(This headline really appeared in the Hereford Times, and not the EDP. I’ve no idea who came up with it.)
Rhys and Laura, in Laura’s single bed:
‘Last of the Mojitos.’
‘Can we do books?’
‘No,’ said Laura, curled shrimp-like, her head on his shoulder and her spine pressed against the wall, ‘only film titles.’
‘That’s a shame. I wanted The Name of the Rosé’
‘I’ll let you have it. What time is it?’
‘Time you got up.’
Her long hair swept briefly across his chest and face as she scrambled across him. It was the colour of Golden Virginia, and it mostly smelt of it too. He tried to pull her back to him but she was already wriggling into her jeans.
That summer before their third year was a strange in-between time. Rhys was interning at the Eastern Daily Press, so Laura hung around too. Nobody else had moved into her shared house yet, and they drifted from doorway to doorway inspecting bare woodchip walls and naked mattresses. Rhys liked how casually he now moved through rooms that would soon be somebody else’s private space. They would never be this open to him again.
In the living room he and Laura pinned up old movie posters, statements of intent for her new home. La Dolce Vita, Citizen Kane, Breathless. Laura liked that one best: she called it About The Soufflé, and grinned to herself. She was silly about words, dismantling them and bending them to her whim. She mouthed the TV listings to herself – ‘New Snight’; ‘Superb Owl’ – and then that big delighted grin again, like a child accepting sweets.
While Rhys was at the paper, Laura looked after two little kids. He had no idea whether she liked it or not. She never said. She emerged from her day’s work so utterly unmarked by it she might have slept through it, and he wondered whether she walked away from her days and nights with him with so little to say or show.
At work he drifted in a pleasant fuzz of Laura, hoarding headlines he thought might make her smile. Day of High Drama as Llamas Harm a Farmer for an accident at the local alpaca ranch; The End of the Au Pair about an adulterous nanny’s disappearance. He got press tickets to readers’ festivals, and Laura flaked out on babysitting to ferry him around in her sister’s car. She waited while he did his interviews, her bare feet up on the dashboard, reading Ulysses and chewing her hair.
It was possible, he admitted, that he inspired no strong feelings in her at all. Usually he’d have tested this by trying to make her cry, but the thought of Laura crying made him feel small and rather sick. He tried to think of some present that might move her, that might make her see how much he liked her, but all his ideas seemed flimsy and craven.
The solution came to him one day at the paper.
‘So we’re going to run this?’ they were asking.
‘I think so. It’s rather quirky, isn’t it?’
‘Jesus. It’s barely news, though.’
‘What’s the story?’ asked Rhys.
‘Some bloke who runs an owl sanctuary out by Swaffham. They’re overrun with birds of prey, injured young ones you know, get everywhere this time of year. Anyway, there’s no more room at the sanctuary. They have to keep them in the house now. He’s even got a load in his bedroom. He’s appealing for donations.’
‘Do you have a headline?’
Rhys was fidgeting now, glee flickering through his synapses. He was thinking about Laura, about what she’d say when he presented her with the newspaper bearing his headline.
Four Kestrels Manoeuvre in the Dark.