The bench was in the most inappropriate place. Practically the middle of the street but she didn't care. Cath' folded her legs beneath her, pressing her calves into the August warmed wood beneath her long, green skirt. She hunched more deeply over her book, blocking out the buzz of hurrying crowds of shoppers. they were like so many flies around a cadaver. With their sun glasses on and sweat forming dark islands on fat men's backs. They came in swathes as well. They were all walking in the same direction as if they were pre-programmed. All going towards the sea. She allowed long tails of salt clenched hair to drop over the sides of her face, putting a barrier against the tabloid tourist crowds.
She caught sight of him for the first time as a flash. Black all over, like a crow, flying against the stream of people.
The bench gave as someone sat down beside her and she looked up from her work. Bald, fifty-something, wearing a sweat drenched, blue, striped T-shirt. He pulled out a tabloid that was unmissbaly so. Breasts all over the place. Shaking her head she turned back to the joys of Latin Grammar.
There was the unmistakeable hiss of leather just to her left. she tried to keep reading but she couldn't help herself. Her concentration was broken. A single, curious glance could hurt nobody. She tossed her hair back casually and tilted her ehad to get a better view. Her heart spasmed. He was looking back. Not furtively, as she was attempting to; a full stare. She fixed her eyes on him, expecting him to turn away. At least...she presumed he was looking at her. He was wearing very dark glasses, his eyes could easily be closed. The coat that had made the delightful sound was full length and trailing on the floor. The toe and silver buckle of a black boot could be seen poking out from beneath its hem. His skin was pale but his hair was black, waxed into short spikes. She couldn't discern age but she was sure that his goatie was making him look older than he actually was. Despite the midday heat, his skin appeared as dry and smooth as a cream cracker. His skin had the window putty consistency of a natural comedian. Before he opened his mouth she judged him as either unbearably morose or unbearably witty.
Her legs cramped up. Murmering an 'excuse me' she uncrossed them and streched them out, scraping the soles of her bare feet across the cobbles. Leather coat man streched suddenly across her and tapped balding man on the shoulder.
"Urm...Would you mind if I had a look at your paper for a bit? It's turned into a 'Corfe'. "
The holiday maker winced up from his bright paper with the big pictures and very little writing.
"It's a 'Corfe'."
Balding man frowned.
"That's a place near Swanage."
"It's also a noun that describes what your paper's turned into because I want to read it, well look at the pictures more closely, just because it doesn't belong to me."
The holiday maker promptly pushed his comic back into his plastic bag and scurried away, without looking back. Leather coat man shrugged and sighed. He got to his feet.
"Are you from around here?"
Cath' heard her own voice appear in the air without her willing it to. He turned quickly toward her, as if he'd only just noticed her existence.
"No I'm not. Are you?"
"Sort of, I'm a student."
"That's what I meant."
He stood, pulling at his lapels so that the shoulders of his coat dropped forward.
"Aren't you a bit warm in a trench coat?"
"You haven't seen what I'm wearing under it."
Cath's face dropped. Then he laughed in a genuine manner. She permitted herself an embarrassed smile.
"What are you reading?"
"Nothing that would interest you, I'm sure."
She pulled thirty pounds worth of Latin grammar to her chest and covered the front with her knees. He went to sit down. aS he did so he whipped his coat back. She saw something metallic flash at his waist. Her body tensed. She could almost feel adrenalin trickling from blood to muscle.
"I'm undeniably intrigued."
"I wish I was as intrigued as you with the functions of the ablative case and how to form a masculine superlative."
"Now I really am curious. What fantastic polysyllabic words."
"They're just grammatical terms."
Cath' shifted up the bench, away from him.
"I'm sorry. Am I bothering you in any way?"
"Not at all."
"I think I am."
"Well, you're not. I'm fine."
He smiled with the corner of his mouth. Then looked at his hands.
"I don't have to stay."
"I suppose not...You're carrying...weaponary."
She poked a finger in the general direction of his waist.
He grinned and wobbled his head into a nod.
"So that I never need it."
She stuck out her bottom lip and nodded as she considered.
"What is it?"
"No it's really good. I'd show you but you know..."
He waved a hand at the passers-by.
"I couldn't persuade you to swap whatever you're reading for 'The Meaning of Liff', could I?"
"I can't tell you how tempting that sounds but I need to learn this by tommorow."
"At least tell me what it is."
"It's a Lating grammar text book."
"I must be missing something, then."
"If you're a necromancer."
"You can speak to dead Romans."
They both nodded at each other. Cath' looked the other way and laughed.
"No I'm not."
"You like me."
"No I don't."
"What do you think of me, then?"
Cath' looked back at him begging him not to seriously expect her to answer that question with a twitch of her eyebrows. He prompted her, raising his own.
"I've only known you for a few minutes."
"You've already decided a lot about me, though. For example, you decided that I was the kind of person that you wanted to have a conversation with, I can prove that much. I can speculate that you have an opinion."
"I do indeed but why would you want to know if it means nothing? If you know who you are then a stranger's opinion should be of no consequence let alone of interest."
"If we all thought like that, how would we obtain conversation?"
"I must admit, I've never had a conversation like this before."
There was a pause. The crowd continued to buzz but the universe felt like it was observing silence for Cath'. He removed his sun glasses and pulled his coat across his lap to find the pocket. She curled up tighter, feeling chill.
"Q.E.D." He mocked quietly.
Her discomfort mutated into offence. She opened her book firmly and pretended to read.
"Have we just had our first argument?"
She did not look up. She hoped that he wouldn't just leave now. She clenched her back teeth and absorbed herself in learning how to decline hic, haec, hoc. To her delight he reamined. As if he were part of the bench.
"Don't you have things to do? Like work or something?"
She shook the cover of her book at him.
He wrapped his palm around her wrist and pulled the book down so he could see the page that hse was studying.
"I know a really awful joke about hic, haec, hoc." He promised.
"I'm quite sure that it would be impossible to know one that was funny. This book is about as dull as...something very dull."
Cath' pulled her arm away.
"Leave me alone, I'm trying to study."
"What,alone with all these people?"
"Your the only one bothering me."
"You leave then."
She closed her book and bit the side of her tongue before saying:
"I was here first."
"Yeah, but you're ugly."
"No I'm not."
"Yes you are."
His eyes glittered against the sun. Cath' struck out with her heavy text book and landed a blow on the back of his neck.
"You think this is funny, don't you?"
"I certainly didn't think that was."
He reached his hand beneath his coat and placed it on the ornamental hilt.
"You don't scare me."
"I have to draw blood every time it comes out of the scabbard."
"Stop smiling in that case. I'm leaving now."
He put his hand on her knee.
"No, you're not."
"You can't draw that thing here. Everyone would see. you'd be arrested."
"I'm very fast."
No one seemed to have noticed their private war. Pigeons pattered at thier feet scraping for invisible slivers of Cornish pasty. She turned her attention to their futile but energetic pecking, hammering at crumbs. As she looked down another minced into her line of view. It was different. There were black bits on it. Emotion melted into curiosity. She squinted closer and then she realised. Her mouth dropped open involuntarily as she raised her hand to point.
"What about it?"
"Hadn't you noticed, before?"
She looked up from the pigeon and back again and then settled on him, in the hope that his expression might reveal something.
"You say that as if all pigeons wore a mini-corset and miniature stockings." She gagged unable to believe the sense of the words.
"That's Sam the sexy pigeon. He's mine."
"Aren't you going to pick him up?"
"No he'll go home when he's ready."
Her stomach seemed to have left the normal space that it occupied and risen up her throat, several inches.
"You're pale, you're shaking." He added.
He put his arm around her shoulders. Cath's hunched and shrunk.
"I said I was going."
"Don't, it's ok."
"I can go if I want."
"No you can't. We've reached the end of the line and you didn't bother to buy a return ticket."
He removed his arm. At first she didn't notice. There was a hiss as the final few inches slid from the scabbard. He laid the mirror sharp silver band of metal across his lap.
"You see. No one even looked around. It looks like I'm just going to show you the sword."
"You've got a nerve."
"If they even notice...They probably don't think it's real. Don't believe their eyes. Cross over on the other side. You didn't want to though, did you?"
Cath' looked down. Putting her feet on the floor, her knees together, her hands clutching the bench either side of her.
"You wanted weird. Now, here you have it. How do you like it?"