IT WAS TWO LONG BORING and tedious days that Kate thought she’d never get through. Twice she picked up the phone to call Susan. But, by Wednesday lunchtime, she decided Susan would probably call her that evening, and held off. On a whim she went back to the cafe she had stolen the Tribune from, having avoided it the day before. Just in case.
Wary of the healthy looking wraps, Kate took a kebab and rice with her coffee. She made for the back of the crowded cafe hunting for a table, a space, anything amid the throng. She was in luck as a young woman left a table where a scruffy looking student-type occupied the other seat. He munched a rather large greasy-looking burger, oblivious to what was going on around him. He was reading a book.
Kate approved and, with a soft smile, took up the vacated seat before it got cold.
Around a bite of her kebab she scanned the far wall and newspaper rack. The papers had changed, or at least she thought they had. She looked for a copy of the Tribune but saw nothing. She did spy a lone American title, the Washington Post. Mid-mouthful she put down her fork and went to get the paper.
The student-type never looked up as she re-seated herself.
Not knowing why she did it, she leafed through the pages scanning columns, looking for an ads section. Or anything that closely resembled an ads section. She closed the paper disappointed, the meal in front of her cooling. She ignored it, ignored her coffee, staring at the paper as if it had just betrayed her.
Damn! Kate muttered to herself pushing both meal and paper aside bringing her a sideways glance from her table companion. She gave him a weak smile of apology and got up to leave. She couldn’t eat. In fact, she hadn’t slept these last two nights and was down right irritable. Mostly with herself at the way she was behaving. This was getting under her skin. She couldn’t shake the feeling she had to do something. She turned forty on Sunday, FORTY, big CAPS, for Christ sake. Life was slipping away one lone heartbeat at a time. It was weird but she felt a strange affinity with the person who had placed the ad.
Maybe Susan was right, she was too much of a romantic at heart—too damn romantic for her own good, she thought. She left the cafe and headed down the street in no particular direction. She walked without registering she was heading for the tube station and away from work. She stopped dead. She looked up and saw she stood in front of a stall plastered in glossy magazines; it sat to one side of the Tube station entrance.
The grizzled gaffer sold a large collection of local and international papers. Along with the usual array of cigarettes, chocolates, overpriced tinned drinks and tourist paraphernalia.
A small Stars and Stripes paper flag caught her attention.
This is absurd, she asked herself. What am I doing?
Still, Kate couldn’t help herself. With a quick glance at her watch to check she wasn’t going to be late and she ran her eyes across the piles of newspapers looking for a Tribune. Nothing. She checked the other US-based titles, scanning through the pages. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. She had to assume the ad had only run in the Tribune. Why? Did this person know she had read the Tribune, daily? Had read the Tribune—where? In New York.
This was too bizarre. This was stalker territory. But then, the wording of the ad came to mind, how eloquent and written almost to the point of being a love poem. Someone educated then, she told herself. Someone who’d majored in English Lit or the like, someone who worked with words for a living. They seemed to have spent a long time crafting just what to say.
But to whom? Me?
Kate couldn’t quite believe she was having this conversation and, with herself. She leaned into the booth and asked the vendor if he sold the Herald Tribune.
“Sure do love,” he smiled, “only get a couple of copies a week, not a big seller you know.” He turned and there, on the wall behind him, beneath elastic, she saw a crisp-looking copy.
“This week’s?” Kate asked, ever hopeful.
“Definitely.” He nodded sticking his hand out. “That’ll be one seventy-five, love.” He held the paper just out of reach. Kate handed over two small gold-coloured coins. Taking the paper and, without waiting for her change, she headed off back up the road towards work.
If time wasn’t on her side neither were circumstances. Which conspired against Kate. Work took up the rest of that afternoon. Work she couldn’t concentrate on for the life of her. It was only when she sat amid the usual crush on the tube heading home that Kate dared open the paper and look. Look for her ad. With a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach she turned the pages till she came to the back section. She stopped and took a moment to glance about her, taking a deep breath. She scanned the blank faces and wondered about her fellow travelling companions. Were any of them doing anything as crazy as she was right that minute? She doubted to a one that there were any risk-takers among them. Still, she wanted to believe, believe she was capable of doing something to change the fate she’d made for herself. Do something that would break the pattern. And yet, the truth was, she’d been doing that all her life.
Hadn’t it been her baby brother, Allan, who had told her only last month that he thought she was the risk-taker of the family.
“It was you who had the guts to up root and go off to New York, poof, just like that.” He had said.
Yes. And then onto Melbourne. With someone else who had, well, not quite swept her off her feet, but who had enchanted her with a version of a perfect place, Down-Under. A place that, as it turned out, had only existed in that person’s head. Then, when that relationship had crashed and burned. Or, more to the point, incinerated beyond resurrection what had she done instead of going back to the UK? Contacted a recruitment agency, got herself a new position and moved to Montreal. Where she had walked into yet another disastrous relationship with yet another sweet talker.
What was it with me—am I just crazy? She wondered still holding the pages shut unable to take a look. Frozen in a moment of indecision. All the while wondering exactly what it was she thought was looking for.
Well, if nothing else, I must be nuts. Kate muttered and opened the paper.
The ad was there.
Kate felt something strange constrict her heart.