Admiration

Polly leaned forward. ‘Don’t look around, but he’s there again.’

She smiled and sipped her coffee. After a little while she moved her chair, one of those ubiquitous aluminium chairs, a little to one side so that she could see him in the reflection in the window beside the pavement.

There was nothing special about her. Not in her appearance, anyway. It had crossed her mind to wonder why she, rather than her friend, for instance, was attracting this man’s attention. She knew very well that Polly was far more attractive than she: Polly had the more glamorous hair, paid far more attention to her appearance and spent at least twice as much each year on clothing as she did. But there was no doubt at all that it was she who was the object of this man’s admiration.

They had been discussing the situation at the P&C, of which both were committee members. There had been a slight problem on the committee for some months, a matter of ego versus tradition: but wasn’t there always a slight problem at the P&C? And in any case, she knew, there was no way that either of them were going to make a difference to the outcome, and it wasn’t very important anyway.

She couldn’t decide if she was flattered or irritated by the attention of her admirer. Perhaps it was both. She and Polly met regularly for coffee on Thursdays, and for the last month he had been there too, sitting at the table closest to the road, reading a broadsheet paper and occasionally staring at her over the top of it.

She had no idea who he was. He looked nice. He dressed nicely in a casual style, generally in slacks and a checked shirt; sometimes, as the weather became colder, he would wear a pullover around his shoulders, tied loosely over his chest. His hair seemed to be receding at the sides, greying a little at the temples. He wore it short.

Losing interest in the P&C, she speculated on the attitudes she could adopt. She could ignore him, and see how long he would keep it up; or she could contrive to meet him somehow, say, joining him at the paydesk when he got up to pay. Or, if she felt really brave about it, she could simply get up and go and sit at his table... that would raise a few eyebrows, but why not? Polly, she thought, would most probably have chosen the latter, if it were her.

She had no intention of doing any of those things. Just as long as he didn’t bother her, why should she care? Besides, she decided, while it might be nice to have an admirer, she had no desire to complicate her life, a perfectly satisfactory life, with someone who could, after all, turn out to be rather less than interesting. It would take more than good looks and a bit of admiration to turn her head.

On the other hand...

As Polly prattled on, she let herself drift into her occasional daydream, the one where she woke up one day feeling completely different. The one where she left the house with only the clothes she was wearing, left her children who were, anyway, almost old enough to look after themselves, left Gerald who, though she still quite liked him, had become rather stuck in his own little rut... left all of that behind and went out to find adventure and a lover with whom she could indulge in all of those delicious but forbidden excitements before she was too old.

Polly was looking at her oddly. ‘Oh, sorry,’ she excused herself. ‘I was suddenly daydreaming.’

‘You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said, have you?’ Polly followed her eyes and saw that she had been staring at the reflection of the man behind the paper. A smile curled her lip. ‘You fancy him, don’t you?’

She laughed. ‘Not him, no. Maybe the idea of him, though.’

‘You little minx,’ her friend told her. ‘All this time being Miss Prissy Prissy, but secretly lusting...’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ she snapped, a little more vehemently than she had intended. ‘Well,’ she conceded, ‘perhaps just the tiniest bit.’ She laughed, ducking her head and hiding her mirth in her hand.

Her friend stiffened. ‘Shhh... he’s coming over.’

Her heart jumped. What would she do now? Surely he wouldn’t just...

He passed immediately behind her chair on his way to the paydesk. He didn’t look at her as he passed, didn’t hesitate, just reached into his pocket as he wove his way through the tables, taking out a handful of change and sorting it as he walked.

Her friend kicked her lightly under the table. ‘Go after him,’ she hissed, but she just turned and watched him as he walked away.

Polly was suddenly very serious. She could see it in her eyes, a recognition of reality, she who had indulged in more than a few affairs. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘Nothing ever matches a daydream.’