“I'm sorry,” he said, and she kept on staring, holding out the plastic tray of blueberries like a handshake. She didn't even like blueberries. Ben thought about running away. He could do it, he could turn around and sprint in the opposite direction and ten minutes from now he could be sitting in a bar with a long drink, condensation bubbling on the glass. He could be talking to a bartender about the state of the bus service and he wouldn't have to explain. Everything would be easy. But he also knew that if he did, and he ever walked down this street again, she would still be standing here like a myth, like the wife of Job, suffering forever with her cold pebble eyes.
She didn't know what to say. It seemed like normally her brain was full of words, overflowing, words tucked into dressers and drawers, words spilling out unbidden, scattering like the seeds of dandelion clocks, words words words. Now all she could find was cold metal edges. She kept looking at him, rummaging for a spell that would keep him here. She wondered if she stayed incredibly still she could trick this moment into going away, like pretending you're dead when a bear attacks. Her lungs tightened and she realised she'd been holding her breath. It seeped out in purr.
“I'm sorry,” he said again, because he didn't really want to hurt her. He began to feel a little afraid. Things weren't working out how he had expected. He thought there would be tears and shouting and demands for explanations. Then he could explain and shout back and she would whip round and storm off, and he would go and see the other. Things would end and this would be done. But he couldn't argue with her while she stood there with her tears all tucked up inside, brimming. If an apology could prod her soft spot, nudge her into hysteria, he could turn his back on her screams, so a third time he looked at her and said; “I'm sorry”.
Three is a magical number, three is rich in lore and fable. The genie grants three wishes and it takes three monkeys to see, hear and speak no evil. Third time is the charm, three to one is the odds of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Even Pythagoras agrees, three is noble. Three is the number of golf balls on the moon. Ben turned to Alicia three times and said “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry” and the spell was broken, the die were cast, and she looked at him and she screamed.
“Be quiet,” said Ben, glad that she was yelling at last. He was not breaking the heart of a pebble-eyed princess. He was leaving his hysterical girlfriend because this is what she did, she threw histrionics, she caused a scene, and because somewhere in an apartment across town the Russian gymnast with the tiny feet was curled in a duvet, yawning prettily, with his number written in biro on her arm.
Alicia shut up, because Ben had told her to, and maybe if she played this exactly right, did exactly what he said, things could work out. There are ways of tricking the fates, of playing out the hand and she could find one, it would be fine. She would give him the chance to say “I'm being stupid, I'm sorry” and if he didn't take that, well, she had other tricks up her sleeves.
Because the truth is that all women are crafted of angel beads and amethyst vials. The truth is we are built to bewitch with no need for the chubby cherub's arrow, we have the polished red apple to hold outstretched, pomegranate seeds in the palm. Alicia could get anything she wanted simply by the secrets in the folds of her body, by the promises which wafted from between her thighs. Like Salome, she could slip off her veils, render him powerless and prone.
Ben was not thinking about this, Ben was thinking about the arch of another back, Ben had forgotten that the scorecard was stacked against him with his puppy dog tails and the inclinations which flip-flopped in his loins. He was no augur, had never learned to read the future in the flight path of birds. Alicia had the arch of an eyebrow, don't forget. Alicia had the waves and the moon.