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  • 21. A Cloud of Facts

    By Margot Livesey

    Margot Livesey, whose novel The House on Fortune Street is just out in paperback, has generously given us this story, in which a woman wrestles with the temptations—and the costs—of the unknown. Her story is a quiet marvel of observation, beautifully paced and inexorable.

    One October day when the sky above the city of Edinburgh seemed greyer and more solid than the buildings, Morag met Marcel shoplifting. She caught his gaze just as he was sliding a bottle of perfume into the pocket of his raincoat. He stared at her steadily, a man of about thirty whose hair equivocated between fair and brown. Morag thought he might put the perfume back but instead, without taking his eyes off her, he pocketed a second bottle and walked, unhurriedly, out of the shop. When Morag emerged onto Princes Street a few minutes later with her vitamins and handcream, paid for and in a bag, she found him loitering outside the bookshop a few doors down.

    “What rubbish,” he said, gesturing toward a window filled with books about the royal family. “As if there were an inside story, as if we’d know it, if there were. Do you have time for coffee?”

    Morag hesitated, taking in his shiny blue eyes and clean shoes. When she first arrived at Edinburgh University she had had a wild patch, picking up boys on the street, but the overworked angel who looks after young people had taken care of her until she met James. A friend had introduced them because they both liked fishing. On their first date they had caught three trout apiece, and gone on to live together for eight fairly happy years. Morag had moved out last spring, her departure fueled not by any quarrel but by a pervasive sense of staleness. Now outside the other window of the bookshop a man in a kilt began to play the bagpipes. Morag looked at Marcel and thought why not. “Coffee would be nice,” she said.

    “I’m Marcel Dunbar,” he said and held out his hand.

    The formal gesture surprised her into responding with her full name: Morag Findlayson.

    At a cafe on Rose Street they ordered coffee and sat down. Marcel, as had been obvious from his first syllable, was Irish. He came from the town of Bray about thirty miles from Dublin. His older brother was often mistaken for the poet Seamus Heaney. “Sometimes he goes along with it,” Marcel said. “He’s memorized a couple of poems. My younger brother doesn’t look like anyone.” His was a small family, only three children. His Aunt Veronica, with thirteen, was the pride of the parish.

    Morag listened, happily caught in the web of his voice. His nose had a slight bump on the bridge, as if it had once been broken, and there was something odd about his blue eyes. Were they too close together? Or a little cross-eyed? The uncertainty drew her back, again and again. Each time, it seemed Marcel was watching her, daring her to say something about the perfume until, finally, she blurted out, “Why did you do that?”

    “Why didn’t you turn me in?”

    “I don’t know,” Morag said, although several reasons came to mind: fear of embarrassment, that she did not consider shoplifting from large shops a crime, that she liked his looks.

    “Perhaps you think sins of omission are all right but not sins of commission.”

    “No,” said Morag. “I don’t think that. I almost admire those who commit rather than simply stand around.”

    “So what was your last sin?”

    It was a women’s magazine question but Marcel’s expression of interest made her want to answer honestly, or at least to know what an honest answer would be before she lied. Was it something she had done at work? With James? Probably the latter.

    A few weeks ago they had arranged to meet at a pub near the hospital where he worked as an administrator. Morag, early for once, had installed herself in an alcove and when James came in, on the dot of six, he had failed to see her. Watching him cast around the crowded room, she was assailed by a sharp distaste for the evening that lay ahead. The moment he turned to the bar, she slipped out of the back door. But as she waited to cross the road, she found herself eying a poster in the window of a travel agent. The sight of the blue waters of Loch Lomond, a reminder of their many fishing expeditions, had made her return to the pub and greet James as if newly arrived.

    This was not, however, the story she told Marcel. Instead she described the accident she had had with her parents’ car, a minor collision mysteriously resulting in five hundred pounds of damage. She was still fretting about how to pay when someone reversed out of a driveway and hit the car in exactly the same place. “So the insurance paid for everything. I gave the car back in better condition than I borrowed it.”

    She expected Marcel to exclaim admiringly but a look of disappointment came over his face. “That was clever,” he said, “but I’d been thinking of something a little less conventional? Something you’re ashamed of? And you tell me about your erratic driving.”

    Morag watched his hands. On the back of one was a mark shaped like India, a smudge or a bruise perhaps. She finished her coffee and stood up. “I’d better get going,” she said.

    “You can’t just leave. Where are you going? Can I come?”

    Morag started to laugh. “No, but you can give me your phone number.”

    *

    At work Morag was absent-minded. Twice she brought a customer the wrong size of clothing and once she gave the wrong change. She and her two partners, Yvonne and Lucy, ran a shop called Poppies which sold clothes and jewelry and expensive knick-knacks. It kept the three of them afloat although they each did something else. Lucy, who was sturdy and down to earth, gave yoga lessons. Yvonne, the artistic one, made jewelry. She had a workbench at the back of the shop, and the effect of her sitting there, bending the silver wire into intricate shapes, spread like a mantle over the other merchandise, making people feel that everything they saw was the result of the same care and attention. Morag had used to teach English to Vietnamese women but the grant that paid her salary had been cut. More recently she had been bartending two nights a week. The hours were long but the job suited her need to meet new people in a new way.

    She was steaming a long skirt, when suddenly she wondered if Marcel had given her his real phone number. She set the steamer aside and went to try it. An answering machine with his unmistakable Irish voice responded. She hung up and turned back to the waistband. Only a few people she knew had answering machines at home; it made her think Marcel must be well off or have some kind of job that required it. She hung the skirt on a hanger and pinned on a price tag. Or perhaps he had stolen it.

    *

    Every day Morag considered calling Marcel and found a reason not to. The first day was too soon. The second she went round to see Steve and Janet; they had both recently joined AA and did not want to stray too far from their fridge full of soft drinks. The third she was working at the pub. At quarter to nine the next morning her phone rang. “Aren’t you ever going to call me?” said Marcel. He had got her number from directory enquiries.

    They met for supper at Kalpna’s. When Morag had announced she was a vegetarian, it turned out that Marcel was too. Simultaneously they had named Kalpna’s as their favorite restaurant. After they ordered, Marcel held out his fists. “Left or right?”

    She saw that the mark on his hand was still there, a faint maroon birthmark, more like a cloud than India, and that was the hand she chose.

    “Got it in one,” Marcel said, uncurling his fingers to reveal an earring, dangling blue and gold flowers. His other hand held the mate.

    “They’re lovely,” said Morag.

    “Try them on.”

    There was a mirror on the wall beside their table and she pulled back her hair and slipped them in. The earrings were exquisite. “Thank you,” she said. “I don’t know what to say.”

    “Nothing to say, except they look great on you. Clearly you’re their rightful owner and it was just a mistake that they got separated from you.”

    “Is that your theory of property?” Morag asked. “Ownership based on aesthetics?”

    Marcel frowned. “Aesthetics is certainly a place to start.”

    “Did you steal these?”

    “Of course. Anyone can buy you a gift but I gamble six months of my life to give you pleasure.” He made a small, mocking bow and passed the samosas.

    Morag did not know whether to be disapproving or thrilled. She picked the plumpest samosa and said she must show the earrings to Yvonne; maybe she could copy them. Marcel told her that when he was little he had wanted to be a contortionist. “We had a book with a picture of a man, his arms and legs wrapped around each other so small he fit under a chair.”

    Morag sat looking at him. His eyes did diverge slightly; she was sure. When he paused she said, “Why do you have an answering machine? Is it for business?” Then she realized she had given away her call to him. She reached for her beer and his eyes fell into unison.

    “Pleasure,” he said. “How old are you?”

    “Twenty-nine,” said Morag, dropping a year and a half.

    *

    At Poppies next day she told Lucy about the evening. She wanted to bring Marcel into the realm of the familiar, and Lucy, happily married, keenly interested in the adventures of others, seemed the perfect confidante. But almost at once there were awkward questions. “How did you meet him?” asked Lucy.

    “At the pub.”

    “And what does he do?”

    Marcel himself had been vague on this topic, saying something about computers and then asking had she ever wanted to join the circus. “He’s a software consultant.”

    She and Lucy were at the counter folding scarves. Now Lucy paused in her tidy gestures. “It sounds a bit weird to me, Morag. I mean you don’t want to run around with a stranger.”

    “Well, in a way I do,” said Morag. She shook out a piece of chiffon the colour of mist. “With James, I knew the street where he grew up, his passion for Earl Grey tea, how he folded his underwear. And he knew those things about me. I felt smothered by all that information, as if I no longer had a self.”

    “Of course you have a self,” said Lucy. “You’re a thirty-year-old woman.” She held a paisley scarf across her face like a veil, so that the fabric fluttered as she asked, “Did he kiss you goodnight?”

    “Yes,” mumbled Morag. It was another half-lie. Marcel had kissed her, but on both cheeks in a disappointing, grown up way. To hide her confusion, she carried the scarves to the display table. The shop door pinged and a woman who had been looking through the window came in. “Do you have that in my size?” she asked, pointing to Morag’s red skirt.

    That evening Morag went to the cinema with James. She had suggested the outing, her contribution to the idea that they were still friends, and throughout she was determinedly nice, asking about his family, taking an intelligent interest in the latest crisis at the hospital. She had been home for ten minutes when the phone rang. “Your red skirt is great,” said Marcel. “It makes you look like a skater.”

    Morag was too startled to speak. She gazed wildly around the room: the empty armchairs, the empty sofa, the dark windows whose curtains she seldom drew because of being on the fourth floor. Marcel laughed. “Did you like the film?” he asked.

    “Oh, you were at the Odeon,” Morag exclaimed. The evening bloomed with new radiance; it had not been merely another dull date with James. Marcel had been there watching her, wanting her. “That was James,” she said. “We’re just . . .”

    “Friends?” Marcel interrupted, his voice curling around the word like a dry leaf.

    *

    The following night Marcel showed up at the pub during the ten o’clock rush. Morag was too busy to do more than pour him a Guinness, and he fell into conversation with one of the regulars. After a lifetime working on the Leith docks, Grace had turned to poetry, and was always eager for an audience. From behind the bar Morag glimpsed her waving her arms and guessed she was reciting a poem, perhaps her sonnet about the strike. The next time the crowd parted, Marcel had gone.

    Soon eleven o’clock came. Roy shouted last call and ushered people out. He was a graduate student, normally soft-spoken, who was writing a dissertation on the Battle of Culloden. When business was slow he entertained Morag with accounts of skirmishes and disasters. Together they cleaned the tables. She did the washing up while he dealt with the cash. The rule was that Morag waited for him to lock up and kept him company to the night deposit box. “Think of yourself as the bodyguard,” the manager had told her.

    Roy was setting the alarm and Morag was joking about their tips for the evening, a stunning total of one pound ninety pence, when a figure sauntered out of the darkness. Immediately she shifted from laughter to apprehension. Was this danger?

    “Hi,” said Marcel. “I came back to see if I could walk you home.”

    “You can jog beside my bicycle. Roy, this is Marcel. Marcel, Roy.”

    The three of them walked to the corner, Morag pushing her bike. Then Roy insisted he was fine. “It’s brightly lit and look at all the traffic.” He gestured with the folded Tesco’s bag that contained their takings for the night.

    “If you’re sure,” said Morag. At the prospect of Marcel seeing the deposit box a thought she did not care to examine had slid into her brain and flitted away. She and Marcel continued down Broughton Road. He praised Grace, saying she could be Irish, and repeated highlights of her poem. Outside Morag’s flat he handed her a package. “For you.”

    It was the novel A High Wind from Jamaica. “I thought you didn’t believe in stealing anything useful,” said Morag. He had by now explained his philosophy of shoplifting—always from chains and, ideally, something useless. “To steal for a purpose is forgivable. Like a hunter killing only what he needs to feed his family.” Marcel did not steal every week, or even every month, but periodically the hunger would come over him for that moment of total concentration and he would put on his raincoat and sally forth.

    Now he expostulated that the author was dead and the mere giving an act of superfluity. “I have to believe you like me anyway,” he said, “else I wouldn’t go to this kind of trouble.”

    He kissed her, and although his mouth was warm, his body maintained a careful distance; a Catholic distance, Morag thought. Briefly she wondered if she ought to ask him in but it was late and he said nothing. She wished him goodnight and wheeled her bike inside.

    *

    Uneasiness settled in Morag, like a stingray on the ocean floor, present but not always visible. When she left James, it had been with a keen desire to expand her life. She did not want to leave Poppies, where she had worked for four years, or Edinburgh, where she had lived for ten, but within these confines, she wanted something different and, so far, Marcel seemed to offer her best chance. His carefully cultivated air of mystery fascinated her and made her feel more fascinating. Lucy and Yvonne, even Roy, asked, “Are you in love with him?” and tut-tutted instead of rejoicing at her negative answer.

    She and Marcel continued to meet in public places. They ate or went to films and once, on a clear, cold day, climbed Arthur’s Seat. From the summit they gazed across the city to the Firth of Forth. The view reminded him of home, said Marcel. He told her that the autumn he was eleven he and the other boys had smashed the windows of the parish school. “The Fathers refused to mend them until spring. Of course they were toasty in their habits but we had to wear our coats and do jumping jacks between lessons.” He laughed. “It was tragic.”

    “Tragic,” repeated Morag, charmed by the odd use of the word.

    “So what you were like at school?” he said, turning from the panorama to her.

    “I was a good girl. My mother was the school secretary so it was hard to misbehave.”

    “That’s too bad. There are some things one needs to do at a certain age. If I had shoplifted as a kid, I wouldn’t be doing it now.”

    His hair shifted in the breeze. Today, Morag decided, the color was definitely brown. “But what about what you said, the hunger?” she asked.

    “I think most people have that. I mean, don’t you? Isn’t that why you broke up with James?”

    “I suppose.” She did not feel an immediate identification with Marcel’s criminal activities, but yes, there had been a kind of hunger. “So what do most people do about it?”

    “Men do sneaky things at work, or mess about with women. As for women,” he put his arm around her shoulders, “you’ll have to tell me.”

    *

    In mid-November Morag went to Perth to visit her parents. Marcel begged to come too but she resisted. James was the only man she had taken home and she was not yet ready to take another, especially Marcel, one of whose virtues was that her parents were sure to disapprove of him. “Maybe when I know you better,” she temporized. “Besides, we’re going fishing.”

    “Fishing,” pouted Marcel. “Listen, you know me now. You apprehend my essence in its totality. As time goes on, you’ll know me less, not more. Already we’re both being obscured by a cloud of facts.”

    A cloud of facts, Morag thought, and smiled. Her father met her at Perth bus station and they went fishing in the river Tay. Morag used a new fly her father had tied, peacock blue, and caught nothing while he, with his favorite black widow, hooked two small trout. He released the first. The second he left to Morag. In her hand the fish panted hard but when she slipped the hook free and reached down into the water, it swam away almost drowsily. A little later the rain started.

    Over supper her parents asked about James. “He’s such a nice man,” said her mother. “And utterly reliable.”

    “You don’t seem especially happy these days,” added her father.

    “I wasn’t happy before, either,” protested Morag. That her life with James had been so like that of her parents struck them as an argument for him, not against him. They took turns listing his good points. The conversation, familiar in every detail, exhausted Morag. She caught the first bus back to Edinburgh and went directly to bed.
    Next morning she climbed out of the shower and approached the basin. Something was different. In the condensation on the mirror there were marks. Letters. They spelled “Listen to me.” Morag’s first impulse was to bolt the door, for fear of an intruder, but looking more closely she recognized an old Halloween trick. The letters were not freshly made but had been written earlier with soap. She hurried to the bedroom and put on her clothes. When she came back, the words were still there. She stood, looking at them, her arms wrapped around herself. Then she fetched her camera and took a photograph before she wiped the mirror clean.

    She ate a bowl of cereal standing at the kitchen sink. What else, what else had he seen and touched? The idea of her most innocent possessions falling prey to Marcel’s scrutiny made her squirm but there was no time to check. It was her turn to open Poppies. By an effort of will she gathered her things together and set out on her bike. Normally the hill up to the shop left her puffing but today she pedaled with furious energy, oblivious to the incline. At Poppies she did not pause even to remove her helmet before dialling Marcel’s number.

    “Morag,” he said warmly, “I’m listening to Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Can you hear it?”

    The high sweet notes of Titania’s love for Bottom almost broke Morag’s resolve, but she steeled herself. “Marcel,” she said, “did you visit my flat yesterday?”

    There was the slightest pause. Titania fell silent. Marcel laughed. “Fair cop,” he said. “You made me feel like a parcel you wanted to dump in left luggage. And when you only used the Yale lock . . .” He trailed off, as if the depths of her stupidity and his temptation were too obvious to be spoken.

    “Wait a minute,” said Morag. “You can’t break into someone’s flat just because they don’t do what you want. That’s fascism. How would you feel if I did that to you?”

    “You’re absolutely right,” said Marcel, seemingly struck by the novelty of this insight. “I won’t do it again. Cross my heart.”

    They made a date for Wednesday and Morag hung up feeling relieved. She put away her outdoor clothes, opened the shop and made a cup of coffee. But as she was cleaning the display cases, she saw again the mirror with the neat letters rising out of the steam, and her equilibrium vanished like a speck of dust. What was the promise worth of a man who would break into her flat out of peevishness? And now she had not so much forgiven Marcel as been turned by him into an accomplice. That was the third category—sins of complicity.

    *

    Mondays were quiet at both Poppies and the pub, and by the end of the day Morag had a plan. Next morning it was Lucy’s turn to open the shop and soon after seven Morag set off to Marcel’s address. The five-story building was in a close, near the university, with only one way out. Best of all there was a bakery opposite with a few tables where she could sit and read the paper.

    An hour passed and she had moved from satisfaction in her scheme to thinking this was the stupidest thing she had ever done. Three people had come out of the close, two older women and a boy. Morag was giving up hope when a fourth person appeared, a man who walked like Marcel but was wearing some kind of navy-blue uniform.

    Morag stared. It was indeed Marcel and he was heading to the bakery. She seized the newspaper and feigned absorption. He stepped inside. She heard his voice say, “Good morning.” And then the woman behind the counter, “Good morning, Francis. What can I get you?”

    Francis. She remembered that the initials in the phone book had been F.M. He ordered a ham and cheese roll and a coffee to take away. Soon the transaction was complete. He left, bidding the woman a cheerful farewell, and Morag followed. It was surprisingly easy. The streets were busy; he never looked back. Within ten minutes the riddle of the uniform was solved. Marcel climbed the steps of the National Gallery. Morag lingered in Princes Street Gardens. As the door of the gallery closed behind him, she began to laugh. So much for computers. Even his vegetarianism had been a lie.

    *

    Morag had thought that simply knowing some basic facts about Marcel would redress the balance; she had not reckoned upon the disruptive nature of those facts. On Wednesday, when they went for pizza, she could scarcely contain herself as Marcel ordered the vegetarian special. While they waited he presented her with the large box he had been carrying. It turned out to be a picnic basket. When Morag exclaimed, he said he felt terrible about the other day. He’d behaved tragically. She was quite right to be furious.

    Morag lifted the basket onto her knee. Inside, neatly strapped in place, was a thermos, with place settings for four and two boxes for sandwiches. “I thought maybe for when you went fishing,” offered Marcel.

    “How did you . . . ?”

    “I bought a cheap laundry hamper and put the basket inside.” He described, with obvious satisfaction, how his hands had shaken. “Do you like it?” he asked.

    Morag nodded, oddly saddened. Marcel had been brought low, she thought; here he was stealing useful things for useful reasons. Partly out of that sadness, she invited him to come to Steve and Janet’s on Friday. Partly out of the hope that the tangled skein they had woven might yet be unraveled. She imagined her friends asking the questions she no longer could and Marcel giving simple, truthful answers. He accepted the invitation enthusiastically, and stood her up. Morag left three messages on his answering machine. The fourth time she remained silent out of embarrassment.

    Next day at lunchtime she claimed an errand and bicycled to the Gallery. She jogged through the crowded rooms, past gaggles of schoolchildren and elderly guards. Then, in the seventeenth century, there he was, being questioned by an angular man with a walking stick. Morag slowed her pace to match the other visitors. She did not want to accost him, or be noticed, simply to see him. At the last moment, however, the angular man stepped away and Marcel’s wandering gaze fell upon her. She stopped, rooted in front of a large, gloomy landscape. As for Marcel, he blushed fiercely and retreated into the sixteenth century.

    Back at the shop Morag blurted yet another message onto the answering machine. “Marcel, I didn’t mean to be stand-offish. I was just so surprised to see you. And I needed to get back to the shop. Please phone me. I’d like to talk.”

    *

    Now she felt tragic. By her spying she had stolen Marcel’s air of mystery. She told the whole story—as much as she could stand—to Roy. “Morag,” he said, “he sounds mad. You do too. Why would you want to go out with a pathological liar?”

    “But he’s also sweet and he tells wonderful stories. It wasn’t all lies. And I lied too—about my age, some other stuff. I mean,” she saw Roy’s expression, “maybe that’s what people do, but it’s still lying.”

    In between pulling pints they argued. Roy remarked that his first thought on meeting Marcel had been that he was gay.

    “Gay,” said Morag, spilling the beer she was holding.

    “Of course,” Roy said apologetically, “you would know.”

    He moved off to empty ashtrays, leaving Morag to grapple with this surprising notion. That would make sense of the cautious kisses but not of the heat she had sometimes felt rising between them. “A pint of bitter,” called a woman from the far end of the bar and Morag plunged back into work. By the end of the evening she was convinced. She would not make any more overtures toward Marcel; she would stay away from the museum, his flat, the phone. “And be careful going home at night,” Roy admonished.

    He was locking the door of the pub as he spoke and Morag had the sudden prickly sensation of being observed, like a knife scratching between her shoulder blades, but when she turned around there were only the usual teenagers and drunks straggling down the pavement. Nevertheless she left her bike and took a taxi home.

    Over the next fortnight there was no sign of Marcel, and the intervals between the prickly feeling grew longer. It had been a mistake, a glancing encounter with psychosis, but she had learned—one did have to be careful of strangers. She paid another visit to her parents and talked with James about Christmas presents for their families. The shop grew busier and stayed open until eight during the week.

    So it was that one Wednesday, a cold, sleety evening, Morag was alone at Poppies. She had made Lucy leave at seven, claiming she could manage the cleaning and cash alone. “If there’s no one here at quarter to eight, I’ll sneak away,” she promised.

    She was hoovering when a man’s brown shoes appeared in her field of vision. She raised her eyes to find Marcel standing before her in his raincoat. The noise of the hoover had masked his entrance. She was so flustered that she did not think to turn it off. After a moment Marcel moved to the wall and pulled the plug.

    In the abrupt silence, Morag felt the sweat spring up on her palms. She was alone in a shop, her shop, with a man to whom shoplifting was a form of self-expression. “Marcel,” she gasped. “I haven’t seen you in ages. How are you?”

    “I’m fine.” He smiled, his divergent eyes seeming to take in not only her but the racks of merchandise. “Did you sell the black lace dress? The one that was hanging up by the mirror?”

    “You’ve been here before?”

    He nodded. “Why don’t you finish so we can leave?”

    “I am finished. Really. Let’s go for a drink.” Everything might still be all right if only she could pretend it was.

    “What about the cash?”

    Morag stood there, the handle of the hoover falling out of her hand. “Lucy already took it,” she whispered.

    Marcel walked behind the counter to the cash register and pressed the no sale button. The drawer sprang open; he studied the contents with a smile. Before the sleet started, the shop had been busy. “Lucy didn’t do a very good job,” he said in his soft Irish accent.

    “Marcel, what are you doing?” Morag stepped to the counter. Anyone glancing in from the street would have seen a salesman in a raincoat assisting a doubtful customer but she did not think of that. Her face felt strangely heavy and porous.

    His lips were moving as he counted out the notes. “A hundred and twenty,” he said. “That’ll leave you enough for a float tomorrow.”

    “But we’re a small shop,” said Morag. “Money is useful.”

    “I’m making an exception in your case.” Marcel folded the notes and slid them into his pocket. “What did you think? I was some dumb mick you could use for adventure?”

    His left cheek twitched. But what was all this nonsense about adventure, thought Morag, remembering his kisses. He came out from behind the counter and she realized he was leaving with a hundred and twenty pounds. She grabbed his arm. “Marcel,” she said. “Listen to me.”

    He looked at her coldly. “You could have locked the door,” he said. “You could have rung the police. Stupid. You wanted me to steal this.”

    He shook off her hand, opened the door and stepped into the street. With final insolence, he paused to pull on a pair of gloves and sauntered away.

    As soon as he was out of sight, Morag turned the lock and ran to the phone, but even as she reached for the receiver, she imagined herself explaining the circumstances of her first meeting with Marcel, the gifts, the complicity. In some ways she had wanted this, not exactly this, but something close enough that a genie could be forgiven for mistaking the vague specifications of her wish. The handsome sergeant who had investigated their burglary last year would not flirt with her this time. And what could she say to Yvonne and Lucy, whose livelihood she had jeopardized along with her own?

    In the middle of the empty, festive shop, Morag stood, shivering slightly, trying to knit her ragged thoughts into a course of action. How to wipe out the evidence of Marcel’s visit? She put the hoover away. Then she went over to the cash register and hit the no sale button. She would take the remaining contents home; the deposit could wait until morning. But there was one thing that could not wait. Although she was cold and it was suddenly late, Morag opened her bag and took out her checkbook.

    “Pay Poppies,” she wrote. As she filled in the amount a movement caught her eye, someone passing in the street, but not Marcel, not James, just a young girl in boots, who stopped for a moment, her face full of yearning, to look at the dress in the window, and walked on.

    *

    “A Cloud of Facts” © by Margot Livesey. Used by permission of the author.

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    One Trackback

    1. […] Two Fifty-Two Stories ‘helpings’ to tell you about – My lack of ‘Book Bite’ posts over the past few days has meant I missed out on highlighting the release of last week’s short story offering from Harper’s Fifty-Two Stories, which is a real shame because the story – A Cloud of Facts by Margot Livesey, is a rare one for me because it’s set in a city very close to my heart (and my location), Edinburgh. I’ve actually read the story already, and I rather enjoyed it. I’ll post my afterthoughts as soon as I can, but take this as a recommendation to go and read it. […]

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