“What a wonderful meal and a wonderful evening. Thank you Dot. I really enjoyed it,” said Jonathan, after paying the taxi driver. They were standing on the pavement outside Maple Court in the drizzle. Dot walked over to have a look through her shop window to make sure everything was secure.
“Do you enjoy running the deli, Dot?” asked Jonathan, turning up his jacket lapels against the rain.
“It’s my life now. I’m used to it. It suits me,” she said in a fairly non-committal way before stepping back and stumbling. Jonathan caught her before she fell.
“Are you alright?” he asked as she steadied herself.
“I think I’m a bit tiddly, Jonathan, but in a very, very nice way. Would you like to come in for a drink?” Before Jonathan could answer, Dot lunged at him in a clumsy attempt to make lip contact but Jonathan turned away and only suffered a lipstick smear on his cheek. Dot had no idea how clownish she looked with her smudged mouth. Jonathan stifled a laugh.
“Pardon you, have you got wind?” asked Dot, mistaking Jonathan’s muffled noises for something else entirely. “If you have, I’ll buy you a kite.” With that little joke, Dot nearly collapsed in a cackling fit of the giggles.
“I’ll come in and make us a coffee,” said Jonathan, taking Dot by the arm and leading her into the building.
Jonathan couldn’t remember the last time he was in Dot’s flat but on opening the door, he noticed the smell of stale cigarettes but he wasn’t aware that Dot smoked. At the restaurant, she was not one of the ebb and flow crowd moving to and from tables to front entrance to light up. Dot flopped onto the sofa and Jonathan went to the kitchen to make some coffee.
“I’ll get us two large brandies,” shouted Dot.
“Just a small one for me, Dot,” responded Jonathan, as he returned to the lounge carrying two mugs. He stopped in mid-step as he watched at Dot, now barefoot, at the drinks cabinet. She was still a little unsteady as she poured the drinks, spilling a little on the floor. From her mouth, a Gitane cigarette dangled, making her look both chic and shambolic. Jonathan noticed a blob of ash falling into one of the glasses.
“I didn’t know you smoked, Dot,” said Jonathan as they both sat down on the sofa.
“You’re not going to give me a health lecture, are you?” Dot was staring at Jonathan in a rather serious way.
“Oh no. It was just an observation. I’ve not seen you smoking before, that’s all.”
Dot put the brandy glass to her lips and despite Jonathan’s attempts to point out the floating ash, she downed the drink in one gulp. “The reason I smoke, if you must know, is out of protest. For years, my once darling Bill insisted that I did not smoke in his company, especially in the apartment. He got so angry on one occasion that he smashed an ashtray against a wall. So now that the bastard has gone, I smoke in this flat and only in this flat as my little way of sticking two fingers up at him. Could you get me another brandy, please and don’t tell me that I’ve had enough?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” thought Jonathan to himself.
“Do you do any little protest things since your wife left you, Jonathan?”
“Hmmm, let me think, I suppose it’s stuff that I don’t really think about. I mean I leave the washing up longer that I used to and I leave the newspapers in a mess, especially after I have cut out all the bits I save to read later and I watch The Rockford Files instead of having to pretend to watch and enjoy the soaps. We used to do that together with our dinners on our laps. Daft stuff like that, inconsequential, trivial and, probably selfish.”
Jonathan handed Dot her brandy. Her hand touched his and she looked at him with wide, almost pathetic eyes. Jonathan pulled a slightly puzzled face.
“Jonathan,” said Dot with a mild slur, “would you sleep with me tonight?”
Jonathan changed from puzzled to surprised. “Now, now Dot, what are you saying?”
“Well, if you wouldn’t sleep with me tonight, do you think I’m an attractive enough woman to share a bed with?” Dot looked at Jonathan, her eyes blinking rapidly in an attempt to make her look more sober than she actually was.
“Dot, you are a very attractive lady and you would be a great catch for any man, but I don’t think it’s right for us to be discussing something like this whilst we’re under the influence of wine and brandy. This is the kind of talk that causes regrets the next morning. Besides, I’m up for building a wonderful friendly relationship but I am not inclined to consider a long-term commitment, not just to you but to anyone, at least for the moment. Am I making sense?” Jonathan turned round and looked at a sleeping Dot, brandy glass titled in a risky spilling position. He walked over, took the glass from her. She opened her eyes and smiled a sleepy smile.
“Let’s get you to bed,” said Jonathan. He took her hand and helped her up.
“You are a very confused man, Mister Jonathan,” whispered Dot, “and I will get you one day.”
Dot flopped on the bed and Jonathan pulled the duvet over her. Now she was fast asleep. He kissed her on the forehead, turned out the lights and tiptoed out of her apartment.
On his way upstairs, he looked over to the second floor flat where his wife was living with Chico. He stopped for a moment and put his ear to the door. He had no idea what he thought he might hear, talking perhaps, arguing, music, lovemaking, but all he heard was silence. He jerked his head back a little and whispered aloud, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He carried on upstairs, wondering if he should have accepted Dot’s bedroom invitation and trying to analyse why he had stuck his ear to Annie’s door. He ignored the whining dog noise as he walked into his own apartment. Before he closed his eyes to sleep, he lay in bed and concluded that, in a world of unwelcome and unexpected complications, it was impossible for anyone to live a simple life.