Dawn, babysitter, mate, and confidante, called to her supervisor. ‘Off to lunch now Val. Alright?’
In Starburger, the conversation eventually turned to men.
‘You doing anything about that Alex?’ Jane asked. ‘Been on about him long enough.’
Dawn lit a Berkeley Menthol and shook her head. ‘He’s batting for the other side.’ A smile came and went. ‘Lovely dancer he is.’
‘Doesn’t necessarily follow.’
‘Does with him.’
Dawn squeezed his arse at the shop’s Christmas drink-up. He almost jumped out of his skin.
She touched Jane’s wrist. ‘What about you?’
The last one was this hippy she’d met at the New Cross Inn. He couldn’t talk to her. He had a tattoo of Che Guevara. It looked like Jesus with a grown-out perm. It was grim sometimes, the stuff you went through to get yourself held and touched and kissed and fucked.
Harder now, too. It wasn’t just turning thirty. Things had changed. Now, being good with other people’s kids was part of the deal. Complicated times.
On the way back to the shop, Dawn, practical, said, ‘We should get out a bit. See what’s about. Leave the kids with me mum.’
Sometimes they’d go in the Harp or the Deptford Arms, pubs with fluorescent star-shaped cards in the windows advertising house doubles. But for a proper night out they drank around the Elephant. Far enough to be a change of scenery, but local enough to avoid the pissed-up suits you got in town.
Jane, pleased, checked herself in the mirror. Always was good with clothes, putting them together. She glimpsed the bed behind her and frowned. Bit of a slope to the mattress now. Pressed lopsided by the weight of being alone.
At Dawn’s, Jane got Anton settled, while Dawn finished her make-up and checked that her mum had written down her new mobile number. Finally Dawn faced Jane. ‘Specs on or off?’
‘Off, I reckon,’ Jane said.
Ruby Tuesdays was heaving, buzzing with Friday night. There was karaoke. Cash prizes. On a small stage a compere chatted in between contestants.
After a few drinks, Dawn felt ready. ‘Together or separate, do you reckon?’
‘Separate,’ Jane said. Usually better that way. Besides, now it came to it she didn’t feel bothered about pulling. She spoke into Dawn’s ear. ‘Happy hunting.’
Her mood dipped as Dawn walked away. On stage, three girls were drunkenly singing What’s Love Got To Do With It? It was the first record the D.J. played at her wedding reception. Must’ve known something she didn’t.
In a break in the karaoke she bought a Bacardi. At the bar the compere was telling a handful of people about his days working the holiday camps. That was when she noticed him. He was slight, boyish. He was smiling and nodding at the compere. A good listener.
The compere caught the barwoman's attention.
The slight man smiled at Jane. ‘Having a go yourself later, mate?’
She liked the word mate at the end of the question. No pressure. ‘Me? God no. Catch me shaming meself up.’
‘Go on,’ he said, touching her elbow. ‘Why not?’
The compere handed out the drinks. ‘Better go back I suppose.’ He looked at Jane, then the slight man. ‘Who's your friend, Dave? Reckon she fancies a go?’
‘Think she’s tempted. Bet she sings lovely.’ Dave gave her back a gentle push as the compere took her hand and led her towards the stage.
She thought, why not? Before Anton was born, somebody had said once. Just humming to herself in the stockroom. She sort of knew.
In no time she was up there, singing The Power Of Love by Jennifer Rush. Rooted to the spot she concentrated on the screen showing the lyrics. As she finished she heard a whoop, and saw Dawn waving. Jane marched shakily towards her. They hugged. They waited for the results, laughing, drinking too much. When the winner was announced, Jane only knew because Dawn threw her arms around her. Some luck for once. Two hundred quid!
She went to buy drinks for the losers. At the bar she felt someone put an arm around her and squeeze. ‘Good on you girl!’
It was Dave. She laughed. Probably the adrenaline, but she started babbling at him. He laughed when she laughed, nodded in the right places. She forgot the losers’ drinks, even forgot Dawn for now.
She caught up with her in the ladies. Dawn smirked. ‘Shall I drop Anton round in the morning?’
Jane hadn’t decided yet. But he was nice enough. Why not? ‘Don’t mind, do you?’
‘Course not. Do you good.’
He lived round the corner from her. In the minicab back to her place she wished she’d tidied up. He showed her a photo of his son. She had to hold her lighter near the picture to see properly.
‘You still with his mum?’
He shook his head, looked sad. She knew it was true.
The minicab dropped them at the entrance to her estate. Dave made it easy. ‘I’ll walk you up. Shouldn’t be walking round alone with all that cash on you.’
She put her prize money on the mantelpiece and made coffee. On the sofa they talked without touching, stuff about themselves tumbling out.
Around two, his eyelids bumped shut. He twitched awake. ‘I’m whacked. Working tomorrow too.’
A look passed between them. Jane felt an ache and a twist inside. She fetched a blanket, telling herself it was a start, no sense rushing anything. Showed he was nice, in a way. He stretched out on the sofa, pulled the blanket to his chin like a boy. Jane gently shut the living room door.
In the morning she woke early, showered and dressed. Singing It’s Not Unusual, hips swaying, she rumbaed into the living room. Dave was gone and the money was gone.