Gerald Spokes was Sabrina’s landlord and lived in number three, across the hallway. His father had bought the faded Georgian townhouse after the war and converted the over-large rooms into single-bedroomed flats.
Sabrina had never married and couldn’t seem to keep a boyfriend for much longer than a season. They came and went with the blossom on the trees, the autumn leaves, and Christmas. Gerald had been blissfully married to a Norwegian girl for a year, until she started living half the week with one of Gerald’s cricketing friends. Gerald was old-school. He’d taken her belongings to his friend’s in the boot of his car and she’d never been back for her share of the furniture. After two years, Gerald assumed they were divorced. Still only in his early forties, a slim physique, penetrating, thoughtful eyes and a life of semi-leisure dabbling in antique clocks, Gerald had since had a couple of girlfriends, but they hadn’t matched his ex-wife for beauty, wit and sexual pathfinding.
When Sabrina answered the ‘flat for rent’ advertisement in the local newspaper, she told Gerald that she was an “entrepreneur”. She’d been unable to provide proof of earnings.
‘P.A.Y.E. and payslips are for ordinary people,’ she said. ‘I pay myself dividends, as and when.’
Gerald had asked for a reference from her accountant or bank manager.
‘I do my own accounts and I don’t “bank”,’ she said. ‘I re-invest.’
She offered to pay the rent in cash, opened her handbag and shown him three months up front money in new twenty-pound notes. The fact that the flat had been un-let for months, and the proximity of Sabrina’s attractive face and figure, had convinced Gerald to take a chance.
After the first three months, her rental payments had become sporadic. Gerald had to repeatedly ask, and once he’d even had to write a letter. Although the chasing irritated him, Sabrina had always managed to catch up, and they remained on good terms. They chatted whenever they met on the stairs, or in the residents-only car-park, and neither bothered the other with late-night noise. On a couple of occasions, Sabrina had invited Gerald over for dinner. On both evenings she’d served chicken.
That morning they’d bumped into each other by the wheelie-bins.
‘I’m cooking a chicken dinner again tonight, Gerald. Would you like to join me?’
Sabrina articulated “chicken dinner” as though it was the most potent aphrodisiac known to man. She rolled her eyes slightly and licked her lips. The first time, when she’d said “chicken dinner” in such a sultry, breathless way, he’d expected a masterpiece of the culinary arts. However, it had turned out to be an ordinary roast chicken with roast potatoes, two veg, stuffing and gravy. Gerald’s mother, now deceased, had cooked the same dish every other Sunday for half a century.
‘That would be lovely,’ he said. ‘Thank-you. Anything I can bring?’
‘A bottle of wine if you want one.’ Sabrina didn’t drink alcohol. She made her own vegetable smoothies. He was pleased he didn’t have to share his wine, or the smoothies.
‘See you at seven,’ she said as she unlocked her car.
He went back inside knowing with certainty what to expect after that evening’s chicken dinner. She would tell him that she was going to be late with the rent.
Gerald sat on a high stool at the tiny island unit, drinking his wine and watching Sabrina shuffle around the kitchen. She had a slippery, short-paced way of walking that reminded him of a Japanese geisha-girl. While she basted the roasting bird, she brought him up to date with her toe-ring business.
‘Toe-rings are going to be massive, Gerald,’ she said, ‘everyone is running out of fingers.’
He looked at his own hands. He still had ten free.
‘I’m not talking so much about men, Gerald,’ she said, ‘although I am designing a range of male toe-rings.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone without socks.
‘I’m outsourcing my manufacturing base to Albania,’ she said as she slid the chicken back into the oven.
Sitting next to Gerald was the Archangel Jegudiel. He was a life-sized manikin who Sabrina dressed traditionally in a white cassock with gold trim on the cuffs. Sabrina was a passionate believer in the seven Archangels and positioned them at strategic points around her flat. The Archangel Jegudiel was the guardian of Sabrina’s earthbound body; the food and drink she absorbed. In the bathroom was a doll-sized replica of the Archangel Uriel who checked Sabrina’s bodily excretions for evil spirits.
Gerald was entranced by her long black hair as she made the gravy; it looked like liquid ink as it splashed down to her waistline. It was the kind of hair he wanted to drown his mouth into and inhale.
She told him that she was a gravy expert. He watched her as she geisha-shuffled around him with a cup full of flour and her secret mix of herbs and spices to stir into the meat juices. In the evening, she liked to relax in tracksuits, although he wasn’t sure there was sufficient room for any track events in her collection of pastel-coloured tops and trousers. That evening she was wearing a sky blue towelling tracksuit that clung to her every contour.
‘We’ll take trays into the living room,’ she said. ‘Can you move Sealtiel down the sofa?’
‘Remind me about Sealtiel,’ he said, lifting a huge rag-doll.
‘Archangel Sealtiel guards the windows and doors against malevolent intruders,’ Sabrina shouted above the noise of banging saucepans. Gerald noticed that Sabrina had fashioned tiny silver rings for Sealtiel’s celestial toes.
Over the chicken dinner, she told him more about her new venture.
‘I’m going to have display-cases made in the shape of feet,’ she said. Sell the idea to chains of jewellery shops. They get the display-case free with every thousand pounds worth of toe-rings ordered.’
Gerald worried about the initial outlay on foot-shaped cases and payment of her rent.
‘Heavenly gravy, Sabrina’ he said.
‘Gerald, after dinner, would you mind if I had a bath?’
‘Not at all. I’ll do the dishes.’
‘You’re so sweet. I’ll put on some of my angel music for you to listen to.’
As he ran hot water in the sink and she ran hot water in the bath, he wondered where the evening was heading. She was a beautiful woman. Was he meant to wander into the bathroom? It would be horribly embarrassing, and creepy for her, if he turned the door-handle and it was locked. This month’s rent was due. Was she going to mention it? In the past, a chicken dinner signalled two week’s arrears.
Sabrina returned to the kitchen, steaming slightly and smelling of how Gerald imagined an Archangel would smell; lavender and warm milk. All she was wearing was an extra-large t-shirt and a ring on every toe. Gerald dried the last knife and fork.
‘Gerald, come into the bedroom and meet my two new Archangels, Barachiel and Gabriel,’ she said, putting her hand on his shoulder and turning him towards her.
‘They guard my dreams and fertility.’
He followed her and admired the two giant teddy-bears propped up against the pillows. Sabrina got onto the bed and lay down between them. Gerald took off his shoes, gently lifted Barachiel onto the floor, and lay down beside her. After a bottle of wine to himself, he had to concentrate on the ramifications of his and her next moves. There was Sabrina’s hair he’d like to lose himself in, and there was little sign of anything being worn under her t-shirt. Would he be inescapably drawn into the toe-ring business? He didn’t particularly want a new flat mate, nor the hassle of finding a new tenant. How could he send her a letter chasing rent if they made love?
Sabrina rolled onto her side facing him. He heard the delicate clicking of her toe-rings as her feet agitated closer to his. Gerald searched Gabriel’s glassy eyes for a message.
Steven John’s writing has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, Spelk, Fictive Dream, EllipsisZine and Best Microfiction Anthology 2019 and 2020, among others. He’s won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record seven times. From 2018-20 he served as Senior Fiction & Special Features Editor at New Flash Fiction Review. Steven lives in The Cotswolds, England.
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