I took the advice to write a normal day for my protagonist but couldn't resist the usual odd twist at the end, making it perfectly normal for me (the idea of the knowledgeable stranger who knows more than they ought is something of a trope with my writing - especially if I don't know where I'm going). It's... working so far. I do not believe it is like my more recent (and slightly better than usual) efforts. However, it's there.
www.750words.com tells me that it's mainly affectionate and concerned with eating and drinking tonight, but I have little else to share. There is a swear word in this, so I guess it's NSFW but it's only one.
Waking alone, always a slight disappointment, was ameliorated a little by the dancing dust motes in the shaft of summer light spilling through the badly drawn curtains. That, and the fact that she’d managed to make that sentence work despite still being groggy from whatever the dream was that she’d just had. It was on the tip of her brain but she just couldn’t grasp it. Never mind, the generally positive feeling from it was more than enough for the occasion.
Barefoot, she padded out of her room, saw to the needs of the day and then went foraging for food in the kitchen down the hallway. It wasn’t a terribly large flat but it did the job beautifully and that was what counted. Old carpet, rubbed by years of use and by people that weren’t her, meant that it was comfortable without being opulent and relatively easy to clean. She did own a hoover and, now and again, it saw the light of day, but mostly she was careful. Plates and food stayed in the kitchen or sallied forth to be placed on the tea-tray in the living room in front of any particularly good piece of television before being routed and retreating in disorder the following morning. One washer-dryer, insistently flashing that it was done, greeted her as she opened the door and she would hang any blouses, shirts, skirts, dresses and trousers to dry on their hangers, obviating the need for ironing before the morning was out. Underwear faced the horror of a full drying cycle to be done at 2am when power was at its cheapest.
Cereal was kept in the same cupboard as the bowls, with the drawer beneath for cutlery, and both were next to the sink. Last night’s pan, water within to remove the line of soup, and an empty bowl and spoon waited, lurking with intent. Milk from the fridge, where else, and then she tucked in. Glass of fruit juice, one of her little luxuries and tomato this week, and then she was back to brush teeth and get clean. Power shower, hissing water steaming up the windows of the small bathroom, though there was no bath, and a decision made again not to shave her legs, a few more days wouldn’t hurt. A few minutes to apply mascara, decision to avoid eye-liner, and make sure her hair was presentable. It wasn’t.
Full brushing followed by a derisory attempt to style before abandoning the whole endeavour and flinging it all into a rough pony tail. It wasn’t straight and she didn’t care, it was a day off and she could look howsoever she wished. It was warm, she decided looking out of the window, and so she settled on a t-shirt, checked short sleeve shirt (unbuttoned) and a pair of comfy jeans. Trainers donned, watch on and she was out of the door with a rucksack just over forty minutes from waking. She wasn’t setting any records but it was a passable imitation of being in a hurry.
Spying a bus rumbling up the hill she decided to take a risk and leave the car in the space under the block of flats. A hurried walk down the stairs later, still timing it right to miss any other denizens, and she was out and across the road without looking. She never looked and, she reflected, if her life was a movie she would have been mown down by a car or something. It wasn’t, she wasn’t, and she reached the bus stop in good order. Time to check her phone, no messages overnight and the clock was off by a few minutes, and then she was boarding the bus and paying for the day-long ticket option. Pockets, she thought, a thousand blessings on the soul that thought of them and paper money that could fit comfortably inside them.
It was indeed a warm day, and it got warmer as the morning progressed, heat pouring through the Perspex of the local bus company window. No one joined her this morning, too late to catch the morning rush-hour and too early to meet the people that avoided the rush-hour. Besides, this was a line heading away from town and the shops and back out into the sticks beyond the confines of the city. Pleasant views, usually ignored by most passengers who had either lived in the area all their lives or whose attention was almost entirely on the smart-phone screen before them.
And what did you do today? Someone would ask them. And they would be forced to reply: took a selfie on a bus and updated my Twitter account. It was almost loveable in the same way that one wanted to rescue a small bird and hand rear it in the ubiquitous shed at the bottom of the garden. So, not at all an endearing quality but a pleasant fiction that could only be maintained by not talking directly at the offending articles.
Her stop reached, far too quickly for a day off, she thanked the driver and left. A swift walk from the roadside took her into the treeline and, once ensconced by the leaves and the bark, she was free from the trappings of the modern world. A moment. A deep breath. Eyes closed, repeat the experience, yes, life was still lived and good. Yes, there was still nature and, yes, there was still the omnipresence of cow dung, bird shit and decaying animal flesh on the breeze. All in all, it was shaping up to be an excellent walk.
By midday she had hiked a good distance along the moors beyond the woodland, at the top of the ridgeline, and reached Lancashire. She was glad that she had gone for trainers rather than her boots for, though the terrain was easy, the weather continued to heat up. Part of her regretted the jeans but it wouldn’t have been worth shaving her legs to feel a little cooler and the pockets had been useful for picking interesting leaves and stones. Pre-packed lunch from the previous morning was thus consumed with relish and with an honest appetite: ham salad sandwiches, real butter; Cox apple; kiwi fruit, the kind they brought on ships rather than aeroplanes to save food miles and the planet; small cheeses; yoghurt and a cherry bakewell with icing. Sluicing it all down with a bottle of water, apart from the larger canister she carried for travelling itself, and she was back on the trail.
Heading south this time she took in the delights of the reservoir park, a narrow valley walk beside a babbling brook and a nature reserve administered by the Department of Education before deliberately joining a little-used country lane. By the time the heat of the day had begun to fade and the clouds scudded their way over the horizon to herald the beginning of the evening she had made it south of Leeds and then back north once more. Perhaps, she thought, she had wasted the fare on the buses.
With that thought in mind, and another more pressing urge, she wandered into a small public house and obeyed the call of nature. Checking her watch for the first time since putting it on that morning she decided that there was time to tarry before making the final walk through the city and to her flat. It had been, to all intents and purposes, a day off well spent.
“What’ll you have?” One of the insufferably young bar types, with messy hair that was probably considered fashionable, and the type of stubble that just screamed ‘designer’ but actually, when questioned quietly later, would admit to being ‘lazy’.
“Riggwelter, please.” It was rare indeed to see that on tap and the opportunity was not to be missed. Because the day had been a good one she risked a smile.
And instantly regretted it. “No, pint please, thanks.”
“So, what brings you out this evening then?”
Dear God, he was a talker. There were two types of talker: the affable one that genuinely plied the trade of the publican and was able to ask questions, chat and listen without a hint of condescension or irony and the other one, the one that was looking to imitate the publican and weighed up pursuing a date or just being plain insulting. His stance, and the eyes that flicked only occasionally to her own, marked him out as being the latter. “Prostitution.”
Aura established, politeness rebuked, he pulled the pint in silence and handed it over. She got change from a fiver, but didn’t bother checking it, and then took both her pint and the coins to a table.
“No. It’s a cover. Actually I’m a killer for hire.”
“Course you are. Course you are.” It was an older man and she was sure that she’d chosen a table that had not had anyone near it. Which meant that he had followed her. “Here alone then?”
The current advice was to lie at this point and claim that she was being met shortly by someone else but her day had been too good and the altercation at the bar had left her bristling and ready for a meatier discussion. “Yes. Yes I am. You?”
He laughed a little, a rumbling chuckle that started like an avalanche far away and ended abruptly, like someone had pulled down earmuffs. “Yep, always alone me. And your type too I reckon.”
This didn’t seem like an attempt to ‘play nice’ but nor was the normal feeling of threat there in his words. Something was going on but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was. “My type?” She arched her eyebrows a little.
There was no public house, no chatter, no noise of an average summer evening. For a moment there was just the two of them, alone, facing one another. Then everything crashed back in again and she rallied. “Pardon me? I’m not a waitress.”
“Never said you were, Miss.” His smile grew wider and he proffered his hand, “Tremayne, Miss, you don’t know me and I don’t know you. I like to make new friends though.”
His hand was left hanging. “Well, mister Tremayne, I’m not sure I’m the friendly type and I really don’t like your tone.”
“Shame,” he dropped the hand, “Being in the Service is awful lonely at times, don’t you think? Still, I suppose a day off now and then helps recharge those batteries.” Either the man didn’t take hints or something was seriously awry, his own references were too direct now to blithely ignore and it was beginning to sound like he’d been following her for much longer than from the bar. “Course, no one ever really takes a day off, do they now? Mostly it’s just the same job and waiting for things to happen. Checked your phone?”
She was completely unsurprised when it went off a fraction of a second after Tremayne had paused.
“Might be important.”
“Go on, you’ve got my attention.”
“Collection job I reckon. There’s someone needs a deal putting to them and you’re the best they’ve got on call at the moment. ‘Cept that’s not entirely true, but humour them. Anyway, subject is a lady I reckon you know well and she’s out on manoeuvres, whatever that means, and needs pulling in by your lot. You’ll accept when you see who it is, course you will, but you’ll be late.”
“Am I telling you this? Like I said, bit lonely in the Service and I like to make new friends.” His face remained mostly passive, a slight squint on his left eye, and there was nothing in his tone to suggest anything more. Body language appeared comfortable and he was making easy eye contact. He took a sip of his own pint. “Good choice, Riggwelter, but there’s a micro-brewery about here and they do that on tap too. Red Stag. Go on, check your phone, I shan’t be offended.”
Doing so revealed part of the story he had told, a message asking her to get back for an offer with a subject out on manoeuvres.
“You’re wondering how I know?” He took a further sip of his pint, clearly enjoying it. Then he shrugged nonchalantly, “Call it an old-timer’s intuition if you like.”
“I don’t believe in intuition.” She hated the fact that her reactions were being played and read so easily by this stranger. “But I suppose you knew that.”
“No, I don’t know you, Miss.”