The wind tore like shards of glass and with an expression matching the weather, Emmeline Rys left her apartment. Her dark glasses perched on her nose, magnifying her eyes into two dark pools, her mouth was small, lips blood red. She had was short, with thin legs and narrow hips. From far away she looked like a cherub, her form tiny and delicate, but up close her energy and litheness poked through like a needle. Up close she was more like an imp. Her hair was long and naturally straight, but she had it pulled into a sharp bun because it was that kind of night.
The suburbs of Purdy Park had been the dream of an aged patron of Canadian poetry who wanted an ordered area for artists, unaware that such places are not planned, but evolved, and never in neat fashion. It was built of pale brick the colour of birch trees, thick iron chimneys jutted up like miniature spires and at every corner there was electric lamps. The main street was lined with shops converted from garages, and cafes built on driveways. Divided into blocks, the various smoke houses, dens, restaurants and apartments spilled into each other, forming loose property agreements and turning the square divides into adjacent blobs; Purdy Park was a sprawl.
On this October night a hellish wind ripped through Purdy, thundering down the streets like a devil. Cursing, Emmeline pushed in the door to Dante’s Coffee Shop and headed to her usual spot wiping rain from her glasses. She’d occupied the same corner in every Monday for months, and each week she’d dabbled with the idea of going somewhere else. She waved over her shoulder at the owner Emilio. She stopped. Sitting her spot was a man. Emmeline’s steps slowed, leaving her standing awkwardly between a man and woman who’d been speaking, they frowned and moved away. The man had his long legs resting on the window sill. His face was dominated by a large nose, and his hair was long and brown, framing his angular face. Frowning, Emmeline turned and sat down at the last open seat at bar and and frowned at the cold plastic on her legs, she tried smooth her skirt under her.
Emilio should have told him that this was her spot. He was in her chair. She snuck a glance at him, he was staring out the window, his face drawn. Her heart sank, it wasn’t his fault. She studied his face, there was something about it that was familiar. The wind hammered into the walls, rain splattering the windows, and the light from the gas lamps made it look like the night sky.
Emmeline slid smartly off the stool and approached the man, who looked up in surprise. She smiled.
‘Hi, I’m Emmeline.’
The man stood up quickly, making the chair squeak on the wooden floor, he winced and held out his hand, she glanced at his other hand hanging at his side, it was bare.
They sat down at the same time.
‘Not from around here are you?’ Emmeline asked.
‘No, I’m not.’
She nodded and then looked at the wall behind him and starting chuckling. Arthur smiled and squinted, ‘is that ok?’ He asked. She waved him off and said,
‘No it’s not that, this is my usual spot and I never noticed the graffiti on the wall behind you. It’s like seeing a stain on your shirt after wearing it all day.’
‘Your spot? Oh.’ He was suddenly possessed by a nervous energy and he stood up half way before Emmeline put her hand on his arm and laughed, her dark eyes large behind her glasses.
‘No, no, it’s aright. I got over it. Sit down.’
‘Thanks.’ He rubbed his face, and smiled tiredly, crows feet stood out around his eyes.
‘Wait, what do you mean a stain?’
She looked pointedly behind him. He turned, and carved in above his head in flowing penmanship, were the words: “I’m a flirty, dirty pretty Purdy.”
She sat leaned back and tilted her head.
‘The workmanship is actually impressive. They even have right grammar.’
Arthur’s mouth was open and he started laughing, his shoulders loosened and he leaned over the table.
Emmeline smiled, ‘Life is mysterious, don’t you think?’ He nodded, his lips upturned. They sat in silence. The wind hurtled into the window making the glass shudder. ‘Well, what brings you to Purdy?’ Emmeline said.
‘Family.’ Arthur said, rubbing the back of his neck. ‘I’ve got an uncle here. I’m taking a break from work. Meet people, I don’t know.’
She nodded, and said ‘your uncle lives here?’
‘Yeah, he’s my father’s brother. He runs the bookstore down the street.’ Emmeline nodded and then stopped.
‘Wait, the bookstore?’
‘Yes? Purdy Bookstore. Is there another one?’
‘No there’s not another one.‘ She looked at him in amazement. He doesn’t even know, she thought, or maybe he does. She looked at him closely, really noticing for the first time his strong jawline and distinct high cheekbones.
‘You’re Uncle is Mr. Rending?’
‘yeah, is that bad?’
Emmeline threw up her hands and set them back in her lap, and looked around quickly before closing one eye and squinting at him.
‘Your Uncle’s grand-father is Robert Rending.’ She stated.
Arthur nodded slowly, ‘Yeah.’
‘You’re the prince of Purdy!’ Emmeline burst out, ‘and your name is Arthur too, is there a sword around here?’
Arthur stared. She leaned forward whispering, ‘you’re cousin literally built Purdy. There’s a statue of him by the community center and-.’ She snapped her fingers at him. ‘You look like it. I thought there was something familiar about you. But your nose is larger.’
Arthur sat back and folded his arms.
‘That’s from my mother.’
Emmeline was fidgeting, her face alight.
‘Why haven’t you lived here before? You could do anything you wanted to here.’
Arthur grimaced and said, ‘I want to do things on my own.’ Emmeline crinkled her nose and said, ‘Why? No one does things on their own. What does that mean? I get the whole self-affirmation stuff or whatever, but if you’re given something, you should use it.’
Emmeline sat back. Her hair had been slowly coming loose from her bun, and a strand fell across her face. She brushed it away like a fly and said, ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but really, if you’re given something like that you should use it.’
Arthur frowned and said, ‘You don’t know anything about me.’ He shifted his gaze out the opaque window.
She winced and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ He didn’t respond. She let her hair out and promptly retied it
‘You’re wishing it wasn’t so shit outside or you’d leave.’
His face softened. ‘No, maybe you’re right. I don’t know.’
He paused. And then suddenly straightened his back and leaned in, eyes piercing. ‘I built myself, with no help from my name, or anyone.’
‘Then why are you here?’ Emmeline said. She knew she was being rude, but she didn’t care, he was the prince of Purdy.
‘I don’t know.’
Emmeline said nothing. But he’s here, she thought, and that’s something. She began to open her mouth when the door banged open, slamming into the wall. Wind came howling in and she heard Emilio cursing as he pushed against the door grunting like a bull. Arthur scrambled up and rushed to help, he set his back against the door and they heaved, boots squeaking on the floor. The door shut, and Emilio’s face broke into a smile, and he pumped Arthur’s hand and said his full name. Arthur hesitated, his head twitched towards her. And then he spoke and she saw Emilio lean in, take a step back and lean in again with an hand cupping his ear. Arthur smiled, shrugged and nodded, Emilio planted a large hand on his shoulder, lined face splitting with the brightest smile Emmeline had ever seen.