She'd started coming to the stamp club the week before Tracey had left him (Tracey had taken the pop-up toaster, as well as his collection of Jack Higgins novels, which he wasn't best pleased about). At first they'd talked about that strip of unperforated 1934 George V penny reds he'd bought almost by accident from the chap on eBay, and some US Confederate locals that she was saving up for, but one thing had led to another, he'd started coming in to see during her lunch-hour at Milletts in the high street, and now here they were having tea in Costa half an hour before the monthly meeting and looking at a new Stanley Gibbons catalogue he'd thought she might like to borrow.
'You know,' he said, stirring sugar into his cappuccino, which to be honest he preferred to the mocha lattes which some of the younger members went for, 'that 1867 issue with the grille is pretty impressive.' He didn't want to seem intimidating so he went on: 'If you like that kind of thing, I mean.'
'Hm,' she said. She was drinking a mango frescato with extra cream, which always seemed to him a tad exotic for the kind of person she was, not to mention costing a whopping £3.20. 'Those Madagascan triangulars aren't bad, either.' There was a pause. 'Not meaning to be funny or anything, Gav, but you really are incredibly tedious.'
'Point taken.' He was wondering whether he ought to get her a proper pair of tweezers from the shop in the mall. 'You're not exactly a sparkling conversationalist yourself, Ange.'
'It's not my fault,' she said. He saw that she'd creased the catalogue cover, but reminded himself that he could always iron it. 'Or yours. That's what comes of being a character in a Julian Barnes short story.'
'Well, he's always more interested in the boring stuff that people do rather than the people themselves. Or maybe it's just that giving them all the boring stuff to do makes them boring. You ought to be grateful your hobby isn't rambling, or you'd be spouting paragraphs about the Kinder Downfall circuit and Bowden Bridge car-park.'
'Whereas I just drone on about stamps?'
'That's it exactly. It's not that I don't love you, darling; it's just that we've been created by the kind of writer who never lets his characters have lives of their own.' There was a bit of a pause while he wondered whether the rain would let up and she started scrabbling in her hand-bag.
'What's that you're doing, Ange?'
'Come on, Gav! Don't say you don't know. It's the big symbolic moment he sometimes brings in towards the end. In this one I've got a penny black I was going to give you, only the grand climax is that I've lost it somewhere in the lining.'
'Well, I suppose that makes it all nicely ambiguous,' he conceded. He was still thinking about the pop-up toaster. 'Why don't you tell me about that new range of anoraks you were stocking - you know, the ones with the patent zip-fasteners- last time I was in ... [continues].
D J Taylor