The first thing that crossed Dinah’s mind when she woke that morning was that the head on the pillow was almost certainly not her own. The second thing was that neither was the pillow – nor the bed come to that. The third thing, as she was counting, was that, wherever she was currently lying, she smelled like she had been there for a week.
‘Sorry about the T-shirt,’ said Shaw. ‘It’s all I could find.’
Dinah’s eyes snapped open and her brain recoiled from the light that flooded in. It actually banged a drum between her ears. Her mouth opened and closed, as if in speech, but as she could not even think what to say, she emitted no sound. She pulled the sheet up around herself, before venturing a little peek under the cover. Well, at least she was wearing something, even if it was clearly not her own. She peered down inside the neck. Oh God! She screwed her eyes tightly shut and breathed in as deeply as she dared in the circumstances.
‘You were a little… soiled,’ explained Shaw, and Dinah felt herself bridling at his obvious ability to read what was left of her mind. ‘You managed to get most of your clothes off yourself, in the end. The rest I left.’
Dinah shuffled down, uncomfortably in the bed, relieved to confirm that she was still wearing the rather dog-eared pants that she remembered deciding would suffice the day before. ‘Oh Lord,’ she groaned. I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve washed and dried all of my clothes, are you?’
Shaw was dumbstruck. ‘Me? Good god no. They’re in a bag outside. I think when you see them you will probably wish I had burned them. Would you like a cup of tea?’
‘Oh yes please,’ Dinah croaked in reply, realising for the first time that her throat was in drought.
‘Don’t suppose you’ve any idea where the kettle is?’
Dinah opened one eye, to try and limit the amount of light that assaulted her, and tried to take in the room. Slowly, feature by feature, she recognized it as the back room of the office she shared with Shaw. The bed, she realised, was what her mother used to call a put-you-up. ‘Do you always sleep in here?’ she asked.
‘Well, not always, said Shaw.
‘Only I’ve never seen a bed in here before.’
‘It folds up behind the curtain. I usually use the armchair.’ He indicated the sagging remains of a once-upon-a-time chair that appeared to be decaying in the corner of the room. As her eye became increasingly accustomed to the light, she could see that it was, itself, draped in a recently vacated blanket.
‘What on earth have you done to this T-shirt?’ she asked.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Shaw. ‘As I said, it was all I could find. I may have used it a time or two undercover. I had to get you… you know.’
‘What do you mean undercover?’
‘I may have slept in it… a time or two.’
‘Under a flyover, from the smell of it.’
‘It’s possible…’ he said.
She thought about this for a long time before asking the question she most needed answering. ‘What happened last night?’
‘Last night? Oh nothing…’ She gave him a hard stare. ‘I found you in the park,’ he said, trying to make it sound as routine as he could.
‘What was I doing in the park? What were you doing in the park?’
‘I was looking for you, of course.’
‘Well, I’m not entirely sure. It just seemed to be the right thing to do.’
Not for the first time, Dinah found herself staring open-mouthed at this man to whom fate had tethered her cart with a mixture of bemusement and amazement. Not for the first time did she feel that he could actually see inside her head: as if he was stirring up the contents like a Cup-a-Soup.
‘You seemed a little out of sorts,’ he said.
‘It was my birthday.’
‘You never said.’
‘I don’t celebrate it.’
Shaw raised a quizzical eyebrow.
‘It was more in the way of a wake,’ Dinah responded. ‘In memory of so many wasted years.’
‘Who were you with?’
‘Ah,’ Shaw gave her a look that was intended to say Ok, the subject is closed. I won’t ask any more. Of course, if you choose to volunteer any more information… Dinah did not, but she was curious.
‘What, exactly, was I doing when you found me?’
‘Crying, mostly,’ he said. ‘Bit of shouting. You threw your shoes in the pond.’
‘I still don’t know why you were looking for me.’
‘Like I said, you seemed out of sorts.’
Dinah knew Shaw by now. She knew that questioning would take her nowhere. He liked to preserve the mystery: liked you to believe that there was more to him than there really was. The trouble being that there actually was. She tried to think what had brought her here, to this point in her life, but the effort was too great. ‘The kettle’s in the office,’ she said at last. ‘You’ll have to fill it in the toilet… Not from the toilet.’
Shaw smiled and left the room. Dinah suddenly felt alone and vulnerable. ‘Shaw!’ she shouted.
‘Still here,’ he soothed. Infuriating!
Dinah propped herself up a little on the pillow, a tiny doubt began to nag in her head. ‘Shaw!’ she yelled again.
‘Where’s my bra? Is it with my clothes?’
‘Not exactly,’ he said. ‘But I think it is with your shoes.’ He came back into the room carrying a jam jar and a measuring jug filled with something that approximated tea. ‘I couldn’t find the mugs,’ he said.
Dinah took the jam jar gratefully. ‘Was I naked?’ she asked.
‘Not completely,’ he said. ‘Otherwise the police would have arrested you, I think.’
‘Because it was only your top half, they let me bring you home.’
It was Dinah’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
‘I told them you have eczema…’
Dinah sipped the massively over-sweetened tea appreciatively. Here, hung-over, in a strange bed, drinking what amounted to brown sugar-syrup from a jam jar, in the company of – he would admit himself – a very strange man, Dinah suddenly realised that she felt safe – and stupid – but mostly safe.
‘I’ll go and get you some clothes,’ offered Shaw, uncertain of how, or from where.
‘No need,’ said Dinah. ‘Bottom drawer in the desk. I always keep a spare set, just in case.’
‘Of course you do,’ grinned Shaw. ‘I should have known…’
This segment of the story came about after a comment by Herb set me thinking. I wrote it immediately after publishing episode 5, but I wanted to leave a little gap before we went back to them. To give them some air. I’m pleased I did. I think this is probably my favourite segment to date.