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27. NYC '18 29. My First Date

August 29th, 2020

The Gate at 62

Martin thought about whales on the way to Sainsbury's. Monkeys and whales. Just before he'd left, asking around if anyone wanted anything from the shop... 'Anything from Sains?' 'Nah, I'm good.' 'Jack, anything from the shop?' 'No, thanks!' He's heading downstairs when someone calls from their room. 'Actually could you pick up some kitchen roll?' 'Are we out?' I brought some last week, he thinks, scowling. 'No, I just think we'll probably get through it tonight.' 'Oh yeah. Sure.' Party tonight. Big house full of party. He looked around the hall, assessing vacuuming necessity. Could probably get away without, he thought, might be worth doing by the shoes at least... A later problem. Boots on, doesn't think he'll need an umbrella, warm enough for just a light jacket, one foot out the door. 'Mart?' 'Yeah?' Rumbling from above as someone comes barrelling down the stairs, brow furrowed with stress or concentration. Oh God what's happened now, he think, but gives a smile of readiness. 'What's up?' 'Has a monkey ever touched a whale?' 'What?' 'Do you think that a monkey has ever touched a whale?' 'Ummm, yeah, why not?' 'Seriously though can you imagine it?' 'I guess... Not really?' 'I don't think that a monkey has ever touched a whale.' He 'Ever?' 'I don't think that a monkey has ever touched a whale.' 'Right, okay. Are you sure?' The other nods solemnly, gazing into the middle distance, picturing chimpanzees falling into rivers, or swimming deep into the ocean, whole families of limas riding on the backs of orcas, a silverback with a pet humpback. 'Anything else?' He doesn't answer, just absentmindedly shakes his head and wanders away, climbing the stairs very slowly and purposefully. 'Rhino. A rhino has never touched a whale,' he mutters, before closing his bedroom door. Thoughts of monkeys, rhinos, whales, and other unlikely combinations within the animal kingdom accompanied Martin halfway to the shop before he was distracted by an open gate banging in the winds that had picked up overnight; a mild taster of the turning weather that was growing greyer by the day. He stopped walking and watched as the gate slowly swung shut, creaking ever so slightly on well weighted hinges, before being caught in a gust and slamming open, a loud crack making him jump in spite of, or perhaps amplified by, anticipation. After another gentle swing and slam he stepped over to the gate and pulled it shut, locking the metal arm into its socket and giving it a little jiggle to make sure it was stuck fast. He looked up at the house. The windows were dark at number 62. Probably at work, he thought, and walked away. The shop was busy and uneventful, he strolled ponderously up and down, list-less and hungry. Never shop hungry, he remembered, as he filled his basket with all the things he was trying to give up. Only stopping once the basket became too heavy to carry with one hand, he lugged his way to the self checkout and beeped through his bread and milk, catching his own eye in the unexpectedly flattering mirror that lets you check if anyone is sneaky a peak at your PIN. He gave himself an eyebrow, then a wink, then quickly checked nobody was watching, giving himself a Whoops look, we'll keep this between ourselves. He'd forgotten all about the ape-whale conundrum until he was halfway home, the same halfway to the shop he'd been when he noticed the gate creaking and slamming at number 62. He stopped walking, bag in either hand. He looked up at the house, windows dark. Suddenly his head was filled with scared baboons on a blue whale life raft. He went to walk past but noticed a flyer, handyman or estate agent, tucked midway through the letterbox. He looked around. A quite suburban street said nothing, just hummed with the engines of distant cars. There was nobody there, apart from one man he'd passed turning the corner onto Cardingham Avenue. The man was still there, on the corner. The gate bumped closed. The man had been on his phone, suddenly he looked up. Even at a distance Martin could tell he was being watched. Slowly he turned and began to walk away from the house, along the street away from the man on the corner. He could feel the eyes of the man burning into the back of his head. He felt sweat began to warm his back. His breathing turned ragged and caught in his throat. He held back a cough and concentrated on walking as casually as he could to the corner of the road where he turned and ran halfway down the next street before turning. A car went past, slowly to gently roll over a speed bump. Then it was quiet. Martin's mind did looping backflips as he quickly walked away, speeding home where he fumbled for his key, closing the door and leaning heavily against it. He looked down at his hands, thin red welts had formed where the plastic of the bags had tugged on his fingers. The next day he would have to walk down Cardingham Road on his way to the bus stop the next street over. Headphones in, hands deep in his jacket pockets, wooden hat pulled low. He hadn't told his friends about the gate, or the man, what was there to say? I closed a gate and then it was open again, and a man was standing on the corner. He felt his shoulders tense as he turned onto Cardingham. As he walked past number 62 he forced himself not to turn his head; only a quick flick of the eyes towards the house. The flyer was still in the letterbox, the windows were still dark, the gate was closed. Beached whales he thought, a monkey could well have touched a beach whale. Or a drowned monkey could have floated out into the ocean. Did it count if one party was dead?

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