Steve leaned across the table, clinked glasses lightly with Amanda.
“Cheers”, came the simultaneous parroting. Steve swilled back a large dosage of Timara Estate; Amanda paused, her wineglass near her lips – the wine, at this point, untouched.
“How long’s it been?” Steve began as soon as the wine swallowing finished. “Haven’t seen you since…”
“High School”, Amanda completed.
“Yes, and what’re you doing with yourself now?”
Amanda took a while to answer. She sipped lightly at her wine, Steve recognising the deliberate pause, but happy to take in her glorious shine. Amanda’s mouth made a tiny, upturned curve. Her hair, shoulder-length, black, picked up a gleam from the reflected red wine in candlelight.
“I’m managing a bar now”, she finally started, “It’s not what I want to do. I want to act. More so, write and direct actually, but act as well. Stage plays. Short films, you know”.
Steve nodded. Amanda seemed so beautiful to him now. He barely listened to her words, seeming more content in watching them. The soft pink lipstick caressed her words on their exit. Steve was amazed at her beauty. At school they were friends, chums perhaps being the best word for it.
“So what about you?” Amanda prompted; breaking the first of several awkward silences.
“Bit of this, bit o’ that”, came the thin, muffled reply.
Steve Jones was not a confidant man. Capable, but not at all confident. His one crowning glory in an otherwise forgettable high school career was competing once in a third-string debating team. It conquered his fear of public speaking, at that time at least.
“I’m currently selling advertising for one of the small weeklies”, Steve finally added, sensing Amanda’s need for a full answer. “Still playing a bit of bass in a blues band. Do the odd review, you know, make ends meet.”
“Sounds like you do well”, Amanda beamed, “I mean El Dorado’s is hardly a cheap place to eat. And you are paying, aren’t you?” She laughed. Steve’s laugh was uneasy: a joke that just slid under the doormat as he still loomed through the peephole…
“Of course”, he said seriously, and for the most part, with confidence.
“So, would you ever have picked we’d meet again like this?” Amanda’s question was simple, yet with an underlying playfulness.
“No-no, not at all”, again came the serious side of Steve. “And I’ve gotta tell you, I don’t normally reply to ads”.
“That’s ok, I don’t normally place them”. Amanda matched Steve’s defensiveness. “It’s just that I’ve only recently moved here. Funny I should bump into you. You’ve been here since school, right?”
Steve nodded – his mouth full with olive bread.
“It’s a good place”, he eventually answered, “heaps of things to do. Lots of people to meet”.
A polite and dutiful waiter re-filled their drinks and took orders for mains, Steve: the El Dorado Spare Ribs, Amanda: a warm bacon, chicken salad with vinaigrette. When the waiter re-appeared to take orders for coffees and dessert both Steve and Amanda seemed more comfortable. They’d easily nailed two bottles of Timara Estate and one Dutch Pinot. Amanda admitted to feeling light headed. Steve, visibly rosy, scratched just above his right ear then wiped quickly at his forehead, brushing the collected moisture in one motion forward along his bottle-green corduroys. Steve’s face was large and handsome, clean-shaven, solidly built. His look was that of confidence. Inside however, his stomach churned.
“I’ve got a script you could act in and direct”. It was Steve’s turn to break silence. “Nothing flash. A wee play idea I’ve been mulling over for a while”.
“Really?” Amanda’s genuine interest made an obvious inflection in her speech, so as to appear somehow false. Then, more calmly, “I had no idea you were into writing?
Besides music, of course”
Steve chose to answer with a smile only. He didn’t know why, perhaps it was the wine.
“Could I read your script?”
“Uh-er”, he sounded uneasy, “it’s just that, ah – I mean sure – but, ah, it’s not truly a script yet. More a story. Plot, premise. Call it what you will…”
“I’d love to check it out still”.
“Yeah, sure, ok then, why not?” Then, with more focus, “when?”
“Ah – tonight?” Amanda’s suggestion was voiced before her mind had a chance to scrutinize. She nodded her head slightly after however, as if to prove that when her mind caught up it was happy enough with what her mouth had stated.
“I don’t have it with me”. A stupid, obvious and yet relevant remark for Steve to make. He decided to back it up: “I could drop it round early Sunday morning however?”
“Let’s see it now!”
“It’s just that…” Steve ran dry. He was being careful not to invite Amanda back to his house. Deep down however, he got the feeling she pretty much knew his nervousness.
“Just what?” she said. “Do you want me to read it or not?”
“Well, okay, here’s a plan”, Steve realised – totally – how limp he sounded. “We’ll share a taxi, I’ll run in, grab you the story idea, then you can carry the cab on to your place”.
Amanda flicked rather ungraciously at the corner of her mouth. She nodded. Fine. Stood and fetched her coat, waited outside in a cool breeze while Steve Mastercarded the bill.
Steve scurried from the taxi down the dim path to his flat. Flicking on the kitchen light once inside, he ran to his office/study and rummaged through the top drawer of his desk. He found a manila folder with a National Bank heading scribbled across in black vivid. Underneath read the words:
PLAY: Working Title: ‘Selling The Farm’
He dashed back to the cab. Poking his whole head through the back window he stammered between gasps – “h-here it ‘tis” – with an almost uncharacteristic excitement.
“Don’t be stupid”, Amanda said, almost as if a threat. “If you don’t want me to read it here at least have a coffee at my place and show me your play”.
Steve hesitated only briefly. He opened the taxi door slowly, as if at first unsure, then diving in beside Amanda he said nothing. Reached back, slammed the door.
Amanda’s place was well decorated. A one-bedroom studio flat with elevated bed-area on mezzanine floor. The wallpaper, carpets and tiles were tasteful: black and white the only theme.
“Coffee and port?”
Amanda’s call found Steve in the main living area.
“Ah – y-yes”, he nervously sent back in the direction of the kitchenette, afraid he’d been caught as he browsed. Moments later a tray arrived with two black coffees, milk in a jug, sugar in a bowl, a full bottle of Robard Buttler tawny port and two, as yet empty, port glasses. Amanda moved towards the stereo. Steve sat back in the middle of a black leather two-seater. He was now visibly nervous. To him, it didn’t feel right.
Amanda selected a John Coltrane CD from her modest collection of no more than a dozen albums.
The late night wash of saxophone, coffee and port seemed to ease Steve somewhat. Amanda chose to sit opposite him on an oversize black leather footstool.
“This is my favourite jazz album”, Amanda noted. “In fact – it’s my only one”.
“Yeah. Good”, Steve’s honest, simple reply.
“Actually I don’t know much about music at all, Amanda continued, feeling now that she had to talk. “But remember that guy Simon from school?”
Steve nodded, though in truth he was unsure, in fact, was hardly listening.
“Well, anyway”, Amanda picked up, “that guy knew it all! Thought he did, at least! I wasn’t so much friends with him, as he was with me if you know what I mean? But I did get one good thing from him I spose, this album! Oh that sounds rude doesn’t it?”
“Nonsense, it’s a truly beautiful album, said Steve, serious and attempting to sound thoughtful.
Amanda moved towards Steve. He dropped the folder on to the glass coffee table, next to a frosted-glass chessboard.
“Let’s go upstairs”, Amanda directed. “The music will reach”.
Steve immediately stood, as if at attention. He followed up the stairs. Near the bed, Amanda moved in. She kissed Steve.
“Stop”, he whispered. She continued.
“Stop, stop”, the whispers grew in volume. Amanda looked at Steve; he looked away. “This is wrong!”
“Why? Because we were at school together? I hardly knew you then – and that was ten years ago!”
Steve looked upset. Confused, he kissed Amanda passionately. She ran an arm down his chest, slowly unbuttoning his black shirt. She fondled his belt, unlooping it, unzipped his cords, they flumped from his waist to his ankles. Steve was slow to move, his tongue and mouth still engaged in a lilting, hungry kiss. Amanda grabbed Steve’s right hand and placed it on her chest. Once there he knew what to do. Slowly unbuttoning her shirt, he cupped a full, firm breast.
“I’m nervous”, Steve admitted. His lips smacked around Amanda’s as his teeth still touched hers while he spoke.
“Don’t be. Go to it”.
“It’s just that – I’m not an expert in this field”, a strikingly honest comment to make at either this most appropriate or inappropriate of times.
“It feels good so far”, she encouraged, “you seem to know what you’re doing”.
John Coltrane hit the fourth and final movement of his suite, A Love Supreme, just as the awkward lovers climaxed. Steve rolled to the left of the bed, his arm reached above his head, his hand joining with Amanda’s. They linked and locked fingers. Below, the rising swell on McCoy Tyner’s piano flourishes, Elvin Jones’ cymbal swirls and Coltrane’s saxophone sound sheets wafted up and over their heads. Hot air, even when blown through a saxophone, no matter how cool the music, certainly rises, as if its own type of steam.
For moments they were silent.
“You were fine”. Amanda beamed in full after-glow.
“I could die a happy man”, Steve grinned.
“I’m gonna shower”, Amanda stated. “Wanna wash up?”
“Think I’ll wait here for a bit”.
“Ok”, she said walking naked down the stairs in darkness.
“I’ll miss you”, Steve softly whispered, but the shower was already running. He laid back, eyes closed, resting.
‘Selling The Farm’ lay untouched on the coffee table. Amanda strolled past it, fingering the bottom corner of it briefly, as if to turn a page, on her way back up the stairs. A pink towel was wrapped round her head, but her naked body glistened with water trickles as she lightly pounced up the stairs.
The cover was up and over Steve’s head when she arrived upstairs. Assuming he was asleep, she pounced on the bed, landing neatly by his side. Jolting a hand up, her fingers filled with a dark and sticky wetness. Amanda flicked on a light switch and pulled back the covers.
Her scream, long, loud, continuous, immediately filled the room. Steve lay silent, still, his throat slit from ear to ear. In his cold-wax hand was a blunt envelope opener, and the dark blue sheet was encircled in blood.
Three days after the horror would finally end, Amanda, on a bus back to her (their) old school town, would finally read over Steve’s play-script. Shocked, not merely by its brevity; the story unfolded with that exact grim and nervous determination.