A Matter of Contacts – Winner of our Centennial Romantic Writing CompetitionDecember 8, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Centenary, Fiction, Library_News, New Zealand | Leave a comment
The winner of our Centenary Romantic Writing competition ‘Love Through the Pages’ was well-known Dunedin author Elizabeth Pulford.
Judge Rosalie Sneyd, a highly-regarded Dunedin writer of romantic fiction chose “A Matter of Contacts” as the winner.
Elizabeth has won a romantic dinner for two, somewhere in Dunedin.
We have reproduced the winning entry for your reading pleasure.
The open window behind Sarah rattled. A gust of warm wind swept in and lifted the papers off her desk, scattering them onto the floor.
“Oh, really,” she exclaimed, “that’s about all I can take.” She turned and banged the window closed.
“It’s too hot to work,” sighed Josie, looking up.
The small room, where the two women sat was crammed with filing cabinets, desks, boxes, computers and stacks of folders. Heck-no-tech was expanding at such a rate that last week Sarah had been employed as their new co-ordinator. Her brief being to instil some order in the rapidly growing business of servicing computers and to employ staff as needed.
She had been excited over what appeared to be the beginning of a wonderful career. Now she wasn’t so sure.
She knelt down and collected up the papers. A loud crash from the floor below made Sarah jump. “Can’t they work without making so much noise! As for the radio… …”
Josie, the temporary assistant, laughed. “I’ve yet to meet one.”
Perhaps, thought Sarah with an inward sigh, Lionel had been right when he’d said she was silly to give up her position at the National Bank. But Sarah had felt sure about this job. After all she’d been promised her own office. Just as soon as the ground floor of the once gracious old dwelling had been refurbished. Until then she was stuck in a former bedroom the size of a broom cupboard.
“How about a coffee?” suggested Josie. “Take our minds off the heat.” Another loud crash sounded below. “And the workmen.”
“It would certainly help.”
“Won’t be long.” Josie squeezed out of the door between the boxes and one of the filing cabinets and made her way down the hall to the makeshift kitchen.
The hot nor’ west wind had been blowing for two days now and Sarah felt ragged. Her normally bouncy, brown hair looked as tired as she felt and the dusty dryness made her eyes itch.
She gathered up the last of the papers on the floor. Then, without warning, the door behind her was flung open. It crashed against the filing cabinet narrowly missing Sarah’s rear end and slammed shut again. She yelped. Swung her head round. Strands of hair flew into her right eye. She flicked them away. As she did so her contact lens flew out.
Sarah sat on the floor paralysed. She daren’t move. Otherwise she could kiss her lens goodbye. She steadied her thoughts.
The door opened a fraction. “Sarah Cayford?”
“Just a moment.” Sarah peered at the ground with her left eye. But it was hopeless. She was as blind as a bat without both lenses. She felt around the carpet with her fingers. Nothing.
“I need a word,” persisted the male voice.
Sarah stood up. The contact lens would have to wait. “Come in if you can.”
The man glanced at the room. “What a mess,” he said, shaking his head.
Sarah tried to focus on him. He was tall and had light coloured hair. Other than that he was a blur.
“I’m Max.” He held out his hand. “Electrician foreman from below.”
Sarah tried not to think of his feet crushing her lens to bits. “How can I help?” she asked, feeling the warm strength of his hand.
“I need to know where you want the plugs in the offices?”
He nodded. “Looking at this I’d say the sooner the better.”
Josie returned carrying two cups of coffee just as they were leaving.
“I won’t be long,” said Sarah.
Downstairs the mess looked even worse than the room she now occupied. She squinted at the floor so as not to stumble on lengths of wood, electrician’s wire, or bags of plaster that were strewn everywhere.
“This way,” said Max.
She smiled in his direction. If only she could see him properly. Then she would feel more in control. Working on one lens he appeared to be quite good looking. A tanned face with a large smile and thick floppy hair. In a way he reminded her of a much-loved teddy bear. Different than Lionel who was extremely neat and tidy. But then his job as an accountant called for someone like that.
“Now,” said Max, “this is the co-ordinator’s office. That’s you, isn’t it?”
Sarah nodded. Was he teasing her? She couldn’t be sure.
Max continued. “I presume you’ll want to sit facing the door.”
Sarah hesitated. If only everything wasn’t so fuzzy. She didn’t want to make a mistake. Timothy Winter, the owner of Heck-no-tech, had said that as he was going to be out of the country for a month he’d leave everything up to her. He had told her she’d been chosen for the position because of her quiet, yet self-confident manner. Sarah grimaced. If only Timothy could see her now.
Max waited patiently while Sarah walked around the room.
She stopped in the far corner. Why didn’t she tell Max the truth that she just couldn’t see. No – a co-ordinator put things together; they didn’t fall apart at the first challenge.
“Over here. I’ll need plugs for a computer, printer and desk lamp. And another two in the far corner.” Her confidence belied her true feeling.
“That’s it?” queried Max, scribbling in a notebook.
“For this office. Yes.”
Sarah moved out of her office-to-be into a room across the hall. “Reception area will need at least four plugs.”
Three quarters of an hour later Sarah returned upstairs to her office. Her cold cup of coffee sat on the edge of her desk. There was no sign of Josie. Sarah peered at her watch. Twenty past five. No wonder Josie wasn’t around. She should have been long gone herself.
Kneeling down she searched for her lens again. She’d have to hurry. She was meeting Lionel at Etrusco at five-thirty. If there was one thing Lionel hated, it was unpunctuality.
Tonight it had been her idea to eat somewhere different. Lionel had taken quite a lot of persuading. He didn’t like change, he preferred to eat at the steak bar near his work, but this time Sarah had insisted they try somewhere different. Now, here she was scratching around like a hen with no hope of getting to the restaurant on time.
Several minutes later, with her nose to the ground, she spotted the wayward lens, lying right next to the filing cabinet. With a swift but extremely heartfelt prayer she picked it up. Once the lens was back in her eye she locked the office and ran out into the warm blustery evening. Down London Street, and into Filleul Street. Late or not she would drop off her library books on the way.
Etrusco was busy. An aroma of herbs, spices and red wine filled any spaces.
“Isn’t this great,” enthused Sarah.
Lionel lowered the menu. “I prefer our usual place,” he said. “You know I don’t like Italian food.”
“Nor Chinese, or Greek,” murmured Sarah.
“I lost a lens at work today,” said Sarah again explaining why she’d been late.
Arriving at the restaurant Lionel had deliberately looked at his watch. “I thought we’d agreed five-thirty?” Sarah had tried to tell him what had happened but he’d just kept on about the twenty-two minutes she’d kept him waiting.
Lionel went back to the menu. “Well,” he said, “as I must eat something, I shall have the Neo Zelandese pizza. It’s reasonable plain.”
Sarah pushed down the sudden feeling of anger. He wasn’t even bothering to listen to her. She felt like telling him to go hungry if the place was that awful, but instead she looked him straight in the eye. “I’m having Spaghetti Alla Marinara.”
“It sounds like a disease,” said Lionel.
“Plenty of fresh garlic, mussels and shrimps,” replied Sarah. “And some Pane Allaglio.”
“What on earth’s that?”
“Garlic bread,” said Sarah. “We could share it.”
Lionel shuddered. Changing the subject he said, “Mother is expecting us for lunch on Sunday.”
“I can’t. Not this Sunday,” said Sarah.
“Why ever not?”
“I told you,” she said trying to keep her voice calm, “about the writing workshop ages ago.”
Before Lionel could reply, Sarah heard a familiar voice. “Ready to order?”
She found herself staring into the smiling face of Max.
“Hello, again,” he said.
Sarah felt herself reddening under his steady gaze. He certainly was good looking, even better now she had her full vision. His eyes were dark brown and teasing. She bent her head to hide the sudden trembling she felt while blurting out, “How many jobs do you have?”
Max laughed. “I’m just filling in for my cousin. He’s on holiday for a couple of weeks.”
Lionel cleared his throat, indicating his presence.
“Oh,” said Sarah. “Sorry. Lionel this is Max. Max met Lionel. Max is installing the electrical side of things in the new offices.”
After they’d ordered Sarah sat trying to compose herself. Max was really very nice. Then she felt guilty. Here she was with Lionel, yet thinking of another man.
“What do you want to go to a writing workshop for anyway?” asked Lionel in a sullen tone.
“I thought it might help me in my new job. Communication skills.” Glancing at Lionel Sarah thought how much he looked like a little grumpy boy. “If you really want me to go on Sunday I could probably…” She let her voice trail away.
Lionel shrugged. “No. The workshop is obviously important to you.”
“Yes,” said Sarah. “It is.”
When Max returned later with their order and placed her plate before her she commented that it looked wonderful.
“Enjoy,” he said as his arm brushed against hers.
Sarah picked up her fork and hoped he wouldn’t notice the glow that had spread over her face. If only Lionel was easy going like Max.
When Sarah had first met Lionel she had liked everything about him. His extra tidy appearance, his concern for wanting things just right and his endless little gestures of thoughtfulness. Now it was precisely those qualities that were getting on her nerves, seemed to be crushing her spirit.
On leaving the restaurant after an almost silent meal, Sarah looked around casually for Max, but he was nowhere to be seen.
The next day at work was just as hot as the previous two. While dressing that morning Sarah had taken extra care with her hair and her clothes. Slipping on her new white shirt and pencil slim black skirt, she told herself it was nothing to do with Max. It just so happened that they were the coolest clothes she owned.
“You look lovely,” said Josie as Sarah fought her way into the office.
“Thanks,” smiled Sarah.
“Meeting Lionel for lunch?”
“Not today,” replied Sarah, opening her top drawer and pulling out a pile of accounts that needed processing. “He rang to say he’d been up most of the night with indigestion.” She frowned as she remembered the whine in his voice, as though it was her fault, without really saying it. She switched on the computer and was soon busy concentrating on the job at hand.
Late morning a firm knock sounded at the door. Sarah’s hand flew to check her hair while her heart thumped hard.
But before either woman could speak a voice called out, “Turning off the water for half an hour.”
“Thank you,” replied Sarah. Disappointment flooded through her. She was sure it had been Max.
By four o’clock the hot wind had risen to such a gale that she couldn’t concentrate on what she was doing. Josie had left early to go to the dentist.
Wheeling around in her chair Sarah stared out of the window down to the street below. Spirals of dust, bits of paper, early autumn leaves swirled around the footpath.
Nearly time to go home and still she hadn’t set eyes on Max. During the day, at every footstep in the hall or on the stairs, she had stiffened and her breathing had quickened. She knew she was behaving like a sixteen-year-old, but found she couldn’t stop herself. Perhaps it was the wind unsettling her?
Just as she was about to turn back to her desk she spotted Max walking around the corner with a young woman. Sarah watched them. Max threw back his head and laughed at something the woman said. Sarah crouched in her chair to make sure she wasn’t seen.
She should have guessed a man like Max would be popular. For all she knew he could be married or at the very least in a relationship. Besides it was none of her business. She was involved with Lionel. Wasn’t she? Pushing back the sinking feeling, she turned her full attention to a letter of complaint from an unhappy client.
Sarah arrived early for the writing workshop. She found herself a seat near the front of the class and waited with excited anticipation at the thought of learning something new.
She wasn’t going to let the argument she’d had with Lionel the evening before spoil her day. Lionel had sulked for a while, and then left her flat early saying perhaps it would be better if the two of them had time apart, so she could think things through. Before Sarah had time to comment he was halfway down the street.
Just before the class was due to start Max strolled in. Sarah couldn’t believe her eyes.
He dumped a bulging satchel on the table at the front of the room and proceeded to unpack it.
“Good morning,” he said.
Sarah held her breath. Tried to stop the glorious feeling of joy sweeping through her.
“I’m your tutor for the day,” went on Max.
Halfway through the morning the workshop took a break. Sarah slipped outside and sat in a sheltered corner away from the wind. She wanted to be on her own to think. Where else was Max going to show up?
When Max had recognised her, he’d given her a wide smile. She had grinned in return but then remembered about the woman who was with him yesterday.
Sarah was in a muddle about Lionel; she was in a muddle at work and now her feelings were in a muddle. Everywhere she went Max appeared. It was getting ridiculous. She leaned back against the wooden wall of the building and closed her eyes.
“I see I’ve sent you to sleep,” said Max, coming and sitting beside her.
Sarah’s eyes flew open. “Oh no!” she groaned. ‘Not again!”
“I’m not that bad, am I?” Max sounded hurt. He stood up and started to move away.
“Don’t go,” said Sarah.
Max looked at her curiously.
“It’s my contact lens,” she explained. “It’s flipped out of my eye. It’s becoming a habit every time you appear.” She blushed after she’d realised what she’d said.
Max fell to his knees and started looking for it.
At that moment the woman who had been with Max the day before appeared.
“Hi. Sorry I’m late – babysitter was held up.”
Sarah sat feeling hopeless. She wished Max and his – whatever she was to him – would go away and leave her alone.
“Sarah this is my sister Kate,” said Max, looking up briefly from his search. “She’s providing the lunch.”
Sister, thought Sarah, her heart starting to sing. She was his sister.
Kate looked at Max. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“He’s looking for a lost lens,” replied Sarah.
“Oh,” said Kate, “he’s always losing them.”
“Here it is.” Max picked up the lens and gave it back to Sarah. Then keeping hold of her hand he said, “You need someone to keep an eye on you.”
Sarah burst out laughing.
“Don’t tell me you wear contacts as well?” Kate said to Sarah.
“Well – if you’re as short-sighted as Max, then you two would make a fine pair.”
As if in agreement, the wind stopped blowing for a brief moment and gave a sigh of approval.