He folded the menu and let it fall with a slap onto the table. They had moved seats twice. Once to sit in the shade, and then again because she had not visibly appreciated his opinion on “the shade”. “So,” he said, “tell me about this meaningful work of yours.”
She cleared her throat and told him of her latest campaign. She talked about a small village in Africa where children walked for miles along dangerous roads to drag water from a well. But her voice sounded staid; the glorious campaign, pedestrian.
He looked at his watch and then waved the menu into the middle distance. A waitress approached, smiling tightly. She was pretty and his attempts to flirt with her were met with a brutal indifference. After she’d gone, he commented on the size of her hips. She thought how hard it must be for him, to be unseen by the young women whose attention he so craved.
He spoke of a business venture which involved buying derelict houses in places he wouldn’t dream of living. He mentioned an ex-wife. She imagined a husky-voiced country girl with a ponytail and matted mascara. He must have loved her. He must have, at least once in his life, held himself up to the light.
He looked at her. Not as a whole but as a collection of parts. She watched him study the lines around her eyes; the descent of her jawline. Then he asked her age. After she told him, he said this:
“If I were you, I wouldn’t wait too long before sleeping with me.”
She looked down at her coffee, a broken rainbow sheen floated on its surface.
When she looked up he was smiling as if having delivered a punchline. In his face she caught a glimpse of the boy he had once been. She saw them walking in woodlands; unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. She remembered the softness of covers warmed by another; the small universe of intimacy. His eyes were brightened, and a pink flush had awoken in his cheeks.
On the way back to his hotel she held his hand.