The Truth About Harry – By John Bolland

The short story The Truth About Harry was published in the Lemon Tree Writers The Tide Breathes Out anthology in 2006. My thanks to the selection panel at Lemon Tree Writers for selecting my work.

For a full list of my previous publications, please see the publications page on this website.

The Truth About Harry

The trick was to keep the new minaret on your right and always follow the downward sloping streets. Following this rule, eventually Marie emerged on Fountain Square, its entrance blocked by drifts of taxis dropping off or picking up.
Winter was coming and, though there were peaches on the trees (real peaches you could eat), it was almost time to go home. Her husband, Harry, would stay on. He would come back to Falkirk for the Christmas break, return here after Hogmanay. All the men in Harry’s office agreed with him that winters in Baku were cold and bleak. They pointed east across the Caspian – “The Steppe,” they said. The guidebooks described the climate as mild. Marie chose to believe Harry.
In Fountain Square the local men sat among the acacia trees, gossiping or watching people pass. In shirtsleeves and pale slacks, they played chess or backgammon, smoked pungent cigarettes and fretted thick black beads. Marie, her shopper on her arm, sailed out into the space, picking up images and scents and sounds and anecdotes, a gesture here, a shrug or grimace there, a snap of triumph – Knight to Queen 4 – Checkmate.
“Hello. Mrs. Sullivan?” the girl said.
Marie glanced down at the hand laid on her arm then back to the girl. A sweet face. Twenty (though she might be seventeen). Brown eyes accentuated with dark pencil. The girl’s perfect lips were drawn into a smile on bowstrings of affection. Recognition clicked.
“I’m Nara,” the girl said.
“Yes,” Marie said. “We met at the Irish Bar. You were playing pool.”
“With Harry and Bob.” Nara laughed.
She was a sweet thing. Marie recalled her giggling a lot.
“How are you?” Marie asked.
“It is a beautiful day,” Nara said.
“Mrs. Sullivan.”
“Marie,” the older woman said.
“Marie,” Nara said, looking directly at her. She did have beautiful eyes. “I wanted you to know that Harry will be taken care of. His washing and his ironing will be done and I will make sure he eats twice a day, good food and not too much alcohol.”
“Really?” Marie said. “That’s not necessary. He’s lived alone before.”
Nara smiled and nodded. “You seemed so nice, I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Thank you,” Marie said.
Nara said, “You are very welcome.”
“Well. Goodbye,” Marie said.
“Until next year.” Nara held out a slim, soft hand with long painted nails. Marie took the hand. It was a lovely hand.
“Yes,” she said.
They parted. Marie continued down towards the end of the square and the grander streets near the sea front. She paused once and glanced back. The girl was still heading uphill, threading through the crowd in the autumn sunshine. Her slim figure seemed weightless.
“So,” Marie said. She sighed, realising she too felt a momentary lightness. Yes. A weight had been lifted from her. It was a burden of which Marie had been quite unaware ten minutes earlier. She felt extremely satisfied.