Thursday, April 16, 2020
The Audience Adventure - Day 4
For the second time that day, Emma began to worry that she was going to cry. Being relatively unused to crying she assumed that the tight throat and prickling eyes meant that tears were incoming, but then the thought crossed her mind that perhaps she might be allergic to dogs. Or dog shit. Could you be allergic to one and not the other?
“What breed is he?” She said from the floor, looking up at Jack.
Jack laughed. A really loud, full, tickled sort of laugh, and Emma felt her potential cry disappear back to wherever it came from, as her own mouth twisted up to match his.
“Why are you laughing?” She asked him. He got his mirth burst under control and looked down at her, still smiling.
“You are lying on the floor covered in dog mess, because my dog has broken into your home and crapped all over it… and yet you are attempting some small talk to be polite. It’s… it’s just really funny.”
Emma felt a bit exposed all of a sudden. Had she done something wrong? She felt her face turning its glistening tomato colour and shuffled about to pull herself up without spreading the faeces further around the hall. The smell really was unbearable.
“I really am sorry.” Jack continued, and this time when he extended his hand down to help her up he left it out and pulled her to her feet. He was tall, she realised as she came up to standing and was level with his shoulder. “Let me help you clean up.” He said, “Show me your cleaning stuff and I’ll get on it. It’s the least I can do.”
Emma felt her flush spread down her neck and across her shoulders. “I, um, I don’t really have any cleaning stuff at the moment. I’ve only just moved in. I mean, I’ve got cleaning stuff. I am washing myself. Just not for, you know - dog shit all over the hall. I wasn’t expecting this.”
At times like these Emma wished she had more of a way with words, she wasn’t so much “heart on your sleeve” as “words all over your face”. Anything and everything useful to a situation tended to just fall clumsily out of her mouth and then she’d stand there feeling like a plank waiting for whoever she was talking to to have to put the information into a useful format. “I’ve only just moved in.” She repeated at him, when he didn’t say anything back.
“Ok,” he said, cautious but still friendly. “Maybe… maybe I could pop upstairs and put Elliot away and grab a sponge and a bucket and some disinfectant and you could… maybe you want a shower?”
Emma realised instantly that Jack was completely right - she did want a shower. More than anything else in the universe she currently wanted to not fear that there was dog turd in every single one of her pores.
“Yes,” she said. “You do that. I’ll go for a shower, and I’ll leave the door open. THIS DOOR.” She added instantly and far too loudly. “Not the door to the shower. Just, so you can get back in to the flat. OK?”
“I get it.” He said, still smiling, “C’mon Elliot you tiresome beast. I’ll be back a mo.” He whistled for the dog, who came instantly and padded out of the flat, and they both headed up the stairs to his apartment.
Emma stood in the silent, stinking hall wondering if she was going to wake up soon. Was she really in a flat, her flat, in Bath where she now lived? Was she really covered in the droppings, (how did you determine what poos could be called droppings and which couldn’t?) of a dog that was not hers, waiting for the man upstairs to come and scrub her hall with her? She stood a moment longer and didn’t appear to be coming too back in London with a sleeping Theo beside her so she assumed this must be her new reality and stirred herself to go and take a shower.
Fifteen minutes later Emma stepped out of the bathroom, fully dressed with a towel wrapped around her wet hair. The fresh scent of lemon detergent sprang at her, which, all things considered, was far better than what had been hanging about. Jack was on his hands and knees scrubbing at the wooden boards with a large brush.
“Hi.” Said Emma, “I’m Emma. From earlier.”
They both noticed that she had said “from earlier” for relatively inexplicable reasons. She wondered if she could get away with blaming the beetroot colouring spreading outwards from her cheeks on the shower and so said, “It was hot in there.”
Jack sat back on his heels and eyed her curiously, clearly wondering whether this woman was completely ok. That was also what Emma was wondering.
“That’s why I’m red,” said Emma, really wishing she would stop talking. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
He smiled, “Yes, thank you - a cup of tea would be lovely. I’m Jack… from earlier.”
She wasn’t sure if he was trying to make her feel more comfortable or taking the piss so she just nodded and carefully stepped around him to make her way to the kitchen.
“I really am sorry about Elliot.” Said Jack, following her in, “He’s a rescue dog and I’ve had him a year so he’s calming down but he has a few behavioural things that I’ve not quite ironed out. Scampering off is one of them. He’s never left the building but I do sometimes find him in the foyer, so I suppose this time he just nosed your door open and came in here.”
“Lovely place for a crap!” Emma said cheerfully, and wondered whether she’d always been this bad at conversation or whether this was a new thing since she’d lost her mind and chased Theo across the country. She was certainly going to have to get better at speaking before she met up with him and tried to woo him. He was a salesman, he was used to being completely charming and beguiling - she would need to try and keep up.
Emma turned round with a cup of tea for Jack and realised he had been speaking the whole time she was daydreaming about wowing Theo with a killer anecdote while they were out to dinner. Where would they go for dinner, she wondered… nowhere fancy - he was sick of fancy places from all that time keeping up with the exhausting Elaine, so maybe now he could be himself with her he’d prefer to go to Nandos or something? She hoped not Nandos because Nandos was overpriced and the chicken was dry, but you know, somewhere like that or - her thoughts collided to a sudden stop as she realised that Jack had stopped talking and was looking at her.
“Sorry.” She said automatically, “I um…”
‘Do NOT say you weren’t listening.” Said her thoughts sternly, ‘Think of something like an adult.”
“You weren’t listening?” Said Jack mildly. Emma felt her skin heating.
“Sorry,” she said again, “I was distracted. It’s been a weird day. A weird week. Could you repeat what you said?”
Jack held his hot mug of tea and eyed Emma curiously. She felt very watched, very seen. Emma wasn’t used to being noticed, or scrutinised. She was a background person, if there was a joke happening, Emma was laughing at it not telling it. Jack made her feel on the spot and, while she was a little uncomfortable, she felt a definite excitement about the fact that he was paying attention to her.
“I just asked what brought you to Bath.” He said to her, and she froze on the spot. The cup of tea she was holding slipped out of her hand and smashed all over the kitchen floor spraying, him, her, the walls and the cabinets with scalding tea. Jack leapt back, splashing his own tea over his hands and then hastily depositing the mug to safety on the worktop. “Are you alright?” He asked, looking bewildered at her.
She stood shell shocked in a puddle of tea and embarrassment. “I MOVED TO BATH FOR WORK.” She shouted at him. He took a step back and if she could have evaporated on the spot she would have done it just to escape from the skin tinglingly humiliating situation she was in. Jack looked as though he wanted to run away but was too gentlemanly to do so.
“Where do you work?” He asked, as if carrying on a conversation with a woman covered in tea was perfectly normal. Emma tried to think quickly but all she was really thinking were the words, ‘Quick, think quickly.’
‘You can’t tell him you work at the Christmas shop.’ She told herself, ‘Whoever heard of an emergency transfer of Christmas retail staff?’
“I work at The Christmas Shop.” She said, staring at him. ‘Well that went well.’ Thought her thoughts.
“Right.” He said amiably, and, when it became very clear she was not going to pick up the bits of broken mug from round her feet, he bent down to do it for her. She wondered how much else of her flat he was going to have cleaned before the end of the evening.
“When I say I moved here for work, I mean, I just… there were no jobs in London. Or, none that I wanted - obviously, there are jobs. The Queen and stuff. Not that that’s a job. It’s a calling isn’t it? But, anyway, that calling is taken. Oh for fucks sake. I just mean I wanted to live here so I moved here and it was just all really normal and basic. Cool.”
Jack nodded warily. He was beginning to behave like someone who was taking care of a spooked horse. Emma wondered if she could claim concussion and blame him for the verbal diarrhoea spraying out of her mouth?
“Well,” Jack made a hearty attempt at a laugh to move them on, “Now we have two floors to clean… you do this one and I’ll go and finish up in the hall?” Emma nodded silently, too afraid of what else she might try and say to open her mouth.
He headed back out into the hall and carried on scrubbing. Emma found a cloth from under the sink and cleaned up the tea as best she could before following Jack into the hall and making a vague attempt to help him clean up. She soon realised though that trying to get dog mess out of a hessian door mat was like trying to wash dog mess out of a hessian door mat so she gave up and took the mat down to the street bin outside.
When Emma returned to the flat Jack was stood outside her door, holding the bucket and brush.
“All done.” He said, cheerfully, “And again, I am so sorry.”
“Not a problem,” said Emma, “Although, tell Elliott that I don’t have enough shoes for him to make a habit of this.”
There! That was a good comeback wasn’t it? This was how human beings made other human beings like each them. Emma felt the most normal she’d felt since she’d had the disastrous bath a few nights ago.
“I’ll make sure I tell him.” Said Jack, turning to go. He climbed a few steps back up to his flat and then turned, “Emma?”
She looked up, annoyed that he was not letting the conversation end on the only decent thing she’d said in a fortnight.
“Welcome to the building.”