“I’ve got you a present,” says Martin. “I hope you like it.”
“Ooh, what is it?” says Jane, girlish excitement fizzing from the phone.
“Come and have a look,” says Martin.
He’d spotted her some weeks before, framed in the third-floor window, gazing down over the claggy mud and broken mill bricks. She said later he looked like a Lego man behind the wheel of the mustard Tonka truck dumper in his white hard hat. She described them as bright plastic toys she wanted to play with.
He met her the Wednesday she let the towel fall to the floor at the precise moment he tipped back the Thermos cup of black coffee he’d brewed fresh that morning. He liked the finer things in life, but he so often messed them up. He thought of the crumpled Porsche and sighed. Glancing round, he slipped past the hoardings holding the building site in.
After 15 minutes, she appeared: tall, slim and clad in a smart suit and high heels. He was suddenly embarrassed: a) that he’d stupidly hoped she’d still be naked, and b) that he was wearing concrete-splashed boots, dirt-encrusted overalls and a hi-vis jacket stained with black coffee.
“Hi, I’m Jane,” she said, smiling white teeth.
“Uh, Martin,” he said back. He felt like a complete dick.
“I’ve been watching you,” said Jane. “I’m glad the work has restarted on the flats.”
“Um, yes, me too,” said Martin. Dick. But what was he supposed to say?
“What time do you knock off? I’ll be back here at 5.30, if you fancy coming up.”
Three weeks and twenty-two trysts later, it’s Thursday 20 October, Jane’s 40th birthday. At half past eight, Martin pours some coffee and dials her number.
“I’ve got you a present,” he says. “I hope you like it.”
A giant red crane has sprouted from nowhere. From the cab, Martin lets a 60m banner drop open. “Happy 50th Birthday!”, it says.
“Dick,” she says, and hangs up.