“I’ve been toying with these two characters for months,” said Phil. “I would like to give them a story of their own, a book perhaps, but I still don’t quite know where they’re going…” The gathered members of the Circle, including the prodigal Deidre, shuffled themselves comfortable on the hard, moulded plastic chairs, and Phil retrieved a sheaf of papers from his pocket…
“…Shaw laid his knife and fork down neatly on his plate. It was clean, except for a small, tidy pile of sweetcorn kernels and two slowly leaching slices of crinkle-cut pickled beetroot which were actively turning the corn a florid hue of gentian violet as he looked on. ‘Serves them right,’ he thought. ‘Who puts sweetcorn in a pork pie salad anyway?’ A motorway service centre was the answer and, if he’d bothered to ask the hair-netted man behind the counter, he would have also discovered that it wasn’t actually pork pie in the first place, it was Gala Pie: hadn’t he even noticed the boiled egg in it? To which Shaw would have answered, ‘No, I bloody well did not. The pastry was like a rock. As soon as I tried to cut it with the cheap plastic utensils you gave me, the inside shot out like a bullet and landed under the table near the ‘gents’. It could have had a golden snitch in it for all I knew. I wasn’t crawling around under the tables to find out.’ He contemplated the beetroot with a shudder, it reminded him of school dinners. No sweetcorn for it to leach into when he was at school of course – far too decadent – just a lukewarm mound of half-mashed potato, half a dozen shrivelled-up peas that always brought to mind a leprechaun’s testicles, and something that may once have been some manner of dead fish. He shuddered again at the memory. It was at school that he had first developed the habit of eating only when he felt that he really had to. Dinah was just the latest in a long line of women who tried to impress upon him the need to put a little meat on his bones and he had to admit that, on the rare occasions he considered his reflection in the mirror, he did look rather like a skeleton wrapped in Clingfilm – only by and large, he was forced to concede, less healthy.
Mind you, Dinah was, he was happy to admit, rather different to the other women in his life. She wasn’t a blood relative for a start. Shaw’s whole life had been shaped by female relatives. His mother, his ‘real’ aunties, his ‘assumed’ aunties and, it always seemed to him, any ancient woman who happened to sit next to him on the bus. They all had a view on what he should be doing. They all knew that he didn’t eat enough. Dinah, to be fair, never actually pestered him to eat. She just let him know that he was not comfortable to be around. ‘Angular and pointy,’ she said. ‘Devoid of all padding.’ And, if he was honest, that was why he’d ordered the apple crumble and custard that was now congealing on the plate in front of him. He wanted to eat it, but it would have taken far more strength than he could ever have mustered to drag the skin off it. So, instead, he just stared at it, hoping that he could absorb some calories by osmosis.
He was, he knew, in the process of being thoroughly beaten down by his current ‘case’. He was growing tired of looking for someone for whom he had no name and no photograph. He was growing evermore weary of the constant trudge of trying to find somewhere to search. He stared hard at the scrap of paper on which he had written down the details of the case and the client’s name but, as on each of the previous occasions on which he had attempted to make head or tails of it, he could not. He had started off confident enough, he hung around the places where enlightenment usually found him, believing that, sooner or later, he would discover what he was meant to be doing. But he hadn’t. And he was running out of places. Why, in God’s name, had he sent Dinah off to find somebody’s cat again: she’d have known his client’s name, who he was searching for, why… And she hated the cat cases.
He must never let her know that he was out of his depth, of course, that his usual methods were not getting results. He was getting distracted. He needed to focus. Perhaps if he just stared at the paper for a little while longer…
Dinah regarded herself critically in the mirror. She wanted to see a detective looking back at her. She wanted to sense a steely intellect and a clear understanding shining through from her reflection. What she actually saw was a mad woman who couldn’t find a bloody lost cat. She had done the normal stuff: schlepped around the neighbourhood with a fuzzy, out of focus photograph; called in at all the police stations, vets and strange spinster’s bungalows she could find; stood on a thousand street corners shouting the bloody thing’s name. Who calls a cat Pickles anyway? Perhaps what she really needed to do was to reappraise her current situation. She had a job that wasn’t a job and which, by and large, involved the search for ‘lost’ felines, most of whom she sensed really did not want to go back from whence they came. She sensed that she was becoming a little closer to Shaw than was healthy for either of them, but exactly which of them was most reliant upon the other, she had no idea. It was like a symbiosis: she was the apple tree, Shaw was the mistletoe – even if the most unromantic parasite she had ever encountered. She was tied to him because he relied on her. Sometimes, she thought, he would struggle to get dressed without her. (Actually, when she stopped to give that a little thought, she knew that he would struggle to get dressed without her.) But he had gentle – albeit perennially confused – eyes, and he made her laugh, although seldom when he meant to…
Dinah left the ‘ladies’ with one last glance in the mirror – ‘It’s not much, but it’ll do’ she thought – and returned to her seat at the table. She smiled at the man sitting beside her. ‘You’re not leaving that beetroot are you?’ she asked. ‘I’ll have it…’”
I’d quite forgotten how much I like writing these two. At first I thought that it must tell me something about myself that I had chosen to give them to Phil, but of course it doesn’t. I could have given them to any other member of the Circle: they are all me, they all wish that they were not…
Dinah and Shaw have appeared in this blog a number of times before – although this is their first outing as part of The Writer’s Circle. If you should wish to find out more about them, you will find their previous appearances listed below:
Episode 1 – Excerpt from Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 2 – Return to Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 3 – Another Return
Episode 4 – Morning is Broken
Episode 5 – Train of Thought
Episode 6 – The Morning After
Episode 7 – Green Ink on the Back of a Pizza Delivery Receipt
Episode 8 – Searching for the Spirit of Christmas