The Manchester Review
Ian McGuire
Extract from Spontaneous You
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      “Excuse me,” the woman said. She was wearing vermillion lipstick and gold half-moon spectacles. Her hair, an unruly mix of grey and blonde, was pulled up and away into a kind of cross hatched scrum held together by pencils and chopsticks. She was wrapped in a tweedy cape. “I’m a liddle confused.”
      Liddle. She was American, that explained it then. Rod unbraced himself.
      “Join the club,” he said.
      She offered a hapless half-smile. There was a pause.
      “This may be a really dumb question,” she continued “but where does a person buy a ticket round here?”
      “You don’t,” said Rod.
      The woman’s confusion intensified.
      “What I mean to say,” he continued, noticing as he did so the handsome turn of her neck and the way it flowered and flattened into the angular overhang of her jaw, “is that this is what they call an unmanned or (if you happen to be of the feminist persuasion) unpersoned station. There are no tickets to be had.”
      “So it’s free?”
       “Oh lord no.” Rod laughed. “You pay at Victoria.”
      She smiled and thanked him.
      “If you’re here for any time,” he suggested, “you might consider a Travelcard.”
      “I’m here for a year actually.” Her voice on the empty platform under the lowering September sky had a vehement, almost caustic quality. (Did she imagine he was hard of hearing?) “I’m taking a class.”
      “Well there you go.”
      Now she was looking down at his violin case.
      “Do you play?” she asked.
      The question was accompanied by a sudden grin the width of which took Rod aback. He imagined for an incoherent second that she must have mistaken him for someone she already knew quite well.
      “I practice a lot,” he lied with a shrug.
      The American woman’s eyes widened.
      “So, you’re a perfectionist.”
      She made it sound like a branch of the Catholic church.
      “I’m stubborn,” he conceded. “The word pig-headed has been used on occasion.”
      With a hiss and a sigh the late-running 10.35 arrived in front of them. They stepped into the carriage together and sat down on facing seats.
      “Well I admire your dedication,” she boomed.
      “I have a lot of spare time and very little furniture.”
      The American woman craned forward and squinted.
      “I’m sorry. Did you just say furniture?”
      “My girlfriend and I had a parting of the ways.” Rod explained. “I got the CD player and espresso machine.”
      She inhaled extravagantly, her face seemed to swell.
      “Trauer,” she said, “so oft seliger Fortschritt entsprint.”
      Rod was understandably taken aback.
      “Pain,” she translated “is so often the source of our spirit’s growth.”
      “Nietzsche?” Rod hazarded.
      “Rilke actually. I’m one eighth German on my mother’s side. Has it helped your violin playing much? The loss?”
      “The loss?” Rod thought about it. It had practically destroyed his violin playing. He barely had the energy to dress himself in the mornings let alone run through a few pages of Kreutzer.
      “Not much,” he admitted.
      “No,” the American woman agreed “it’s too raw. My husband Olaf died two years ago. For about twelve months I didn’t write at all.”
      “You’re a writer?”
      “I’m a poet.” She shook her bulging shopping bag at him and smiled hugely once more. “I’m taking a writing workshop with Dorothea Quirk over at Colonial College. My name’s Barb Salt by the way.”
      “Rod Winkle.”
      They shook hands. She smelled of vanilla, there were pale triangles of breakfast muesli lodged between her lower teeth. Her husband Olaf was recently deceased. Rod sensed in Barb a loneliness as raw and unappealing as his own.