Len Maynard and Mick Sims – a writing duo known as Maynard Sims - have been published writers since 1974. Nine novels, with a further nine scheduled, numerous story credits including nine collections, five novellas, and various essays and blogs. To celebrate forty years of writing The Maynard Sims Library will see eight uniform volumes of their stories and novellas published in 2014. They were publishers, and have been editors at Enigmatic Tales and its sister titles, as well as Darkness Rising, and F20 for the BFS. They have won awards for their screenplays.
The following story COAT is as yet unpublished but will see the light of day in the collection Weird Cries from the Soul, number 5 in the Maynard Sims Library, due in January 2015
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The restaurant was irresolutely noisy. It was new, was recently reviewed, and had rated highly, so it was full. Full, and everyone seemed to be talking at once, hence it was loud. Voices overlaid the sounds of cutlery on plates, glasses clinking, waiters taking and receiving orders. It sounded like millions of raindrops wearing hob nail boots running over the glass roof. It was a wonderful feature, the glass roof, through which the stars and the clouded moon could be glimpsed, as if faces pressed against the panes from the outside, looking in.
There had been restaurants on the site before; this was just the latest reincarnation, and so far the signs of sustained success were promising. The number of covers was reasonable, balancing privacy of the diners with the return on capital the owners demanded. It was one thing to be fashionable, but quite another to make money creating it.
Because of all these factors, it was crowded, this Saturday evening. It had been necessary to book ahead to be sure of a table. The people in this area of the city enjoyed dining out, and word of mouth had spread, which only added to the immediate popularity of the restaurant, and the fullness of the noise. They had seen restaurants come and go, here and elsewhere; all the people cared about was a good evening out, good food and wine, and the ambience.
Sam Golding hadn’t booked the table because of the reviews, or the ratings, or even because someone had told him it was the place to be just now. He hadn’t considered the ambience, though he had to admit is was a good place to sit and eat. He had reserved a window table for two because he wanted to propose to his girlfriend of one year, eight months and five days.
Simone looked gorgeous tonight, in a flame red dress, with light touches of yellow gold jewellery at her neck and ears. There was a further piece of gold, with diamonds, in Sam’s pocket, that he hoped she would accept for the finger of her left hand.
He had shared his intentions with the head waiter, when the man had taken away Sam’s coat, with the assurance that it was safe. It was new, the coat, much like the restaurant. The plan was to serve the ring with dessert, on top of whatever Simone ordered. What if she didn’t want a pudding? The head waiter had assured Sam there would be a contingency plan, an alternative way of bringing the ring to her attention. The evening would be a delight, and the lady would fall trembling into his arms, with her gratitude and pleasure.
Sam doubted Simone would behave in quite that manner, although he hoped she would say yes when he proposed. He thought he knew her well enough to be able to assume she would agree to marry him, but there was still room for doubts. Always doubts. What if there was someone else? What if she wasn’t ready? Would he wait? Would she wait long enough to re-consider?
“How was your starter?”
Simone looked up at the waiter, and smiled. “Wonderful. I love scallops, and that sauce…”
“I shall let the chef know you liked it.”
When the man had gone Sam placed his hand over Simone’s. “Enjoying yourself?”
“It’s a great place. I’d heard the food was good but that starter was fantastic.”
“Good table as well.”
Simone looked out the window at the small courtyard that adjoined the restaurant. The bushes and plants were neatly clipped into submission, but the well placed lights softened the effect. Sam was nervous tonight, she could tell that by the way he was trying too hard to be attentive. She thought she knew why. She hoped she knew why.
She stood, and Sam looked worried. “Just going to powder my nose,” she said.
Sam watched her as she meandered between the tables. Other men glanced at her as well, most of them with women of their own, but still they cast sly glances at the beauty in the red dress. Sam experienced a mixture of jealousy and pride.
He took the wine bottle from the cooler and poured some into both their glasses. He was getting more nervous as the evening wore on. He looked up at the ceiling, where the dark night blossomed with twinkling stars through the glass. The moon was full and he took that as a good sign.
“Lovely bathroom,” Simone said, as she sat back down.
Sam looked at her, and couldn’t help but notice that she seemed older somehow. Early twenties when they arrived, in fact for as long as he had known her, yet this version was mid to late thirties. Still beautiful, radiant even, possibly even more attractive than when she was younger.
“The salmon for you, madam.” The waiter hovered with the main courses.
He laid Simone’s plate in front of her, turned it so it was correctly positioned, and stood back as though he had added the final flourishes to a complex work of art.
“Looks lovely,” Simone said, and the waiter’s eyes lit up.
“And for you, sir, the steak.”
Sam nodded his appreciation, worried that more praise might send the poor man over the edge with delight.
Another waiter brought side dishes with vegetables, potatoes and sauces.
When they were finally alone, Simone said, “The food looks wonderful. Thanks for bringing me here.”
“This will always be our place,” he said, and they clinked glasses.
They talked about the food, and about the restaurant, and others they had been to. They talked about a holiday they had been planning, to Europe, Spain they thought.
“This steak is delicious.”
“So is the salmon. And the vegetables are so crisp.”
“Leave room for dessert.”
Simone smiled. The laughter lines around her eyes crinkled like expensive writing paper might do if a letter was crumpled in the hand.
Sam felt his heart swell with the love he felt for this woman. No-one would ever be able to take her place if he lost her, if she left him. He had spoken at times, with his friends, about the nature of love. Was there really a one out there for us all? Sam maintained that there was. He told anyone who cared to listen that he had found his one and only.
He looked around and about. Most of the other tables were taken up by couples. Some looked happy, others settled, one or two bored. He stared for a moment at a middle aged couple who sat in near silence, content perhaps to eat and drink and enjoy being out, without the need to converse. Then the woman caught Sam’s eye, and before he turned away in embarrassment, he fancied he saw a plea for release in her expression.
When Sam looked over at Simone her body seemed to fill out the dress slightly more than it had earlier. Her face was fuller too, with edges of grey in her hair. If he hadn’t known better he would have put her age at late forties. The eyes still sparkled with the energy of youth, but the skin had less lustre.
“I think you will be more beautiful as you get older,” he said, and raised his glass to her as if in toast.
“Aren’t I now?” she teased.
“You are the best looking woman here. I just mean that your looks are those that will improve even more through the years.”
She raised her glass to him. “Do you think we will still be together when I’m older?”
For a moment a shadow of discomfort passed over his face. “We will be together for eternity,” he said, rather solemnly.
When the waiters had cleared away the dishes Sam looked around for the head waiter. The man hovered near to the entrance to the kitchen. Sam nodded very vaguely at him, and the man raised a hand in brief acknowledgment.
As if out of thin air, a waiter appeared at the table. “Dessert menu?”
“I think so,” said Sam, far too enthusiastically.
Simone patted her flat stomach. “Not sure. I have my figure to think about.”
“You’ll never have to worry about your weight,” Sam said. “I’ll have the crème brûlée, please.”
Simone was certain Sam was planning something, and she was happy to go along. If it was what she suspected, she knew what her answer would be. She just hoped it wasn’t too embarrassing in front of all these people.
“Sorbet for me, please.”
Sam reached across the table and took her hand in his. He frowned for a moment when he saw the wrinkles and the emerging liver spots, but then he held on firmly. The hand was more mature than the Simone he had fallen in love with, but it was still hers, and she would always be his.
Her face across the table from Sam lit up when the dishes for dessert were brought out and in hers was a small black box.
“Is this what I…”
“Open it and see.”
The head waiter hovered, and other diners paused, as they realised something was going on.
Simone plucked the box from the sorbet dish and delicately wiped it with her napkin. She opened it and squealed with girlish delight. “It’s wonderful.”
Sam stood, moved to her side of the table, and knelt down on one knee.
“Simone, I love you, I want us to always be together. Will you marry me?”
The restaurant erupted in shouts and clapping as she fell into his arms. “Yes, a hundred times yes.”
They kissed and held one another while the sorbet melted.
When Sam sat back in his seat he shared his dessert with her, but neither had any appetite for anything other than each other.
Simone played with the ring on her finger, enjoying the unfamiliarity of it. It sparkled in the mood lighting, and when she turned her hand this way and that it reflected the light. She held her hand up to the light and the stars through the glass roof sparkled in unison. Her expression held the naïve dreams of youth, telling the world that everything was possible.
Sam was giddy with excitement. He had privately asked permission of Simone’s father before he asked for her hand in marriage, and although he had been quizzed quite fiercely about such things as prospects and intentions, he had received the blessing he hoped for.
He watched her as she sat serenely. He knew she was aware of the attention on her but her focus was inward. Her body seemed smaller, never affected by child bearing, thinner. Her beauty still shone out like a lighthouse on a rock, even though the years had laced lines in her skin, and threaded white in her hair.
They sipped coffee, Sam had a brandy; he didn’t want the evening to end.
End it must, as all things do. He settled the bill, and stood wearily from the table.
He shook hands with the maitre d, and accepted his help in folding his thin body into the old, and rather worn, coat.
Outside, the night was cold. He held his bony arm at just the correct angle for Simone to be able to clutch it, should she wish. Sometimes they used to hold hands, sometimes walk arm in arm.
Up ahead, on the corner, he was aware of a small crowd gathered in the centre of the road. As he walked slowly and painfully nearer, he could hear women crying, and in the distance a siren.
A car was bounced to one side as if it was attempting to avoid the woman’s body. It was too late for that. The driver held his hands palms up, showing his innocence.
The crowd was gathered around a young woman, who lay quite still in the middle of the road. Her red dress drank greedily at the blood that puddled around her head.
Someone looking up from the crowd that hovered would have seen an old man in a threadbare coat. The tears that seeped from his rheumy eyes weren’t due to the icy night air. The damp eyes couldn’t be attributed to the fierce wind that whipped at the thin coat. Nor to the cold that plucked the warmth from his body and held it tight.
One more night for him to trudge home, alone, haunted, but enlivened by his memory.
The girl in the red dress, lying motionless, the diamond gleaming in the headlight of the car. The girl he loved for eternity.
(C) Maynard and Sims 2014
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