“You’re getting good at that.”
Paula was cutting the ends of the sausage rolls but there was an easiness about the way she wielded the knife. She was deft as fuck. She didn’t saw at them, you know? She just pressed the blade in, pulled it back it one fluid motion and swept the knife sideways to separate the parts and then she moved onto the other end but it was all one precise movement. “You ever thought about becoming a top chef?”
“No,” she replied, positioning another sausage roll and expertly dispatching it. She was in the zone.
“Well you should definitely think about it.” I thought about asking Paula to show me how to cut the ends off. Was that believable? Get myself into a sort of Ghost pottery scenario? But I’d be at the front with her behind me, that was no good.
It was raining like crazy outside and I was glad to be at work.
“How’s your mum? Or dad? And dad?” I asked hoping for a one word answer.
Paula looked up at me. “Do you really want to know?” She asked. Her eyes all anime.
“Nope, not really,” I said and stared at the sausage roll. Her knife had paused above it and after a moment she slammed the blade down, right in the middle of it.
“Nice one, dumba-“
Paula chopped wildly at the sausage roll, crumbs were going everywhere. She was dicing the thing. I took a step back. I was going to walk in reverse all the way to my counter and wait until Paula had got herself under control but after one step she’d stopped chopping and dropped the knife which clattered onto the counter. She was like a clockwork toy that didn’t last very long despite you winding it – over-winding it really – it until it clicked a few times. She leant on the counter top, her hands splayed on each side of the big fucking mess she’d made. Her head hung down.
“You’re not crying are you?” I asked. I hoped she wasn’t, can’t deal with that. She shook the top of her head at me. “Is it Wellington?” Please say it’s Wellington. She shook her head and I approached her and patted her on the shoulder. She didn’t look up. “Cheer up, mate!” I said as brightly as I could and then her shoulders started shaking and I laughed along too. “Ah, you got me there!” I said and she looked up and she was crying. “Oh, Paula!” I said. That was all I had. No it wasn’t, I had more. “It’ll be okay!” I said.
“You know, do you?” She asked, her face a picture of despair.
Jesus, I was just talking. It was a figure of speech. “Well…” I said and Paula hung her head again. I went around to her side of the counter. “Yeah, it’ll all be absolutely fine, I guarantee it,” I said rubbing her back. Her back was warm, her shirt was soft and her bra strap was right there. “It’ll be fine,” I said. Paula suddenly turned to me and hugged me. I continued to rub her back, I could probably move my hand… Nah, I kissed the top of her head.
Why did I do that?
God knows, for some fucking reason, that’s why, and my lips instantly started burning. I tried to lick the burning off but then my tongue was covered with hairspray or gel or whatever it is Paula puts on her hair to make it hard. I scraped my tongue with my teeth but it had no effect, my mouth still tasted of Bophal.
Oh my God! The fuck? I looked like our dog when he got peanut butter stuck to the roof of his mouth. “Okay then, mate,” I said prising Paula off me. I had to actually grab her upper arms and prise them off me. “Pull it together,” I said. “It’s probably going to be fine,” I added with cold calculation. See, I downgraded my earlier guarantee to a probably. Just in case. I’m not a doctor.
Paula walked to the bathroom. I tried to think of something else to say but she’d gone in before I’d had time to formulate anything. I looked at the bathroom door for a beat and then headed down to my counter, needing a drink so bad. Enrique’s behatted head popped out from around the end of the aisle like a confusing target in a shooting gallery.
“Did chu touch dem?” he asked. He was licking his lips but not because he’d eaten a load of chlorofluorocarbons like I had, he was licking his lips simply because he’s horrid.
“Jesus, Enrique,” I said, shaking my head and walking past him.
“So you deen’t touch dem,” he said, following me.
“Dude, one or other of her parents are dying!” I said and then heard Paula wail, she’d left the bathroom but not for long. I winced as I heard the lock click. I looked at Enrique and gave him a look-what-you’ve-done kinda stare.
“Chu no touch dem.”
“No I-a-no-a-fucking-a-touch-a-dem,” I said doing his voice perfectly.
“H’oh boy,” said Enrique rubbing his hands together. ” I ween, Imma like-a get seven pounds.”
“I’ve got until five, asshole,” I said staring down the aisle. I’d have called it off if he didn’t look so fucking smug and happy. “You greasy fucking asshole,” I added but I wasn’t nearly as confident that I could win the bet as I had been.