Called her rozkoszny
Shortish short-story (905 words)
Waddington’s so-called driveway was nearly a mile long, zig-zagging up through farmland, the surface so potholed Elsie was forced to wear flatties. Not that Waddington ever noticed when she arrived, sore-footed and perspiring. Once, when her normal bus was cancelled, he tapped with his pen for a humiliating ten seconds, still not looking up. She stayed on that evening to complete a tender document but still had two hours’ pay deducted.
“Tell Wladislaw to see me,” he said.
Wladislaw’s nominal job was chauffeur, covering Waddington’s six-month ban for drunk-driving. But his remit had expanded and he could be anywhere on the converted thirty-acre farm.
She found Wladislaw using twine on the rusted hinges of a paddock gate. He smiled, “You must find stronger shoes. I tried ride bike but had – what is word? - rupture.”
“He wants to see you.”
“God sake stay. He won’t know. Perhaps I am in the woods. Have a cigarette.”
Working for Rattray’s, the builders, she’d smoked because the subbies liked her for that. When Rattray’s folded she stopped. “Better not,” she said leaning against the wall. “I like your gate hinges.”
“Not bad for geologist. But why you slave here? You could do better.”
“A deal with Rattray’s accountants. Waddington threw money into the pot and got me cheap. Very cheap. I hoped some cash might end up in the subbies’ empty pockets. It didn’t of course.”
He took out a Marlboro packet and gestured, urging her again. But she doubted his welcome. He was maintaining a family in Katowice and his talk tended to relate to money. Also he had to be ten years her junior. Nevertheless she took a cigarette. The wind blew out his lighter flame and so he cupped his hand over hers. She inhaled deeply – Why had she ever stopped? – and his hand remained there. He bent closer.
“You’re not that desperate, are you?” But she let him kiss her.
“You are kusicielski. I don’t know word. Like magnet.”
They walked down together, the wind tearing skeins of smoke from her lips. Near the house he took her hand but she pulled away. “No, I can’t afford you.”
He looked hurt.
“My husband is back. His girl-friend gave him glandular fever then threw him out. He is tired: cannot work.”
“But you do not…?”
“No, I don’t. But,” she shrugged, “I must care for him. There is no money for anything else.”
At her desk she reached for a pile of documents and started adding the notes Waddington had provided. An elaborate system of alibis which Waddington’s clients would almost certainly fail to check; proof of authorisation if his architectural work ended up in dispute. Presently half a dozen county court judgments were outstanding against him.
Through the walls came the sound of Waddington and Wladislaw arguing. Soon the Pole burst in, his face tense with anger.
“What is cash flow?”
“Bastard says cash flow bad. Will pay me week later. He bastard. I get him.”
Elsie put a finger to her lips. “Wait until his cheque clears,” she whispered.
He paused in his anger, smiled. “You think well, Elsie. And you are rozkoszny.”
At twelve prompt Waddington left his drawing board for what he called lunch, in fact communion with a whisky bottle. He was back at three, hand on her left shoulder, arm heavy across her back, a purple crackled cheek almost touching hers. “You’re good at progress reports.”
“Is that what they’re called?”
“The client won’t bother reading them. Want to take a drive?”
“You’re banned, remember.”
He laughed flammably. “Having the Pole drive would hinder things. What did he want before lunch?”
“What does ‘cash flow’ mean?”
Impulsive as ever the Pole didn’t wait out the cheque. He stole sugar from the kitchen and poured it into the Jaguar’s fuel tank. No taxi driver was prepared to risk Waddington’s driveway and he missed his cheap reservation to New York. Comforted himself with whisky.
Elsie stood away from the house, smoking, occasionally looking out towards the Black Mountains, more often at the zig-zag through the trees down which Wladislaw had ridden his bike, hooting defiantly. She recalled his angled Slavic face and wondered – briefly – if it might have concealed an age closer to hers. Today there was no wind and the blue cigarette smoke hung in the air.
A plumber, one of the Rattray subbies, had rung that morning and asked if she would help him and the others compile evidence that would send Waddington to court. They’d scraped a little money together and she said she’d be pleased to co-operate. It was a triumph of sorts.
But her mind was on the Pole. The way he’d held her hand up on the hill, recommended stronger shoes, called her rozkoszny. A word she’d Googled and the meaning had warmed her.
In the house Waddington was stirring. She dropped her cigarette and stood on it. With her flatties. As she walked back to the office she remembered yesterday’s TV news. The usual. A fifteen-year-old girl, wearing a corset of explosive, had killed seven fledgling policemen in Kabul. Moved by another type of passion. She tried to imagine Waddington’s look of outrage – a split-second of sobriety – before she scattered his drunken slyness over the woods. But it didn’t fit. More formal opposition would occur in the county court. By definition, women who had their hair permed avoided Semtex.