Chess Pieces, Ch.4 - Pickled Onions

After the rather awkward ordeal with Marc the night before, I was feeling quite peculiar when he sat himself across the table from me at breakfast the next morning as if nothing had happened.

     “Morning,” He murmured, before taking his seat, “no flat tires today?” he glanced up at me for a milli-second before reverting his eyes to the milk jug to his left. He reached out to retrieve it and poured the contents over the bowl of cornflakes Teresa had placed in front of him. I didn’t know how to reply. Words would not escape my lips. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to understand or comprehend the situation I’d been placed under. Marc McFarlow had really fumbled my mind and confused me beyond belief. Who was this man?

     “No, Marc,” I answered nonchalantly, hiding my confusion well, “no flat tires today.”

     “Good, because the roads are full of mud and there’s no hope in hell you’d catch me walking about today to help those stranded by the side of the road.” He replied matter of factly, adding a hint of jest or insult on my behalf. He looked up again, placing a spoonful of cornflakes in his mouth and chewing quietly, and looked me in the eye. His gaze was empty of any clear emotion but there was the faintest glimpse of a twinkle behind his piercing grey eyes.

     I looked away from him to avoid any further embarrassment as he stared on and, instead, turned to my mother, who was sat at my right. She’d been showered and dressed long before myself and was sat with a mug of coffee in one hand and a gossip magazine in the other. From experiences of the past, I knew well enough that mum shouldn’t be disturbed when reading her daily dose of celebrity break-up stories so continued my gaze around the table.

     Jerry was sat at the head of the table in an off-white vest top (showing off his beer belly), a pair of old, grey, cotton pyjama bottoms and a pair of white socks with a hole in the right one, revealing a large, hairy big toe complete with a grubby toenail that needed clipping. His hair greying red hair was in desperate need of grooming and his shaggy beard in dire need of taming. He sat reading his newspaper whilst holding a triangularly sliced piece of toast coated in Teresa’s homemade strawberry jam. Crumbs of toast had gotten caught in his beard before reaching his mouth and his fingers were sticky with the jam. I couldn’t really count on Jerry for any kind of deep conversation to distract me from Marc’s glare so moved on to his wife who sat beside him.

     Teresa was fully dressed, yet still had that look of sleepiness in her eyes. Her hair had been brushed neatly into a loose, low bun at the back of her head with the occasional loose hair protruding here and there; her dress was a typical housewife dress, buttoned up the front in a classic floral pattern, with a frilly white apron tied in a bow around her waist. To complete her look, she had on her feet an old pair of yellow carpet slippers that she very rarely took off when inside the cottage and would most likely wear them to town if she could. Like her son, she sat with a bowl of cornflakes in front of her with her back straight and with proper table manners: no elbows on the table, little finger out as she sipped from her tea cup, the usual stuff. Seeing as I wasn’t particularly Teresa number one fan – and vice versa – at that current moment of time, I turned to my left and gazed down at the one other person at the table, other than Marc.

     James. If I could, I would have talked to him all morning about this and that and not expect and answer back in return; unless you counted babbling and drool as an answer. Teresa had changed him out of yesterday’s clothes he’d been put to bed in and was now sporting a jean dungaree and white t-shirt set with white socks and laced up baseball shoes. I assumed he’d already been fed as the contents of his bowl were nowhere to be found except for the small amount stuck to the rim of his spoon.

     That was everyone: mum, Jerry, Teresa and James. I couldn’t be distracted by either of them. I turned to look back at Marc opposite me. His eyes were still fixed on mine. Had he been watching me the whole time? Contemplating whether or not to make conversation with each person around the table? Did he realize I was avoiding him? I hoped not… I really hoped not… I didn’t want to feel even more awkward than I already did.

     The sound of wood screeching across slate pierced through my ears and startled me. Marc had pushed his chair back, getting up to take his empty bowl to the sink. We lost eye contact and he walked away to do his chore. The gush of water coming from the tap behind me echoed around the silence as the water hit crockery and skin.

     Pushing my own chair back, I shot up like a bolt, taking my own empty bowl and spoon in my hand and making my way to the sink. I don’t know what came over me, I just couldn’t stay sat at the table doing… doing nothing. I stood a small distance away from Marc and waited patiently as he finished off his dishes, so not to get in the way. I noticed that his hair was still slightly wet from the shower he’d had prior to breakfast. It glistened in the morning sunshine that shone through the kitchen window from both the West wall to our left and the North wall directly in front. He had a really thick neck that sat on broad, masculine shoulders. Everything about him looked physically masculine and nothing like a scrawny teenager; which he definitely wasn’t any longer. He was just turned twenty but acted twice his age, from what I’d experienced of him, purely based on his mannerisms and distinguishable dialect.

     “I’ll do that for you,” his voice rang, breaking my lack of concentration and bringing me back to reality. I hadn’t realised I’d been daydreaming until he spoke to me. He had turned to face me slightly, speaking over his shoulder, and looking directly at me. I focused my attention on him and tried to register what he’d said.

     “Oh… yes. Thank you.” I replied, handing my bowl to him. He turned to face me more and reached out for the bowl. For a brief moment, our fingers touched and my skin pulsed from my finger tips right to the top of my arm. I gasped to myself and quickly retrieved my hand. Marc looked at me oddly… almost confused… before turning back to the sink.

     What had just happened? I couldn’t even explain to myself what had just happened, it was that weird. His touch… surely not! It had felt as if…

     “I’m popping out for a bit.” I announced out of the blue. I was already dressed in near enough decent clothes – a pair of faded blue jeans, a navy polo shirt and a clean pair of white trainers – so began to make my way to the hall past the kitchen table.

     “Out? You can’t go out,” Teresa commented as I got to the door. I turned to face her. Her own face showed a confused expression, matching that of her son’s just before, “the roads are ankle deep in mud, didn’t you hear Marc comment on it earlier?”

     “Yes, I did, but I wouldn’t be going if it wasn’t for something important.” I answered. I just wanted to get away… away from Marc, mostly. I couldn’t be in the same room as him… not right now.

     “What could be so important you’d want to go out in the thick mud?” mum added. She’d abandoned her magazine and was staring right at me. Her eyes were searching my face, looking for an answer behind my outburst. This wasn’t like me at all… we both knew that.

     “Pickled onions,” I burst out. I don’t know where it had come from, but it had and it was better than nothing.

     “Pickled onions?” Teresa asked, bewildered by my response, “you want to go out into the mud for pickled onions?”

     “You don’t even like pickled onions, Casey. Don’t be ridiculous and sit back down.” Mum said, rolling her eyes at me.

     “No, mum, I do really. I’ve actually taken quite a liking to them in the last few months. I have a real craving for them right at the moment.” I looked at Teresa and mum carefully to see whether they were buying my story. Jerry coughed slightly and stood up, rolling his newspaper up tightly.

     “I reckon there’s a jar somewhere in the pantry, hidden away somewhere. I’m sure there is. After all, they’re a favourite of mine, they are.” He announced, grinning at me before passing me to go to the hall. Damn, he’d ruined my plan. I had no excuse to leave anymore.

     “I’ll show you where they are, Casey,” Marc announced across the room. He was still at the sink, leaning against it and facing me. I sighed slightly and moved over to the pantry where he had opened the door and was looking. He reached up for a dusty jar that sat on the top shelf near the back. The contents inside looked like eyeballs bobbing around the murky brown liquid. He handed me the jar quite forcefully, “now don’t you eat them all in one go. Save some for me. I love a good pickled onion.”

     “Don’t worry, I won’t.” I promised. I certainly wouldn’t be eating any of them: I couldn’t stand them! He smirked briefly before patting me on the shoulder and shutting the pantry door. He brushed past me and left the kitchen.

     As I watched him go, I thought to myself how odd he was. One minute he’s almost threatening me, and the next he’s acting like a schoolboy. It would take me some time to be able to understand him… if at all.

The End

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