Cairo (work in progress)

Posted on July 26, 2011

She sat in the rattan chair in the corner of the restaurant bar. Beads of condensation slid down the heavy leaded crystal glass, leaving a tiny puddle of ripples on the mahogany table. This was not the first ring left on the table from an icy beverage. Closer inspection revealed many years of erosion at the hands of thirsty customers and an owner that had finally given up trying to preserve the beautiful wood.

Cairo heat partnered with the humid air of the Nile danced around the nearly vacant room. The woman paid little attention, her thoughts focused on the small wedge of lime floating in the leaded glass of gin. Her long thin fingers wrapped and unwrapped the glass, interrupting the flow of droplets. Having come to an apparent decision, she closed her fingers firmly and lifted the cold drink to her mouth.

Gin, bitter yet refreshing, slid past her lips. Lips which mimicked the mauve shades of desert sand at dusk. Water droplets attempted to mingle with the alcohol. Some succeeded and slid into her mouth; others chose to slip backwards and skim down the tender tan flesh of her hand and forearm. These droplets became the new focus of her attention as she placed the glass back into its pool on the table.

Raising her arm into the air, she grazed the fingertips of the opposite hand across her flesh, wiping the droplets with a gentle swipe. Finding no napkin to dry the fingers, she placed them into her mouth and drew the chilled droplets onto her tongue to mingle with the gin and lime.

The absentminded action did not go unnoticed by the patrons sitting at the bar. Two men dressed in light colored, summer suits watched with unabashed interest. A third man, in the long white wrap of the locals sat apart from the foreigners. He slowly sipped from a cup of steaming hot coffee. His observation of the woman was less direct but equally as observant.

The men admired her auburn hair, now uncovered in the privacy of the hotel. Short unruly waves rested just above the collar of her shirt. Her straw fedora sat demurely on the table, ready for the trip outside and into the more restrictive locale.

Her skin, tan by American standards, was much paler than the deep bronze of the local women and while women worldwide enhanced their beauty with a variety of makeup, her face appeared unadorned. This was, in fact, an illusion. She wore the palest pink rouge on her cheeks and the mauve of her lips had been deepened with the help of Este Lauder.

Very little of her tan skin was actually able to be seen by the trio at the bar. She wore a white linen blouse; three bone buttons open at the throat to reveal the gentle curve of her collarbone as it slid under the fabric. The base of her neck was adorned by a single chain from which hung a fragile gold pendant holding a tiny piece of ivory. The ivory pointed downward to the curve of her breast, unseen under the linen but suggested; a suggestion that was not lost by the patrons at the bar. Upon arriving in the relative privacy of the hotel, she had rolled the sleeves of the blouse allowing her arms, from elbow to wrist, to be exposed. The contrast of the white fabric to her tan skin enhanced the delicate movement of her arms and hands.

Her legs were unseen under a long white linen skirt; yet the men had each devised an image of long slender thighs and gentle curving calves, created from the shadows and folds of the fabric where her knees crossed. Slender ankles and delicate toes peeked out of brown leather sandals. Mauve polish detailed her feet and a delicate chain loosely encircled one ankle. This ankle bobbed in tempo to the dancing heat; her tell of the nervousness she preferred to ignore.

This appearance of fragile innocence was a mirage. Innocence had deserted her years ago. She was quite aware of the effect her presence was having on the curious patrons. Their attention was gratifying but not why she was here. Her attendance at this particular hotel bar was deliberate, requested in a gently commanded invitation. And while she appeared relaxed to her admiring audience, the anticipation she felt was barely contained by the nervous movements of her fingers on the cold, dripping glass of gin.


The letter had arrived at her hotel while she was working near the banks of the Nile. This particular assignment was with Life magazine, an unheard of amount of money had been spent to fly a talented group of photographers to the exotic locale. Never mind that Europe was gearing up for war, or that economic depression was reeking havoc back in the States, people wanted their weekly photographs; perhaps even needed them, to take their minds off the sad state of world affairs.

Celia had melted into her room, dusty and hot. Equipment bags draped both shoulders. She had slipped out of the trousers and shirt she wore while working and into the luxury of a cool tub. The porcelain bath held an obscene amount of water, especially considering the arid country from which the water came. Celia justified her extravagance on the pretense that the Nile valley was indeed quite fertile and no one wanted a sweaty American around for long. She soaked in the tub until her fingers and toes began to wrinkle and a thin line of lavender scented residue from her soap began to create a coastline up the porcelain edge.

Exiting the bath, Celia wrapped herself in one of the hotel’s generous towels. A large bladed ceiling fan blew a warm breeze, moving air from the open window. The breeze caressed her damp skin as she dried off. It was an enjoyable relief after the hot air of the desert. A knock on the door prompted her to grab a dressing gown and cinch it loosely around her waist as she grasped the knob and answered. The bell hop presented a silver plate with a letter lying as an offering upon it.

“Merci,” she sighed, grasping her robe with one hand while reaching out with the other and taking the letter. She felt certain it was from her brother, again chiding her to return to the States where her safety would be guaranteed. The bell hop muttered a response and turned away, never expecting a tip from a woman staying alone. Speculation as to what she was wearing under her robe was sufficient. The subject of her attire would win him many free drinks while sitting around the table with his friends tonight.

Celia held the envelope, examining the bold male strokes from a ballpoint pen. Celia broke the seal and began to read.
“Dearest C,
I need to see you, tonight…
The words blurred on the page as Celia clutched the delicate chain wrapped around her neck, her robe slipping open to reveal a fine shimmer of sweat coating her flesh.

The handwriting belonged to Miller.


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One response to “Cairo (work in progress)”

  1. Aha. Setting the stage, the atmosphere. Somehow I knew it was a pre World War setting before you told me.

    Obviously part of a much bigger project.  Funny the way as writers, we delight in unraveling the comfortable, superficial falsity of male-female relations. You delve neatly into the under currents.

    Nice work. good atmosphere. Good lead in to the suspense of the last paragraph.

    I wrote a novel (Jeremy’s War) and my character Genevieve and your heroine have something in common.

    Your skill is evident. Now the hard work. To finish that novel.

    What is it they say? 1% inspiration. 99% perspiration.

    I leave you with a chapter from my work, featuring young Genevieve…

    Chapter 10 "That Other World"

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