Excerpt From “Heading South,” a Novel by Brucella Newman

Chapter One

“Get your arse back in here now, Alex! And hurry up with that wine!” Miriam’s shrill voice rang out from the sitting room. “You’re missing all the fabulous eye candy!”

“Alright, I’ve only got two flipping hands,” muttered Alex, under her breath. She called back in a singsong voice, “Be there in a sec!”

Alex plopped herself down on the sitting room sofa, next to her best friend, Miriam. Her quick pit stop to the kitchen had brought in more supplies by tray, in the form of tortilla chips, dips, a skilfully shattered, giant 70% dark chocolate bar and more importantly, wine. Alex shovelled some Doritos into her mouth, leaned over and squinted into the screen of the laptop perched on Miriam’s knees. Miriam was in deep concentration, trawling through an Internet dating website, which displayed a myriad profile pictures of men, in various colours, shapes and sizes. She stopped at one photo and tapped her perfectly manicured red talon all over his face.

“Hmm, he’s a bit short, Miriam, mumbled Alex, mid-crunch. You don’t suppose he could be lying about his height, do you?”

Miriam, examining the man’s image, was now reaching for her newly replenished wine glass, without even looking up. How she managed to focus so intensely on the screen, yet have such finely honed motor skills as to pick up the glass by its stem so swiftly without even looking at it was beyond Alex, who just seemed to be the epitome of clumsiness for as long as she could remember. Surely it couldn’t seriously be deteriorating with her age, seeing as she was only forty-three, just one year older than Miriam. Alex liked to blame a lot of things on her age recently. But if she couldn’t put it down to her age, she would source Sister Moon as the culprit. When things tend to go awry, always blame it on the moon.

“Alex, darling, all men lie about their height,” Miriam replied, ever so matter-of-factly. She had an annoying habit of making statements as though there could never be any other plausible alternative.

“Well, some women must lie about their age, then. You’re certainly not thirty-eight,” retorted Alex, shovelling some more Maltesers into her mouth.

“Nonsense. Wasn’t it George Burns who said, ‘You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old’,” corrected Miriam, justifying herself.

Alex helped herself to another tortilla chip, on which she dolloped a large helping of guacamole. “Okay, since we’re bandying about famous quotes, I can counter that one: ‘Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.’ Mark Twain.”

“Oh, but I do mind, and it does matter!” wailed Miriam impatiently, as her rapid scrolling was turning to desperation, as she continued to scroll through the man’s voluminous images. She stopped scrolling when she arrived at a body shot of him standing by a swimming pool, on what looked like a really low budget Spanish package holiday. He was attempting to emulate Erik Estrada by sporting gold-rimmed CHiPs style mirror shades, a pair of tiger-print Speedos that were two sizes too small and an uneven fake orange tan. It did not help that he looked more like a rather well-known Tory politician, rather than the TV California Highway Patrol officer.

“Eurgh!” They both exclaimed simultaneously, before bursting out laughing.

As Miriam finished off her third large glass of wine, Alex leaned over and gave them both a top up, but the bottle was now nearly empty. She got up to get yet another refill, but Miriam yanked her back down.

“Sit down!” she growled. “You’ve got to be more serious about this. Internet dating is like looking for a job. It’s alright for you, you already have your man.”

It suddenly occurred to Alex that Miriam really was taking this whole Internet dating thing a bit too seriously. Miriam was being very business-like about the entire process, as if she were looking for the perfect personal assistant. Perhaps she was. Someone not only to be a listening companion, but one who also had to have the right credentials for the job!

Alex gaze drifted through the sitting room doorway and her eyes rested on the hallway wall opposite. There was a large black and white, silver-framed photograph of Alex with a good-looking man, her partner of ten years, Tristram. Alex was positioned slightly lower than Tristram, his arms wrapped around her protectively and her head was leaning into his chest.   They were seated on a large rock by the sea. She looked very content. She looked young, tanned and fresh. They were both laughing at the camera. A few wisps of hair blew across her face. A famous photographer friend of Tristram’s had taken the photograph several years ago, at the beginning of their relationship.   The photographer, Wolfgang, had invited Tristram and Alex to stay at his beach house St. James, in Barbados. Alex started to wonder when the last time was that she and Tristram had taken a photo like that together, let alone had a romantic break. Ever since they had bought the house in Kensal Rise, it seemed like every penny had gone into it. The house seemed to be in a perpetual state of redecoration and there never seemed to be time for a luxurious holiday, or even a weekend getaway. Alex began to drift further into her happy memories of that holiday on the island – the island life, its music, freshly caught fish every day, moonlit skinny-dipping…

“Uh-oh,” Miriam’s voice interrupted Alex’s thought abruptly.

“What is it?”

Miriam started slowly scrolling back a page. “What the hell is going on? Alex, please tell me I didn’t just see who I think I did.”

Alex thought she had just caught a flash of a familiar face, or was it her imagination? “I can’t, Miriam… What did you see? I’m thinking we might have just seen the same thing. Wait – go back… no… further up. Stop there!” Miriam stopped at a small black and white image of a fair-haired man’s profile. Alex’s pulse began to race. “Click on that one.”

Miriam obliged and both she and Alex leaned right in to take a closer look. The black and white image seemed far away. But the photograph looked extremely familiar now. Wasn’t that…her Tristram? Her Tristram’s picture? Her Tristram’s profile picture was on an Internet dating site!

(Adapted from the Screenplay ‘Heading South’ by Brucella Newman and Catherine Donaldson)

© Brucella Newman 2013

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