FICTION: The Lost Girl by Stan Riley

1

Three women sitting at a table in a pub, and the first one, the youngest, says: “I had a bit of a weird one the other night. Right strange, he was.”

“Strange how?” asks the second.

“Well, I’m upstairs in the room, and he comes in and shuts the door. But when he turns round and looks at me he kind of stops and jerks back, as if he’s had a bit of a shock. So I says to him, ‘It’s all right, darling, you’ll be all right. No need to be scared.’

“And he says, ‘I’m not scared.’ But he still carries on standing where he is.

“So I says, ‘Come and sit down over here on the bed. It’ll be all right.’ And he comes over and sits on the edge of the bed, though not near me. And he just carries on sitting there, not doing anything, but he’s kind of giving me these quick, shifty little looks.”

“What was he, a bit mental?” asks the second.

“ No, nothing like that. He was the respectable sort. Middle-aged, business type. Anyway, I says to him, I says, ‘What’s the problem, love?’

“And he says, ‘You remind me of someone.’

“‘Someone nice?’ I says.

“‘And he waits a while then says, ‘You remind me of my daughter’.

“‘Oh,’ I says. I mean, what can you say to that?”

The other two smile.

“Anyway, he tells me that I’ve got his daughter’s colouring. You know, the same hair, the same eyes, all that. Then he says, ‘I haven’t seen her for a long time. Years. But she’ll be about your age now.’

“‘How comes you haven’t seen her for so long?’ I asks him.

2

“’There were problems between us,’ he says. Though when I asks him about it he’s a bit cagey, he won’t say what kind of problems. ‘But it was my fault, really,’ he says. ‘It was all my fault.’

“Well, I don’t know what to say now, do I? So I moves along the bed to him and says, ‘Well, never mind about all that, it’s in the past. What would you like us to do now?’ So he waits a little while, and then, do you know what he says to me?”

“What?” they both ask.

“He looks me straight in the eye and he says, ‘Could you just hold me?’”

“Hold him?” says the third. “Hold him where?”

“No, just hold him,” says the first. “You know – like, a cuddle.”

“Sounds like a weirdo to me,” says the third. “Was he smelly?”

“No, no, like I said, he was respectable. Clean and smart. Had a suit on and everything. Anyway, I puts me arms around him and we’re sitting there on the edge of the bed, having a cuddle. It’s all a bit awkward and I’m, like, waiting for him to do something. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything. He just stays like that, cuddling me.”

“Was he doing anything to himself?” asks the third.

“No, nothing. It was just a cuddle. But then after a while I feel something on my back, kind of tickling me. At first I wonder what it is. But then I realise. It’s tears.”

“Tears? What, he was crying?” asks the second.

She nods. “I had that red dress on with the low back – you know, that nice one. And I could feel the tears on me, running down me back. Crying, he was, and making these sort of choking noises. Kind of like, sobbing.”

“Must have been doing something to himself,” says the third.

3

“No, I keep telling you, it wasn’t like that. He was just cuddling me. Holding me tight. And so I held him tight as well.” She takes a sip of her drink. “Then after a while he says in this choked-up voice: ‘I’m sorry.’”

“Sorry?” says the third. “But you said he didn’t do anything. What’s he sorry for?”

“I don’t know, but that’s what he said. Anyway, I says to him, ‘It’s all right, love.’ And I carry on cuddling him, and he’s clinging on to me tight, and crying a bit more.

“And then he says: ‘Please forgive me.’

“So I’m trying to think of what I should say to something like that. But then all of a sudden, I just come out and say it, without even thinking it. I say, ‘I forgive you.’

The second one frowns.  “What did you say that for?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t know. It just seemed like the right thing to say at the time, I suppose.”

The other two look at each other, then look back at her.

“Then what happened?” asks the third.

“Well, nothing really. He just holds me for a bit longer, and then he lets go, and he pulls back. But he doesn’t really look at me. Then he gets up, wipes his tears away and blows his nose, and just walks out of the room without saying a word. Doesn’t even look back at me. Just walks out. And that was it.”

“Have you seen him since?” asks the second.

The first one shakes her head. “I don’t reckon I’ll be seeing him again.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know,” she replies. “I just don’t think I’ll see him again, that’s all”

4

She takes a sip of her drink and looks down. She doesn’t say anything, but she has the feeling that there is something more to say about this, something that should be talked about, though she doesn’t know what. Then they start talking about something else, and very soon they’re laughing, and the feeling that she had just passes.

*

Stan Riley

Stan Riley is the author of numerous short stories, essays and plays, all of which have been met with universal acclaim from his mother. He enjoys basking in obscurity.

If you enjoyed The Lost Girl, leave a comment and let Stan know.

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