Fiction for October comes from Jason McIntyre and two pieces from Karen Taylor
One Hour’s Reprieve
“Allie, do you know that man over there? He’s been staring at you since we sat down.”
Oh mom, she normally would have said. Mom who was always asking questions, always doing or saying the inappropriate thing. Always worrying about her. But Allie didn’t say that today, was too happy to see her mom today. She just smiled across the table at her mother who had already gone back to eyeing the menu. The smell of the orange gerbera in the vase between them was sweet, so intense.
“I do, actually,” Allie said to her mom as she took a sip of ice water. It tasted so fresh. So cold, just what she needed. She was careful not to gulp.
And she did know the man over there that was watching her.
“Mm. That’s good,” She said of the water, conscious to put it back down and not drink too much before the food came. They were in the deli on Fifth, mom’s favourite place. Allie had called her an hour ago, stupefied that her mom could even make it up town in time. But Allie had the time today and she desperately wanted to use it.
“He’s a…friend, I guess you’d call him. From work. He’s actually waiting for me. I thought I’d be meeting him after I have lunch with you but he’s here early. Don’t worry about him. We have some things to go over but our meeting’s not till—” Allie looked at her mom’s watch because she wasn’t wearing hers “—one,” she finished, noting that it was now ten after twelve. Time’s a wasting.
They were sitting at a table for two, right up to the window, open at the top to let in a cool summer breeze off the patio, which was as packed as the restaurant inside. The table cloth was white and perfect. The sounds of the traffic mixed with people talking, sounded melodic to Allie.
“So,” said Mother. “What’s been keeping you busy? I must say, I’m really surprised to hear from you, especially for a lunch date. I don’t think dad or I have gotten a call from you in, what, four months?”
“I know, I know. It’s been…work. Really hard getting things going. But, really, I don’t want to talk about that. How’s Alex? Dina? How’s Dad? I know you two don’t talk regularly but—”
“—Your father’s fine. His girlfriend has moved in…apparently. Alex says he was helping move in some of her antique furniture this weekend.”
“That’s…good. I guess.” Then she saw Mother fiddling with the napkin in her lap, not looking across the table. “I’m sorry Mom. Really. I didn’t want it to go this way either. He’s made his choice though.”
“Yes he has,” Mother said, taking in a hitched breath and then looking around as if to find her courage, her will to go on, right there on the white table cloth between them.
“Enough of work,” She said. “Enough of your father too. Let’s toast to you.” Mother raised her water glass. The waiter hadn’t been by to take their orders yet. It was getting late, but Allie could have just sat here talking with Mother for the hour. Food or no food.
“To me?” She nearly laughed, God help her. Then, teasingly: “Why me?”
“Because, dear, it’s just so good to see you. I’ve missed talking with you. Like this.”
“Me too, mom.” You have no idea, she wanted to add, but didn’t. Just gave her a plaintiff smile that said, I’m so happy right now and you look so beautiful today.
Mother and daughter clinked their water classes. In time, the waiter did come and he took their orders. Allie had a light vegetable and brie with Sun cress sandwich on rye—oh, and a Coke to drink—the fizz was incredible and crisp. Her mom had tuna salad on whole wheat with summer onions. She had a hot tea despite the increasing temperature of the air blowing in over the top of their wide window.
They talked. They filled the remainder of the hour with some laughs, all the while with Allie remembering—remembering constantly—that she really had to get back. But she pushed that as far back in her mind as she could. Allie got caught up on all the news of her brother Alex and her sister Dina. Mother even squeaked out a tiny bit more about her Dad.
Then Allie looked across the table at her mother’s watch. She did not look over to the man she knew. He would still be waiting for her to finish lunch with her mom.
Mother said, “You ate that like you were starving.”
“I was!” Allie said, only half joking.
“You look so thin, dear. With all your work, are you finding time to eat?”
“Yes, Mom,” Allie said, duty behind her voice, and very little hint of condescension. In truth, she wasn’t eating as much as she wanted.
She’d been able to shower this morning—for the first time in a week at least. Breakfast had been light. Some cereal plus some suspect milk. She didn’t know if it was skim or two per cent but she’d finished it quickly before hearing the news.
“Listen, Mom—” Allie looked like she was going to have trouble saying what would come next. The waiter took their plates with a smile. “Uhm, there is something I need to tell you.” She took a half-breath and held it for too long, knowing how difficult this would be.
“Don’t look at the man over there, okay, Mom?”
“What? What do you mea—”
“Just don’t look okay. I’m talking really quiet, just so you can hear me, but I’m pretty sure he can’t.”
“—Just listen, Mom. Promise me and stay with me. This is going to be tough but I need to get it all out. That man over there is not a friend. He’s—just a terrible man. I met him on the subway about four months ago. He’s had me this whole time. I’m not allowed to go anywhere. It’s really bad. He said I could have an hour today with anyone I wanted. I picked you. I love you, Mom, I love you and Dad and Alex and Dina so much. I have to go back with him now or he’ll kill you too. He told me this morning after he gave me breakfast and let me shower that I could have an hour…before it’s…over. Now listen. Look at him after I go. After I go, you see which way I go with him and look at him really closely. Okay? Now don’t cry, promise you won’t cry or he’ll kill us both. He said he would and I believe him.”
Allie cleared her throat. Tears stood in her eyes. She got up while her Mother just looked at her, just followed her with her own tear-filled, now red eyes. So much disbelief in her face, Allie thought. How much did Mom get of that? She could see understanding, slowly washing over her. Mother opened her mouth to say something, but caught herself. She said nothing.
The man across the restaurant had stood up now. He was coming over now. He was moving fast now, trying to get past the waiter who was in his way with a tray of dirty dishes, filmy glass goblets and cutlery.
In her whispered tone, Allie said more to her now. More that would, somehow, make it okay. “I love you Mom. Thank you for everything in my whole life. It was really, really good. Make sure you go on. Love Alex and Dina as much as you can. Relax on Dad. Let Alex live his life the way he wants.”
Then she added the last before turning away and joining the man a few tables away and leaving the restaurant. What she said was this.
“Give a good description to the police, okay? Maybe it won’t happen to any other girls.”