Billboard – Charlie Chitty
November 11, 2019
“No, I think we’ll forgo the starters and go straight to the mains.” Robert said, with an impish smile which Sophie nervously returned.
Robert Carrington had put himself off of the dating market at some point around the summer of 2009 due to health reasons. Something never felt quite right in his head about it.
But now, seven years later, he decided to dive back in. Mostly because of the woman in front of him. He simply hadn’t believed his luck and swiped right on Tinder immediately, the second he saw her.
And now Sophie was here, in front of him, deciding between a steak or a pizza from the rather faded and sticky laminated-card menu. “You know, I’m never quite sure what to get. The pizza is bread which has carbs but the steak has to be pretty filling as well, right?”
Robert simply stared at her as if he hadn’t heard the question.
“Have I told you how young you look before?”
Sophie laughed. “Twice on chat.” she replied. “Well I am eighteen, Rob.”
“Yeah but you look even younger than that!” said Robert, his voice tinged with enthusiasm.
Sophie shifted uncomfortably in her chair. there was a rather uncomfortable silence that hung in the air.
“So what are you thinking of getting?”
“Tagliatelle.” said Robert.
After lunch, they debated over dessert for a while before deciding against it. They walked down to the docks and watched the rippling river filled with moss, old car tyres and the odd neon-coloured can of energy drink that glittered in the sunlight.
“This was much more romantic in my head.” said Robert.
Sophie laughed. Robert smiled.
They carried along their walk for a while, discussing politics, discussing the benefits of charity shops and talking animatedly about just how many meals you can make out of a large bag of rice.
The date was going well.
The thing loomed over Robert, hundreds of feet tall. The billboard was three weeks old, the advert fading slightly in colour each day.
As boats chugged along the canal in the warm midday haze and cars shot across the highway above them, Sophie moved into him. Her tongue felt alive on his. Warm. Rob felt himself hit the wall as he was pushed hard against it and began to passionately kiss Sophie, wrapping his arms around her.
His eyes rolled back in his head and drifted up. They fixed themselves on the advert. It was an accident.
Sophie had moved her hand to his crotch and felt him begin to grow hard in her hand. She smiled, her cheeks tinged with red. She felt proud of herself. Just a little. Cheeky.
Then she noticed his line of sight and her thin smile evaporated. Her face furrowed and she backed away. There was an expression of disquiet on her face.
She took a few steps back and mumbled about having to get back. As she walked away, her movements slightly unsteady, Robert noticed that that her eyes were watering slightly.
Her mascara hadn’t yet run but her eyeliner prickled as her eyes brimmed with tears.
She took one last look at him before she marched away, back down the dock. It was a look of silent disgust, or something akin to pity.
It was no use. The woman was tottering away as fast as her heels would allow her to. She didn’t look back, and Robert would never see her again.
It was a rainy Tuesday.
It was a local greasy spoon.
Joe or John’s Cafe.
It was Take Two.
Robert Carrington sat opposite Rachel Wicks, pouring his second teaspoon of sugar into his tea. His hand shook.
“I can help you with that if you want.” Rachel said. “If it’s my fault for being too scary, that is.”
She laughed and brushed a lock of hair out of her face.
It was a sheepish laughing, blonde hair and a very pretty face that displayed a little anxiousness.
But for a twenty-three year old single parent who was wondering when to bring up the fact she had a kid, that was pretty much par for the course.
The two full English breakfasts sat on the table, mostly eaten.
“Can I walk you to the bus stop?” said Rob. “I’m surprised you don’t have a car, living all the way over in Camberwell.”
“Well, if you insist.” she said. “I did come all this way.”
“I feel honoured.” Rob said with a smile. He’d stopped shaking.
“That I’m letting you walk me to the bus stop or that I came seven miles to see you?” Rachel said, with a smile.
“Ladies’ choice.” Robert replied, returning it.
The rain had more or less cleared when they reached the empty bus shelter and the sun was breaking through over the horizon.
Rachel pressed her lips to his only five minutes into waiting, the rain dripping down their faces in thin rivulets.
The bus turned up ten minutes later, with the advert brightly adorning the side.
He looked away from it, muttering a goodbye to her as she got on.
He didn’t look back as the bus rumbled into life and Rachel looked out of the window at him, confused and upset.
She wondered unhappily if she’d done something to offend him as the bus picked up speed and disappeared over a hillock far down the road.
Rob took out his mobile and sent Rachel a text. It took him considerable pains to tell her that it wouldn’t work out, but it had to be done. He couldn’t risk seeing that bus again.
“Mr Carrington. Why have you come to see me today?”
“I want to increase the dosage.”
Steven adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses and looked at the man lying back on the brown leather couch. He looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks.
“In my professional view, to increase the dosage would be unethical. If I’m not reducing it at a monthly rate, I’m risking my medical license.”
He looked down at him.
“But as your father, I don’t want to risk any particular-“
He paused and his eyes clouded over. He was choosing his words.
“Relapses.” he chose. “We’ll take it back up to 250 miligrams.”
He shrugged, as if he was washing his hands of the whole ordeal.
“It seems to be the only option here.”
Rob smiled up at him with his tear-stained face.
“Just trying to keep you out of prison, son.”
The following week, the advertising campaign drew to a close. Men in overalls stripped the advert from billboards, buses and taxis.
It wasn’t sinister.
Just a small advert for cheap flights abroad by a large airline firm. It showed the rates alongside the terms and conditions.
Alongside an eight year old girl in a swimming costume.