checked her profile to ensure she had a current, valid English passport.

How to get Smart out of the way for a week or so while Pole inducted her successor and scheduled her immediate termination upon return from holiday? That was the question.

Gherkin, Soares and Pole eased back their jet black, button-back, anti-clockwise-rotating, swivelled chairs from the incongruously teak-veneered, antique, club-footed table, then span away from Smart like three moons waxing in perfect harmony. When they reappeared, they’d changed face.

‘Thanks again for all your hard work, love. It really means a lot to us,’ Gherkin softened.

Smart, overstressed, overtired and overwhelmed, broke down in tears.

‘Ah, look, she’s crying’. Come and give me a hug, love,’ condescended Pole, putting on a nasty West Country curly-wurly accent.

Pole took Smart roughly in her fat cook’s arms and embraced her, holding her tenuously close to the twice-maternal, thrice-implanted, breasts she liked to pout about for Board and selected important Clients. As the wretched woman sobbed and heaved into her shoulder. Pole sat stroking Smart’s hair, patting her between the shoulder blades like a cow with itchy rinderpest on its way to the vet to be put down.

‘In any case,’ added Gherkin, helpfully, ‘We’re more than capable of holding the fort for a few months, aren’t we ladies? The floor is now yours, Mrs Soares.’

‘Thank you, Ms Gherkin,’ spouted Soares, turning on wretched Smart again.

‘Now, love, what are we going to do with you, eh?’

Soares fluttered her cedar-bark eyelashes, adjusted her amber horn-rims, stood up and pranced around the boardroom, nodding wildly. Waving the very latest silver slim-rod ‘math-wand’ enumerating tablet in her right mitt. Gesticulating like some mad professor with a cutting edge doll-scalpel about to dissect a fresh corpse. As Smart lay slumped, blubbing gently into Pole’s cleavage.

Mrs G Soares wore her bitter-lemon blonde hair in a bob; bright pink rouge lipstick in ‘sweet desire’, a full bronze sports-tan; a plunging strapless silver and navy figure-hugging number: an arty-farty fake leopard-skin mini-shroud worn well above the knee, sheer ‘WI’ ’40s navy blue stockings and natty Louboutin high heels.

Smart looked up from Pole’s bust. She had to concede, Gherkin, Pole and Soares had dressed to kill this morning. Soares stole her a knowing glance.

‘We are presenting Gorgeous Gherkin’s tender bid for the provision of hospitality services at the London HQ of Avian Aeronautics in the Spine Building, Canary Wharf, to their Board this afternoon. We’re down to the final two. It’s between us and Bagot’s Catering. Mrs Pole is pally with the Chairman of Avian aren’t you, love? Yet another new contract for you to open when you get back, Smart. Isn’t it exciting? Now, Smart, I have some good news for you.’

Smart sagged lower as Gherkin, Pole and Soares exchanged childish executive glances. They’d successfully brain-washed her into behaving like a managerial play-thing. She felt emotionally shattered, broken, mind-shredded and dehumanized, like a robot without sensors. Other than that, she was in relatively good spirits.

‘In recognition of your work this fiscal, Smart, I’m delighted to inform you that I’ve decided to pay you a one-off bonus, without prejudice, of £126 before tax,’ prattled Soares.

This was the same Smart who’d worked herself into the ground while the idle cows slouched around, grazing on smoked salmon, varnishing their nails, preening their hairy moult, and fawning over each other. The same Smart who now took Prozac.

Would Smart tell Soares to: Go stick it up your pretty little arse, as you clearly need the cash more than I do? No…

‘£126? Really? Thank you so much, Mrs Soares, I don’t know what to say,’ Smart gushed.

‘Don’t mention it,’ said Soares.

‘Thank you, Smart, that will be all,’ said Pole.

‘Thanks for all your support, and for always being so kind to me,’ Smart re-gushed.

She stood up, careful not to knock her half-drunken, half-chewed cup of mud-coffee over the incongruously teak-veneered, antique club-footed table walnut table. She nodded graciously at each Director. She reached for the polished brass doorknob. Then, as she walked through the door, her ears involuntarily gave them all a naughty flap, as if to say:

‘Thanks for that, Slags.’

‘Oh, one last thing, Smart,’ Gherkin, who missed the ear-show, called.

What now? All Smart wanted to do was lie down somewhere quietly and die. Her mind had been frazzled. Her body burnt-out. Her heart and soul torn apart. Her emotions left in turmoil.

The Board had methodically, painstakingly delved into, dismembered, dissected, dehumanized and decimated her, utterly destroying her self-confidence. What would they do to her next; water-board her? Those charismatic, enigmatic, nasty Gherkin sisters?

‘Made any plans for your holiday?’ said Soares.

‘Planning to go away?’ Pole added.

‘No, why?’

‘Here, take this with all our thanks,’ smiled Gherkin.

‘Now hurry home and get packed’, smiled Pole.

‘Miss Cable’s arranged a car to pick you up outside your flat at five to take you to the airport,’ Soares confirmed.

‘We wouldn’t want you to miss your flight now, would we?’ soothed Gherkin.

‘Now, don’t worry about the work. We’ll take care of everything,’ assured Pole.

‘Have the most wonderful time, Smart. If anyone deserves it, you do,’ they all cried…

As soon as she’d escaped from the Boardroom, Smart collapsed and cried all over the latex-tiled corridor floor.

‘Well I never!’ she smiled, ‘Those uniquely charismatic, enigmatic, simply gorgeous Gherkins!

*****

‘I thought that went very well, all things considered,’ opined Julia, between gulps of iced banana smoothie.

Following Smart’s departure; Julia Gherkin, Jennifer Pole and Gloria Soares sat with Jane Doe.

‘Do you think she got the message?’ laughed Gloria sipping on a fresh macchiato.

‘Loud and clear! In any case, she won’t be coming back,’ Jenny said through a mouthful of piping hot strawberry and mango tea. 

‘If you don’t mind me saying,’ said Jane, sucking her pencil rubber, ‘you’re treading on thin ice here, Jules.’

‘How so, Jane?’ asked Julia smugly.

Jane ignored her, turning instead to Jenny, ‘You say you’ve never witnessed these involuntary reflexes before, Jen?’

‘No, I can’t say I have.’

‘How was she just now?’ Jane probed, ‘How would you describe her state of mind?’

‘Highly strung, withdrawn, very emotional, kept bursting into tears. Why?’

‘You don’t suppose she might just be suffering from severe stress as a result of all your constant bullying, humiliation, degradation and harassment of her as a woman, do you?’

Red faces all round.

‘If you ask me, she has an excellent chance of pursuing a successful claim for constructive dismissal against you all,’ she added, ‘I don’t suppose you’ve considered the damage to your reputation as an equal opportunities and fair employer?’

‘I’m not asking you, Jane.’

‘Sorry, Jules, didn’t quite hear that.’

‘I said I’m not asking you. Let’s be clear on this, shall we? I can’t have her working in my business one minute longer. We’re about to appoint Pharrell Kincaid as her replacement. Jane, please prepare a draft compromise agreement with a view to Smart’s termination before she starts work on Tuesday 29th. I’ll put in a call to her beforehand. Let me see your proposed exit strategy with settlement costs, first thing Monday.’

‘What you’re proposing is disgusting, especially given her excellent employment record with us. No way can I agree to this!’ Jane flustered bright puce with anger.

‘Jane, love.’

‘Yes, Gloria?’

‘Just do as your told and get on with it…’

‘How dare you speak to me like that! Julia, I intend to reconsider my position with Gigi. I’ll let you know my decision tomorrow morning.’

‘Jane, Jane, Jane…’

‘Sorry to disturb, Julia, but Mr Kincaid’s waiting in reception?’ interrupted her PA.

‘Excellent, Sarah. Bring him through would you, please.’

*****

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Escape to Isle St Jean-Marie

‘Set on a secluded cove of white sand beach, surrounded by lush tropical gardens and a warm Caribbean Sea, Heavenly Body Isle St Jean-Marie is the ultimate getaway for your body and mind. At this all-inclusive luxury resort dedicated to your well-being there are many ways for you to soothe your senses and restore your spirit. With our uniquely qualified personal well-being therapists and sensational new splash-oscillators you can do as much or as little as you please. Whether you’re looking for unlimited sports activities, a soothing escape or just love in the Caribbean sunshine, we will make your wildest dreams come true…’

Isle St Jean-Marie was a tiny tropical island paradise basking a short boat-plane hop from its near neighbours, Guadeloupe and St Lucia, in the Lesser Antilles. Imagine palm trees swaying to the lazy rhythm of a cooling sea-salt breeze, waves of rippled blue kissing white hot sandy beaches and there you have Isle St Jean-Marie; a heavenly holiday escape where life meanders along at its own leisurely pace and everyone lives happily ever after.

Well, almost everyone.

She felt lonely again already. Love happens, she supposed, wistfully. Love happens how, when and where you least expect him to happen. She’d fallen head over heels in love. In love, for the very first time. They’d indulged, of course they had; in the sensational new splash-oscillator, on and off, on and off, at different times of the day.

Her uniquely qualified personal well-being therapist had just left.

Upon arrival at the fitness club that evening, he had immediately relaxed into the ‘Dead’ pose; the only man in a class of sixteen women. According to the eyewitnesses he was dressed in a ridiculously short pair of blue satin boxer shorts, a simply terrific chest-tight, flame-red tee shirt, impressive pig-iron thighs and toughened steel biceps.

At first, he had feigned apparent disinterest in Sophie, but he soon turned his huge shaggy, goatee-bearded head sideways on to admire her. She’d intimated her intentions by bending forward in her deep-dive purple spandex leotard until her forehead touched the floor (this pose is known as the Child) quickly looking up to make sure he was still watching; playing cat and mouse.

In no time she was sitting up comfortably on her haunches, flagrantly performing ‘The Lion’. Suddenly, and with as much force as possible, she thrust her tongue out and down, let her eyes start, pulled all her muscles around and stretched her fingers out hard and straight. She held the pose for five seconds, relaxed out gently, then repeated the exercise three times. Just to make sure she had his full undivided attention.

He smiled back broadly, revealing a mouth full of metal amalgam and the ugly remains of a half-digested cheese and tomato sandwich. He responded with his most manly Abdominal Lift, standing in the semi-squat position, hairy hands on hairy thighs. As lovingly demonstrated by Amy the instructor-person who had, incidentally, rapidly faded into their blurred background but twice had occasion to warn the Man about his behaviour.

Still, he breathed in, distending his six-pack abdomen for her, filling his giant lungs, then breathing out gently; before suddenly pulling in his abdominal muscles as far as possible and snapping them back out again. He repeated the exercise for her another ten times, to make sure she really wanted him, then took another deep breath.

*****

He couldn’t just go, could he? Know what I mean; there I go again! He had to make a big song and dance…

‘Got to go back to me beach hut to lime on down a little now, lady, know what I mean? Loved our day. Loved you, lady. Stay cool, take care. Maybe I’ll see you around some time.”

Maybe! How he’d made her laugh! Maybe!

She stood at the bedroom balcony of her luxury holiday apartment and watched him leave as the sun set, a sinking red rubber ball on the horizon, heralding the end of her fifth day in paradise.

On Saturday, her dream would come to an abrupt end. She’d fly back to England.

Never to see him again.

On Sunday, life would return to normal. She’d check her e-mails, complete the week’s sales and accident reports, phone round all her managers, shop for the week. Before taking an early evening bath, arranging her work clothes for the next day, and, finally, setting the alarm for four-thirty the following morning.

Not that she would get a wink of sleep that night; she would be too coiled up, like a tensed spring, too wound up inside, like a clockwork toy dolly, to sleep. On Monday! Didn’t she just love Monday! She’d take the short hop into Town, immerse herself in the old routine, her dream holiday, but a distant memory.

Crestfallen, she raised a crystal chalice of the local spa water ‘to absent friends’:

‘To Gigi,’ she said.

Further along the beach at the picturesque fishing village of Port St Jean the locals, joined by throngs of tourists, gathered along the harbour wall to celebrate the festival of Saint Jean. Mysterious masked voodoo men pranced and danced in a carnival of charades as a steel band pounded the beat. Fireworks lit up the night sky, reflecting well on the dark sea. The street-feasting, liming, singing, reggae and frequently fruitless efforts at limbo-dancing would last well into the early hours of the morning.

Sophie Smart turned away disconsolately, leaving the romantic twilight scene behind, pausing only to admire herself in the bedroom vanity mirror. All dressed up with nowhere to go. She was somewhat out of practice, yet to find love. She’d never made the time to fit romance into her busy schedule. She didn’t do romance back home in England.

Her time was rapidly running out.

‘You look beautiful tonight, girl…’ she said.

But she wasn’t just beautiful; she was naturally beautiful. She looked herself up and down and shook her bush of wavy walnut hair, flashing a huge pair of paint-box blue earrings. Raised her eyebrows in surprise and curled up one corner of her liquid melon lip baring a perfect set of white teeth. She wasn’t exactly an ugly duckling.

‘Actually, you look gorgeous!’ she told herself.

She permitted herself an ironic smile. She’d foregone all her make-up for him and dressed in his favourite style, easy casual: a flattering long-sleeved print wrap pepped up with zingy citrus and blue spots, short Italian cornflower skirt and a pair of navy suede espadrilles.

He had approved, of the espadrilles, that is. She’d prayed to the heavens that he would stay the night. Then he had left her. She’d failed miserably tonight. Then again, what did she expect? Did she seriously think he’d propose on bended knee, sweep her off her feet and ride out into the night, across the banana and sugar cane plantations, with her, on a shining white charger? 

‘Get real, love!’

She turned angrily on a heel and strutted through to the kitchen, the lights switching themselves on and off in sympathy, the crystal walls darkening and lightening in emotional hues, as she went. There she treated herself to some paradise prawns, mashed green bananas, spicy sweet potato wedges and a light salad, washed down with a chilled glass of Sancerre.

Before blowing a melancholy kiss at the auto-chef, relaxing in a hot, scented sandalwood bath and retiring early to bed to have a good cry.

‘Must get myself in shape tomorrow before my final appointment with Doctor Moray on Friday morning,’ she reminded herself, ‘Is it really Wednesday night already?’

Then she sobbed herself off to sleep.

*****

‘The time is now 315pm London time, 915am Port St Jean time, on Thursday May 24th. Please enter the five-digit code, followed by the hash key.’

Sophie did as she was bid.

‘Thank you. Please say your name.’

‘Sophie Smart.’

‘Thank you. You are through to The Conference. The Conference is due to commence at 3pm London time, 9am Port St Jean time on Thursday May 24th, the Organiser has not yet arrived. Please hold.’

Cue imitation vintage Coldplay. Sophie gnawed her ruddy red fingernails, closed her eyes, desperately trying to stay calm as the stress bug returned with a vengeance. She passed the time burping up acid, from her sunshine granola breakfast, and swallowing it again.

‘Come on! Come on! What’s happening? Why are you taking so long?’

‘What do I …have… to press?’ a muddled voice said.

‘You don’t have to press anything Mum, just say your name,’ Gloria’s voice encouraged.

‘Candy…’

How did she manage to write three books; Candied Sweets, Candied Cooking, and Candied Gherkin, Autobiography”? She couldn’t even use a phone, or remember her name, nowadays.

‘…Gherkin,’ said Mum’s voice.

‘Well done, Mum. Gloria Soares, Finance Director.’

Sophie raised her eyebrows. Of course you are, love.

‘Pole.’

‘Morning everybody! Sorry for that!’

‘What’s happened now, Julia?’ moaned Sophie.

‘I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, love,’ the MD said.

*****

‘You look beautiful tonight, girl,’ a voice in her head said.

‘Why, thank you!’ she replied, to herself.

Sophie Smart admired herself, shaking down her bush of wavy walnut hair, flashing her huge paint-box blue earrings. She looked herself straight in the eye, raising an eyebrow in surprise.

‘Don’t I know you from somewhere, Sophie?’ she said to herself.

She curled her melon-pink lips, into a warm smile. Her perfect white teeth chattered with cold.

‘Ah, this looks like my train coming.’

‘Please don’t go,’ the voice said.

‘I have to go now.’

‘The next train does not stop here!’

She’d foregone all her make-up for him and dressed up in his favourite style, easy casual: a flattering long-sleeved print wrap pepped up with zingy citrus and blue spots, a short Italian cornflower skirt and a pair of navy suede espadrilles.

Turning away from ‘him’, she slipped off her long-sleeved print wrap and unzipped her cornflower skirt, folding the clothes carefully before placing them neatly in a pile on the wet tarmac. Then she stepped out of her navy suede espadrilles and perched them on top of the skirt. It was getting dark, getting late. The rails started to hiss. The bright lights of a brand new 100mph silver bullet train bound for Liverpool Street hurtled towards Platform 2.

‘Stand well back behind the yellow line on Platform 2! High speed train approaching.’

Sophie thought of him watching her peel off her flesh-tone tights. Imagined him unclipping her creamy silk bra. Her leaning forward, slipping the flimsy straps off her shoulders. Shaking her little breasts free of her silk cups for him. Shimmying out of her matching silk panties for him.

She threw all the garments into a nearby transparent plastics recycling trash-bin.

‘Here come’s my train!’

‘Why don’t you stay with me, tonight?’ the voice said.

‘I’m sorry, I really must go.’

‘Silver bullet train approaching Platform 2! Please stand well back.’

Well, her little heart started pumping really hard for him, yearning for him, adrenaline shooting through her tensed body like blue lightning streaks. Sophie looked herself up and down; and permitted herself a wistful smile.

His face smiled back, ‘You look beautiful tonight, girl, just beautiful, I’m going to miss you.’

‘Why, thank you! Do you really think so? Hello? Hello?’

She padded barefoot to the platform edge, stood still in the cold rain for a few seconds, let it wash over her, cleanse her spirit, as she tested, teased and gripped the edge of the platform with her blue-cold toes…

‘Hello? Train?’ she smiled.

‘Stand back, Lady! Stand back!’ a railwayman called.

‘Train? Why doesn’t anybody love me?’ she cried.

Then she jumped.


© Copyright 2019 HJFURL. All rights reserved.

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