The woman pushes open the door of the pub and enters. Inside it is subdued: lowered lights, dark wood, a quiet murmur of sound. A few others have got there before her, small groups clustered round tables, lone rangers propped at the bar. All look up for a moment before returning to themselves.
She pulls herself onto a high stool. Orders a glass of wine from the courteous man behind the bar. He takes her money and brings the correct change, though it’s more than she’s used to.
She removes her book from her bag and opens it – a failsafe for a strange face in a new place – and prepares to settle in for the evening. It is pleasant enough, she decides. That, and ideal ground for planting.
Sooner than she expects, a stranger joins her. He takes the stool beside hers and sips from the pint that was ready for him on arrival. Eventually, he acknowledges her, as she knew he would. A comment, a smile, an exchange of pleasantries. She is polite, engaging and as forthcoming as necessary.
He says his name is John. Of course it is, she thinks. What else? On cue, he asks hers. She pauses, showing him the twinkle in her eye. What do I look like? She says to him, faux-mysterious. He appraises her. Playing along. You look like…he begins. You look like…a Helen, he announces, with great finality.
She widens her eyes, does not immediately answer. How did you know? she asks, incredulously. Amazing!
He puffs up a little, says its a lucky guess, offers her a drink. He is pleased with himself. She accepts, so as not to appear unfriendly, though by now is keen to move on, leaving things to germinate. He’ll not forget her.
A little later she unlocks the door of her rented cottage and moves through to the kitchen. From the envelope on the table she removes her train reservation card, ticket (one way) and credit card. She takes a long look at the name on each – Julia Jones – then wanders through to the small sitting room and places them on the fire.