Seven-thirty. She’s not coming. I say that because I want to be courageous. I want to experiment with how I will feel when I must finally admit that she isn’t coming. I’ll only finally admit it at nine. I’ll get on the road at nine and be through Moffat and on to the motorway just beyond by a little over ten. I’ll admit it at nine.
She’ll still turn up at nine if she is going to appear at all, hopeful that I’ve hung around for two hours or so. Any later than that and despite her best efforts to get here – to get past her boyfriend, or a hundred little objections to just going – I have this intuition she’s the sort to be up for it. That I do not doubt. – any later than nine and she’ll assume she’s missed the boat and won’t bother turning up. She’ll maybe take a look at the itinerary and work out the most likely meeting place, the one that meets that moment when finally all desire and hope conspire powerfully enough in one direction to get her past the doubts that bind her to Edinburgh.
But Christ. It would be so good if she just came now. Came through the door, bag in hand and ready to go. We could be pushing south, out of the city and in to the Borders inside half an hour. And instead – shit – it’s Eric who appears, and he’s coming over.
‘Haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been?’
‘You’ve been out of town. Lance told me you were out of town.’
‘He was wrong. I’ve just had things to do at home.’
‘Well. Don’t ask me about my book. Really going through a tough patch. Still waiting for CERN to go public.’
‘You’re theory of everything. I remember.’
I hope the guy sitting two small tables distant can’t hear us. I want to disavow any interest in theories on singularity in whichever way possible. I make a joke.
‘Oh yeah. That old singularity thing. That’s a bitch.’
Eric shrugs and points at my beer. ‘You’re okay for the moment?’
I still have half a pint. ‘Yeah. Don’t worry about me.’
He goes to the bar. The barman has already poured a pint of his usual. He pays and returns to my two-person table, lowers himself on to the vacant stool and takes a first sip of his real ale.
Eric inherited a three bedroom, new town flat from his mother. They lived together until she died aged ninety-three. I never met her, but Lance assured me she was a terrific character – ‘very old-school colonial’. Her mother ‘was the inspiration for a character in an E.M. Forster novel.’
Eric was sixty-three and a former graduate of Philosophy at Edinburgh. That’s how he and Lance had met – at a Philosophy Society meet. Eric had never worked a day in his life, liked to imagine himself a deep thinker, a renaissance man, and Lance – always appreciative of a free booze up, a night sampling expensive cheeses, admiring antiques in the musty, high-ceiling rooms of Eric’s Royal Circus pad, had proven an eager and loyal cheerleader.
I met Lance first, at a cricket game in the Meadows. I had been drafted in as a late substitute for a weekday match by someone in the office and post-match, in the Golf Tavern, Lance introduced me to Eric. Eric was wearing threadbare jeans, a navy-blue jumper and green Barbour jacket that day because that’s what he always wore. With his large, plastic framed glasses and thinning hair he could pass for the dissolute twin of Alec Guinness’s George Smiley.
‘Is Lance coming?’
‘Saw Lance yesterday. He was over at the house. We were trying out a Sancerre I found in the cellar. Terrific stuff. Have you ever tried it?’
I had been at Eric’s place just once. He had invited me and Lance round there for nightcaps. The place was shambolic and cold. Eric had rigged up an electric heater in the kitchen in the basement of the five storey townhouse. It stood nearest his chair, and shed more light than heat. He didn’t turn on any lights, telling us, his face mottled by moonlight filtering through the dirt laced windows opposite him, that he found sitting in the light of the fire conducive to debate. In the event I was glad to be spared a view of the full horrors of the kitchen. The central table around which we sat was piled high with filthy plates and serving bowls of indeterminate, sweet rot. The only relatively clean space was at Eric’s corner where a disarrangement of papers, books lying face down and a few pencils, suggested industry. From one, or maybe all four dark corners came the unmistakable rustle and scrabble of mice.
‘No. I haven’t tried Sancerre.’ The door to the street swings open and a girl of similar stature to Jola comes in. She stands at the door, holding it open, looking back and waiting for someone to follow her in. It is nearly eight. Eric is asking me a question. By his tone he may already have asked me it once before.
‘Have you done any writing recently?’
‘How do you know I write?’
‘Lance, of course.’
The girl is still at the door. I can’t see her face. She’s standing holding the door open for a girlfriend who finally – perhaps she was locking her car or taking a quick drag on a cigarette – enters