âAll right. Well youâve had a meal, which is yourÂ admission ticket to this cafÃ©, so you can stay here inÂ the warm for a bit. Iâve got to go now.â
âMy company bore you?â Jacko looked with fierceÂ pride at the worn cuffs of his jacket and his warpedÂ nicotined fingers. âOr perhaps you donât like to be seenÂ with me?â
âIt bores me when you follow me around. Please stopÂ doing it.â Beckett got up, paid the bill, and left the cafÃ©.
Jacko followed him out, and plucked at his sleeve.Â âLook, you done me a favour, so Iâm going to do you one.Â Put a bit of good in your way. Thereâs this bloke IÂ know ââ
âIf you genuinely want to do something for me, leaveÂ me alone. Thatâs all I want.â
âLook, how would you like to buy some stuff? I sellÂ things second-hand, see. Pick up a bit of cash on theÂ side that way. But I could let you have it cheap, whateverÂ you wanted. Books, a raincoat, or thereâs a goodÂ electric shaver, almost new. The stuffâs in this palâs gaffÂ I was telling you about, but I can get it for you tomorrow,Â anything you want...â
âI donât want anything, except to be left alone.â
âDoesnât do to be unsociable. Makes you miserable.â
âGo away!â Beckett said. Then, as Jacko continued toÂ trot after him, he turned and shoved him hard in theÂ chest.
Jacko lost his balance and staggered backwards. HisÂ face was white and twisted with hysterical hatred forÂ Beckettâs strength and his own weakness.
Beckett walked away. He was conscious of his handÂ which had shoved Jacko, as if the hand had becomeÂ large. The incident had upset him, and he could notÂ regain his emotional balance. He wondered whether heÂ had been too harsh to Jacko. He stifled his conscienceÂ by thinking angrily: I hate being bothered... I hateÂ being bothered.
âWell,âÂ Ilsa said, âso this is where you live.â SheÂ slouched with her fists in her raincoatÂ pockets. Her beret and belted raincoat madeÂ her look like a Resistance heroine.
âYes. Sorry itâs untidy.â
âDarling, youâll have to find some very domesticatedÂ woman and marry her. Otherwise youâll always beÂ uncomfortable and not cared for. How about Katey?Â She does all the cleaning at the flat. And I wish youÂ wouldnât always live on top floors. It kills my feet.â
âYes, I always seem to have an attic, donât I? But IÂ like the roofscape,â he said. âYour raincoatâs wet, love.Â Take it off and hang it behind the door.â
âThanks, I will.â Shrugging out of the raincoat, sheÂ exclaimed: âDamn!â
âWhatâs the matter?â
âBroken a nail.â She inspected the scarlet claws.Â He took her hand. After a moment, she withdrew it.Â There was an embarrassment. He said into the pause:Â âWould you like some coffee?â
He went down to the bathroom to fill the kettle.Â When he returned she was lounging in the armchair,Â swinging a bored foot and flicking ash on to the floor.
He put the kettle on the gas ring, then shut theÂ window. Rain beat against the panes. A brilliant zigzagÂ of lightning lit the sky, followed by a crash of thunder.
Ilsa said anxiously: âI hate storms.â She combed herÂ fingers through her wet, waif-like hair.
Beckett thought: Good, then perhaps sheâll stay theÂ night. Aloud he said: âYes, itâs bad, isnât it? Likely to goÂ on all night, according to the weather report.â HeÂ started to tidy the room. On the hearthrug were theÂ remains of a meal: the saucepan he had eaten out of,Â the bathtowel he had spread on his knee because theÂ saucepan was hot, the book he had read while eating,Â and an apple core in