aralli: (procrastinate)
It’s warm and busy and slightly muggy at the back of the café, as the heat of so many warm bodies lifts the raindrops off coats and umbrellas and holds it in the air. Andrea feels crowded in by the press of humanity escaping the cold and the drizzle, with her sister’s handbag tucked in above her feet and the smells of coffee and hot paninis heavy in the air.

She’s got her own cappuccino, but is fiddling idly with it and letting the hot cup warm her hands rather than drinking it. Andrea is flushed with blood and remembering to breathe, and in this busy and public place it’s enough for her not to worry about her family noticing something’s up. The conversation is innocuous, even boring. The lies about her new job come far easier than she thought they would, and everyone’s far more interested in talking about Phantom of the Opera and singing lines than questioning the details of her story. Andrea starts to zone out as her father begins a story about the new gardening group at work, playing with her coffee cup and spoon.

At first, she just arranges sugar packets in triangles and checkered patterns. She takes her cup off the saucer, and idly, absently, places a folded napkin square on it. Just to mop up any spills, of course. And she slips one of the rectangular sugar packets under the edge of the saucer, so it’s a little triangle pointing out. And then Andrea goes back to seeing how many sugar packets she can fit on her spoon, or swirling her coffee to make patterns, or chasing the menu around the table.

She carries on talking about banal normality with her parents, watching their faces, smiling easily as if she’s just pleased to be in their presence.

Mum’s eyes flick over the alternating patterns of white and Demerara sugar packets, past the laden spoon, over the saucer and its ornaments. For a moment, her eyes widen, and her shoulders stiffen and narrow, tense up. It’s subtle, but Andrea’s been watching for it. It smoothes away again almost instantly – well, as smooth as the face of a woman in her fifties can get – and Andrea keeps her expression just as still as she sees a sliver of movement that suggests that, beneath the table, Mum is touching Dad’s hand.

Dad doesn’t break the conversation – they’re all going to grow vegetables and have some sort of competition at work – but his eyes go across, and there’s the same flicker of reaction, rapid and well-restrained, in her father’s face.

Oh hell.

Naomi doesn’t seem to notice anything; she’s switched off and is staring across the table at the other customers, people-watching.

A minute or so later, Andrea neatly puts the unopened sugar packets away, puts her cup back on her saucer, and changes the topic to how Raoul and the Phantom compared to the film versions in terms of physical attractiveness. This ropes Naomi back in, and the rest of the evening is a test of Andrea’s restraint. No hints. No careful wording that would have significance to those already in the know. No repeat of her clan symbol. Nothing.

Mum and Dad slowly relax.

The questions sit in Andrea’s breast like a warm and uncomfortable case of indigestion, and they’re just starting to burn as things wrap up. Andrea gives hugs all round, squeezes her family tight, and doesn’t come close to tears. No matter what Treads has said, this isn’t going to be the last time she sees them.

Those tiny, hidden responses fill her with dread. They also fill her with hope.
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aralli

November 2014

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