by Kirsty Logan
Every day at 11.05 the boy sits in the corner of the canteen behind yesterday’s Guardian and watches her. He doesn’t even like the Guardian – doesn’t understand most of it, thinks it’s too opinionated, would really prefer the Sunday Sport – but he thinks that’s what the girl reads. That’s what he wants her to see him read.
Every day at 11.05, the girl sits with Jessica and hears about who she fucked at the weekend. The girl doesn’t want to hear about it – would prefer to read her book, or look out of the window, or just sip her tea and think about things – but this way she looks popular and friendly, like she’s always in the thick of things. She sits here every single day, and still he hasn’t noticed her. He gets his coffee – black, two sugars – and then disappears behind his newspaper like a father at a breakfast table. She wonders if his father did this at the breakfast table of his childhood, his father’s father too; generations of men hidden behind newspapers.
One morning – yesterday, or tomorrow, or even today if you like – this changes. One change is that no-one bought the Guardian the previous day, and even though the boy doesn’t actually read the articles, he can’t bear to look at the same grainy photographs for the second day running. The other change is that Jessica has the flu, and so is not there to tell stories.
This is why the boy and the girl both reach for the same copy of Hello at the same time. This is why their hands touch, and why they apologise and laugh nervously and try to make one another take the dog-eared magazine. This is why the traffic noise and the crackling radio and the buzz of the vending machine all fade to the sound of heartbeats thumping in their ears. This is why he thinks he can smell her perfume – sweet and tart like fresh apples and grass – even though she isn’t wearing any perfume. This is why she can see nothing except their hands on the magazine, their thumbs not quite touching.
This is why she will go home and have a long bath with her fanciest bath oil; tuck herself up early with a glass of wine and her favourite book; fall asleep with a smile and wake with it still there.
This is why he will walk home the long way; give notes to homeless boys curled on cardboard; phone his mother and grandmother and little sister just to say hello and that he loves them.
This is why neither of them will ever read The Guardian or listen to Jessica’s fuck-stories or reach for the same magazine ever again.