‘Your place or mine?’ he typed, adding then deleting a winky face and pressing send.
‘Neither,’ she replied very quickly, adding ‘obviously.’
And so the following morning he parked just in front of her car at the head of the footpath. An ice scraper had made comical, angry stripes across her windscreen, but only on the driver’s side, probably because her arms are quite short. Comical as in ‘of comic books’ and angry in that the shape looked as though the word POW should appear in it, and not her pale, round face.
She spent a couple of seconds looking at him as he stood by her bonnet, head surrounded by a cloud of breath. He was holding an upside down bouquet of roses wrapped in cellophane, the loudest plastic he’d ever heard. She got out and locked the car, walking off along the path. He followed, noisily.
As the track opened out onto a sloping field, she stopped at a bench and plonked her handbag onto it. The handles arched upwards of their own accord, like eyebrows. He felt sure the two of them could be seen, they were still quite near the road. The hedge between them and someone’s back garden was bare in its winter state and he thought a chain-link fence would provide about as much obscurity. He turned to tell her this, only to see her three-quarter length puffer jacket was already hoicked up around her hips and she was pulling her leggings down, her knickers too, underneath a holm oak tree it might have made more sense to stand behind.
With the posture of a downhill skier, she stretched out her hand towards him. He smiled, took it, squeezed and gently swung it from side to side.
‘No, for fuck’s sake,’ she said, voice slightly hoarse from lack of talking.
He realised what she’d been after and rummaged in his bag (a quieter plastic) for it. She ripped the package open with one hand, snapped the lid off with her teeth and held the stick in the gap between her person and her leggings, where a beam of morning light shone through. Her ponytail flopped forwards as she crouched. Nothing. She gave him a look which prompted him to turn away and eventually he heard a gentle spouting sound, hitting the dead leaves at their feet.
He remembered coming to this field when he was younger, the stream running along the bottom edge of it, the rope swing which hadn’t got him entirely from one side to the other, as it had his brother and his brother’s friend. He remembered dangling over the water for a while, laughing until he didn’t, acutely aware of his new DC trainers. His brother had shouted at him and he’d tried hard to build some momentum by swirling his hips, hands and feet remaining clamped around the rope.
‘Stop being wet and get wet’ his brother had spat. That did it, and ruined the shoes.
He felt a prodding on his shoulder. She was using the test to get his attention. He took it from her and she pulled up her leggings, very high, smoothing down her coat with a vup, vup, vup sound. She got her phone from her bag and started a timer without even looking, staring instead into the sun above the field, now a bit higher in the sky. There were loads of rooks about, silhouettes whichever way you looked at them.
He took his free hand out of the pouch of his hoody and gently stroked her shoulder, vup, vup, vup. She didn’t flinch or move away but she didn’t exactly soften either. There was a whiff of piss on the wind but, to be fair, that could have been dog, or fox even. A mixture. He thought of an alleyway they had been in once, in the early days. He wondered if she might like to sit down so he could put his arm around her properly but she was focused on the horizon so he didn’t interrupt.
Vup, he managed, before she moved away, reaching for her phone. A curtain shuddered in the house above them on the hill. He privately took it as confirmation that this was the worst possible spot she could have chosen, even when the cat which was the culprit appeared on the windowsill to sunbathe, back to the glass. The initial fright had made him raise a hand to his heart, the one not holding the test, the one back in the pouch pocket, so his whole hoody had ridden up. He felt stupid, nodded his head just once in agreement with the thought that said this is exhausting. All of it.
She twitched and the clock appeared on her screen. There were still twelve seconds to go but she nonetheless took the test from him, turned it around, looked at the oval window, breathed out through her nose with a velcro noise and handed it back to him. She didn’t want the flowers, he could see that now, quite clearly. He left them on the bench, grabbed her handbag and set off up the bank behind her.
Later that morning, the sun as high as it was going to get, a woman walked through the paddock with her dog. Following his charming little trot with her eyes, she watched him cock his leg at the foot of the bench. She gave a small gasp, hand on heart and presuming a tragedy, seeing the bouquet sitting there, upright like a torso.