Sitting cross-legged, waiting patiently, he looked across the room. He had been waiting for quite some time, but then time was immaterial for some things.
In the opposite corner sat Madelie. Short-cropped, raggedly cut black hair that paled her face. Each of her full lips was reddened from being sucked in between her teeth and pressed, thoughtlessly, until the pain automatically rejected that lip and her listlessness sucked in the other to repeat the process.
She sighed again and put a hand to the gold stud in her ear, thumb pressing on the pin at the back and index finger rubbing on the jade stone at the front. She pulled at the lobe, cartilage strained and at that stress she stopped. Pushed both hands down into the large bean-bag she was sitting on and with the rushing sound of the polystyrene balls shifting in the giant bag she stood up from cross-legged to vertical in one swift, decisive action. Madalie looked over to the corner at the silent figure waiting patiently for her.
“Okay, you win.” she felt like a little girl again, defiantly doing what she knew she should but pretending to herself it was under coercion. She ignored the figure as she stomped past and into her bedroom. The noise of her dragging drawers open and slamming them shut. Wardrobe door slid with a crash into it’s recess and back again a few seconds later. She muttered to herself as she struggled into the purple T-shirt, catching it’s neck on an earring with a squeal in her hurry and temper. She sat on the bed to put feet into tight trousers and as she raised them up, standing, in order to pull them tight to the crutch and over her hips. She did not check herself in the mirror but grabbed the black hooded fleece and strode out of the room. In the passageway she stopped and bent slightly as she put the two ends of the zip together and pulled the tag to her chin then lowered it an inch.
She felt eyes on her but ignored the feeling, using her anger as a shield, walked, blinkered to where her boots lay tumbled on the floor. Pulled them on. Stamped each foot into place and stood still, captured by the frame of the window and the scorched orange curtains presenting the view outside. It was empty. Still empty. Still and empty, not even a dog sniffing at the bins. The street was flat and calm, the houses opposite were mostly black and gaunt windowed. Two houses had zinc plates shuttering their windows and where their front doors. Behind this first parade, above their roofs, was layered, row over row of slated rooves as the streets stepped up the hill behind. Each terrace threading, curving round the hill, held some forty houses, all linked by their grey black spines and cherry red bricks. Madalie saw them as giant dragons, red scaled and grey winged, waiting.
Waiting for what? She had no idea. She looked down the road and at the green motte that seemed to straddle the end of the road, the end of the town. It used to be her magic mountain. Her black slag of a mountain with spiders creeping along their thin silken threads to hover over the peak and then rewind their way back down as others followed and completed their own obeisance before retreating to the lower station.
The mountain dream was gone but the dragons lay there still.
Why should he say anything? She knew all she needed, would do what she would. He may seem indifferent, others might say ‘kismet’ or at a push compassionate but he did not believe in such things. Why not drag others into the equation? Why bother? He was just being himself, sitting in the corner. Being.
Madalie grimaced at the silent dragons and spun round from the window. As she moved the sun slipped into a window opposite and the reflection, like a flashing eye, caused an amber glint in her own. She folded her arms and stood briefly as a living statue. The door, the front door with its shimmered glass, waited for her decision.
“No thinking, just do it.”
With a burst of determined energy she moved to and opened the door wide, stepped back and picked up the statuette from the floor and scooped it with both arms to secure it. Out on the step she had to twist round and stretch out a hand to finger-grab the inside lip of the letterbox to pull the door closed. The statuette slipped and she had to catch it as its weight seemed to increase. The same energy pushed her down the short path and through the old brick columns that used to support the long-gone gate and turned her up the slightly inclined footpath. Madelie, arms crooked round the heavy body, walked briskly up the slope and the low sun followed her from along the top of the dragon’s spines.
The sun had any warmth knocked out as she walked up the hill, “North, to the mountains”, she spoke, habitually, as she pushed herself at speed up the steepening slope. “Well, it used to be”, she corrected herself. This, as she walked past the old mid-terrace with its wooden name board and its poker-burned words: ” Khatmandu”.
Many years ago when the miner’s terraces were first built some young and eager couple had re-imagined the view of the slag-heap. Time had passed and the houses and the people had aged and crumpled. The sign was split and black from years of weather and coal-dust; each letter, once indented, was now sealed with the grime of a lifetime. Madelie, as a child had always skipped past this house with its mysterious far-away name and had joined in the imagination of that unknown family. She too had dreamily seen those distant snow-capped mountains climbing into the clouds. “And now there’s a grassy lump, pretty but grassy!”
She hesitated and readjusted her grip. Her fingers, now cold, slipped on the curves and the weight pressed onto her hip uncomfortably like an overweight child. The weight, the cold and the hill had slowed her. She stopped, pulled it up so the head of the statue tucked under her chin and shrugged it tighter to her chest then was off again, trying to regain her earlier momentum, determination.
The terrace leaned round the hill and Madalie followed. The sun descended behind the sleeping dragons as she struggled onward. Nearly there and the weight in her arms was almost too much. Numbed hands with the chill wind and now cracking lips while the fixed hug forced the golden shoulder into her heart, or so it felt. She stopped where the light flooded out of the window, washed through the open door. One final hesitation and she stepped through the space and into open area of the take-away. The blue fly-catching light perched above the shelf on the wall and flickered towards the shelf full of sundries. Bottles of vinegar, cans of drink, jars of pickled onions and boxes of cheap serviettes lined along it.
A television sat on the high counter offering soundless soap stories. Newspapers of the day lay half read beside it. At the other end of the counter was a calendar propped against the wall next to a pale circle on the surface of the plastic.
The owner looked up at the young woman rushing to the counter and smiled.
Madelie hoisted the statue and manoeuvred him into his old position next to the calendar. She hadn’t meant to cry, it was the chill wind as she rounded the corner. Setting him at his accustomed position she stood and left her frozen hands adrift on the counter. Madelie Carew turned her head to the woman before her, blinked to focus and shook slightly, shook her head disbelievingly and managed to croak, “I stole him. I stole him? It just happened.”
She looked down at her hands, “I brought him back.” She bit her lip as she glanced across at the yellow face and green eyes that had watched her for the last few days, “I stole him.”
The old woman continued smiling and put one hand reassuringly on Madelie’s.
“No. He borrowed you.”