Clouds in his Sunglasses by D.A. Cairns
by Benjamin Imamovic
‘They look good,’ said Martin to his reflection. ‘Yeah, pretty smart.’
He turned his face from side to side, then up and down, admiring an expensive pair of Christian Dior sunglasses fitted neatly to his long and fleshy face. Martin was pleased that he could not only afford upmarket sunglasses now, but having recently had corneal surgery, could actually wear them instead of those cheap and tacky looking plastic clip-ons.
‘Yeah, real flash.’
Martin had spent considerable time searching for the right pair of sunglasses. They had to make him look good and protect his sensitive eyes. It was important he got exactly what he wanted so he was not bothered by having to spend hours hunting. He had plenty of time and money now that his latest business venture was prospering beyond his expectations.
Taking them off, Martin let his gaze roam around the small boutique store. Then he put them on again. The lenses were very dark and big enough to block light from most angles but not so big to make him look like a blowfly. That really would be uncool.
Cool was necessary now. It was part of the remodeled image of himself that he wanted to project to the world.
Finally satisfied that this particular pair of sunglasses was what he wanted, Martin removed them and carried them over to the counter where an attractive young sales girl with glazed eyes was waiting. No doubt she had watched Martin go through his exhaustively vain posturings with increasing annoyance. He was the sole customer and with him gone, she could quite happily return the latest Jackie Collin’s novel in which she was engrossed.
Her name tag read ‘Jenny’ and she managed to smile at Martin as he approached the counter.
‘Hello Jenny,’ said Martin. ‘How are you doing today?’
Mustering all the civility that she could find, Jenny responded politely that she was fine and asked how he was.
‘Good now that I’ve found what I’ve been looking for,’ replied Martin placing the Christian Diors on the counter and smiling.
Martin noticed that Jenny was very good looking as he watched her ring up the sale on the cash register. Shoulder length blonde hair framed a clear skinned, round face with well spaced green eyes either side of a cute nose. She also had a well proportioned figure covered by a simple but flattering blue dress. Martin was impressed and as he handed her three one hundred dollar notes he found himself feeling glad that he had not been able to find a suitable pair of sunglasses until he had come to this store.
Jenny seemed oblivious to his admiring stare as she handed him his change.
‘You’re very attractive Jenny. Beautiful in fact.’
Martin was always interested to see the response of a woman to a compliment. Would she think that he was rude? Trying to come on to her? Did he want something or was he sincere? From experience Martin knew that it took a mature woman to graciously accept a genuine compliment. Martin’s delivery was always perfectly charming but some women knew that it was a come-on line. They made it obvious that they disapproved and were not interested. Others did not know whether he was serious or not. Some knew and were happy to play the game. With reactions ranging from anger to embarrassment, it was an amusing game.
‘Thank you,’ replied Jenny casually like she did not care one way or the other. She did not blush or look up.
When she offered him a plastic bag to carry the sunglasses, Martin politely refused it by saying that it was a bright sunny day and he would prefer to wear his new purchase.
Jenny nodded and Martin continued to stand and stare.
‘Would you like to go out with me for dinner or a movie sometime?’ asked Martin.
‘No,’ said Jenny surprised at his directness yet no doubt flattered.
When Martin asked her why, she hesitated before saying, ‘I don’t even know you.’
Martin was momentarily lost as he watched her saphire eyes sparkle.
‘That’s not a reason,’ he said. ‘Going out with me will give you a chance to get to know me and you won’t be disappointed.’
Jenny cocked her head to the left and smiled self consciously. Martin had seen the look before, pregnant as it was with intrigue. Who was this guy she wondered. So sure of himself, so arrogant but not in an offensive way. Not an ugly man nor handsome, yet attractive in an indefinable way. His olive skin disguising acne scars around his clean shaven chin and wide mouth. A straight nose climbed between large brown eyes with long eyelashes.
‘No thank you. I have a boyfriend.’
Martin did not believe her but decided to back off anyway.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Thanks for the sunglasses. Goodbye.’
As she watched him leave Jenny wished that he had been more persistent. She did not have a boyfriend and was not sure why she said she did. She liked him and was impressed by his confidence. Perhaps she had just passed up a very good opportunity.
Three months after a painful break up with Adam who had cheated on her and lied to her, she felt ready to try again. It was not the first time that a man had treated her that way but it still hurt. She suspected that she was becoming hardened, desensitized by frequent disappointment. Yet somewhere inside she retained a glimmer of hope, believing that eventually she would find an honest and loving man who would respect and care for her. With a sigh she considered the fact that he may have just walked out the door.
To comfort herself, Jenny focused on Martin’s vanity and in her mind she exaggerated his self confidence to conceited arrogance. She felt like it was not such a loss after all.
Martin stood outside the store in the Spring sunlight surveying the street through his new Christian Dior sunglasses. He knew he would come back to see Jenny who was definitely worth pursuing.
Martin had grown tired of his current girlfriend, Emma. She had become a bore and was nagging him about moving to the next level in their relationship. That was girlspeak for co-habitation. He already shared his home with a number of beautiful women. He did not share his bed though because he preferred to sleep alone and also he tried not to mix business and pleasure because it always caused problems. Although Martin liked to solve problems he did not feel the need to create them.
Once Jenny had been secured he would say goodbye to Emma.
Martin looked up into the sky. There was only one cloud blotting the heavenly azure blue. One small, fluffly, harmless cloud.
As he walked along, Martin began to imagine himself and Jenny together and then he planned the inevitable break up with Emma. Running through his catalogue of previously used break up ploys, he tried to predict how Emma would react to each.
He was busy congratulating himself on his success in business and with women when something caught his eye. It was a smudge. At first he thought it was another cloud. Martin took his sunglasses off, pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and began to clean the smudge off. Staring hard and rubbing harder he eventually satisfied himself that the lens was clear, but when he replaced the sunglasses on his face the cloud reappeared.
Martin became enraged when a repeat cleaning performance had exactly the same result. Only this time the smudge was larger. He swore lavishly and stormed back up the road to the store, inside and straight to the counter where Jenny was reading.
She looked up in surprise, and noticing his obvious ill temper did not speak. Irate customers were not a rare phenomenon. Jenny merely had to decide on the best way to deal with them on an individual basis. Given the fact that Martin had already expressed a liking for her, Jenny reasoned that she would be able to calm him quickly.
‘Have you come to see if I’ve changed my mind?’
‘What?’ replied Martin.
‘Maybe you think I’ve reconsidered going out with you.’
Flushed by such uncharacteristic brashness, Jenny struggled to maintain composure especially as she seemed to have gained some advantage over this man. She held some power. She liked that. Powerlessness was normal for her in the face of, in the throes of passion. Such dereliction of self control had broken and scarred her, but had not proved to be sufficient deterrent to recidivism in the past. Some called it hopeless romanticism. Jenny didn’t call it anything.
Martin was taken aback and temporarily forgot about his sunglasses. Although it was not her fault that his sunglasses were dirty he was fired up and ready to give Jenny a piece of his mind. She had not even touched them but she was the front line of customer service. Nothing personal but Jenny was the human face of the store from where he had purchased what he now believed to be defective goods.
‘Well have you?’ asked Martin with his tried and true charming smile.
‘No, I haven’t.’
‘In that case there is something wrong with these sunnies.’ Martin was not disappointed by a second rejection: he simply switched his attention back to the matter at hand.
After he explained the problem Jenny asked cheekily, ‘Was your hanky clean?’ She took the sunglasses from Martin and examined the mark for herself.
Martin laughed in spite of his annoyance.
She produced an anti static cloth from a drawer under the counter and worked away at the smudge for thirty seconds before holding them up to the light and asserting that they were now absolutely spotless. Cloud free.
Martin looked for himself and had to agree.
‘Thanks for that…now about dinner…what kind of food do you like?’
‘I like food that I can eat by myself.’
‘Uh huh,’ said Martin thoughtfully as they looked into each other’s eyes. ‘I guess I’ll see you later then.’
‘Uh huh,’ replied Jenny coolly mimicking his tone.
She bit her lower lip as he turned and walked away. Was she really going to be dumb enough to send him away again? Or was it the wisest course of action? She’d had this argument with herself many times before. He was harmless. He was dangerous. It was only a date. It could be something more. I hope it’s something more. It’s probably nothing. Jenny didn’t know this man from a bar of soap. After being momentarily distracted wondering what brand of soap he used, Jenny clench her hands into tight little fists, summoned up some courage, and called after him.
‘I’m free Friday!’
Martin stopped suddenly. He was so pleased with himself that he could hardly contain his glee. The electronic beeper went unnoticed as it whined continuously while he stood in the doorway.
‘I’ll pick you up after work, okay?’
He heard her reply, ‘See you then,’ and start to giggle like a schoolgirl who had just been asked out on her first date.
Like a perfect gentleman, Martin pulled a chair from under the small round table and gestured for Jenny to sit. They made small talk over a bottle of Shiraz. He all charm. She all blushes and giggles. Jenny told him the story of her life and he listened carefully, lavishing her with the attention he knew she craved. He spoke of himself as well, ensuring he revealed only as much as was necessary to sate her curiosity but not enough to support any doubts she may have had about him being the kind of man mothers always told their daughters to beware of.
‘How do you feel about sex?’
Jenny answered immediately, ‘I like it,’ but her expression indicated shock at her recklessness.
‘There would not be a man on this earth,’ continued Martin, ‘Who would not like it with you.’
The spell was broken. Jenny clasped her glass tightly as the smile fell from her face and she shuffled back in her seat.
Martin seemingly oblivious to her discomfort, continued, ‘I wouldn’t mind sharing either.’
She felt like she was going to be sick. Was she really hearing these words? It could not be real. She tried to speak but could not. The wine tasted like paste now so she put the glass on the table, carelessly splashing a little of the sweet red liquid on the white table cloth. Was she so drunk that she imagined the words? Did he really say that he wouldn’t mind sharing? What was she supposed to do now? The eyes of all were fastened on her: must have been. Mocking her stupidity. Poor gullible little thing flew straight into the spider’s web. So sad. She’s trapped. The heat in Jenny’s face was terrifying.
Like the consummate salesman that he was, Martin did not miss a beat. He merely poured her some more wine and said, ‘I operate a gentleman’s establishment. Very classy. Upmarket. It’s a safe, drug free environment and all the girls get on really well. I’m sure you’d fit in perfectly. Good money too!’
‘A what?’ asked Jenny softly, finally finding her voice. Her head was spinning but it was no longer the alcohol affecting her.
‘A gentleman’s club,’ repeated Martin.
‘Prostitutes?’ She spat the word out and became very angry when he simply nodded and grinned.
‘You prick. You dirty bastard. I can’t believe I fell for all your smooth talk when all you wanted was to…’
‘Calm down Jenny. All my girls-’
‘All my girls? All my girls? Have a listen to yourself. How could you be so arrogant.’
‘They find it strange at first but-’
‘But nothing. Stop it. You’re killing me. You are an absolute bloody joke. A sick piece of crap.’
All Martin could do was sit in stunned silence as Jenny abused him. He didn’t even flinch when she tossed the contents of her glass into his face. Then she slapped him with such ferocity that he fell sideways off his chair. He was so embarrassed he just sat there on the floor: unable to move. Still not satisfied, Jenny picked up Martin’s glass and emptied it on his head.
‘Open your goddamn eyes, you bastard,’ she shouted as tears streamed down her face: her voice redolent with disappointment. Disgust and anger.
Martin blinked furiously as he fumbled for a napkin.
‘Open your eyes and look at me!’ she demanded.
She was so humiliated her voice cracked which prevented her from furthering her verbal assault. Summoning a lungful of air for one last barrage, she said in an icy tone, ‘It wasn’t your sunglasses that were dirty, it was your eyes. Your mind. Look at me! You piece of shit bastard. I’m a person not a piece of meat. The sunglasses aren’t defective. You are!’
She ordered Martin to open his eyes and then she slapped him again before leaving the restaurant as fast as she could. The sound of gasping patrons was lost in the pulsing hum of blood in her ears.
Next morning after a sleepless night, Martin stepped out of his front door squinting in the bright sunshine. When he put on his sunglasses he couldn’t see anything. He took them off. Brightness. Put them on again. Darkness. Disgusted he threw them on the footpath and stomped on them until they broke into several pieces.
It was only then that it hit him. Despite spending the whole night trying to figure a way to make it right with Jenny, he had not seen his fault. Now suddenly he did and he was deeply ashamed. He staggered under the weight of revelation, and collapsed onto his backside. This epiphany of his arrogance literally took his breath away. His new image, his business, his relationships were all worthless. He was worthless.
Martin tilted to the side to pick up the remnants of his expensive Christian Diors, marveling at the twist of fate that had brought he and Jenny together. The sunglasses were smashed beyond repair, as was his pride. It was all beautifully clear now. He would give it all away just to be with Jenny. To receive her forgiveness, and see her smile again. Absolute madness. Insanity. Love.
D.A. Cairns is married with two teenagers and lives on the south coast of New South Wales where he works part time as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had 12 short stories published (but who’s counting right?) Devolution was his first novel and novel no.2 is currently seeking an agent or a publisher. Anyone interested?
read square pegs @ http://dacairns.blogspot.com