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Your Timing's All Wrong by Clare Boylan
Angela was at the bar when she felt a pair of hands moving over her haunches. They moved quite lightly and nicely, scarcely touching. She did not react, although not to stiffen or turn around was a reaction in itself. The hands had a slightly yearning feel. 'That man needs a woman,' she thought mildly.
This went through her head as she waited for her wine. When it came she drank it quickly and it had a sobering effect. The man must have made a mistake, she realised. Seen from the back, she could be any age. When the hand crept up her waist and brushed the side of her ribs towards her breast, she whispered, 'Sorry!' and turned around.
It was Pollock. Pollock, of all people! He had scarcely spoken to her all week. When she had tried to exchange words with him, he would not meet her eyes. Now that their gaze did connect she saw that his were of the dense brown that is suited only to small children or animals. His lashes were dark except for one blond mongrel lash. His grey hair had been cut in spikes like a cartoon character.
She had seen him on deck rallying people for games. She had tried to make her escape but he'd called her back in a wheedling, nursery tone. 'Angela!' She had stood there, feeling mottled and dismayed. Around her, the fellow cruise-goers tittered in mild unified aggression.
She had come on the cruise expecting not to fit in. Her hope was to be left alone. She had elected this holiday because there might be safety in numbers. She had not anticipated that anyone would be so cruel as to make her join them. 'Pollock's the name,' he beamed. 'Everyone calls me Polly.'
'I should like to finish my book, Mr Pollock,' she said. 'I would just like to be left in peace.' Her voice shook when she spoke and she was dismayed by how angry it sounded. Polly! Ridiculous! she thought as around her grown-up people ran in a circle and fell laughing into chairs.
The cruise had cost a lot of money and Mr Pollock was employed to make sure that people enjoyed themselves. He taught ballroom dancing to the old and salsa to the young. When the liner docked he took guests sailing or showed them how to dive. There had to be more to him than met the eye. He was good-looking, lean and tanned. Of course, he must be gay.
Now, almost a week after the embarrassing encounter, she had felt his hand on her bottom; stealthy, but not sleazy. Just for his touch, her bottom felt a better shape. She apologised, smiled her foolish smile and went to a table.
It happened on an evening when the liner was docked in a small port and they had been taken to a restaurant on stilts in the sea. First, they had waited on the beach beneath a childishly spangled sky. Out of the blackness of the sea a single point of light appeared and then gauze-skinned wings spread out on either side of it. It was a rowing boat that had come to carry them over. The wings were made by the pull of the oars. Inside the restaurant, diners sat at low tables on cushions on a deck. Planks had been removed so that their feet dangled above water illuminated by concealed light. To avoid conversation, Angela watched the feet beneath the table. It was interesting to see feet divided from their owners. Some plump women had wonderfully slender ankles. Her toenails, inexpertly dabbed with scarlet varnish, were like half-sucked Smarties. The feet to her right were long and brown with very short white toenails that were evenly ranked in half-smiles. She looked up. Pollock! Brave of him to have sat beside her. It seemed very intimate to have their bare feet so close and she was overcome with shyness. This was relieved when one of the women went to put her handbag under the table and it was caught by another woman before it dropped into the sea and she laughed along with everyone else.
A mouth touched her ear. 'What age are you?' For once Pollock was not smiling.
'I'm fifty-four,' she told him brutally.
'I'm fifty-five.' He flung it out with the furtive deftness of someone leaving a refuse bag on another person's step. 'You don't look it,' she said. She said it because it was expected of her but, also, it was true. He smiled a smile of dazzling innocence. His undefended eyes were eager and uncertain. She noted that there was a half-bottle of whisky by his side and that most of it had been consumed.
After dinner there was dancing. Coloured lights were strung around the deck and old records were played. People looked hopefully at Pollock for he was a good dancer. He stayed where he was, humming the tunes under his breath. Angela found she knew the words. An hour ago, they would have been lost in the jumble of her brain. She sang very softly: 'I'll never let you see the way my broken heart is hurting me.' Pollock joined in. 'I've got my pride and I know how to hide all my sorrow and pain.' Together they belted out: 'I'll do my crying in the rain.'