A long hot summer.



A long hot summer was coming to a close that late October. Already the first chilly winds were sweeping in from across the southern straits of the Mediterranean during the nights. It was, however, an uncharacteristically warm afternoon on that day that changed my life forever.

It all happened thus. I was pottering about on my little workshop on the roof, enjoying the menial tasks in the warm orange glow of the afternoon sun, now setting slowly into the sea, visible in the distance, when the front door-bell rang.

I recall being a bit grumpy about my silent reverie being broken by an unwanted visitor at that time of day. I had seriously considered not answering, but realized that it could be one of my brothers or my sister. The fact that I was single meant that I had a bevy of relatives coming and going at all times of the day. I can’t imagine why they all believed I was helpless around the house. It was a decision I had taken after a lot of soul-searching and one that suited me to a T.

I opened the door and was surprised at the vision in front of me. It was my close neighbour Tina.

“Hi!” she said “I was alone at home, relaxing on the roof, when I heard your machines. So, um, seeing that I had baked a cake and no-one to share it with, I came to see if you wanted a piece.”

“That’s real nice of you Tina…do come in. I think such a cake like that deserves a decent cup of tea to go along with it.”

She followed me inside. It was rare that I had the fortune of accepting visitors such as Tina. She was truly a beautiful woman. Raven-black hair framed large oval eyes and a look to drive men crazy. Funnily enough I had never considered her to be an object of my desires, mainly because, first of all,  she was a neighbour of mine, secondly, she kept herself to herself, and similarly, I was of the quiet type. I knew she had a child, a pleasant young boy of around six, but I was unsure whether she was married or not. It didn’t matter anyway, but it was a nice surprise.

As we waited for the kettle to boil, I showed her around my house, now unnecessarily large following my parents passing away. Tina delighted in how I had transformed the garden, which I had enlarged by tearing down the kitchen, and replacing it with a large patio, screened by a large canvas awning. On the table were the latest additions to my family, a pair of kittens, busily frolicking around, oblivious to anything else.

“Oh, they’re beautiful.” my guest exclaimed. ‘I simply adore cats.’

“Really? Well I am not much of a cat person, or at least I didn’t think I was until I found these on the doorstep about two weeks back. The poor things were so soaked that I had to take pity on them. Now they have grown on me and I’m reluctant to put them out on the streets again.”

“You know, if they are house-trained, they really won’t be a bother to you Chris. True, you have a lot of flowers and plants that must be taken care of, but if you provide a decent cat-litter and a scratching-post, you won’t have any trouble.”

With the whistling of the kettle boiling in the kitchen, she straightened up and we made our way inside. I asked her if she wanted to have tea in the garden, but she declined, asking instead if it would be possible to see the workshop where she often heard me work.

It wasn’t usual for me to allow visitors in what I considered my inner-sanctum, but then Tina wasn’t a usual visitor either. We made our way upstairs, continuing the house tour. We skipped the bedroom, because I thought it would be too embarrassing to let in a young woman into my room. Being a bachelor also meant that I was somewhat lacking in house chores that are usually handled much better by a woman. Needless to say, it was a disaster.

The workshop was on the roof, now a bright but warm orange with the glow of the setting sun, and such a cozy nook. Tina plopped down on one of the couches, her light blue dress clinging to her curvy form with every movement of her body. That was another thing I had not initially noticed. I had never seen Tina wear a dress, or a skirt. A little thing of no consequence, I shrugged to myself. However, while explaining to her the intricacies of model making, I could not help but be captivated by her feminine beauty. As she curled up on the sofa in that impossible gesture possible only to women, I felt myself opening up to her.

I had never been seriously attracted to another woman before, but I suddenly felt a sudden constriction on my chest, my heart hammering on my ribs. She was truly mesmerizing. I was afraid to talk, fearing I would break the magic moment with my gawky smattering of speech. Tina seemed oblivious to my change in manner, and continued her probing of my work…the different materials, metals, mounting…practically every little thing that she saw on the table. I was amazed at her perception, and was taken by surprise when she asked if she could come and visit me again.

There was only one outcome to the question, and I told her that I was at home mostly every evening except Fridays, when I usually went out on a lad’s night with my workmates, invariably to a bar. Early Sunday mornings were also usually reserved for my second passion, that of fishing.

“Oh God, I LOVE fishing.” She exclaimed. “I’d like to come sometime with you.”

“Really? I never knew women were that much interested in the sport.”

“Yes I know, but I used to go with my dear father practically every Sunday. My mother used to be very angry with us, since she considered Sundays were only created to give homage to God. I guess that is the only thing they used to quarrel over. I’m not too much of a church-goer either, never found the inclination.”

Truth be told, I hadn’t seen the inside of a church in ages. I didn’t care much for it and I told her so.

“I would really like you to come with me next Sunday, Tina. Always assuming it is possible for you.”

“Oh yes, I don’t have anywhere to go. I am usually all alone on Sundays. My son spends the weekend with his father. We are divorced you know.”

I didn’t know about it and I duly apologized to her.

“Listen, I don’t mean to cause any trouble. It’s just a friendly invitation if you are up to it.”

“You won’t be any trouble Chris. We split up even before little James was born. We grew to hate each other on sight. Now all that is left is the bitter memory of our fights. He’s currently planning on re-marrying…so no, there won’t be any problems.”

“Okay then. So how about we meet around half-five in the morning then?” I asked.

“Half-five it is. I warn you, I’m an early riser, so I will be here at exactly that time.” she smiled.

“Yeah, right! I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“Honest. I’ll ring the bell at the right time. What lure and tackle will I need?” she replied.

“No need to get anything, I have more than enough poles and stuff for five people. I usually take this fishing business very seriously I’ll have you know.” I warned her.

“No problem. That’s fine by me. So that’s ok for feeding the fishes, but what are we going to feed ourselves?”

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Usually I go and pick up some ‘pastizzi’ from the local bar. Not too healthy I admit, but it gets me through the day alright. Maybe you can rustle up something?”, I implored with a hopeful look.

“Sure, I do these heavenly tuna sandwiches that simply-“

“No, no, stop there. No tuna for me. Even hearing the words brings me out in a rash, let alone think about it. I can take anything except fish for food. Strange, true, but despite enjoying fishing, I can’t bring myself to eat the stuff.”

“Tell me you’re kidding Chris. Everybody loves tuna! Everybody.”

“No Tina, not me. I absolutely hate the damn stuff. I only eat mermaid, and usually only the top half.”

Tina chuckled at my obvious distress, and promised to provide a good portion of ham and cheese sandwiches, as well as two flasks of hot coffee.

She got up lithely from the couch in one swift movement, gracefully smoothing her dress down.

“See you in two days time then” she said.

“Sure…uh..actually you don’t need to see me in two days time. You can come anytime before that. You don’t have to be a stranger.”

I didn’t mean to sound as if I was pleading, but in my ears that is exactly how it sounded. I escorted her downstairs to the door, and we stopped like two gawky teenagers on a first date. This was anything but a date, although I was hoping it would be.

I was actually blushing as I opened the door for her. There I was, nearly thirty years old, and blushing like a simpering teen.

“So, see you around,” I finally croaked.

“See you then”, she waved as she slipped out of the door.

I closed it and leant against the cool wood, feeling my senses reel with the heady smell of her still in the air. She was so beautiful. So fresh. And so different. What was it about her?

That Friday at the pub my mates could tell that something wasn’t right with me. Uncharacteristically, I lost all my darts matches, something which was quite unusual.

“Hey Chris, what’s up, my man?” asked Mike, one of my best mates. “Hello…you here?”

I lowered my usual pint on the table and sighed.

“I don’t know Mike….or rather, I do, but I don’t want to make anything of it. At least not yet.”

“Ah.” He said knowingly. “It’s a woman then.”

I looked up at him in surprise. Mike could be surprisingly astute in such mysterious matters. Despite his bulk, he was a gentle and surprisingly graceful man, with a worldy gleam in his eye.

“How could you know? I swear you are part magician. But yes. It is about a woman. I think she is absolutely beautiful and there could be something in it, but I don’t know if I am imagining things.”

“So what’s the problem,” he probed gently, sitting down beside me, and offering me a cigarette.

I refused his offer and opened my heart to him. I found it easy to speak to him, what with our having been friends for practically all our life.

“Well it’s an interesting situation, but I actually think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. She’s probably just as lonely as you are and wanted someone to talk to.”

“Who said anything about my being lonely?” I answered in surprise.

“You don’t have to say it to be in that position my friend. Lately, I noticed that on our way home you always seem to be so withdrawn and quiet. I guess, although I could be wrong, that you dread going home.”

I sighed. Part of it was true, although I rather fancied what I thought to be my independence. Reflecting on it, I realized that a man was not meant to be alone.

“Maybe it’s true Mike” I sighed “Maybe it’s time I settled down.”

“True, but just don’t expect it to be this girl…what’s her name again? Tina was it? And she comes with baggage too.” He said, referring to her son.

“We’ll see what happens Mike. “ I grinned ruefully “but for the life of me I cannot imagine myself as a settled man. Besides, I’ve only really talked to her once. ”

“People live happily together without marrying you know. Maybe settling down isn’t on her mind either. Give it some time. You’re just nervous…that’s all. And anyway, what do I know about women?”

Mike was one to talk. He had known his wife practically forever and were virtually inseparable. It was only on Fridays that you wouldn’t see him with Jennifer. Contrary to him, she was as thin as a stick insect, but strangely, they complemented each other very well. They had produced four children with a minimum of fuss and their house was like a teens club. They shouldered their responsibilities with aplomb, dignity, and a good dose of humor. I always felt more than welcomed there. The world needed more couples like Mike and Jen. Could I do my bit to help humanity? Sincerely? I doubted it.

Usually Saturday was a day that l looked upon in relish. Probably the only day I had of real rest and basic lazing around. Not this Saturday though. This time it was the day before my meeting up with the gorgeous Tina. So it was with trembling hands and palpitating heart that I set out to check my fishing gear. Of course, it was quite needless since I usually kept everything in top condition.

As noon approached, I could find no more excuses. Everything was ship-shape. My stomach grumbled annoyingly, and so, being the week-end, I turned to my usual gourmet meal. Well, meal was stretching it a bit since Saturday meals consisted of microwaved rice eaten straight out of a bag. French-fries and maybe a burger if my inclination stretched that far.

After eating and topping up with a glass of coke, I looked at the clock in the kitchen and remembered that my football team had a two o’ clock match scheduled for that day, so it was with pleasure that I slid onto my comfortable recliner, sat back and turned on the TV. The kittens climbed onto my lap and purred away into sleep, stretching gently. The pre-match talk wasn’t even half-over before my eyelids drooped down and I dozed off, another ritual.

The phone woke me up two hours later. Not only had the match finished and the players showered, they had also probably hit the bar together.

“Yello” I answered, in my best Homer Simpson imitation voice.

“Yello? Who says yello when he gets the phone?” the voice said.

“Homer Simpson does. Uh. Who’s that?” I enquired.

“Tina, that’s who.”

My eyes and brain co-ordinated effortlessly into overdrive.

“How did you get my number? I can’t recall giving it to you… not that I’m unhappy mind you.” I asked.

“Ah…the power of the Internet. So, everything ok for tomorrow? I don’t want to come over just to keep waiting on the doorstep.”

“Have no fear…I will be wide awake and waiting. Everything’s fine. I got everything packed up. Just don’t forget the sandwiches. I’ll just wash, dress and go wait outside the door.”

“Well it seems you don’t have much to do. I was just about to go rent a DVD. Any suggestions?”

Suggestions? I had thousands of suggestions, but they all boiled down to the same conclusion.

“Come and watch that movie at my place.” I told her and she accepted gladly.

“What do you want to watch?” she asked.

“Anything will do for me. Yeah. I want to watch what you want to watch. How does that sound?” I replied with a grin.

“Sure, great for me. Ok, see you in twenty minutes. I’ll get some popcorn done. It’ll be casual right? Don’t feel like dressing up.”

“Yeah, anything will do. I got to put on something though. I’m only wearing boxers” I laughed.

I put down the phone and jumped into the shower for a quick wash. Not that I was dirty, or expecting to be close to Tina, but it felt good to be clean and smell half-way decent.

Five minutes later I was toweling myself dry and heading for the bedroom for a change of clothes. I happened to glance at the TV-room, and I was horrified to see that it was a mess.

The jumble of empty pizza boxes, take-away cartons and beer cans went into a bin-bag, while  the remotes for the various electronic stuff went into the top drawer of my desk.

I picked up all the clothes strewn on the furniture, rolled them into a bundle, and dragged them with me into the bedroom. Naturally I plonked them straight onto my bed.

Opening the wardrobe, I noticed that all my smartest t-shirts needed washing and only my customary rock shirts were left hanging. I resigned myself to a Led Zeppelin shirt, nothing too wild, and three-quarters shorts. I decided I would simply have to do the washing on the Monday after the fishing. Bah. It would be an early morning I realized.

Living alone had led me to this, I thought with a shake of my head. I either needed to start taking more care domestically, or else get a maid to do this stuff. I wasn’t too keen on somebody else washing up behind me, especially clothes. It was, frankly, a bit embarassing.

I opened up my Nivea after-shave balm, relishing the clean smooth texture of the liquid on my palms, before rubbing the lotion into my face. It felt great.  The Garnier gel was next to my razor, and I grabbed a gunk onto my hand and spread it on my hair, spiking it up in the process.

Wearing just a damp towel around my waist, I rushed into the bedroom, throwing the towel into a corner of the wardrobe before dressing. Dozy, the laziest kitten of the two, jumped after the offending cloth. Who knows what she thought it was.

I slipped my battered T-shirt on, thinking how good it was that certain clothes tended to mould themselves around your body. The three-quarters was a recent addition, a dark-blue adidas shorts I had only recently purchased, but already adapting well. These were clothes that I felt really comfortable in.

Running downstairs and into the kitchen, I made sure that the fridge had a good bottle of Chardonnay already chilled to the bone in the door. I closed the door and opened the freezer partition, pulling out a couple of pizzas and settling them near the microwave.

Compared to the bedroom, the kitchen was a vision from heaven. With that settled, I went back to the TV room. I guess no amount of time would get it back in shape, let alone twenty, actually now, ten minutes.

I fluffed the cushions on the sofa as much as possible. In reality they looked like dead dogs. Resisting the temptation to remove the carpet, I decided that this was what I was…and that was final.

But then I smiled to myself as I ran around to get a can of air-freshener, thinking what a good job it was that I remembered. I zipped into the bathroom to make sure that no extra hairs were clogging the shower or the sink. I need not have worried, since it was extremely clean.

Just as I was thinking that everything was finalised the phone rang. I looked at the name on the display. Mike. Of all days, it had to be today.  I considered not answering, but then decided against it.

“Yello!” I cried after I punched the green button.

“Yello yourself buddy. Listen, we , uh, that is, the wife, thought we would drop over for a cuppa if you are in today.”

“Listen Mikey, I know it’s gracious of you, but I’m having visitors today..it’s somebody you don’t know…and you know,” I stammered.

“Don’t tell me it’s that girl…is it? Allright. I knew it. Okay, we’ll make ourselves scarce. I understand that. I bet she’s hot!”

I grinned as I hung up. Mike was as subtle as a raging bull in a fine china shop. With enough finesse too!

DOING! That really was the bell. Like a teenager, I ran to the front door, throwing it open and startling her in the process. I tried not to look too eager, but I guess that wasn’t happening soon.

“God, you startled me!” she laughed shyly, holding her arm over her chest, red with embarassment and heaving with fright.

“Uh..sorry. Guess I did open the door bit too quickly. Uh. Do come in…the place is a bit of a mess today, so maybe you’ll excuse me.”

“Oh look, bless their little hearts. They recognized their aunty!”

Auntie? Ah well, I could never understand women and kittens. Lazy turned over and pawed at Tina while she was rubbing her tummy. I certainly could do with some of that, I thought.

To my embarassment, Tina looked up and saw my face, lost in my musings. “Penny for your thoughts?”

“What? Oh…ah…no. No. No thoughts whatsoever. Why do you ask?”

“Well for a moment there I thought you were thinking about something.”

“It’s been known to happen. I was just thinking how cute the kittens were…being tickled.”

“Is that really all?” she asked impishly.

“Miaow?” I asked, with a grin, as I closed the door behind her.

“That’s good. Miaow indeed. Oh my, it’s nice and cool here. Air-conditioning?”

I nodded, explaining that the house had retained a lot of warmth, making it uncomfortable.

“Must be hell on the bill.”

“True, but I’d rather be comfortable” I said

“Amen to that brother.”

I led her to the TV room, where I had my precious movie collection.

“Anything in particular you want to see or shall I choose one?” I asked Tina.

“Your choice is okay. Where do I put the popcorn? Already salted and really yummy.”

“Put them on the table opposite the sofa. I’ll get drinks in a moment.”

“Ok. Goodness, so many movies to choose from. I want to watch a happy movie, got a recent one?”

“Yeah” I replied “I got a great movie. Have you seen the Hangover?”

“I missed that at the cinema, I couldn’t go with my son could I? I’d love to see that. I heard it was a bit raunchy.”

“They exaggerated a bit, but yes, it’s a great movie.” I replied as I took the movie out of its protective case and slipped it into my spanking new blu-ray player.

I hunted around for the remote control, but could not find it anywhere. Finally it dawned on me. I had dumped the whole set of controls into a drawer. So. Three remotes. One for the DVD, one for the amplifier and another for the huge television.

“So what are you drinking? Wine? Or a soft-drink? I got a good Chardonnay chilling in the fridge.”

“Wine is fine..”

“But whisky’s quicker!” I interrupted with a smile.

“What are you on about? I didn’t quite get that.”

“Ah, not to worry, it’s a line to an old song by Ozzy, you know, ex Black Sabbath..err…rock..heavy metal.”

“Right…are you…uh…I mean, does your tree grow up to the top branch?” she laughed.

I smiled at her. I had a bad habit of linking phrases to songs from the world of rock. Not too bad a habit, but still strange to outsiders.

I picked two glasses and went into the kitchen to get the win, along with a bottled of cold mineral water.

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