I Met Him on the Stairs

I met him on the stairs. I should have waited longer. At first I thought that maybe he hadn’t seen me. He was at the turn of the second floor landing, his hand on the heavy swing door that separated the stairs from the lobby. The lift doors could just be seen through the gap that he had made. Beyond, was his flat. I didn’t want to think of that.
He appeared distracted, his eyes fixed on something I could not see, his head to one side. He looked like he might have been in the process of either coming in or going out. He was waiting for me, of course, but I wasn’t to know that.
The suddenness with which I stopped, along with the rush of adrenalin that caused my stomach to clench, threatened to unbalance me.
He let the door swing back with a bang. I jumped. To retrace my steps was pointless – he already knew that I was there and anyhow, where could I go? It was already past six and mum would do her nut if I was late for dinner again. Strands of part- dried hair snagged inside my sports shirt. I let them be.
“Did you say anything?” The baldness of the question took me by surprise.
“No.”
“Where have you been?”
“Swimming club.”
“Thought so,” eyes flicking to my hair.
I only had one more flight to climb. Shifting my bag higher onto my shoulder, I started forward again past the turn of the stairs where he was standing. The barrier of his arm was sudden – hard against my belly.
Spindles of light from the landing window cast zebra stripes across his face. I couldn’t read his expression.
“Are you sure you didn’t tell?”
“I told you, no!” I was angry with the tears that were pricking my eyes.
Distant street sounds teased through the half open fan light above our heads. The squeak of a wheelie bin and the bump it made as it mounted the curb.
I pushed forward and felt his arm brace. He grabbed my wrist - the pulse beating out a ragged rhythm where his thumb pressed hard into the soft flesh.
“Come over later,” he muttered, hot breath close to my ear.
“I can’t. I have homework.”
His grip slackened. The forefinger of his other hand traced the curve of my jaw coming to rest on the still damp aertex at the base of my throat.
“Come over later.”
He knew. Today would be no different.
“Yes.”

 

Wendy Clarke

 

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