My foot tapped agitatedly, and my fingers periodically drummed the wooden table. I glanced from my watch to my half-finished pint and back again. Where was she? I was hungry and it was looking like I’d been stood up for lunch. I took another swig of stout. It had been sitting too long, like me, and it was starting to go flat. Unlike me: I was starting to buzz with irritation. The TV up in the corner of the bar was showing the lunchtime news from the BBC. From where I was sitting it flickered just inside my peripheral vision. The sound was turned down, and the angle required to look at it made my neck sore, so I wasn’t paying it much attention; I hadn’t come to the bar to watch telly anyway. Because of this, I didn’t really see the car on the screen, its windscreen and side windows shattered, or the smear of blood on the passenger door, or the police tape strung across the road. None of it registered. There weren’t many in the bar, it being a Thursday, but when I looked up they were all watching the news report. Heads were shaken and muted comments exchanged.
She was more than half an hour late; I’d soon have to go back up home myself. I ordered lunch: soup and a ham & cheese toastie, and sat back down. I was annoyed at being let down. I hadn’t been seeing her that long, and I’d thought we were getting on well; hadn’t expected this at all. I went back up to the bar. No, there hadn’t been any calls for me. No messages. Nothing. As I ate my lunch, I fulminated. They’d put that foul celery leaf in the soup. It was like a calculated insult, and the perfection of the not-tongue-scalding toastie didn’t mollify; I ignored it and concentrated on my slighting, giving it all my attention. Came all the way into town to meet her. Bloody waste of time. Didn’t even ring. Sitting here eating frigging shit vegetable soup. There was no point ringing her house, she was at college all day. As I was supposed to be; I had a lot of reading to do for next week’s lectures, and an essay deadline coming up. I finished the sandwich, drained the sour, rusty-nail remnants of Guinness and left the glass back on the table, then pulled on my jacket, nodded to the barman, and strode out on to Berry Street. The featureless back wall of Castle Court shopping centre towered in front of me, blocking out the October sunshine. I hurried home on foot.
There were no messages waiting for me back in the house; no calls, no visitors. I tramped up to my room, put on both bars of the electric fire and slumped onto the narrow bed to read. A cold draught whistled in over my shoulder through the gap around the window frame, which someone had stuffed badly with newspaper. I contemplated ripping the lagging out and making a better job of it, but tried instead to get down to reading. It was no use; I couldn’t concentrate on Swift’s Modest Proposal, and went down to make tea in an attempt to relax. In the kitchen I asked Sam if anyone had called for me; but no, he’d not heard of anything. Back in the room I tried again to study. This time, I drew the curtain to divert the clutching fingers of cold away from my neck, and switched on the functional bedside light I had pinched from the previous house. I was back to Swift for no more than two minutes when there was a loud rap on the door.
And there she was. Staring through me, saying mechanically, My Daddy’s been shot. Our Marie’s flying home, and pushing past me into the room with folded arms, her face a taut, pale mask. She was too preoccupied to hear my reply: You call that a good excuse for standing me up?