We were sitting in the queue to the ferry when the call came.
(It was a long queue and we were going nowhere, the French ferry staff too occupied with burning tyres on the other side to run any boats that day.)
Laurence nodded and grinned and said “of course, of course” over and again and then “tomorrow? Of course” and rang off.
He turned to me and his eyes burned.
“The Times want me to write a piece for them about the future of the NHS. They want it by tomorrow.”
“But what about our long weekend in France?” I asked, though my voice didn’t rise in indignation. We both already knew that it wasn’t going to happen and it wasn’t just The Times’ fault. What was wrong with us? Why were we so flat and indifferent now that we were together with the prospect of escape? Was its impossibility always the attraction?
“This could be the start of something new for me,” he told me, peering left and right to see how he could extricate us from the queue.
I had thought this might have been the start of something new for me, too.
And so it wasn’t so much a sense of disappointment that percolated about inside that hot car on our way home, but rather a degree of fatalism on my part, cheery anticipation on his. Perhaps it was for the best, this near miss.
As he let me out of his car he leant across and said: “Would you check my article for me later? You’re the writer, after all.”
“If you want,” I said and he was gone before I could start my spiel about not liking to call myself a writer. Not really.
The contents of the shed were strewn across the garden and there was a lot of commotion coming from inside.
I stood in the middle of the lawn and called across: “Who’s in there? What’s going on?”
A window from the house behind me – my bedroom window – was hurled up and my mother leant out.
“Just hold on will you. I’m coming down to explain.”
Ken Tray was rubbing against my leg and looked up at me with commiseration.
“Why did you come back, you fool?” he seemed to be saying, his expression tragic even by his long-faced standards.
“What on earth are you doing back here, might I ask?” demanded Mother tetchily as she arrived at my side.
“Isn’t that my business?” I asked. “This is my home after all.”
“It’s very inconvenient,” she complained and clamped her lips together to show it.
“What is going on with my shed?”
“It’s not a shed any more. It’s Charlton’s new little house.”
Ken’s body quivered against my thigh. I jammed my fingers into my hair.
“His house? His little house, did you say?”
Mother shook her head in disgust.
“It’s alright for you. You’re already on the property ladder but it’s almost impossible for young people to get onto it these days. London is for the very rich and the very poor. What about the squeezed middle, the toiling young masses who have no prospects of home-ownership?”
“That’s twice you’ve called him young,” I said. “He’s nearly fifty. Does he toil? I’ve never seen any toiling. That’s my shed. I am about to cry, Mother, and I know you don’t think I have any feelings and you are rather repulsed by the idea that I might have some so I’ll go and do it in the peace of my own room.”
“Your room? So it’s your room now is it?”
I just focused on her narrowed, hostile eyes and waited.
So she went on: “That’s nice, I must say. You take the best room for yourself. I only ever get to enjoy it and its expansive views while you’re away and I’ve barely moved my things into it and suddenly you’re back and wresting it out of my hands again. Thank you. Thank you very much. And me with my plastic colon. I’ll just move in with your brother, shall I? Is that what you want?”
A tightness in my chest was growing more and more intense and it suddenly occurred to me that I might be lucky enough to be having a heart attack.
“You’ve got a perfectly good room of your own,” I muttered.
“Not good enough for you though, is it. Charlton! I’m coming with you. There’s plenty of room for both of us.”
From inside the shed the clattering stopped and a long low groan took its place.
Ken gravely walked over to the corner of the shed and eyed me solemnly while he emptied his bladder across it.
He’s written his article. I’ve seen it. It’s not half bad. He’s on his way to a new career he never even knew he wanted. That’s how these things go, I suppose.