His plane landed in Manchester. He loved the feeling of those first moments when the wheels met the ground and the slight jolt it gave you, as if you had been woken up gently from sleep by a person you knew cared for you. Manchester was his reality. Wherever he had just been, was no more than a dream. As he sat there waiting for the seatbelt sign to turn off, he thought about Tom and their time together and realised he had no proof that any of that had happened. There were no pictures of them together, no status update on Facebook. He hadn’t even allowed his phone to emit his whereabouts. He could prove he had been to Mallorca but everything else was just in his mind and while he knew he was being daft, the thought for some reason bothered him.
As the plane turned, Jean was half-blinded by the clear orange flash of the sun, which looked like it had already given up. Darkness was still a fair few hours off. He liked the idea of being in the air as the sun went down and the stars materialised, like lights of people’s homes seen from a ship after a dense fog had departed. If he ever happened to be flying at night when the streams of electricity, which cut the earth into sections, made other people’s existence undeniable. He like to imagine all the lives lived separate and without knowledge of himself, untouched even by a single glance in a busy street. He tried to imagine all the lives he had flown over, it was too much; All those histories, which had as much complexity and depth of his own. He couldn’t really see them; all he could see was himself in different bodies—empathy like everything else has its limits. The seatbelt sign flashed off and he unfastened his seat belt. He realised for the first time since they had taken off, he felt like he could truly breathe.
As he stepped out into the empty street, harbouring only a few crisp packets and sections of a newspapers congregated by the gate that opened up onto a mini-industrial estate, with a gym in far right hand corner and couldn’t have been open more than two days a week, as the shutters were nearly always down. At first Jean was convinced this was a drugs den, a front of some sort. But a sports team of some kind used to do their running exercises there. It was strange to see all these kids running up and down with the distances and speed they had to run changing every few seconds. The street he lived on was called Poland Street and every Taxi driver, who had taken him home, always thought he said Pollard Street. The day was muggy and the clouds in the distance hinted perhaps at rain, but it was sunny and Jean felt instantly better the moment the sun hit his face. He lived his life for moments like this, little reprieves of beauty, which made everything bearable. He would have taken this over all the orgies in the world. That was probably sad. A middle age thought, not a young man’s idea of a life well lived. He became aware of the traffic passing on Oldham Road. The image, which was far too vivid of twenty pairs of breasts and ten cocks, disappeared and he was glad. He couldn’t imagine anything more awkward. And he always did his best to avoid awkwardness whenever he could.
He wanted to see Natalie. His watch was slow, but he never wanted to correct it. He liked the fact that he was in a different time zone to everyone else. It was an enclave of comfort in a city, while far from being on a scale say comparable to London, New York or Beijing, was still far too big for him. He was a country boy used to seeing no more than a few people at a time, perhaps only a few per day and now to be dropped into a city—it was like watching a single celled organism transforming into multi-cell organism the way the landscape of his village, of the motorway of the suburbs transformed into a city, resplendent with light and activity. He knew that no matter what, he could never go back to being what he was. He wasn’t naïve; the country no longer protected you from corruption if it ever had, the Internet had seen to that. But like a dog previously unsocialized, scared and angry at first, he had begun to accept it. He wasn’t too old. It wasn’t too late. He still had a chance to have a go at living. Hell is other people, Sartre famously quipped, but to Jean it was the opposite. Hell is the absence of other people. He had lost his romantic notions of isolation when he was eighteen and planned to go to Alaska to be a lumberjack surrounded by trees, which were so densely packed together they blocked out the sun and where they outnumbered the people twenty to one. He’d got the idea partly from the film Into the Wild and a novella by Tolstoy called Family Happiness. As far as he could remember it, the main premise of the story was a world-wearied older man and his relationship with a society obsessed younger women. She wasn’t creepily young, but far too young for him. It was doomed from the start. And even though he hadn’t read much Russian literature he thought it was typically Russian. It was the first book he could remember reading and not only liking but having a measurable influence upon him. He read it three more times in a row and Jean had never read a book more than once. It was the first time the words on the page matched his thoughts and feelings.
In his car the sky outside the windscreen was grey. The wipers were in steady motion. It felt like he was in a gigantic broken clock, like he was inside time itself. He looked at himself in the mirror and mimed are you stoned into the mirror. He only talked in such vast abstraction and idiocy when he was drunk or hungover; ideas that sounded profound but didn’t bear much scrutiny. He felt for a cigarette in his breast pocket. In some ways it didn’t feel like time had passed at all. He wished he had one. There were only a few things he enjoyed more than smoking out of partially opened window in his car. He hated to admit it but he felt like he was in a movie. Nothing fancy, an indie set in someplace like Nebraska, driving his pickup to no place in particular, just driving for the sake of movement. A little rebellion against each limit placed upon him. He didn’t know why he was driving. It was a short walk from his to Natalie’s café. He guessed he wanted to be prepared if she said even in a jokey manner, let’s run away and leave this place behind and instead of laughing he would say yes, my car is outside, let’s go. In his imagination she sometimes took up his offer, to disembark from their separate lives, their dead-end jobs, serving others for no reason apart from gathering money like beavers gather wood. If you had money Jean figured you always had a home. A person isn’t shit without house.
The place would be busy now. It would be filled with people that he guessed others classified as hipsters, but he didn’t know what they were. He couldn’t tell if they were regular people pretending to be special or the other way around. He was the same age as them but they didn’t make sense to him, if they made sense to anyone. There wasn’t a code, a moral framework to follow. They weren’t rebelling against anything. Instead they seem the bastions of conformity. Somehow they managed to combine all these disparate elements of several cultures without building something new, something better. In some ways he was one. He knew some of the bands, though even music wasn’t unifying, it wasn’t like Mods, Rockers, Punks and all those groups of his parents’ age, who if they didn’t stand for something political at least were fighting against something, even if it was just rebellion for the sake of it. There was something noble in that. Something that was hard to translate into monetary terms, though Jean had no doubt that somebody had already stumbled upon the formula to do so. He knew every generation had felt the way he did now, that there was something hollow about his generation something blank and meaningless; a nihilistic generation who couldn’t be arsed finding the meaning for themselves. Richard Hell had even wrote a song about it at the peak of punk, when there was still hope, even if it turned out to be just the dregs left.
He turned on the radio. It was on Classical FM. He liked the stuff even if he didn’t really know the composers he was listening to or what concerto or sympathy he was listening to. He turned it to radio one. His dad would have described the singer as a talentless tart. Jean couldn’t really disagree, even though he tried to find something about it he liked but it sounded like it was from a Disney film. He turned off the radio and listened to the traffic, to the shouts; to every slight city sound that went past unnoticed by most people. And if it did make an impact, it was either gone the next moment to be replaced by something else on the street, or a thought once hidden behind the constant movement of life reappeared and all you could thinks was, oh for fuck’s sake.
He was meeting Natalie after another unnoteworthy shift. He wanted to be the best he could be or whatever it was they put on army posters. He knew he wasn’t good enough for her but he hoped by some slim chance that if his mind was in the right state and he was messing himself up by thinking about awful things he had read about that day or that week: for example 85,000 women raped in England and Wales every year. And if it wasn’t that he could think about the joys of paedophilia committed by parliamentarians, or perhaps war, now that would be good thought Jean. That would really put me in the right mind to meet Natalie. We could smile and make jokes and you can think about all that and feel like crying but smiling and drinking far too quickly and the night will pass slow because you’re not really there and you’ll go home alone and cry and maybe watch porn and feel guilty and fucked up for three days (even if you watch the female friendly videos. If there is such a thing). The ones where they’re at least not in pain. There is kissing involved and there’s even a decent amount of cunnilingus and the women are nearly normal looking, like you could bump into them in a bar or doing your shopping hungover on some Sunday morning and you both would smile because you looked as rough as each other. It wasn’t like he thought it made him a bad person. He never watched anything fucked-up but he wasn’t sure even if everything changed he’d be able to watch it without feeling like a shit, like he was no better than a rapist or some such foolish thing that people vomited out, but he certainly wasn’t a better person for it and perhaps that was what bothered him. He parked his car on Port Street. It was only five minutes’ walk to the Northern Quarter where Natalie worked in a job she neither hated or loved. It was, as she often said, a job, as if that’s what they were meant to be, something you did for money and nothing more. He stuck his headphones in. He didn’t fancy listening to music but when he had them in, he felt safer somehow. The headphones and his jacket made him feel secure. He wore it everywhere, no matter the event or what they planned to do. He sometimes thought about wearing it to bed. To lie and know yourself to be safe like he did when he was a child, and he was shielded by the dim glow of his night-light. But even Jean figured this was a little too eccentric. When he was old and his mind was gone and he lived on one of those homes he would be able to do that but not now. The thought of no one caring about what he did and him being too gone to notice it made him feel pleasantly numb. He stopped at a corner shop and bought a pack of Marlboro Reds.
He couldn’t see Natalie through the window. The place was called Moon Café. Jean liked it. It was a little simpler than the others and it was also a little cheaper, not much but enough for you to notice it. There were two customers inside on the high stools next to the counter. They didn’t look like the usual customers. Mostly the people who came to the café were students, young professionals, all official and purposeful looking until you gave them a proper look and a bit of mud would be on their shoes or the seams of their jackets were frayed and you realised they were just playing at it like everyone else. But these two had nothing of that down on your luck, high on hope sadness that they had. He took out a cigarette from his pocket. He patted himself down until he found his lighter. It was in one of his back pockets. He imagined himself sitting down and his arse bursting into flame. He was thinking of giving up. In fact a day didn’t go bye, when he didn’t consider it but he hadn’t tried yet and he suspected it was because he knew he’d fail. He moved close to the front of the café so he wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. He blew the smoke upwards as a young woman passed. He imagined the smoke turning into the grey-smudged clouds above. She didn’t look at him and Jean had the odd sensation that he was dead, and no one had bothered to inform him. The anonymity of the city had been at first liberating. To walk and have no weight attached to you by other people. But now he wished that people would at least acknowledge other people’s existence. Just look and confirm that they are real, not just spectres haunting the outskirts of their heads. A modern man lamenting modern life—get a grip Jean and let’s go inside. He stubbed out his cigarette and threw it on the floor by the gutter.
The door chimed as he entered. The two men looked round almost instantaneously and looked him up and down. Jean felt like a stripper. He stopped himself from pouting his lips and looking over his shoulder as jingled his ass. He saw the punch to the face the blackout and the money stuck in-between his breasts as a final insult. These two looked like they slept with prostitutes. The one furthest away from Jean was considerably older than the one he could see clearly through the window. They could almost have been father and son. Jean smiled but he made sure he looked them both in the eye but not for too long. These men made him nervous and while Jean had to acknowledge that many men made him feel uncomfortable, these two made his whole being feel fragile, as if he hadn’t eaten all day and was on the verge of fainting. He sat himself at the table directly behind them next to the wall. Pictures of each space mission were stuck to the walls with blue tack. Jean noticed that the last Indian mission was up there too. Jean liked the fact that it wasn’t a wall that only celebrated America. Liberal tit.
Natalie came in from the little kitchen. She kept her eyes of the two men and looked directly out of the window. Jean looked too but saw nothing of interest. His sense of unease increased. Natalie was the most polite and genuinely friendly person he had ever met. She always smiled at people even if she was down, even if the day had been complete shit. He coughed. Natalie looked over at him. Her face didn’t light up as it usually did. The older man was staring into his coffee cup. He didn’t look up once. The younger watched her intensely. He didn’t seem to blink. It reminded Jean of watching Prime Minister’s Questions and seeing George Osborne with that unblinking blank stare he has. Jean was convinced he was thinking of some awful crime he had committed. Of every knife wound, every blood splutter and body sunk to the bottom of the Thames and families left with no hope of ever finding justice. He knew it was an awful thing to think and certainly not true. But when he looked at him, he saw a man who given the chance wouldn’t mind a bit of murder.
‘Want anything else’, said Natalie
‘I don’t know. What do you want to eat Al?’
‘I don’t know Dan. I don’t know if I want anything to eat or not.’ Natalie picked up two menus from the other end of the bar. Both men read the menu. Jean watched them from his table. He didn’t want them to see him staring, so he took out his phone and pretended to read a text message. He waited for the screen to go black once more. He tried to corner the feeling in his mind, hoping that if he could just find something to compare it to, he could limit it and therefore defeat it. The only thing he could compare it to was that look his father would get in his eyes when he read the paper and he knew he was going to have to hide under the dining room table again.
‘I’ll have the peri peri chicken and chips.’
‘We’re not serving hot food anymore. The chef has gone home, so it’s sandwiches.’
‘What the hell’s it doing on this menu you give me, if you don’t serve it.’
‘It says at the top. She pointed to the top of the menu where in big letters it said Hot food is served until 4pm.’ She smiled apologetically at the younger one. He looked at his watch.
‘I make it just before four, how about you Al.’ Al didn’t answer. Natalie pointed to the clock on the wall, which resembled what Jean guessed was the Lunar module.
‘It’s ten past, your watch must be slow.’
‘Slow.’ Jean wasn’t sure if this was an accusation or just a statement. He said the word again but this time much slower, as if it was a foreign word and he wasn’t sure of its pronunciation.
‘What have you got to eat then?’ said Dan.
‘Ham, cheese, tuna, chicken, turkey, all the usual.’
‘Give me the lamb stew with roast potatoes.’ Jean could tell from Natalie’s face that she wanted to scream. Her eyes had a tense quality that she only got when she was discussing feminism with men who already believed women were equal.
‘I’m sorry but I can’t get you any hot food. The chef has gone and I’m not allowed to just go and make something and besides we shut in half an hour and want to see a bit of sun today.’
‘So everything we want is off the menu eh? So that’s the way you play it?’
‘All I can do is…’
‘I’ll take the egg and cheese sandwich and a coke,’ said Al. He didn’t say it with any malice, but Jean figured that probably didn’t mean a thing to a man like that. Jean got up and moved over to the counter. He sat at the opposite end. He put his packet of cigarettes down on the surface and sat down with a sigh. Neither of them looked at him. Natalie gave the faintest hint at a smile. He’d finally done something right. Al looked up at Dan. It was the first time Jean had noticed him look anywhere else apart from his menu. ‘I’ll have the same.’ He moved slightly in his chair and drank the last bit of his coffee. He looked at Jean for the first time since he had entered the café. His eyes stayed on him longer than Jean was comfortable with. But he held his gaze but made sure his eyes weren’t too tense. He didn’t want to appear like he was looking for a fight. Jean was as he remembered his mum repeatedly saying, a basketful full of worries. Dan turned back to Natalie,
‘Got anything to drink’
‘Coke, sprite, Fanta, fruit juices and milkshakes of all kinds.’
‘So you haven’t got anything to drink.’
‘We don’t have a licence I’m afraid.’
‘Don’t have a licence.’ He said slowly and carefully. Jean was becoming convinced that he had a learning disability. Natalie looked at Jean.
‘I’ll have an Americano please.’
‘What you doing?’
‘You think you’re clever?’
‘Sure’ said Jean. He instantly regretted it and wished he just kept his big mouth shut. He saw his gob swallowing oceans and continents. No one left a live. What a fucking idiot.
‘Whatever you think you are, you’re certainly not smart’ said Dan, the younger the two. His stare reminded him of his father with his belt wrapped around his fist. The kind of man who when he looks in mirrors, he sees an emperor. A wannabe tyrant with a baldhead, cheap suit, on a bar stool instead of a throne. ‘You think he’s smart Al?’
‘He’s a fuckwit if you ask me.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Sure sounds like a fuckwit’s name doesn’t it Al.’
‘Sure does Dan, sure does.’ Natalie brought over their cokes and then went back for Jean’s coffee. Jean wanted to tell them that if they weren’t in a double act, they should be. She came back with his coffee and when she placed it on the counter before him, she made sure her fingers touched his. It was enough for them both. Even a shot of whisky wouldn’t have had the intensity of effect. A deep breath to increase his courage and he would be ready for whatever was going to happen. She went into the kitchen to make their sandwiches. Jean hoped the two hadn’t seen their hands touching but he figured at least the older one probably had. He had the disconcerting quality of looking everywhere and nowhere at once.
‘This city is full of smart guys’, said Al
‘But you know what else is full of guys who thought they were smart?’
‘The cemetery.’ The younger one laughed like a hen clucks. Silence. Laugh. Silence. Laugh, like he didn’t have enough breath to complete a full laugh. For fuck’s sake Jean thought as he looked out the window to the street nearly deserted. He imagined his mother walking past with her matching green shoes and handbag on. From what he could remember, and his grandma had told him, she had a passion for bright colours and if they clashed she was especially pleased: a woman who embraced contradictions.
Natalie brought the sandwiches out. Dan didn’t remove his gloves to eat. ‘What you looking at?’
‘You were. What were you looking at?’
‘Maybe she thinks she is smart too. Maybe she’s another tough bitch, who thinks no is a three-letter word.’ Jean laughed. He couldn’t help himself. The sound of his laugh escaping before his slow brain could catch up made him feel sick. He didn’t know what they meant at first. He was too nervous to think but he could tell by Natalie’s face that it wasn’t good. His brain caught up. Marvellous. Just when you think somebody couldn’t be more of an arsehole, they surprise you. He could see the news after one of these dicks’ deaths; he was a lovely boy; he loved his mother. They’re always fucking good to their mother; shame its starts and ends with the woman who birthed them. ’What you laughing for? Said Al.
‘The boy doesn’t even know why he’s laughing.’
‘Real smart boy we got here; a regular Einstein.’ Jean pictured how he was going to handle these two if he even could. He loathed imagining fights, sizing guys up on nights out but there was no option now, unless someone else came in or these guys were just jokers there was going to be a fight and looking at them Jean knew he would get the shit beat out of him. They were both looking at him. His mug was still half full. He thought maybe he could throw the burning contents at the younger one, then smash the mug into the other’s guy’s face. But even in his mind he saw the coffee hit, but then as he swung the mug, a fist in the stomach neutralised him and then the punches would come on strong and they wouldn’t stop until his face was indistinguishable from the floor. Jean sipped his coffee and pretended like nothing was happening, but he had the disconcerting feeling of being on stage and had forgotten his lines. He became conscious of every little thing around him: the way the lights above were far too dim for the room, the sound of the fridge in the kitchen, groaning like his father did when he was drunk, climbing the stairs up to fall into bed.
‘He really is a philosopher this one.’ Said Al.
‘A regular Aristotle.’
‘It’s the blank eyes and the dumb expression that give him away.’
‘I think you too better leave,’ said Natalie. She had her hand on a coke bottle which she clearly had no intention of drinking.
‘Well fuck me, this is a smart city. Full of women who think they know and pussys like this one’.
‘No wonder the countries go down the drain. Bunch of pricks like you in charge. No balls, no plan’.
‘And the cretins will inherit the earth, isn’t that right Dan?’
‘Sure is Al’.
Jean moved but before he had a chance to stand up, the younger one reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a switchblade.
’That always wipes the smile of a smart guy’s face. And with the amount of them that are in this quarter, my word we’d be doing the world a favour, ain’t that right Dan? Probably give us a medal—duty to one’s country and all. Natalie moved. ‘You stay the fuck there’.
‘What do you want?’ She appeared a lot more composed than Jean was.
’I’m not going to rape you darling. This ain’t nothing like that. We know a guy called Tom comes by here often and we’re waiting for him. Owes us some money if you want to know. So were going to wait and see if he turns up.
‘He isn’t here’ said Jean.
‘He’s out of the country’
‘I don’t know. He’s gone off is all I know’.
‘You believe that Al?’
‘Sure as hell don’t’. Jean wanted to scream
‘But I guess it don’t matter. We’re going to be around watching, waiting, see if he turns up. He don’t, you got no problems. He does well maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. If he’s gone then someone else will take care of it.’
‘You about finished Dan?’
‘Sure am’. They got up to leave.
‘You not going to leave a tip?’
‘For this service, for this company, I’m sure as hell not’.
Dan chuckled and put a few quid down for the both of them. ‘You know who I think the real cause of this generations downturn is?’
‘Maybe, but then my mum always said I could be anything I wanted to be’.
‘Jesus,’ said Jean and before he knew it, he was on the floor. He tried to get up but as the older guy passed him, he kicked him in the ribs. He could swear he felt his organs move.
‘Don’t get up for us.’ Jean tried not to yelp or shout. He needed the silence. ‘See you later love. Your boy is going to need some tenderness’, trying but failing to imitate Otis Redding. They walked out into the street. They walked over the road and didn’t turn back once. Natalie rushed over to Jean and put her hand on his back and kneeled beside him. He’d never felt so weak, such a squirt of shit. He didn’t think he cared about anything like that, about his muscles or how tough he was. He really wished he’d at least given it to one of them.
‘You should give Tom a ring.’
She helped him onto one of the stools by the counter. He got out his phone. It was a cheap one like drug-dealers use. No one answered. He rang it twice and got the same result. He left a message on his voicemail then texted him just to be sure. ‘Some guys came looking for you and they weren’t wanting to have a good time. What kind of trouble are you in?’ He knew he could be more concise, but he hated text speak and preferred to use full sentences when possible.
‘For fucks sake Jean. Why always us?’
‘For fucks sake was just what I was thinking. Give us a hand I need to nurse my masculine ego, it’s taken a right beating’.
‘I bet it has, you soft shit. Come on.’ Jean was a little offended but he knew it was petty, so he tried to stay amiable.
‘You still want to go for drinks, or do you want to come to mine and we can chill?’
‘Give us ten and we’ll go out for a little bit. I haven’t seen the others in a while’.
‘A whole day’.
‘A whole day. The right things happen, then a day can be better than a lifetime’.
‘You’re feeling better already. Shit philosophy and flawed logic, just what I want with my gin’.
‘Thanks darling I do try’.
Jean felt his ribs. ‘Nah I don’t think so. Hurts like fuck don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think so’.
‘Good. We can go dancing. I fancy going to Noho’s and watch some weird ass film playing in silence while we dance to some gangster rap’.
‘I hope it is Labyrinth again. I don’t think I’ll ever forget all those hands rising. I thought I’d been slipped something.’
‘That was our first date wasn’t it?’ Jean tried to play it cool. ‘I think so’.
‘You know so. You never forget things like that. You’re sentimental’.
‘True I just like to play at being cool sometimes.’
‘Like, when they said, you think you’re smart, sure you say. Fuck me Jean I thought you were going to get stabbed there and then’.
‘I couldn’t help myself.’
‘Well do next time. I don’t like you because you’re cool. Rather the opposite if anything.’ It was the first time she said she liked him, put it words rather than Jean having to infer how she felt through the way she smiled or touched him or the tone she used when she talked to him. It was nice. A fog of bullshit had been cleared and Jean felt like he could breathe again.
‘Now take that dumb smile of your face and go and wash up, your nose is bleeding. Granted it gives you a roguish charm but I’m a respectable lady with a respectable man and I don’t want bitchy talk behind my back.’
She smiled and the pain in his side ceased to hurt for a moment. Natalie phoned Mike, Jean, Georgia and texted a few of the others who remained on the periphery of the group. Natalie’s sister was going to meet them at The Soup Kitchen, which was only five minutes’ walk from where they were. She went to get changed out of her work gear in the toilet. Jean reached into his pocket and got out a small hip-flask which contained some cheap dark rum. He felt a bit like either an alcoholic or a poser carrying it around. But he knew if he didn’t have a few swigs, he might get too nervous and find it hard to be more than himself. And by that he meant his most golden self: funny, witty, charming, masculine without being brutish and sexually charged without seeming pervy. This perfect state of harmonious balance between all the virtues he thought of, as man’s highest, most exalted way of being, which was of course an impossible aim. He knew this and yet he still tried. It was as if he thought that while all the other great people have failed to attain this perfection and while he didn’t consider himself to be anything special, he still believed himself capable of such a feat. The king of contradictions; fluent in doublespeak and multiple types of mental peculiarities. He took two sips, nearly emptying the flask. He drank his coffee to cover up the smell of alcohol, not that Natalie would have judged him harshly, but he didn’t want her knowing. He didn’t want to entertain even the slightest possibility of Natalie thinking less of him.
Natalie came out of the toilet. She was dressed all in black with green Doc Martens on. He was surprised at how graceful she looked. The boots added to rather than diminished this effect. Jean couldn’t say he’d met anyone like her before. She was to him a new phenomenon, which he hadn’t even begun to understand, if understanding is what he truly wanted. In fact sitting there, he was just glad to be with her and in this moment without the slightest notion of what was really going on or what the future held. In his previous relationships he had always been given a glimpse right at the start of why the relationship wouldn’t work out. It was usually only a small thing, nearly undetectable. A stray comment, a judgment of someone, the intensity of guilt he got when he had said something perhaps less than kind or the way she looked at him when he has said something stupid or perhaps churlish. He knew that all the women he had dated had probably had the same premonitions about him. A niggling thing either ignored or accepted as a minor foible in which the seed for their future downfall had already been laid. But when he looked at Natalie he got nothing, and perhaps that should have worried him more. He was not as world weary as the literature he liked to read and the poems he planned to write but never did. You could still see the shades of youth in his features.
‘Shall we go then sir?’
She put her arms through his and they walked out of the café, held against one another, as if they were walking out into a storm.