Book 3

Strange how you can create a character for a single piece of writing, say for a writers’ group meeting, then you end up spending most of the next two years creating stories for him/her. That’s how ‘Bobby Olsen’ has come about. As mentioned in a blog post somewhere earlier here or over on my other blog dedicated to him and his books, he started as an unnamed character in a 1500 word piece written during the Xmas break from my writers’ group meetings. Three months later this nameless guy made his audience debut and I have written mainly about him since.

And now it looks like a third book/novella is in the making (or writing). Some months ago I had finished a novella (not about Bobby Olsen!) and yet wanted to go on writing whenever I found myself in a coffee house. Usually about three to four times a week! Gulp! Yes, literally, gulp!

I started by writing something along the lines of the story I had just completed, a story set in the present day, but after two or three paragraphs I found myself sliding back into the comfort zone of late 1950s New York…and Bobby. Over the past three or so weeks I have used my coffee house visits to edit what I had written to see if there is a coherent story to be continued. And there just about is. I love beginning new scenes with new characters for Bobby and his business/lifetime partner Carol to interact with. Joining them all up into a plot can be tricky. Some can be red herrings in that they are Bobby’s everyday clients early on in the book before the main storyline takes over, but this time I am trying to tie more of them into the long term plot.

Then I reached the stage where I had to get the paper and pencil out. And the eraser. All the characters and their connections or lack of them were written out on several pieces of paper taped together and I tried to link as many as possible with lines and arrows. And something like a plot has been created, if maybe a little stretched in places.

Hold on, was that the ping of a broken line I just heard? Help!

And then I have started transferring this from the tablet I use in the coffee houses to the Scrivener programme I use on my laptop at home. And where I try to break it down into chapters. So, it’s the tablet for creating the new writing, Scrivener on the laptop for ordering it all and editing it. In the coffee shops I don’t like logging on to the public Wi-Fi so I have to do all the research (I am an Englishman living in the UK writing about 1950s New York/USA…) at home on the laptop. And at some point I need to read it all through to see if it makes sense and is actually interesting!

I have reached around 30,000 words so far and Bobby and Carol have only just left New York (there seems to be a road trip in each book with these two characters) so it might develop into a 60,000 word book. Or crash and burn around 32,000! I guess the danger is to fall between the trap of being too long for a sharp-written novella and a full-blown novel. It’s a journey and it’s fun. And I don’t even try to market the books when finished, so the emphasis is on FUN! The fun of creating something out of nothing.

So, onward goes Book Three. A title? Absolutely no idea..!

 

 

 

Advertisements

Hung Words

(another oldie, from early last year)

There is something I need to remember.

There is something I need to remember, something that keeps slipping away from the cliff edge of my mind, toppling away into the depths below, crashing down among all the other lost forgotten words.

It is nudging me again, a letter here, a syllable there, never quite shape-shifting into a complete word. My mouth starts to form the sound, gags on the unemitted gasp, swallows the crumbling letters, and the word tumbles away again over the yawning fall.

Down there with all the broken neglected words are the broken neglected people, the ones who made mistakes, never learned their lessons, never considered they had done wrong, and a few who tried to find the word before it trailed away, the same one I am losing all the time.

Once, very long ago, so long ago there is no known segment of Time to describe it, I knew the word. That, I can recall. I did used to know it, could utter it, could give myself a second chance.

Never taken, of course.

Of course.

That would have changed everything, would it not? Maybe for the better, maybe not, strange as that may seem. Would He have survived so long, if I had remembered the word, or would He have gone the way of all the others, cast aside once His diatribes grated once too often in minds fast becoming equals to His.

It is in here somewhere, flitting around, hiding behind the longer words, the ones which have many meanings, unclear, confusing, misread and miscued, and easy, so easy, to deceive with. Many of those I have used throughout the ages of my time. To mystify, to trick, to ensnare. This elusive word is smaller, difficult to catch among the multitude of letters strung together into the many syllable definitions of deceptive ideas and motives.

For a moment there I thought I glimpsed it, trying to inch forward, to let its first sound sneak onto my tongue. Once there I am sure I could catch it, speak its name, before it slips away. Or is it being pulled back? Is that the problem? Is something tug of warring with me, pulling the word away, jerking on its long tail, flinging it over that precipice, down again into the pit of churning bones and burning vocabulary, from whence it starts the long struggle back up, fingernails scratching holds on blood-rinsed rocks, weak muscles hauling upwards over shredded tissue and deleted sounds, its eyes ever locked up high at the prospect of rebirth.

Time is short now. He will not wait much longer. This is the final time.

I know.

He knows.

He has won.

But he is waiting to see if the word can be remembered. If my blackened lips can form the two syllables they have never pronounced together. At least not since the Beginning, when I broke one way, and He broke the other. Will my mind still be able to format the two sounds into the one word? Or will it fry my being like sunlight on a mythical vampire?

Wait. Wait. I see it. Crouched behind a concept hidden in the very darkest of the dark quarters of my dark mind.

I have it! It is trapped there, a mistake made, left itself no way out but toward me.

That concept, lying never used, irrelevant to me, a false god to worship if ever there was one. Until now. Yes, I have the word. It cannot back away. It sits, naked, exposed, fearful now of rebirth, scared of its implications. But I have it. My tongue snakes around the concept named Truth, pincers the shivering syllables, swallows first that notion to ease the speaking of the word.

I gorge on the feeling, warmth streaming throughout me. The word follows it, up into my mouth, rolling around between my red-dripped teeth, and is spat forth with the conviction of one realising rebirth can be.

‘Sor-ry.’

 

 

 

The Meeting

(written some time ago, almost cringeworthy to reread but there’s a good idea hiding in here somewhere.)

I met the girl at the market near the church, the one off Rosemund Street.

The moment I saw her I knew she was special: black hair blanketing shoulders and cascading dark caresses over a slender spine, mascara-rimmed Cleopatra eyes magnifying her magnetism. When our stares reflected, cherub-chiselled lips split into a shy smile. Her washed out black dress shimmied in the breeze, too thin in the November air.

I often gazed at the girls around the market, the ones about my age, longing to talk, to fracture my monotonous loneliness. Complications would arise however, if we became friends, revealing revelations shattering the glass-thin sheen of new acquaintance.

This girl though I couldn’t turn away from. I gazed down at my shoes and blushed. When I looked up, she was there: finger-tipping close, skin a pale-white contrast to that bleak outfit , heart-capturing eyes burrowing, reading my mind, perceiving a pandemonium  of confusion.

‘Hello,’ she said.

I wanted to turn and run. But her eyes impaled me on Love’s unrelinquishing barb.

‘Hi?’ she said. ‘Not seen you here before. You new to the town?’

I unearthed my voice.

‘No, been here quite a while. You?’
‘Same.’

I stuffed my hands into my jacket for fear of appearing the fool with twitching fingers. For an eternity-lasting ten minutes we created conversation, my monosyllabic replies to numerous questions seeming to dishearten her not at all.

We wandered around the tables, her pointing at objects she liked, I nodding mutely. Only fingers jangled in my pockets, no coin to purchase with, and cursing the absurdity of my situation, I made nods and smiles my currency of devotion.

The sun lowered in the sky, the stall holders packed away, we agreed to meet the following day, although I said I wasn’t sure I could make it.

The market being for one day only, we named places we both might know.

She suggested the graveyard nearby. I sighed acceptance.

She suggested the large headstone in the middle. I said I knew it well, it had the name ‘Moore’ engraved on one side.

She said we should walk past now just to be sure. And we did. We stood by the pillar of stone, a cold monument to a once warm human. She smiled and my heart smiled back.

‘Bye, then’, she whispered, ‘See you tomorrow.’

I watched her dwindle and disappear into the distance, swallowed up on the horizon by trees lining the footpath. Turning back past the headstone, I walked along to the neighbouring grave, onto the grey-gravelled rectangle, laid down, and faded back into my eternal rest.

 

I was late. I wasn’t going to show at all, trepidation threatening victory over yearning.

She was there before me, drifting dreamily among dismantled bouquets for the deceased.

I looked down, embarrassed by my tardiness. Her hands, encased in lace mittens, ephemerally traced nearby engraved epitaphs. A black scarf lay snaked around her shoulders, barrier to the decaying air of grey, autumnal days.

‘So, you came?’

‘Sorry I wasn’t here. I was distracted, by decisions.’

‘Shall we walk together?’

We strolled back to where the bustling market existed yesterday. Now it was quiet; infrequent individuals entering the diminishing row of dimly-lit shops, with listless lights whispering in dirt-smudged windows, desperate to dispel the inveigling gloom.

Meandering like congruent rivers round narrow streets, we talked, or she did, while I muttered plain replies, overcome by her beatified beauty, and her earthly friendliness. Once more my lack of discourse seemingly troubled her nought and as I glimpsed her eyes, her lips, her face, her soul, my heart craved to speak apposite phrases of affection.

By happenstance we found ourselves returned to the graveyard, and the monument.

She faced me.

‘Maybe we can do this again. Soon?’

‘Yes. That would be…nice.’

‘So, maybe tomorrow. The same time, the same place?’

‘Huh ah.’

The girl turned and wandered away towards the tall tremulous trees at the far extreme of the graveyard. I watched her slight shape disappearing, my aching heart wishing to wander beside hers.

 

We met again. And a multitude of agains. Each walk longer, each conversation an embryonic dialogue. I became settled in her company, comfortable in her presence. And each time, as I sank back into my resting place, I wished death did not have to be so lonely.

 

One frosty morning the girl did not appear.

I was distraught. I searched around the graveyard, retraced my steps countless times, yet no sign was there of the black dressed vision.

As dusk descended I trudged towards my grave. A figure moved out from behind  Moore’s headstone. My heart leapt alive.

‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I had a choice to make.’

‘Oh.’

‘I’ve made it now. Would you like to come and visit my home?’

Her reappearance had created me lightheaded and giddy. Yet now, should I go with her? Uncomfortable situations would arise; her parents inquisitive, my answers inadequate.

‘Yes, of course,’ I said.

So we walked along the path, towards the trees where I heartbreakingly lost  her each day. On we went, nearly to the gates at the end of the cemetery where my world must surely come tumbling down.

I found I was walking by myself. I stopped and turned. The girl was stood motionless, looking at me.

‘I know about you,’ she said.

I didn’t know what to say. What could I say?

‘Eternity is a lonely place, don’t you think?’ she said.

She raised her right hand and offered it to me.

‘Come.’

Our hands held, the girl stepped back onto a grave, gazing at my questioning eyes.

‘Be with me.’

Her legs faded into the earth.

And we lay back, growing fainter, smiling together.

Together for eternity.

 

 

 

Decaf scribble

(again, long time no write here, too busy with life and trying to edit two short novels, but here’s something written today, encouraged only by a decaffeinated latte…)

THE COFFEE HOUSE

Friday morning early, a coffee house faking Italian charm in a fake seaside town, historical fame long lost with the rising tide and crumbling cliffs.

Three sit with eyes fixated on screens, fingers tapping messages to no-one and blogging viewpoints to a readership only clicked through for reciprocated likes.

A barista chatters nonsense to a line of young women, eager for quick takeaways and even quicker getaways from chat up patter outdated in an age of legal minefields.

Older gentlemen sit, beige-coated, staring at passersby, remembering themselves long gone, chances not chanced, decisions wrong decided; pretty women bring a resurgence of desires with no hope of satisfaction.

A rush retreats, the room sits quiet, each seat an island of discontented content, preferred loneliness here to sat alone in a home no longer homely. A loud voiced conversation begins, phone to ear, private exchanges made public with deliberate intent, a proof they live a life unlike the other lost souls adrift in this coffee ship. Machinery hisses and spurts, milk tops pop, dregs disappear drained, one shot, two shots, extra shots, sprinkles and caramel, a vocabulary voiced across a counter stacked with packaged snacks rated red and red and red, all sold unwarned and unwary.

Classical strings harmonise a background, ill-fitted to a clientele dressed for pubs and clubs, layering the atmosphere warm with the unseasoned heating system soft hummed.

The hour hand stretches up straight, feet shuffle from different corners, timings timed to reach platforms as trains slide home and doors slide open.

Outside hot hand held cups are carried across a precinct still quiet as offices buzz alive with phones and bright screens, elderly women drag two-wheeled trolleys to catch the market full fruited and full bloomed, children toddle coat-clung to cigarette smoking mothers, too young for schooling, too old for early morning sleeps. Retired singles wander life lost, companions lost too early or never found among the rush of chasing money and reputations, shops and malls the only workplaces for them now.

The loud-voiced barista conducts his audience, half appreciated, half detested, a last day employed doubling his volume of adrenaline. Queues ebb and flow, each wave wavered in decisions of beverage and seating, no desire to share a stranger’s life, no wish to change their routined day, for better or for worse; no risk of failure brings no risk of success.

The coffee house churns out another day, another latte, another mocha, another another.

 

Opening gambit 3

(I’ve continued this tale but in an interesting way – just adding a few lines at a time when idling away time in a coffee shop. I’ve then emailed them to myself and edited it at home later on. It’s quite hard to remember where I was going with the tale because days can pass in between writing. You’re have to read the two earlier episodes for it to make sense. Even then…)

‘Yeah, and I just stuffed the wife up the chimney.’

‘I mean, he bled out all over the $20 fake Persian I got from Dirk down at the market on Lutton and 14th.’

‘Least you’ve not wasted bucks there.’

I smiled broad, liking the sharp mind of this girl. She was wasted smiling clothes at dollar-loaded prices to housewives and teenage brats.

‘I mean it, Robert. He came at me, bread knife, would you believe it? I stuck him with the screw driver.’

‘You tell a good story, maybe you should write, not sell coats and jeans.’

Lilly reached out, fingers grasped my jacket collar.

‘I mean it, I killed Steve. Know any good stain removers for carpets? Or any clever lawyers?’

I felt my life stick in my throat.

‘You’re not fooling, are you?

Lilly shook her head, pursed her lips.

‘He was high, been hitting the cocaine since Saturday, he wanted more.’

‘Call the cops? Paramedics? Stop the bleeding?’

‘Why? He might live.’

My hand froze inches from my drying lips. Lilly’s repartee was too good, too sharp. She sounded real. Which meant..?

‘You’re not playing around, are you?  Your husband’s dead. At home. Right now?’

Lilly nodded. My life teetered on the edge of an abyss. Walk away, Robert, walk away. But my legs didn’t move. Lilly leaned closer.

‘So, how’d I get rid of it?

‘Tell the cops. Say he attacked you. If he was into drugs you’ve an excuse. A lawyer can use it to dig you out of any hole you’ve excavated by delaying.

‘But I don’t want a shit time in my life, Robert. Get rid of him, and I tell everyone he split on me, my life goes on, with you, maybe?’

I swallowed my rye in one. I bought the girl a coat. She offers me a drink. I think I hit the jackpot. Now I’m a potential accessory to murder or similar.

What happened to the little shop assistant, the one I never dreamed in a million years would go for a drink with me? She’s killed her husband?

‘Yeah, well, no-one’s what they seem, are they?

‘Aren’t they?’

‘No, I bet you got secrets. Don’t you?’

‘Some.’

‘So there. You got five wives, or a jail sentence, or three children by different women. I got a dead husband on the carpet.’

‘Sorta different.’

‘Only in the breathing department…’

I sighed. All around life went on; smiles, touches, innuendo, love. Who knew what each had left behind in their houses and apartments? How many had a dead body on the carpet? Literally or figuratively. And each minute we sat here the body hardened, as did our options.

Our options? Had I made a decision?

‘Call the cops.’

Lilly stared me straight. I could almost read the letters spelling disappointment in her pupils. She gathered up the jacket she had removed in the humid atmosphere.

‘Guess I got you wrong, Robert.’

‘Guess I got you wrong too, Lilly. I thought you sold coats.’

Lilly looked at me, turned and disappeared among the crowd of happy drinkers who didn’t have a dead body at home deterring would-be burglars.

I caught up with her on the sidewalk outside the Four Feathers. My hand touched her shoulder. Our second contact.

She spun, alarm for a moment etched on the prettiest face I’d seen in many a month. Perhaps she’d thought I was a cop offering a clean-up service for blood-stained floor coverings.

‘Okay, Lilly. Let us go see the damage. Then decide.’

‘Robert, I knew you would, just knew it.’

Her head buried itself against my biker jacket. Our third contact.

 

Lilly had an apartment close to her work, a fourth floor four-room basic layout. It must’ve been crowded with a husband. Maybe that’s why she killed him, to get more space.

Noises echoed from closed doors in a corridor cleaned once a year when the cockroaches threatened legal action against the landlord. Televisions coughed up Kojak loving you. Radios sang sweet dreams from ruby red lips as wide as the Mississippi. Was a life decomposing yards away?

Lilly stopped outside number seven. She looked at me, drew a deep breath, slipped a key into a scratched lock. She said nothing; her eyes spoke a noir novel as black as the depths of the Styx.

Air wafted, perfume and takeaways mixed with a side aroma of alcohol.

Lilly glanced left.

‘Over there.’

I hoped I’d see a carpet laying lonely. It wasn’t. It was embraced by six feet of thickset cowboy. Red check shirt, faded blue jeans greased irregular, and shiny brown boots wrapping ankles up warm. Shame an artist had thrown blood red liquid over the shirt and jeans. Real blood too.

‘Jesus. You weren’t kidding.’

‘Heck of a way to get you back to my place if I was.’

‘Yeah. Now what?’

‘That’s my question, you’re meant to answer it.

‘I forgot, I’m playing the pa-knows-all role here.’

‘What’d we do?’

‘We?’

 

Opening Gambit part 2

(Just continuing this opening, and giving you three alternative endings which would lead on to three quite different stories/novels.)

What to wear to a bar named the Pink Feathers? Did the name hint at the clientele to be encountered? I went biker jacket and black jeans. Good call. The three foot wide guy guarding the door would have bounced me off the sidewalk in anything else; the ‘four feathers’ were painted on the club’s logo atop a dancing girl with curves Monroe defined decades past.

Inside masses mingled. By the time I made the counter I’d rubbed shoulders, literally, with more people than I would in a month of Christmas sales throngs. Ages varied; breaking teens to broken fifties. Encouraging. I hadn’t wanted to seem cradle-snatching if Lilly the shop assistant turned up.

8.20 p.m., I’d got here late, lost myself on a freeway to anywhere out of town. Now I searched with eyes wide. Ten minutes, or Lilly might do a glass slipper thing on me. And I wasn’t a prince, I couldn’t spend Sundays putting shoes on every female this side of the Hudson.

‘Robert.’

A voice connected over the hubbub of nonsense deafening my ears.

‘You came?’

‘Just in time, Lilly. Got lost. Story of my life.’

‘Getting lost or nearly getting lost?’

‘Still trying to work that out.’

‘Drink?’

‘Sure, that’s why I came. Claim the free offer.’

‘Not because of me then?’

Lilly looked blank. She wasn’t acting it, she seemed surprised I hadn’t said she was the reason. Her hair hung straight now, fresh washed and smelling sweet among the stale breaths and alcohol. She matched me in a leather jacket and dark jeans. Discounted from the store? Little make-up hid her face; she looked even younger than in the blazing lights of her workplace.

‘And you. I’ll take a rye and soda.’

‘Biker jacket and rye? Reliving your teenage years?’

‘Ouch, below the belt, Lilly.’

She smiled lazy.

‘Looks good on you, the jacket, hope the drink does too, paying for a taxi home isn’t part of the offer.’

She squeezed through to the bar, bought the drinks, a gin and something for herself, I think. I rescued the glasses on her return trip as two floppy-haired twenty-something guys fell across her path.

‘It’s quieter by that alcove.’

She nodded left. I held the glasses high to get through, found stools and perched the drinks on a shelf showing football stars with toothy grins and muscles to measure.

‘You’re not wearing the coat?’

‘Too warm in here, but I’ll put it on to go to work tomorrow. Thanks again.’

‘My pleasure.’

‘Something you do every day? You a millionaire?’

‘Ah no, so if you’re looking for a sugar daddy, try the best suited guy in here instead.’

‘I don’t want to be kept by any man.’

‘But you accepted my offer?’

‘It didn’t seem like something you usually did.’

‘How could you tell?’

‘I guess if you’d come in and thrown a pile of cash on the desk, or bought up the whole rail of coats.’

‘Maybe I didn’t want to overwhelm you?’

‘I don’t think you’ve ever done that sort of thing before.’

‘You sure?’

‘Pretty.’

‘Why?’

‘Your eyes. They were too alive. A wealthy guy used to throwing money around would have had a tired look there, or a regular ‘just another little person to help’ and make me feel good.’

‘So why’d you think I did it?’

‘Either you hoped it’d lead to something more. Like this. Or your tongue was ahead of your brain. You write?’

‘Ouch, shot me down in one, straight between the eyes!’

‘You’re a writer?’

‘Ha, no, not really. I don’t earn money from it, I tap keyboards, make up tales now and then.’

‘You sure? I’m not gonna appear in some sordid novel? I’m not a kind of experiment?’

‘Hell no, I’d never do that to you.’

‘Why not? You don’t know me? Do you? We’ve never met before?’

‘Never. I’ve been in the store a couple of times, never seen you in there.’

‘You tried this on the other girls there?’

‘No.’

‘So why me?’

‘As you guessed, just went with the moment. None of the others ever said ‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’’

Lilly drank long from her glass, her eyes fixed on mine. There was noise and movement all around yet it seemed we existed in isolation, unhearing, unaffected by everything else.

‘And I’m enjoying the free drink you offered, so all’s well.’

‘A $99 drink?’

‘I hope that’s not how you see it.’

‘And how does this end?’

‘A polite thank you maybe. A shake of the hands. Or…’

‘Or what?’

Lilly’s voice dropped low, her guard came high.

‘Or…we live happily ever after.’

I smiled, and couldn’t help breaking into a laugh as Lilly’s eyebrows shot skyward and she snorted liquid.

‘You serious?’

‘Being silly, I guess. Make a great tale to tell our grandkids though.’

‘Lol, we got grandkids now.’

We both laughed. Her face blushed, her eyes sparked. I noticed for the first time the slight gap between her front teeth. She flicked a loose strand of hair away, waved her glass side to side.

‘Another?’

‘Still free?’

‘No, you’re paying for this one, Robert.’

She took the glass from my hand. Our fingers grazed. The first time we’d touched. She took a step away then turned back.

‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can think how I can dispose of my husband’s dead body. It’s lying on the carpet back in the apartment.’

ALTERNATIVE ENDING

‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can work out how I divorce my husband…without him putting me in the morgue first.’

ALTERNATIVE ENDING

‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can write the next chapter of our relationship…I want to know if the book’s worth buying.’

 

 

 

Opening gambit

(Long time no write here. Been busy with life, no time or desire to write. Here’s something anyway, just a start, based on a real moment. Well, the opening four lines…)

‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, forgot my gloves too.’

‘Remembered mine, but I was still freezing.’

‘If you get cold, at least you got a choice of clothes to wear here.’

I nodded towards the racks of women’s coats strung like dead turkeys along a metal bar.

Can you fall in love over such a banal conversation?

The shop assistant checked her screen. Blue eyes flicked left, right, up, down, wavy light brown hair braided at the sides, purple tipped fingers stabbing. She looked up, saw the coats I’d indicated.

‘Oh, they’re too expensive for me.’

A light chuckle crept nervous up her throat. Her eyes glanced mine. I waved a hand at the racks of clothes.

‘Choose one, I’ll buy it for you.’

Her chuckle broke surface into a quiet laugh. Saturday 9.10 a.m. it wasn’t ready for head back raucous.

‘I mean it, choose one.’

She folded her arms, looked more direct at me. Movement to her right suggested a junior had found my click and collect order in a backroom.

‘Sure, choose one and you’ll pay for it?’

‘Yes, then I’ll give it to you. Be quick, the offer expires in about one minute.’

My heart was calm. Strange, it should have been stretching the fabric of my jacket to its limit. Half asleep still on a weekend morning? Still daydreaming the reckless character I’d read about the last two days in a hard boiled crime paperback?

The young woman stepped out from behind the desk, half halted, low heeled loafers scuffing the vinyl tiled floor. She moved on, more determined, fumbled coat hangers, found the size she wanted, slipped off the fake fur collar coat from the hanger, put it on.

I held out both hands like a seasoned salesman.

‘Perfect fit. Would madam like it gift-wrapped, or in a bag, only 20 cents extra?’

That gravel chuckle coughed up again. She stuck her hands into the pockets of the suede coat, pouted in doubt. At the coat choice or my offer, I wasn’t sure.

‘Here’s your order. Perhaps we should deal with that.’

She walked back behind her screen, took a bright yellow bag from a colleague who eyed up the coat with a quizzical look, and typed fast as she studied details on the package’s label.

‘Here you are. Robert?’

It was a curious routine of this store that they checked you were the right collector of a delivery by querying your first name not your surname or email address or card number.

‘That’s me. You are?’

I screwed up my eyes at the woman’s badge which hung on her chest. She probably thought it was part of my feeble act of chat up, but truth was I needed to, to make out the small print on the white shiny piece of card.

‘Lilly, is that?’

‘Might be.’

‘So, you want that coat? The offer’s close to expiry…’

‘If you’re serious, that’ll be $99, please.’

‘Of course.’

I took out my wallet, thumbed a credit card, passed it over. I’d felt Lilly’s eyes on me as I did this. She was still looking at me as her small fingers accepted the card.

‘You absolutely certain?’

I nodded.

She passed the card machine across. I placed it on the desk, tapped in my numbers.

‘You can change it for another colour, or another style if you want?’

‘And you can cancel your card payment too.’

‘No, the coat’s yours. It’s my good deed for the day.’

‘Oh, I’m a charity case now, am I?’

I gave a half-laugh.

‘No. It makes me feel good. And, you’re pretty and charming and, and, just nice. I, I, just felt it was the right thing to do.’

Lilly slipped off the coat, folded it into a bag and hung it on a peg behind her. She turned back, her face more serious.

‘That’s it? No follow up, no, ‘well, let’s have a drink later’ or ‘what time do you finish today?’

I shrugged my shoulders.

‘Coat’s yours. No catch.’

She crossed her arms again. It seemed to be her standard stance; maybe at work, maybe in life.

‘You bought me a coat. I’ll buy you a drink. Okay?’

‘You don’t have to.’

Lilly’s eyes moved to the right, she nodded to acknowledge someone’s words or gesture.

‘I got to go. I’ll be in the Pink Feathers, Cambridge and 222 Loxx, tonight, around 8.’

‘Right.’

‘If you want a drink, that’s where I’ll be.’

‘Sure. I can, can probably make that.’

I had an image of me standing like a fool, holding a glass of iced orange, alone in a crowded bar of couples, waiting for the no-show sales assistant.

‘Have to check with the wife first?’

‘No wife.’

‘Don’t be late. Offer expires at 8.30.’

Her eyes flashed. She scooted around the desk and disappeared among the hanging jeans and jackets.