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Fiction: Local Knowledge by Mike Hickman

Local Knowledge

Laura had offered to show Marty the town in daylight, so of course he came back. 

It was a week and three days between their first night together and this first day that would lead into every day for nearly seven months. It was the longest they would be apart, because there would always be the texts and the email and the 9pm phone calls during the weeks to follow. She wanted to show him, she said, in daylight. He very much wanted the same thing.

“You’re not looking hard enough, Marty. It’s staring you in the face.”

That Thursday night, that first night, it was supposed to start in the snug at The Sun Inn, even though it didn’t because of the car and the drive and the distance and the need for him to stay over if he was going to be drinking – and he was going to be drinking. So they had been snug, instead, at hers and The Sun Inn, she’d determined, when they remembered later, would have to wait for another time. And daylight.

Marty looked again at the wooden beam that ran across the bar. It didn’t help that he was looking into the darkness of the pub and it didn’t help that he’d taken his glasses off for reasons of vanity. Or because he wasn’t entirely sure if he’d been wearing them in the profile pic. He shook his head, shrugged, smiled and resolutely Was Not Bothered that there was a test here that he already seemed to have failed.

Laura had chosen a table outside after looking over the real ales at the bar and making what she’d called an “educated choice”. She gave Marty the same pursed-lipped, half-amused, half-aroused look that he remembered from those first moments on her doorstep, standing there in front of her love, happiness and hope mural (oh, yes, he could remember every word). It was a look that saw right through to the label at his collar, after collecting his shoe size and inside leg measurement on the way. It was a look, he guessed, that was always at its most acute at the start of the evening. Except it was daytime now, and she was somehow closer than she’d been before. And it was still there.

“They’re hooks,” he said.

“Come on, Mart,” she tsked, shaking out the dyed blonde hair that he had discovered he liked, “use those powers of observation of yours.” 

He went back to peering at the beam and, still, he couldn’t see what she meant because they were all the same, the hooks, and why hooks, anyway? A bit of him wondered if she was trying for a metaphor, but she’d already had a couple of Magners, and a Corona even before they’d left for the ramble around town, so he somehow doubted her capability to get a metaphor down her neck as well.

She’d show him in daylight, she said, and he’d said he would like that. They’d started out by the cemetery and then gone up the Hull Road to the Morrisons where she said they did the best breakfasts in town. He couldn’t let that pass, not after hers that Friday morning – more bacon than he’d seen in one frying pan, and black – and white – pudding, too. He’d tried to resist the sausages, but she’d told him he needed them to get his strength back after the night before. The Morrisons’ cooked breakfast was only passable, in comparison, but it pleased her to share it and it pleased him to take part in the sharing.  

They’d crossed back through town via the ginnels, some of which they must have walked down late that Thursday night, too. Between public houses, and en route to other public houses – or bars – or clubs – or wherever, because, he realised, she had been showing them off to him and, by God, he must have seemed keen. He remembered the checkerboard-floored microbrewery place where they’d stood either side of that pillar, and he’d leaned in against the noise from the hipster band who played at least one bum note in three. He’d leaned in, and then so had she. 

“You can’t see?”

“If you gave me a clue, perhaps?”

She was the one with the history here. The wall at the back of the bus station where she’d been caught by the rozzers for fare dodging at age 15 and the kebab house she’d worked in where she’d become famous for her efforts to remove the undesirables. If there was a thing here about the hooks – she wouldn’t even tell him what they were for; he guessed perhaps sacks of something or other back in the day when the pub had brewed its own beer – then it was her knowledge. Her history. It wasn’t a fair test, and he shouldn’t feel ashamed of not knowing, and he ought to perhaps just give in and let her have her moment. If that’s what she thought was important.

“From the left,” Laura said, with the smile. “Follow them along. Powers of observation, doctor.”

Powers of observation, she said, and in daylight, too. When he was wearing the shirt she’d suggested – the one that looked like a purpled paisley migraine – and she still couldn’t see him.

It was the most minor of details. The fifth – sixth – seventh hook – it depended on how you counted them and on your perspective looking in – was the wrong way round. Just that one and only that one. And it was this that Laura needed him to see. It was turned the other way. There had to be a reason. He’d thought she had a reason.

And yet, when she looked at him again with the panda-shaded eyes, he could see she didn’t know.

Marty didn’t stay over that night, although there would be other nights after he’d passed her test. He would come back many times until What Happened happened. 

Because she hadn’t seen him in daylight.

About the author

Mike Hickman @MikeHic13940507 is a writer and former academic from York, England. He is still working out what to do with the doctorate. He has written for the local stage, being a member (and artistic associate – a term he hopes will be explained to him one day!) of a group specialising in staging new works by new writers. His most recent play (Not so Funny Now, Off the Rock Productions, 2018) revolved around Groucho Marx’s ‘companion’, Erin Fleming and Groucho’s first wife, Ruth. He has written radio drama (also for Off the Rock Productions) and a previous play, “Lonesome Pine”, about Stan Laurel’s final days (written with Mark Wakeman), has been staged by three different companies across the UK. He is currently working on more than one novel (aren’t we all?) and has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, Cabinet of Heed, and the Trouvaille Review.

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