Ping! A rusty bell rings out above her head, Neroli relishes the sound. Pinging is rarely a bad sign, in fact she can’t think of a single bad ping… Ping! Diner’s done! Ping! The lift has finally arrived! Ping, ping, ping! The slots are in; we have a winner!
A man with a rosy weathered face greets her from behind a wooden counter buried beneath piles of receipts and automotive magazines. His eyes light up at the sight of her slender frame and delicate features hovering in the doorway.
“Now then Miss! Have you got an appointment with us today?” His course, booming voice is laced with a local accent. Digging into the squalid depths of her coat pocket, she’s overcome by visions of an oversized tampon or sanitary towel falling conspicuously from her bulging pocket. A blush creeps across her cheeks as she struggles to suppress the ridiculous notion; not even you are weird enough to stuff your coat pocket full of sanitary products! Pull it together Neroli! She thinks sternly as she retrieves a crumpled appointment paper and passes it to him. His broad rough fingers struggle to unfold the tatty page as he beams a warm, albeit confused looking, smile at her and chuckles;
“Will you be waiting today?” Pausing barely long enough for her to consider; “why don’t you grab a seat over there in our waiting area? The work will only take an hour or so I should think, there’s tea and coffee if you’d like a drink while you wait and heaps of magazines, help yourself!” She slides the car key from its chain and plops it into his open, expectant palm before surveying the seating area.
In spite of it being a weekday afternoon, the tyre garage appears to be a popular destination. Spotting an open seat, she tries to slide gracefully and innocuously into it. On either side of her maturing men flip through crinkled newspapers pausing momentarily to huff and puff at their content. Studying an aged, fungal finger nail burrowing into the folds of a ripened index finger to her left, she can’t help wondering if this infested finger still gives rise to climatic exclamations from an elderly wife late at night? Ha! More likely, the brittle nail moves under the glare of a bedside lamp caressing nothing more than the crisp pages of murder mystery novel. The very idea of the decline into old age frightens Neroli. What pleasures are there to be found by these aging vessels too weary to enjoy intricate concerns and subsequent satisfactions of sex? You think about sex way too much, she tells herself, it’s definitely not feminine!
The sharp ring of the metallic bell sounds through the waiting area and snatches her back from her thoughts. A dishevelled looking blonde man blusters through the door of the reception area and positions himself at the counter with apparent urgency. She feels her eyes drawn to his peculiar stance and takes a moment to examine him. His complexion is fair and warmed by his array of windswept dark blonde hair. An oddly attractive man, he wears a strange cardigan of a coat that manages to look tired and yet simultaneously expensive. Jeans hang loosely around his narrow frame and she wonders if the fading and wear around the knees and cuffs are a happening of frequent wear or an odd frivolity of fashion.
An 8, she decides, I would definitely give him an 8 out of 10, except for that cardigan… With the help of that cardigan, he’s at best a 4. Neroli like to rate things, all sorts of things; toilets, shoes, coffee and, of course, men. The criteria for the scores is erratic, subjective and highly unpredictable; very much mood dependant. But she suspects that, no matter what the mood, that cardigan will always be awful. A U she decides, unclassifiable, sigh, not even worthy of a number.
He fidgets a moment more before signalling to the counter attendant and starting to talk before the older man can possibly have heard him. His urgency fascinates her and she feels herself cocking an ear and leaning in his direction. Muscles tensed and poised cat like, she hangs on the anticipation of his next word. Fuck! A newspaper shuffles irritably into her face and she jolts back into the confine of her plastic coated chair. Close call! Nothing worse, she reflects, than falling off chairs in public places.
A rapid glance around the waiting area indicates that neither the blonde mans presence nor her apparent interests in him have caught anyone else’s attention. She shuffles some objects around inside her swollen pockets and decides to retrieve her mobile phone.
Scrolling through tiny, thumbnail photos of the summer past, a blurry image of a heart snatches her eye. A pressure closes around her throat and a weight is released into her stomach that sweeps every part of her insides to the floor. This stamp sized image, seeming harmless enough, was taken the day the she should have realised who he really was. She had playfully taken a soft blue eye pencil and drawn a small heart on the nape of his neck as they prepared for an afternoon walk along the sandy lengths of the beach. Up until that point, he had seemed perfect. Running playfully in and out of the frothing sea water and blowing sand from her hands as if it were magic dust, she hadn’t expected any of what had followed. Shaking her head, as if to banish the unwanted thoughts, she hurries to delete the photo; ‘Delete item (1)’ pings up on the phone. Yes, yes! She mentally screams at the phone and ping! The photo is gone.
Recomposing herself, she casts her gaze once more across the recesses of the waiting area and notices a slick looking middle aged man. His glazed skin glows an artificial orange unnaturally framed by a sweep of gel soaked hair. Oh dear! She thinks cruelly, you’re definitely too middle aged and too orange to pull that off mate; a miserable 2. His stained fingers fidget restlessly in the creases of his kaki trousers and his head flicks persistently toward the window. Oh and definitely an affair, she decides. A hollow escapade validated only by the sordid recounts he shares with the other orange ‘studs’ in his local gym. Yes, she thinks wickedly, a stressful and unsatisfying stray into hedonistic deceit has come full circle to bite this man in the balls! His jilted lover has meticulously tapped large nails into the tyres of his mid-life crisis car upon discovering his marital status. Now there’s nothing left for him but to wait nervously and hope the work is complete before his unwitting wife returns from her afternoon spa!
“Yes well I would expect that, I do know that they’re snow tyres!” The raised voice of the dishevelled blonde man interrupts her day dream and she follows his arm as it makes a sweeping gesture towards a white hatch back outside the reception. Inspecting the damp car and remembering the mild weather of recent weeks, she feels a loud and unexpected snigger escape. Crap!
The blonde man’s head snaps instantaneously toward her and his clear blue eyes pierce the space between them. Double crap! No point hoping he didn’t hear that then! She chides herself. Not bad looking though, for a man in a cardigan… She feels the heat rising again in her cheeks and steels herself to suppress a second snigger. Honestly! What kind of man wears a frigging cardigan! He holds her gaze intensely for a few moments longer, his eyes flickering expectantly, before snapping his head back to the other side of the counter. Phew!
Sinking down the plastic chair back she tries to muffle a sigh. His velvety tones echo in her head as she ponders his need for snow tyres. He sounds southern, notably well spoken and unendingly sure of himself. He reminds her of a work colleague she had known a few years ago; the two men share a stance and a self assurance that she hasn’t really seen in anyone else. The old work colleague turned out to have a sinister gambling problem that had led him into a lifetime of debt too deep to escape. Yes, she thinks, there’s nothing like a good gambling problem to turn a healthy 8 into a 4. Momentarily she wonders if the blustery blonde man suffers such afflictions and then returns her attention to her mobile phone and pockets.
She is scrolling through the phone menu screen when the silky tones once again interrupt her;
She lifts her gaze to locate the blonde man and realises he has moved into the seat beside her. Stifling a confused gasp, she turns and raises an eyebrow to him.
Neroli has her own philosophies where men are concerned. A few too many hours spent in the company of her young male friends as a teenager had led her to the indisputable theory that no male should be allowed to speak to a female he doesn’t know. Her skin crawled at the ‘well I didn’t want to see her again but I also didn’t want get nothing out of the date, so I shagged her…’ conversations. Ugh, yes men bring all their problems upon themselves! She declares firmly to herself. Baffling! But that said, she has even less sympathy for every silly woman who falls for that one! (On a scale of 1 to 10 of sympathy, it definitely has to be a minus 5 for little miss slept with him on the first date!) Yes, inter-gender relations are a minefield that Neroli chooses to well and truly avoid.
“Well? Do snow tyres always amuse you?” he asks, the urgency about him has completely melted away and she feels herself drawn into his lilting tones and peculiar gaze. Whoa, her inner monologue warns, just because the wolf’s wearing grandmas cardigan doesn’t me the wolf is safe like grandma!
Right, dodge the bullet, I don’t know, pretend you’re deaf! No? Ok scratch your crotch like you’ve got lice? And try to lick your own nose while he’s talking! That should definitely do it!
“Excuse me Miss!” The booming voice of the man behind the counter rolls across the waiting area. Ah perfect timing! Awkward encounter nicely sidestepped! “Miss!” She leaps to her feet, the sound of her phone clattering across the floor interrupts her manoeuvre and she freezes above her chair. Damn it! The blonde man seeks her gaze as she reaches for her phone and a little smirk slides across her face. Double damn it! She had not intended to communicate her relief at the well timed interruption and instantly curses herself and him.
Phone safely in hand she moves to the counter and tries to concentrate as the man with the weathered face informs her that there is a problem with the tracking on her car. A quick glance back in snow tyre mans direction confirms that he’s still staring at her. Ugh creepy! What a knob! A younger man in greasy blue overalls appears in the doorway and shows her the way into the workshops. He leads her nimbly around a maze of elevated cars and puddles of oil until they reach a small stack of tyres in the far corner. In a swift and well rehearsed movement he heaves a tyre from the top of the pile and starts to indicate the areas of ‘exceptional wear’.
“The flat bit ‘ere love” he slows to ensure she’s paying sufficient attention “this bit” he repeats “is so worn it ain’t road worthy no more…” She watches mesmerised as his rough fingers slide effortless across the balding tyre and notes the band of oil that lingers beneath his nail tips. Dirty finger nails, she thinks, definitely a 4.
“You’ll want this fixed ‘ere love, you’re tyres won’t last yas a year with ya tracking this far out!” Nodding in vacant agreement she extends her arm and runs a finger over the worn tyres surface. Its greasy texture causes her a moment of surprise and sharply she withdraws her arm. Ick! Honestly Neroli! Did that really come as a surprise? Concealing the faint beginnings of a bemused smile, the young man retraces the path back to the reception area and informs her;
“It’ll cost about eleven quid, won’t take long and all love. Think you best had, it’s worth ya time and change.” He has pleasantness about him, she relents, fine! A six.
Back in the reception area she weighs up the value of returning to her plastic chair beside the snow tyre man. Sneaking a second glance at his cardigan, she decides that she really doesn’t have time for men in women’s clothing today and she opts to linger at the desk a little longer and try and pay for her tyres. The weathered man with the booming voice soon obliges her and begins taking her payment while thanking her for her custom. She ponders whether it was wise to pay before the work was complete but decides that in the absence of further bemused looks, she will persist.
Retrieving her card from the payment machine she has the unmistakeable feeling that she’s being watching and thoughtlessly throws her gaze across the waiting area. She feels her eyeballs bulge and her cheeks beginning to flush as she realises that the blustery, snow tyre man is looking at her. His eyes shamelessly trace every contour of her body before he senses her stare. What the …! For a man in a cardigan this guy’s got some nerve! He raises his sky blue eyes to meet hers, cocks his brow and flashes an intensely playful smirk. Ugh twat! She thinks heatedly as her heart performs an unexpected somersault at the intensity of his eyes.
Almost anticipating the sound of her phone clattering across the floor again, she breaks her frozen stance and tries to return her attention to the man behind the counter. In a feat of fabulous timing, the younger man appears from the workshop door and announces;
“All done love! That ought do ya!” Eagerly she retrieves her car key, thanks both men and makes a dash for the door.