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Chapter 2 Improved

I'll still be saying that after the 49th rewrite!


“Afternoon, duck.”
She said nothing. Her bike sped past, though as she came level with the gate she glanced at him. He tried to argue that the look was easy to explain; it was her confusion, because she wasn’t sure she’d heard him. But then he reasoned no, she must have done. Coming along the road she’d have seen him a long way off. His size was hard to hide. And if she saw him she knew he would say something because that's what he always did, without fail. He liked to be neighbourly.
He folded the chamois as if it were a dinner napkin, lined up the corners and then shook it out, surprised at himself. It was her look he couldn’t leave alone. He had backed the Audi out of the garage to give it a clean, and as she passed he was stretched across the windscreen, balanced on one foot. Her eyes met his and he could hardly shift his head or anything else. He got the full impact of the gaze but not the message. For whatever reason, his mind went scrabbling about for a word, one of those beginning with ’A’ and invented by religious types to describe the end of the world. He managed ‘anarchy’, which wasn’t what he meant at all. It was the sort of thing the Reverend would know.
There, that face popped into his head as well, to add to the problem. Did she object to being called 'duck'? He sometimes said 'hen' or 'love' or 'chook'. Political correctness was such bollocks; it took away the options you had to say something friendly and didn't leave you with you anything new. He called every female 'duck', whether she was nine or ninety. He'd been calling her that for months now; if she didn't like it she ought to say.
Or maybe (once or twice he wondered, when she did stop to chat) she felt miffed because he never used her name. Truth was he couldn't remember. It was a coloured woman's name (not every coloured woman, in case the PC brigade tried to nail him for that as well. Just West Indians sometimes, like the woman in Commercial Contracts was called Chauncey). He started to fold the chamois again, then threw it on the bonnet. It sounded like Florence, but much prettier. Or Loretta or Laura or Lindy Loo...see, if he'd got that kind of conversation going they'd both have had a laugh and she wouldn't have looked at him that way. She might be a bit straight laced but so was Eddie Fleming across the road and he could name all Eddie's grandchildren. It just proved he was slipping.
There was no use trying to deny it any more: he had dropped a gear. He heard the change of engine noise, so to speak, last summer. But what are first signs by themselves? Off days, a bug or indigestion, and once he'd excused them they were as good as hadn't happened. He even forgot last August, when he turned fifty, because it was so daft. Jenny put a marquee in the garden, hired a band, filled the house with people. It would never have occurred to her, or anyone who knew him, to ask if he wanted a party. A six foot six bloke mingles with his guests, wears a green afro wig and a t-shirt with “Golden Oldie “ printed on the back. He's enjoying himself, right? Yet, jabbering away, he was counting off their names: spoke with Carol and Wayne, remembered to ask Maggie about the baby, seen everyone from the office but Chris Miller--his 'drop by later' had better get sooner. It was as if, once he'd checked everyone off his mental list, he'd have the right to go upstairs and lock himself in the bathroom.


January 2015



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