Submission Details

Piano from a 4th Storey Window
Piano from a 4th Storey Window
Jenny Morton Potts
Women's Fiction
Yes - full manuscript is available


Lawrence Fyre and Marin Strang aren’t like other people. He is the eccentric owner of failing Sargasso Books in the Brighton Lanes. She is an ex-Jehovah’s Witness and isolated Spanish teacher. If they live together in his illegal, beautiful, rope laddered lock-up, can their love overcome their losses? Original, sexy, very funny and deeply moving. An author in complete control of a number of unforgettable characters and emotional highs and lows, Jenny Morton Potts leaves the reader breathless, and wanting more.

Marin

Chapter One
Marin
Number 8, The Lanes, Brighton
What kind of a man is going to tell you that he lives with The Ladies and Gentlemen? That The Ladies and Gentlemen are an imaginary audience. That they applaud, gasp, cry, hiss, stamp, shout 'Nooo,’ at his life choices. Who would say that on a first date? And who would admit, additionally, happily, that they have an imaginary servant called Lolita? What kind of an idiot would expect to get lucky after these psychotic confessions?
Lawrence Fyre.
Though on that last point, he hoped very much to be disguising expectation, with cocoa. No-one would believe they are desired, almost beyond management, if they are offered a cup of hot chocolate. Marin Strang certainly didn’t.
'I’ve let them down,’ she heard him say to his friends, to his real friends, not imagined but sitting there together, on barstools at Number 8. 'I’ve let the Ladies and Gentlemen down.’ His friends nodded solemnly and Marin had to assume that Lawrence, though she didn’t then know his name, was some kind of theatrical producer or director. More facts for the file then: check out The Dome and Theatre Royal. She didn’t know he was Lawrence Fyre, or Laz, which the man who kept plunging his sizeable nose into his wine glass, called him. And he, Laz, Lawrence, did not know that she was Marin Strang, or indeed that she existed at all, which in retrospect is kind of ironic, since he seemed so passionate about the feelings and welfare of his non-existent Ladies and Gentlemen.
She’d heard them before, two of those men, at Number 8 in The Lanes. Coffee house by day, wine bar by night. Marin had never been there in the evening. She generally dashed back to the station at the first sniff of nightfall. The air changed before the light, she recognised this, and home she went, to Hastings, her basket bulging with all the thoughts she’d collected from the sea and the piers and the Lanes, especially Number 8. Home, like all good girls in fairytales. Leaving her (now favourite) coffee bar, to make its transition. Which again, she supposed, was really a question of light. Physically, of course, the face of the bar, its bones, would remain. But there’s a lot you can do with a face. You can make it up or leave it bare; pierce it, shave it. Marin looked up at Number 8’s ceiling. It would come from there, the transformation, downlighters taking their precision aim over the walls and tables. The atmosphere deepening, softer in some coupled corners, harder in loud, grouped others. Micro-mood spots forming, chiefly controlled by alcohol. The music would ride through the tables, the clientele would youth up and their plans, their immediate possibilities and prospects would ping around the room, right up till last orders. Then she could see the bar emptying again, cooling down, as the night leaned back. She could see that Number 8 would be ready for some rest and the crew, with the very last of their energy, hair gel wilting, gathering in the sails till morning.
The punters would scatter outside. Some still standing straight, others rounding at the shoulder, wobbling as the oxygen streamed through their blood. They would mostly roll down to the seafront for dancing, practicing on the way, hand tutting, body popping, ass twerking. Standing under the sparkling Wheel, arms latticed in one another’s for balance to look up at the vast spokes and curse them for being still. Heading on to the old fisherman’s arches. Chain-smoking the short journey. Yellow fingers of light shafting the black, glossy water as the club doors are flung open; the bass beating up the night, vibrating on the shingle. One or two diversions first perhaps: fish and chips for this appetite, sex against the pier stanchions for that. Paddling, inevitably. Friends hooking off their stilettos, shrieking on the pebbles and hanging on to each other’s sleeves. Beneath the boat tarpaulins, rocking and guzzling, wrists in rollocks. Dark figures huddled, hooded. The hypothesis of knives in tight pockets. Amphetamines in sweetie bags. Painted pills to bake you. Ripped on whizz, throttle, crank. Sick with laughter, mascara gashed and Jaeger bombed, on the sea and vomit sprayed front. So much to get through. So much to live for.Marin Strang had never come anywhere near that.
Tonight at Number 8! she could read on the chalkboards (very neat writing, a proper, studied font), was to be Green Trombone, LIVE! Should she check into a B&B? Of course not. Where were these notions coming from? She looked at her careful, unringed hands, her lap, the outline of her thighs against her skirt. Some parts of her body were starting to feel less academic. If this has nothing to do with William, she should celebrate. She touched her forehead lightly and felt no rise in temperature. Ok then, was it just this: she really liked sitting here.
Turned out, the bar was referred to simply as '8’ unless of course someone wanted to meet someone else at 8, in which case they’d probably say 'See you at Number 8 at 8.’ Although, see you at 8 at 8 was still fine, if a little stammery.
Marin wasn’t actively listening to their conversation. She wasn’t straining to hear what they were saying at the bar. The coffee bar, as they were currently by day, as it was almost 3 at 8. Just two of those men today. The very tall one was rocking his barstool backwards and forwards; just an inch or two but it made Marin’s heart muscle twitch. Mr Tall’s tawny hair draped across his shoulders and sharp bones were poking at his clothes. His shirt, well, capacious, was the kindest description and it was almost white but there was a suggestion in the (crushed) fabric that it may have been a vivid colour once, decades back. With his back to her, she could comment internally no further but she heard herself say very quietly: Turn round. Just turn around. Go on. This, you can enunciate without moving your teeth.
The other man (at a glance, clean and reliable) stood: good physical ratio, kempt though balding, measured movements but gesturing wherever possible, a sense of openness, inspiring trust and a crisp appearance, hygiene. Here was a man used to listening, comfortable making meaningful eye contact and generous with advice. Fraction sanctimonious?How Marin loved to watch people in Brighton. She would never dare if she lived there. Certainly not at this proximity.They weren’t loud, the two men, but neither did they murmur. They belonged. Lolita was mentioned and Marin wondered hard who Lolita would be. How could she guess that Lolita too was one of Lawrence Fyre’s fictional companions, a foul-mouthed servant who showed up for work, on the days she could be bothered, drunk.
Mr Tall jerked from one topic, one woman, to another. 'I remember this girl once. God, she was magnificent. Huge proportions. Huge operatic voice. Christ, the pleasure sort of sopranoed out of her. I’ve forgotten her name. How weird.’'Kiri Te Kanawa?’'No. At least
no, I’d have remembered her name.’
The other one walked around behind the bar and punched something into the till. A minor dissatisfaction V’d his centre brow and in all likelihood he swore, but inaudibly. Then he became distracted with his own reflection on the metal shield of a beer pump.
'I have got this Alistair Darling thing going on at the eyebrows. I really have. I’m turning into Alistair Darling. They look dyed. Come on. Scrutinise. This hair, these eyebrows. Don’t belong together.’
'What about your accountancy skills? Sharpening?’
'Yes. Actually, yes. Oh God.’'Well then I am forced to agree. You are Alistair Darling.’
Tall brought out the contents of his jacket pocket and cast them over the bar counter: a little purple notebook, coins or buttons or mints, post-it notes, coupons or tickets, grit, a giant paper clip. The shorter, fastidious one swept the items into a neat pile, taking the executive decision to bin the mints and the out of date coupons, while Tall, oblivious to possible losses, looked in the purple notebook, then up. 'Alistair, you know when people say they feel the same as they did at eighteen?’
'No.’
'Yes, you do. I just feel like I did when I was eighteen. People are always saying that.’
'Are they?’
'The whole time.’'Well, I don’t. And I can prove it. Yesterday, I was round at Johann’s. And he had a very nice, you know, a good size, Pyrex bowl.’
'What’s a pie rex bowl?’
'A glass bowl. Oven proof. A good bowl, alright? I liked that. I had my eye on that. I was coveting that Pyrex bowl. Now that, I would not have done at eighteen.’
'Fascinating. Shit, look at the time!’ And Tall whizzed out of the bar, only just clearing the doorway. Just gone! Without any warning.But where did he go? By the time Marin had paid for her coffee and wandered casually out onto the red bricks, there was no-one of irregular height within view. Just three boys with Pat Butcher t-shirts, trying to light sparklers. And someone waving their Yorkshire terrier’s paw to the staff in Flo’s boutique. But no Mr Tall. And she hadn’t even seen his face this time. She couldn’t verify the squirrel tone that she’d seen before around his eyes. She didn’t know if he shaved generally but just hadn’t previously. She didn’t know what she was doing. Anyone could see that, as she stood looking at her own feet and wondering which way they would turn.

Brighton was not as Marin had remembered from childhood. It was much shinier, gregarious even. It smiled, relaxed. It had learned to share. She had visited with her father when she was around five or six. She remembers her father wanted to get her some fruit from a market stall in the North Laine. Not a toffee apple but an apple without any toffee. The stall holder took an instant dislike to David Strang. The seller jangled the coins in his leather waist pouch. He had a big silver bowl, the kind you put on scales, and he laid it on the apples as Marin’s father tried to make a decision. Then the stall holder nudged the bowl over the bumpy bed of fruit and he started putting apples into it. Marin looked at her father’s confusion, his head bobbing over the produce like a cat tracking a butterfly. She could feel her heart squeezing and how much it hurt to love him.
'Come on, mate, how hard can it be? Cox’s, McIntosh? One, two? Three? Ha, bloody poet, I am!’ Her father’s hands too now fretted over the choice and the stall holder lifted up the silver bowl and tipped it to the side, letting the apples tumble back out; a red in a green path, two greens in the red. The whole pattern of their day spoiled. The fruit seller turned, with eyelids shut, to the next customer.
That’s all Marin can remember from that day, being shunned by a man and his apples. What could they have been doing there, so far from Falmouth, from the home they barely stepped out of? From the home, school, Kingdom Hall, home, life that she led? There were no relatives, that she knew of, in Sussex. Perhaps they had been in London, doing something educational. They did go there now and again, to museums and Swan Lake once at the Royal Albert Hall. 'Sixty swans!’ her father kept saying on the train. 'Sixty!’
Perhaps they had been in London and came down to the coast because the weather got warm. No, too spontaneous. Marin couldn’t remember. And she knew that her father wouldn’t like to be asked. That every question was a panic for him now. Whatever he had been trying to teach her on that trip, all she had learned was that if someone beams and calls himself a poet, he isn’t necessarily happy or kind.
But my goodness, now, Brighton: the town feels like a candy store. You could see that you might have to be careful, or you’d stuff yourself. Being in such a glittery, feasty, feisty place was a genuine treat for Marin. A funny feeling of excitement which goes away in your teens. But here it is again and so welcome. Hastings was lovely of course. And much cheaper for renting but it didn’t have the panache of Brighton.
The train journey was perfect too, especially today, as a Simpsons’ sky cleared over the fields on her right and the coastline supped up the sea on the left. She opened her logic puzzles: A university is sending out 5 expeditions to study different bat species around the world, each taking place in a different country. Match each team to their expedition and the month in which they'll be leaving.
Marin closed the puzzle book and looked out of the window. Village shops clicked by. A little boy was strapped onto his Dad’s leg. The father heaved the boy around, as he tried to get something out of an enormous car boot, his son happily chomping at his Dad’s knee.
Marin was suddenly flooded with optimism. She could feel it, sloshing around her insides. Was this, the end of him? Months and months of gritty, stinging sorrow - gone? Because, at daybreak, yes, as momentous as that, she had touched herself. She had wanted pleasure, that simple. Unadulterated! She didn’t want William anywhere near her.
Marin could feel her shoulders responding to the train’s gentle cah-lunk, cah-lunk. Absurd, but she wanted to clap her hands and grin. She looked around at the other passengers. She was the most excited, in the over twelve category. Beside her, a buddhist nun playing Spider Solitaire on her mobile. Three girls in their late teens sat opposite. They were getting their cards done in Brighton. They’d had readings previously and seemed to focus mainly on seaside resorts for clairvoyance. Margate had been the best so far but no-one had yet provided the kind of future they saw for themselves. And so they kept trying.
At Brighton Station finally, Marin jumped out of the carriage and walked straight, fast, to the sea. Her whole body racing forward now. Down Queen’s Road, then West Street and across the busy Promenade. A little out of breath, she leaned over the chunky, turquoise rails. The wind was only sparring with her, and there it was: the very end of England. The last of the land with the water’s fringe curling back and forth over the beach. God, her stomach! She held it with both arms. What was going on today? She wasn’t in the over 12 category. Now, eyes right to the spidering wreck of the West Pier, eyes left to the capering on the Palace Pier. 'You’re leaving me.’ Marin held up her mobile. 'You can’t get me.’ She scrolled her messages. 'See! You’re not there. You don’t know this number. You don’t know me now.’ Her jaw was moving around the words but no-one was close enough to see, to hear. 'Doesn’t hurt anymore.’
At Number 8, Tall wasn’t there. None of them were. And she hadn’t exactly expected him to be, not Tall, but the other one, the clean and reliable one, yes. He was always there. So, yes, he at least should be here. And if he had been, then his friend might have come in. It was the best she could hope for.
Maybe she should come back later? Not the most detailed of plans but better than nothing. So now she needed to turn around and go out. Marin pretended that she had suddenly thought of something, somewhere. She patted her canvas bag, looked inside, tried not to overdo it. She was a languages teacher, not drama. She walked out in pursuit of whatever. Of course, no-one in the bar noticed because they had never, to their knowledge, laid eyes on her before. One teenage boy watched her legs but he didn’t see the rest of her. Marin’s appearance was unremarkable, from a distance. Her clothes were unremarkable, as was her scraped back fair hair. Her face was not made up. She would say that is because she had made no specific effort but it may be that she was hoping to blend well, to observe from the background. It may be that she did not want to appeal: to William. Or his ilk. That is, almost anyone. He liked: skirts above the knee, cleavage, eyebrow pencil, drop earrings, red highlights. Givenchy Dahlia Noir. Underneath, he liked nothing, quite a lot. Or only stockings and suspenders, for particular occasions; the opera memorably when they had to leave before the interval. Of course he didn’t say these things to her, except for the underwear, but it wasn’t difficult to get his messages across. And that was all fine, genuinely fine. Just she didn’t want that anymore. She’d had the red highlights removed. And now she wanted to find out who she could be unadorned and who might like her like that. If anyone, in the spotlight of our harsh times, was able to approach a pared down woman. If indeed, Mr Tall might like her. Why was she almost physically missing this unmet man?
Outside Number 8, her mood was suddenly hanging on the end of a bungee rope. She decided to head down to the Marina. This took much longer than she expected. And she found herself becoming cross about that. She found herself becoming cross about many things, post-William. The crossness arrived with the news of his girlfriend and it had stayed, lingered still, right up till this morning. She’d needed it, for months. She welcomed it, stoked it. Him, she had finished with, but the fury, she needed to keep awhile. His girlfriend’s baby, however, Marin had not been cross about. The baby, also a girl, brought no anger. The baby’s needs were much greater than any of theirs. And the baby needed her father. News of this child, and its mother, did not come from William. It came from a work colleague of Marin’s whose husband happened to belong to the same surveying firm as William. As soon as the baby news was delivered, she changed her phone number. This tiny life bounced into Marin’s, with a big sign: The End.
It shouldn’t even be called Brighton Marina if it wasn’t in Brighton. And how could it be in Brighton since her feet were almost bleeding with the length of this trek. She’d get that little train back. She could see it now, the toytown engine trundling along, in its cream and claret livery. There were two little girls waving up at pedestrians on the pavement high above them. Forget it, girls.
Or did you genuinely have to be under twelve to get on that? Then the rain started. And a man was watching her, arms folded, crooked smile, from his beautiful bay Regency window on Marine Parade. Great, Marin rolled the word behind her teeth. She jutted her chin into the air. Rain, pervert, pointless hike in unsuitable shoes. Next?The moment the rain stopped, the circling pub-goers swooped on the free tables outside The Master Mariner and the staff rubbed the seats down with bar towels. Marin sat beside two women: a middle aged couple. Like her, they looked from out of town, touristy, overly interested in their surroundings until they touched one another’s hands at which point their interest in their surroundings fell away and they stopped their conversation to stare at each other. Marin looked at their matching rings and a sigh of, well let’s face it, contempt nearly, was building in her chest. She didn’t want everyone else’s wellbeing glowing in front of her. Was that unreasonable? It’s not like it’s contagious. You can only be taunted with happiness. You can’t catch it.
A woman on her yacht was singing, 'I’m so lucky, lucky. I’m so lovely, lovely,’ and fiddling with a sail on a mast. A man on the next yacht along called over to her. 'Jazz! You’re not thinking of flying a kite. Not today, no. Are you?’ He held his two arms out to the heavens and then cocked his head to one side with real worry. His voice sounded burly but he wasn’t. He was tiny. If he’d spoken on a tv advert, you’d say they’d dubbed him over. This guy looked like kite flying would be a real hazard for him. As would passing buzzards. Anyway, what did kites have to do with sailing?
'I might. Just got her.’ The woman seemed to be referring to the sail. She patted it, gave it a rub, like it was a loyal pet. But if she’d just got her, how loyal could she be? Out there! Wasn’t worth taking any chances was it? Her friend sailor with the little voice obviously had his concerns.
'Haven’t used a spinnaker in
don’t know. Years. Sometimes I wonder if I won’t ever again. If that’s it all over.’A spinnaker! Was that a real thing then? Was it a sail? Was it flying a kite? Could Marin be learning something? Could she go sailing? An hour ago, she’d have said, yes. Yes! Take me to the seas. Let me see everything. I want to feel it all. She looked around to see if there were any cruisers for hire. But she knew she would never do that. Not alone. Essentially, that was it. She was by herself and though that should feel complete, adequate, totally alright, it no longer did. Because as the Wye Oak song says, you can’t kiss your own neck.
She rolled her eyes. Heavens, what are you doing today, trying out bi-polar? Hey, hey, batten down there, reel it in, Marin.
The couple sitting next to her, stilled in happiness, hit the play button again and are off. They’ve left a paper behind. The Argus. Marin leafs through it and there’s a little glossy catalogue hiding in the pages. She leafs through that too, casting around for thoroughly inappropriate stuff to put in her life. Everyone else was so busy. Busy beyond belief: with work, at the gym, online, picking out a pug, going to Las Vegas, relation-shipping, restoring narrow boats, buying a share in a racehorse. And she wasn’t. She was watching people touch, watching people talk, attaching talons to people’s shoulders.
Marin’s childhood had been the ideal preparation for solitude. Her father’s preparation. An isolation to shield her from occasional major hurt. Or an isolation which drip fed daily minor hurt. She’d had so much practice at being on her own, she should manage it with ease. But she no longer wants to. That much at least she’s certain of. And she learned it from him. From William. It was nothing more than a convenience to pretend they were a bad match. Because they hadn’t been. It was a lie to say he hadn’t been worth loving. An accommodating lie.'I think your poop’s bigger than mine.’ The Jazz woman on the yacht was grinning at the Lilliputian.
'Better believe it. Come over and we’ll measure.’ He may be tiny but his voice was fully confident.
Oh my God. Marin said it very quietly. Too much love on these shores. She was thoroughly fed up getting splashed, teased.
And then she looked down and he was staring up at her! His funny face from the forest. Right there in the newspaper. Lawrence Fyre it said under the photo. And there was another photo next to it: Nina Meaker. Now there was a woman who didn’t have to worry about kitten heels or skirt lengths or eye shadow. She had it all covered. Even in her beanie hat, she could be the LancĂ´me girl.

for school children and sixth form pupils. Events will take place at Sargasso Books and the prizes will be sponsored by Meaker’s Cider Yard.
Sargasso’s proprietor, Lawrence Fyre, says, 'We look forward to hearing some cracking verse from the Sussex youth. I’m proud to be on the judging panel with Abi Hughes-Edwards, to my mind Britain’s finest living poet, and my old friend, Nina Meaker.’
Deadline for entries is Friday July 10th. Readings from the winners the following week. For tickets, dates and age categories, head to www.sargassobooks.com.
That’s his place then, Sargasso Books! And Marin had been by this shop so many times! Nicely painted. Big grey topped front, like a mantelpiece and fine gold, plain lettering. Sargasso. There was always something strange in the window. Installations? A pile of manikins, once, each one disfigured. You wouldn’t even know it was a bookshop necessarily, except when there was an author photo. Perhaps merchandising wasn’t his thing.
But this was good, the article in the paper. This was great! He must be a nice man. He must be. This is not her subjective judgment. He is doing something 'good’ for the kids. She’d never even heard of the event but she’d be checking with the English department on Monday. Perhaps one of the pupils at School would get to read and she could go and
support.
A fresh energy spike put her back on her feet. She left her bottle of WeiĂźbier and the courting couples and made her way to Black Rock terminus for the Volks train back into town. Families were gathered under a very grumpy sky. Last in line, Marin could see that there may not be room for her but she managed to squeeze onto the train, as the rain threw itself in sidelong clumps into the carriages. Marin closed her eyes. If her feet hadn’t hurt so much, she’d have been quicker walking back to the Palace Pier. Why did she think she had to wear a heel with a skirt? Why did she care? So close to not caring at all and then let down just at the last ankle joint.
A little boy who didn’t really look old enough to be able to talk, shouted to his mother above the pouring and rumbling, 'But her leg is touching.’
Marin tried to move but it was impossible at the tin side of the carriage. She looked at the little boy who seemed so wounded by her presence. He may be about to cry. She was making him cry. She took a deep breath but kept the words under wraps: Ok, so I’m a fucking leper now as well. No wonder I am alone. I am supposed to be alone. William, get the hell out of here. She pressed her fingers hard on her temple and the little boy’s eyes and disgust widened.
Stationary at last, Marin prised herself from the dwarf train and hobbled to the crossing on King’s Road. There must be a chemist nearby. She would stop and get some plasters for her toes. The rain was harder now. Just get going. How could something relatively benign, and which sounded so pretty: rainwater, feel so alarming? Cold water slipping down your collar. You have to get it stopped, you have to. But why? What, really, is the problem? Ah, now it was becoming hail. It actually was painful, firing at her neck like gunshot. The top half of her left hand side was soaked through. How odd, just a cross section of her, drenched. She was the lateral puzzle: how did this woman get like this? It’s been seven months since she cut him out of her life with big rusty pinking shears. Bloody hell, William, why? Why, how, could you keep this woman and her baby from me?
Right, one goddamned macchiato and that’s it. Station. Hastings. Netflix. Vodka.
And then there he was at Number 8. This giant, thin, tawny-haired, woodland-eyed guy. And no, still not shaved, not for a week maybe. The specific opposite of blonde, blue, medium, daddy William.
He was sitting in the corner. She’d seen him in that spot before. If he wasn’t at the bar, on a stool, he sat there, in that corner.
Number 8 was packed, the windows steamed, dripping with condensation. The chrome which edged all the surfaces looked more nautical today against the teak surfaces; as if they might all pitch suddenly to one side. The crew remained calm but you sensed an anxiety, as they held their trays high over the passengers. The atmosphere was almost gaseous, the clientele’s jacket armpits and wet leather shoes dangerously close to producing a worrisome concoction of smells. The air in the room was virtually vapour and worsening by the minute. If she hadn’t seen Lawrence Fyre there, no way would Marin Strang have stayed.
He didn’t have a purchase of any kind in front of him, which didn’t seem to concern him, though it would have concerned Marin, since there were people waiting to be seated. Since she had never knowingly broken a rule or code, except for her father’s and obviously God’s. But Lawrence didn’t notice the queue. He was busy with some sewing. More than busy, fixated and furious by turns. Well, she knew all about that. But now, suddenly, where had her fury gone. She’d carted it on her back, up from the seafront; the burden boiling away as she weaved through The Lanes. Now suddenly it was lanced, disappeared, gone before him.
The other man, the clean and reliable one, he was there too, orchestrating the staff. He looked very much the barista today. Pristine white apron to below the knee, black waistcoat, penny collar shirt with skinny suede tie. He frowned at the artwork on the windows - children’s busy fingers: the inevitable houses with smoking chimneys, cats of course, rockets and a pair of enormous breasts made a brief appearance before a mother rubbed them off with her napkin. The barista nodded his appreciation and bent down to her, 'Could’ve been worse,’ and winked. He seated another couple and then bustled up to Lawrence, who was trying to tear the cotton with his teeth. Then they both looked up at Marin and the aproned one signalled for her to come to them. Lawrence turned a chair towards her.
'You’re more than welcome. While you’re waiting. And I won’t be offended if you go to another table, when one’s free. Scissors, James?’
James! Lawrence Fyre and James.
James went back to the bar for scissors.
'Well, I might be a little offended.’ Lawrence grinned at her and she could think of not one thing, not one word to say.
James brought the scissors. 'Let me see that.’ He held up the grey striped shirt. 'Laz, this is full of holes. Look at this here, ffww. And here. Why are you bothering? You’re shit at it anyway.’ He turned to Marin. 'I do apologise. For that lapse. I’m a little tired. Don’t tell the owner, will you.’
Lawrence snatched his shirt back. 'These holes have appeared through time. They’ve earned their place on that shirt. This other, this is, this is a rent! It does not belong.’ He looked up at Marin. 'He is the owner by the way. So unprofessional.’'And he’s the bookie guy. Sargasso. He’s so professional he’s left a girl serving in there, on a Saturday, a Saturday,’ James nods emphatically around him, 'Who’s had, like, two days on the job - ’
'James, the atmosphere’s getting to you. And don’t say bookie guy to people. Sounds like I work for Ladbrokes.’ Lawrence punctured his finger. 'Ow! Sorry, I shouldn’t say people like that. I’m Lawrence. And this is James.’ Two drops of blood oozed from his fingerpad onto the ailing shirt. 'We were at uni together. Though obviously he was a mature student. As you will discern from the yawning, gaping age difference between us.’'Three years.’ James shook her hand.
'I’m Marin. You’ve got blood on your shirt. Lawrence.’
James huffed. 'Can I get you a frappuccino, Marin? It’s on a special. Not that I’m inferring
Did you get very wet? Just one side of you? Perhaps a little walnut cake?’'Walnut cake’s not on a special.’ Lawrence raised one eyebrow to Marin and held up his shirt for a broader examination but there was barely room for his primate arms among the steaming masses.
Questions to respond to. She just had to work out what was a question and find a response. She could do that. 'Yes, please, James, I’d like a macchiato, no, I’ll take the frappuccino. Please.’
'No walnut cake? Cake of any description?’'No thank you.’
James went back to the bar, bending his sure hips around his customers. He passed on her order, then put on his glasses and fiddled with the dials on the air conditioning.
'I’ve got an umbrella in my shop, if you want it, Marion. Some geezer left it behind. Golfy number. You know the kind of thing. Big.’ He looked up and smiled. 'Scissors?’
'I think you put the scissors in your pocket.’
'Oh yeah. Look at this.’ He pushed the repair across the table for her inspection. His fingers were long and pale, with pink whorls in the middle. 'I’m getting the hang of it. Doing another one.’James brought over the frappuccino and then stood behind Marin wiggling his eyebrows at her, for Lawrence.
'I can see you in the mirror.’ Marin surprised herself with her recklessness.
Lawrence closed his eyes, bit his lip, tried to get more blood out of his fingertip. 'Marion, please excuse my friend. Etiquette’s not - ’
'It’s Marin. My name’s Marin. Not Marion.’
'Oh, sorry. I’ve been saying the wrong thing.’
'It doesn’t matter. Everyone does.’
'Well, I pride myself on not being everyone. Do you live locally? Marin?’
'I live in Hastings. I’m teaching German at Tumping School. Filling in for someone on maternity. German’s not really my strongest subject. I usually teach Spanish.’
'Hey, my nephew’s Spanish. He’s staggeringly handsome. Already. And he’s only nine. Well, he’s half Spanish, because his mother is my sister. And she’s not Spanish. Actually, he could be ten.’
James sat down next to Marin. 'It’s so long since I’ve seen this little Spaniard. Barely remember the child’s name.’
'Cyrus. His name’s Cyrus.’
'Like the Persian King.’ Marin wanted to say more but was afraid to give herself away.
'Indeed. King Cyrus. Who destroyed Babylon. Of course Jehovah foretold it all.’
Isaiah 13:19; 14:22, 23. Marin was tempted to say it, to impress him but then the game would be up.
Lawrence watched her carefully. 'Actually, he doesn’t like being called Cyrus. He insists on Cy. I think he should’ve had a Spanish name. What a missed opportunity. He could’ve been Raoul or Teodoro. They live in the Orkneys, would you believe. I don’t visit that often because, well - ’
James touched Marin’s wrist. 'Because Lawrence is the sickest person you ever met. Seasick, carsick, trainsick. You name it, Laz’ll be sick on it.’
'Aren’t you busy, James? Horribly busy, you said. Which is so ungrateful. What I would give to be horribly busy. To be coining it in.’
'I’ve been on my feet for eight hours straight. Do you mind?’ James blew a kiss to some young women leaving. They were saying the weather was brightening and should they leave the door open. James nodded enthusiastically then turned back to Lawrence and Marin. 'Nina says we should all go up there. Big Highlands trip. Big sick bag for Laz.’
'Who’s Nina?’ Marin mistimed her sip and burned her lips.
'Lawrence’s
Nina Meaker. She’s the cider girl. Meaker’s Cider.’'Yes, thank you, James.’ Lawrence tapped a cuff button on the table. 'I believe we’d been speaking of Spaniards. Of the Spanish element in our lives. ÂżEs verdad?’James pointed at a speck of blood on the table. 'Oh, I can’t speak a word of Spanish. I know some German. I know this: nur meine Zähne und meine Zähne kriegen es nicht. A girl kept saying that last week. At this very table.’'What’s that mean, Jamesy?’
'Dunno. Something about teeth?’
The men look at Marin.
'It means, well
’ Marin sucked discreetly at the froth on her coffee.
Lawrence folded the sleeves into the body of his shirt. 'She did say German’s not her strong suit.’
'Well, it doesn’t have an exact translation. Kriegen’s a difficult verb. Well, it isn’t difficult. It’s a great verb. Very versatile. Like our verb 'get’. A bit. I could give you a sort of for instance, if you like, a context.’
Lawrence was suddenly agog, ready for a game.
Marin smiled. 'Let’s say for example a very awkward customer came in here, or perhaps not here, but a very sort of high end restaurant.’
James’s right shoulder made a circular rotation. 'I can’t say I’m terribly flattered with - ’
'No, I don’t mean, it’s just better if it’s a restaurant. Rather than a bar. So the customer is in the restaurant. He’s German. Obviously. And after his meal, he wants a cigar.’
'So this is somewhere in Europe where you can smoke in a restaurant?’ Lawrence was beaming.
'Yes, or it could be an anecdote from the past. Couldn’t it?’
'I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen.’
'And anyway I didn’t say he was smoking. I said he wants a cigar. But he is going to. He does want to smoke it. So, well, let’s say it was a while back and this German bloke wants a cigar in this fine restaurant. No, he’s got the cigar. It’s in his pocket. His inside pocket. He brings it out and the end is on it. You know, it’s not cut.’
James nods, 'The head of the cigar. That’s the head. The bit that goes in your mouth. And the other bit is the foot.’
'Yeah alright, George Burns, this is Marin’s story.’
'Ok. So the German, Herr Whatever, Herr Was Auch Immer, says to the waiter or maĂ®tre d’: have you got something to take the end, sorry, the head, off my cigar. Whereupon the waiter or maĂ®tre d’, who is already hacked off, imagine a whole other storyline there, he says: nur meine Zähne und meine Zähne kriegen es nicht.’
'Which means?’ Lawrence spins his hand.
'Which means: only my teeth and my teeth aren’t, my teeth won’t, well, my teeth aren’t going to

Lawrence exhales. 'I’ll be honest with you, Marin, the ending could use a little work. Jeffrey Eugenides said in Middlesex, he said that it’s hard to interrupt in German, cause you never know what someone’s going to say until they get to the end of the sentence.’
'You mean because the main verb is at the end? Yes. I suppose that’s true. I don’t remember that. In Middlesex.’'You’ve read Middlesex?’ Lawrence pulls his spine upright till he looks like a Great Dane waiting for his dinner bowl.
'Lawrence! He’s HERE!’ A beautiful young girl with rust red cropped hair is standing in the doorway. 'The man with the Thomas Hardy’s. He’s terribly, terribly nervous. Come!’ And she was gone.
'Just one of my gamine assistants. Suppose I should be getting back to work.’
'Might be an idea, Laz.’ James leaned towards Marin. 'The dealer has come all the way from Bristol.’
'Weston super Mare, actually.’ Lawrence nodded sombrely. 'Well, Marin, thank you for your little, that context, stroke anecdote, stroke lesson there. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.’ He stood up and held out his hand.
Marin hesitated. Should she stand too? No. She took his hand and it was actually rather comfortable just to stare at his Fyrey, amused, squirrelly eyes.
'Don’t forget your shirt, Lawrence.’ James picked it up and poked some of it into his friend’s jacket pocket.
'Stop that, for heaven’s sake. You’re crushing a work of art.’ He looked at Marin again. 'It really was. Lovely meeting you.’At the doorway to Number 8, Lawrence turned and called. 'Um, I run Sargasso Books.’ He walked back towards her. 'Well, I say, run
Anyway, we have these nights, evenings, I mean, for, well all kinds of things really.’ He was suddenly struck with an idea. 'I have a card. Do you know, this is the first time I’ve ever remembered.’ He handed Marin his business card. 'You know, website, sales, events. Would be great to see you. At something.’'Thank you. Thanks, Lawrence. I’ll be sure to have a look.’
'Right. Well. Gotta go and buy some books. That’s not really what Sargasso, I mean the bookshop sells books. Naturally. The book dealing is something - ’
'Profitable?’ James pressed his lips together and got up.
'Anyway, Marin.’ Lawrence needed to finish. 'It’s been
Well, hasta

'Luego?’ Marin Strang felt her smile, actually felt it, filling up her bottom lip. And Lawrence Fyre felt it too.
'Absolutely.’His shaggy hair virtually grazed the door frame. So tall! What did his mother water him with.
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