FICTION: Me and Mark by Elena Shalneva

Do you remember last night? Your face close to mine, my fingers stroking your cheek, the contour of your mouth. As I was drifting to sleep, my hand rested on the silky wave of your fringe. Who knew these last seconds before unconsciousness could be so sweet, so full of promise. It had been years since I could sleep – but then I met you.

Your handsome face, how different can it be. Full-lipped, boyish, insanely young when you are happy. Thin, angular when you are annoyed – or frightened. Remember your school reunion? When you saw the class bully again? You looked like a bird of prey, nose hooked, eyes glinting through narrow slits. But still beautiful, from every angle, from every shot. Like a chameleon.

Your eyes. When I first saw you, I thought they were brown, that dull colour of instant coffee, like you see in a crowd. But your eyes are blue – vivid blue, glistening blue – and they talk. This morning, when I was telling you about Bart’s new divorce case, they widened, glowed, bore into me.

This woman, Bart’s client, I’ve never seen a creature so perfect, although hordes of divorcing beauties parade in front of my bench every year. Her face has flawless symmetry, her skin is better than my wife’s when I had first met her. In the witness box, she pauses a lot, fixing her doll eyes at the gallery in a hard stare. No doubt a trick that Bart had taught her, to give her answers more weight. All his clients do this, the endless Chanel-handbagged brainless file of them. She wants five million, to feed her children. Otherwise, when the old cunt croaks, they will starve to death.

Now the husband is taking the stand. He says he has slept on the sofa for the past two years, while a magnificent body 30 years his junior was sprawled on satin sheets in the marital bed. In her Agent Provocateur best, no doubt. My wife liked Agent Provocateur, bought a lot of it when I started winning cases. My girlfriend was the opposite, putting on red suspenders in the office bathroom before screwing me in Palace Hotel was not her thing. By a stroke of mad luck, they had the same name, so there was no chance of being found out, in the thrusts of passion, for calling out the wrong one.

This morning, as I was leaving for court, you looked amused. You like my jokes about Bart, and how shallow he is, defending one trophy wife after another, listening to endless bitching about old cunts who run off with young whores and don’t pay up. He wins a lot of cases, and I respect him for that. But he won’t win this one, the slow-mo Olga’s. “Olga got accustomed to a certain lifestyle while married to her husband”, Bart argues on the stand. That’s the line my wife’s attorney had used ten years ago, and she got nothing from me in the end. Olga won’t find a job – this is what Bart should say –  not even filing papers or working the till. Noone will hire her, the woman is an empty shell, she can only pose and stare, like a prize cow. Was Bart too much of a sissy to suggest this, in case the lethargic Ukranian suddenly perked up and smashed his face in? Tomorrow, I will rule for the husband. Bart will turn into a daytime stoner, sitting in his large purple chair the whole day, head tilted to one side, staring at the wall. But the moment the next divorcee knocks on his door, he will spring back to life, like a pound-store Phoenix. He is a simple creature, Bart, he lives life from one case to another.

I want you to meet Bart. I mock him, but he is the closest that I have to a friend. And I confess, I want to show you off.

The whole morning without you. Court clerk puts some papers on the bench, I try to read them, but it’s a blur, letters zoom in and out, lines jump on top of each other. Bart’s booming voice hovers over me like vapour, gold digger’s squeaks crush into it and break it into small pieces. Just ten more minutes of this crap, then the break. I almost run to the chambers, I pull out my phone. Now, for the whole hour, I will be with you.

Your body tightens when you are uneasy, shrinks even, you look smaller, older. Did this tall guy in black-rimmed glasses upset you? And who is this guy?

That’s him again. But your face is not tense any more: it’s open, relaxed, luminous. I swipe to the left – another picture. You are looking at him, longing in your eyes. Another swipe, more pictures of the black glasses. With you. Now you are holding hands. You are glowing. You look stunning. You look in love.

Tonight, I will whisper in your ear again, tell you all about my case, and how I sneered at Bart’s remarks, and how I pissed him off. We will laugh together. Then I will stroke your neck, kiss your cheeks, press my lips against your forehead. So hard that silver ripples will scatter on the screen, like rain drops on a lake. Tonight, if you post some more pictures on your timeline, I will get to know you better. Perhaps I’ll be happy, perhaps I’ll be puzzled, perhaps I’ll be jealous. But for now, I know that your name is Mark, and that your hair is the colour of ripe wheat. And when, night after night, you lie on the pillow next to me and I stroke your Facebook photo, I sleep really well.

Elena Shalneva

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Elena Shalneva is a London-based journalist and literary critic. Elena writes a regular column on management and office politics for City AM and literary reviews for Standpoint Magazine. Elena was born in Moscow and grew up in the US. She has a Ph.D. in Germanic philology from Moscow State University.

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Read Elena’s previously published short stories below:

Maria’s Party

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Come With Me

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The Guincho Beach

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