PAIRS (Part three)
Blog Posted:12/30/2011 9:25:00 AM
The pretty, red-haired bride had noticed the two people coming into the hotel because they had momentarily interrupted the wedding party’s interlude-laughter with an enquiry about whether the café was open at that time of day. She might not have recalled them but for her embarrassment at Malachy’s somewhat short answer to their questions. Strange to see people other than her wedding guests or the locals in the only hotel in Portaisling on a Sunday evening. Portaisling wasn’t the sort of place people passed through on their way to some other destination. Either you intended to be in Portaisling or you simply didn’t come into the village. These two were clearly intending to be there, as if by prearranged design of long-standing, Kate felt. Yet they did not know the place and it seemed as though it was simply a handy, if unfamiliar, rendezvous point. A kind of no man’s land. Their enquiries about food service answered, the two people had left the wedding party’s proceedings apologetically and disappeared from her sight down the short passageway to the café.
Five minutes later on her way to search for her wayward groom, Kate saw them again, getting seated in the café. Asking Bernie at the kitchen door if Malachy had been seen, she paused for a few moments and watched the two strangers through a gap in the curtain. These two absorbed her curiosity by the way they behaved towards each other. Their behaviour was cautious behind their immediate air of glad warm welcome, like two long lost siblings or acquaintances trying to feel each other out and establish whether the same rules applied now as did then, each anxious to please and avoid overt conflict. She wished fleetingly that Malachy could have some of this care. Their familiarity seemed to lack intimacy and was diluted with the extra politeness and solicitousness of strangers. The man seemed anxious to get his companion seated in a place where she would feel comfortable yet in enough light to observe her closely if discretely. Yet the choice of tables was limited in any case. Menus were picked up and items discussed in superficial terms as if it did not really matter what was ordered. This was a ritual meal like a wedding breakfast, an excuse to meet and talk. The woman seemed equally anxious to get close to him and check whether his appearance was genuine. Did he smell nice? Did he have clean nails? Kate instinctively knew all the small things that would tell a woman so much without the need for outright interrogation. The bride could easily see the eyes of the woman appraise him as he looked away at something in the room. Yet there was real concern underlying the woman’s need to explore. She was concerned for his comfort and continually asked if he was ok with this or that aspect of the table seat, the heating and so on . Neither of these two seemed to Kate to have any agenda beyond just being with the other person . They were there simply to meet, nothing else mattered. They were two halves of a whole unit, neither having any purpose in Portaisling without the other. No one would come to Portaisling without such a specific purpose. The place had no attraction in itself.
Through the glass door, Kate McGuire, or Kate Quinn as she was now to be known, watched the man looking at his companion as they conversed and how he made mental notes of her appearance, as if comparing it to some picture previously conceived. He sat very erect in his seat, as if he’d wished her to be a little smaller. The woman who had come in the blue Ford was about thirty five years old. She was slim and looked fit, almost athletic, showing not an ounce of spare flesh. Short hair cut in a business-like style accentuated her slim physique, and her nose bore tiny marks from the glasses she wore for distance work and driving. Her face had flawless skin and pale blue eyes set well apart under what could only be described as a thatch of short thick springy blonde hair with occasional streaks of whitish cream on one side of the parting. Her lips were sensual but held in check by years of understatement with no hint of lipstick and no teeth visible except when smiling. She wore no jewellery, and very little perfume, and her clothes were understatements not designed to impress. To Kate’s eyes, this woman had the appearance of being no stranger to hard work, and had large hands as if she was used to physical labour. She exuded an air of no nonsense but was warm and genuinely affectionate. She reminded Kate of her own mother, a woman carefully trying to steer a course through life
which would minimise damage to self and others, perhaps too careful and unwilling to take a plunge because of previous hurts. She was well-spoken with a studied air of precision in her speech like one who was used to talking to some audience which relied on her every word being clear, like a speech therapist or a lecturer. Her pale blue eyes looked thoughtfully at the menu and weighed the merits of each dish, and she asked his opinion at intervals. Kate idly wondered if she herself might resemble this woman in twenty years time, or more to the point whether she might resemble Bernie, since she’d be in the business of running of the hotel, pub and cafe then.