SPITTING OUT

She was sitting opposite him on the train. Black jeans, yellow top with some sort of bird on it – he couldn’t quite make it out without his glasses on, and he didn’t want to get them out. Probably kingfishers. Or hummingbirds.


The train rattled on through Turnpike Lane, Manor House. He should say something to her, he announced silently to the disapproving audience inside his head. But what could he say that would grab her attention, make her feel that there was some connection worth exploring?


In a moment of inspiration, he glanced down and pulled out the bag of cherries from his briefcase. He’d bought them from the market for the office receptionist, who he’d upset the day before. Not intentionally, but he’d started off with some jokey comment about her dress which turned out to sound worse than he’d meant it be, and in trying to correct himself, he’d just dug himself into a deeper pit.


He saw the girl glancing at him. Fancy a cherry? He said suddenly, surprising himself, and felt a hot blush creeping up the back of his neck. They look lovely, she was saying back to him, laughing, and he was trying to identify her vague accent, perhaps Northern Irish. He had a sudden, vivid flashback to a childhood holiday in Donegal, running wild with his cousins, barefoot on the windswept beach.


She was taking one now from him and opening her mouth he glimpsed her perfect white teeth as she bit into the flesh. Then suddenly, and rather shockingly, she spat out the stone so that it flew with alarming speed across the carriage and ricocheted from the window just behind him with a loud ping.


She was laughing at him now, mouth wide open so that he could see her tongue stained blood red with cherry juice. Would you like to go for a drink with me? Had he really said that? Or was it her that had said it to him? As the train juddered to a halt at the next station he sprang from his seat and leapt out of the door, scattering cherries that rolled and bounced after him. He saw her watching him expressionlessly through the glass as the train pulled away. And the hummingbirds on her yellow top seemed to be flying.