December 2010 Short Story Winner


By Nathan Ouriach, Canterbury, England  – You can follow Nathan on Twitter at N_Ouriach

With my back against the headboard I can see out of the window. She is asleep next to me with her body on her side of the bed. The clock in front of me says it is two-thirty in the morning whilst her digital alarm to my right reads two-twenty.  I can see the lightless rooms of the houses in the street.

I fold the pillow and place it behind my head and lean back. I can’t sleep like she can. In six hours I will be awake. We will all be awake. In eight hours I will be speaking to eleven year olds about photosynthesis. But right now I am leaning in my bed and looking out at the window with a strain in my eyes. She never enjoyed sleeping on the wall side. It used to be because she would push up against me in the night and force us both off the bed,but with the wall next to me there was support. Now it is just habit. I think about waking her up and her speaking me to sleep like she used to. I cough into my fist but she does not move. I pull the covers off of her but she is gripping the top. You are definitely far away, I say quietly. The streetlamps outside shine into our room and I have to climb over her to get out of the bed. I let the cover fall off me. Walking to the window I place my hands on the windowsill and rest my head against the glass, it feels cold from the condensation. Realizing I am just in Long Johns, I pull her dressing gown around myself. Looking back at the bed I see her asleep. She has rolled over onto my side,the light from the streetlamps shine onto her pregnant stomach.

I sit on the edge of the bed and touch it; her stomach feels different now. I touch it again but this time with more pressure. How can something be growing in there? She rolls over and with a yawn, whispers dime algo, or something like that. I look at her but her eyes stay closed. She must be talking in her sleep again. I pull the cover over her stomach and tighten the belt around my dressing gown.I go into the en-suite and turn the light on. The fan comes on along with a soft humming noise;I leave it open and hope the noise wakes her. Cupping cold water from the tap with my hands I wet my face and look into the mirror cabinet at a pair of eyes, a nose, a mouth and a cowlick. With my wet hand I try to flatten my hair but it just comes up again. I look in the cabinet for sleeping tablets but I cannot see them. I look in her make-up bag but that is just full of aldomet, and visken for her high-blood pressure. I look back into the mirror.

We first met at the Northampton train station, platform four. She was wearing a red cravat with a matching belt around her waist. I saw her before she saw me. She said hello in her broken English and pointed at Euston on this piece of paper she had. I smiled and with her biro drew a line from Northampton and wrote down Rugby and then drew an arrow to Euston. She said thank you and touched my arm and we both stepped onto the train. There were two seats free on the carriage and I gestured for her to sit by the window but she insisted on having the aisle seat. We didn’t say anything on the train; she was reading some foreign book with a gold and dark green cover. A baby in front was screaming and I remember her looking at it, rolling her eyes and then looking back down at her book. For three weeks I saw her on platform four. I could hear her voice when she spoke on the phone or when she bought her ticket and thought she was French. It was December when the train back to Northampton was cancelled. I saw her in the platform shelter and offered to take her for a drink somewhere in London. We both drank Vino de Jerez at this Spanish bar and she told me about where her brown eyes and her dark, long hair come from. She is from La Mancha; she said it was south of Madrid. She told me about Don Quixote and tilting at windmills and all this stuff about chivalry and how in Spain it is integral to pour drink into the glass gradually from a great height. It is about patience, she said. On finishing a glass of Vino de Jerez, she would always say the same thing: ‘tell me something’. We drank Vino de Jerez after the first time we slept together. I remember telling her how beautiful her body was. We drank it again in this little café in Santander on our year anniversary; I remember saying how it tasted sweeter there. On moving into our flat I picked up two bottles of Vino de Jerez and we finished them both whilst sitting on our mattress on the floor.  She asked me to tell her something so I told her all the words I knew in Spanish: sacapuntas, bebé, vivo en Inglaterra and su nombre es Aldonza. She laughed and touched my arm. She got pregnant and I celebrated by having a glass of Vino de Jerez, it had an odd taste to it that night. I thought to myself it tasted different.She insisted on going sober.  It would harm the baby, she would say.

I decide to shave; I will have to do it in the morning anyway. It will make me look younger. I walk out of the en-suite and leave the light on. It might wake her up, I think. Looking back at the bed I see she has dribbled on my pillow. I used to think it was sweet but now it is just saliva on a pillow. Her eyes are closed and her hair is shorter than it used to be. She had told me it needed to be shorter because there was not always someone around to hold it back for her when she has morning sickness. I didn’t have a reply to that. I touch the radiator under the window and it is warm. The birches outside the window are bending left to right. I pick up a pillow I knocked on the floor earlier and hold it to my stomach. It’s soft. I think about going back to bed but I am too awake now. I put the pillow on her side of the bed and walk downstairs. It is colder downstairs. On the wall to my left are pictures of our families. She insisted on having a picture of my parents. She always said about how in Spain family is important and how she loves her father. There are her parents, sitting on their balcony in the sun smiling with their grandchildren. Her father looks as old as me. It must be the olive oil in their diet.There is a picture of my mother and father, they are in a Working Men’s Club playing the meat raffle; it was the only one I could find. She says lots of things about family. She says that with a baby coming we need to be patient. I think about my childhood and my father. He was a stonemason and didn’t have time for patience. Thirty years in the job and now he can barely walk. We once bonded when I was fifteen, he was off work due to backache and he asked me to wipe deep-heat into his shoulders.

By the front door there is a bag of old clothes that she said didn’t fit her anymore and need to be thrown out. I can see some things that I have bought her since we’ve been together. I see the brown scarf I bought her for our six-month anniversary, my old football shirt she used to sleep in and a red belt. Picking the bag up it feels heavy in my hands. I open the door and the wind touches my naked arm, her dressing gown is too short for my arms. I look for my shoes to step outside in but the closest ones are a pair of her lace pumps. It’s only a few yards so I just slip the ball of my feet in with my heels bending the backs. There is frost across the grass. The only noise is the bending birches and the crunch of the hard grass from my lace pumps. Everyone around is asleep. The wind has blown the bin lid open so I throw the clothes bag in from a distance. There is a thud, I think about whether it would have woken her up. I turn and walk back to the house and can see my reflection in the glass of the front door. I pull the dressing gown collar around my neck and step back onto the grass. My heel touches the soil and I can feel the frost. The soil wraps round my heel and I can sense the grass growing around me.  My feet are cold and I think about her stomach and my father. We laid new soilin March. The garden looked horrible in the beginning. The neighbour to the right had their orange blossoms and the one on the left had stephanotises at the bottom of their drive. We had soil. She said I was just impatient and that I have to wait for it to grow. To me it was just soil. I look back up at my reflection in the front door and walk back towards the warm house.

In the dining room on the cabinet behind all the dolls and clothes for the latent baby is a bottle of Vino de Jerez. I can’t remember how old the bottle must be. The lid is tough and I have to use the sleeve of the dressing gown to force it open. The dishwasher is on and hiding all the glasses so I pick up a mug from the cupboard with hearts on. I wish she were with me and not in bed. I hold the bottle with my right hand and pour the drink from a great height. I watch the liquid fall in the air and splash into the mug and I pour it until it is just above the brim. I take my time with the drink and watch the snow begin falling outside. My cheeks are still burning from being outside. I put my hand on the radiator and it is cold. On the hob is a baking dish with cold grilled eggplant in tomato vinaigrette. I regret leaving earlier and not eating the dinner she made. Sitting on the bed she had brought up the up baby again. She wanted to name it after me. I don’t know why but we argued about it. Something to do with my name rhyming with ‘dick’ and it also being my father’s name and something else I don’t remember. She threw the baby book of names at me and I just walked out. Went to the pub and drove for a while. In the car I thought of all the things I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her how I don’t mind naming the baby after me; it’s just a name. I wanted to tell her how I don’t mind about her stomach getting bigger or her changing her hairstyle or never wearing make-up anymore. I don’t mind. I wanted to remind her of all the good things she does for me. The way she rolls to me in the night and holds my arm. Something little like that. I wanted to tell her everything.

I finish the grilled eggplant in tomato vinaigrette and clean the dish in the sink. I wasn’t even hungry. I let the hot water into the basin and let my arms rest in it for a while. The windowsill outside is covered in snow now. I can see two barn owls in the garden on the top of a tree fly away. Drying the dish I walk back up the stairs remembering to leave the lace pumps by the front door where she left them. The bedroom door is still open so I walk in not making a sound. I touch the radiator and it is still warm. I turn the en-suite light off and close the door. Looking back at the bed I see my future wife holding my future child. I carefully climb over to my side of the bed. I stroke her hair and she rolls over to my side. I am slightly stuck between her and the wall but reposition myself. Her head is by my side as she touches my arm in her sleep, ‘dime algo’ she says as her eyes open. I begin to talk.