The balcony was on the top floor of a tower block. If prisons had balconies, they would look like this. Thick concrete with a rough grey finish. Five feet by four. With the wall in front, sitting down, you could see out through the draining space at the base. Five floors below was a strip of grass that only dogs ventured onto.
Though only a couple of decades old, they wouldn’t last much longer. Inside, you got a tatty prefab feel from the asbestosy cheapo materials. Outside the metal front door, the vibe was multi-storey car park. They were the future once.
I should have been cheerier. My part of the country was doing its best impression of the south of Spain – everyone else was happy to be taken in for a while. The sun was high, and it was pushing twenty degrees. Friday afternoon; no work, no uni, no exams. The weekend would be beckoned in with a house party that night.
But my days were possibly numbered. I had two and a half of them to decide whether to stay in the city or go home. I’d promised my flatmates I’d either rent for another year or leave at the end of August. That was Monday. They needed someone in my room paying rent and bills, so the turnaround was tight, with a grown-up deadline day thrown in. Fair enough. Time is money; and not just for yuppies.
Boomeranging back home would mean defeat. Despite the shiny new degree, no-one fancied fast-tracking me as an accountancy trainee. Anyway, I didn’t want it. They could see it in my eyes.
Mid-morning, in the tiny kitchen, Dave appeared, chirpier than usual. ‘Any ideas, yet, Al?’
‘Sorry, I’m still not sure. I’ll know soon.’
‘I’m asking ’cos someone’s coming around later to see your room. We thought we’d start the ball rolling – just in case.’
‘Anyone I know?’ I asked.
‘Some PhDer – new in town. You couldn’t show them round at 3.00, could you? We’ll all be out.’
It felt a touch brutal. Like signing my own death warrant. And like they wanted me out. It wasn’t even a friend they were lining up to replace me. Maybe I should leave after all. In my head it was 50:50. In case I left – and just because – I’d been clearing out: old notes and notebooks, clothes, junk. Everything I had was junk.
I was out there on the balcony, naked, with a beer when the buzzer went at 3.15. I leant over to check who it was and to shout down. There was just a shadow.
Everything in my room suddenly looked less cool when she walked in.
‘Who’s that on the bike?’ she asked.
‘Steve McQueen – you know from the old war film?’
‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen a war film.’
‘It’s that famous scene, up in the mountains, when he’s escaping from the POW camp.’ I sounded like my dad. She just stood there, checking Steve out.
My legendary humour might reverse things. ‘It’s like The Sound of Music but he’s on a motorbike and not singing.’
She smiled and shook her head.
She had a lot of questions; about me, not the room. She got my whole life in minutes.
She didn’t want tea or coffee or a biscuit, or any of my beer.
When Dave came back early, I let him take over and went to my room. He talked at her for ages. As she was leaving, he told her about the party. I think he even wrote down the address for her.
All I’d learned about her was that she didn’t watch war films.
I went down and asked, but Dave hadn’t got her name.
As I’d anticipated, piled up in the front room was about a year’s supply of Red Stripe; one of the few beers that’s better out of the can. My art-school pals had good taste. I got there early to get a seat near the Red Stripe. During my third one, through the layers of waists and legs, I saw her standing by the doorway. When my pals got up, she came over.
She stood over me and lit up a long thin spliff that looked like a straw.
‘No, thanks,’ I said. ‘I’m okay with this.’
She stepped to my right, sat on my lap, took a drag, turned my head, put her lips on mine and blew gently into my mouth.
While I digested the smoke, she looked round the room from under her fringe, then exhaled to the left of my face, so I felt the warm smoke go past my ear.
She didn’t say anything. Just kept looking around the room.
She finally got back to me. ‘If you’re respectable one day, you can honestly say you’ve never taken drugs.’
Feeling the effects, I first only managed a snigger. Then, ‘Just been given them, against my will.’
The second time was more of a kiss than a transfer of smoke. Her lips were hot from the smoke. Strands of hair fell across my face and tickled. Her hair felt recently washed and smelt of honey.
‘I hope you haven’t got a girlfriend,’ she said. ‘She’d be angry with you about this.’
I shook my head.
She smiled, and the rest of the room faded away, the music became just noise. She kissed me again, no smoke this time.
She stayed in my room until Christmas, then disappeared off to Italy.
August was a long time coming. But it was easier to make the decision second time round.
Home felt a good idea.
About The Author
Robert Scott is relatively new to writing fiction. His flash fiction piece ‘Loving by Numbers’ is on @MuraInk. His story ‘The Mothership’ was shortlisted for the HISSAC 2019 short fiction competition. In between writing short fiction, he is working on a second novel (the first one’s in the bin).