He’s walked right up the Edgware Road, trying to find this address. The small grocery shop at the top of the terrace is closed, dilapidated metal shutters heavily padlocked. The carcass of a Ford Cortina stands on bricks, rain pours from the wheel arches and into an oil-skummed pool that covers half the width of the road. A train squeals and judders past, right behind the cramped little terrace. Once the train’s gone, he can hear water fizzing from the broken down-pipe at the corner of the house. He’s pissed in better streets.
He wasn’t welcome elsewhere. Now it’s dark and this is his last chance. Twelve Belmont Grove, Maida Vale is a very fine sounding address, only it’s really just part of the arse-end of Kilburn, that’s why he’s taken so long finding it. The rain soaked rucksack drags his shoulders down, only his guitar is dry. He’s got to get out of this freezing rain. Since Rotterdam he’s had two hours kip, his clothes have been wet for thirty-six hours, his stomach’s been empty longer. The Guilders he nicked only just paid for the ferry, but he’s got past hunger, all he wants is a smoke. And to be warm.
He’s been wondering how to greet her, rehearsed so many opening lines. Make her laugh, that’s the way in with chicks, right? Why should she be any different? He knocks. As the door opens, an unfamiliar face is a shock. He knows she’s the wrong one. He mumbles his opening line.
‘What?’ She shouts, but doesn’t seem to be addressing him. Just somebody.
‘Can I see Mairi?’
‘Why?’ He doesn’t blame her for being suspicious. This area’s probably full of derelicts.
‘I knew her years back,’ he says.
‘So you’ll know the rest of her name, then.’
He shakes himself out, into the reality of this situation; the concrete of her stare. Not sure he can handle it, but he’s got to make an impression, somehow. At the moment she’s a wall, just bouncing him back. Make ‘em laugh, right?
‘I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.’ But this chick doesn’t laugh. ‘Her name’s Mairi Shona Maguire,’ he says.
She stares at him silently, still concrete, still a wall.
‘So who are you, then?’ She asks, eventually.
‘Joe,’ he says.
‘Wait there, just Joe.’ She slams the door.
He presses numb fingers onto the chill of the frosted glass, but she’s gone. To his white fingertips the glass feels warm. There are faint sounds, muffled by the barrier. He tries to drum on it but his fingers won’t co-ordinate. At last a figure appears. The door catch clicks back twice before opening. A pale face framed by a dark halo of chaotic hair peers around the door. This is the right one, but she’s still a shock. It’s ten years since he last saw her. He trawls up his line.
‘Jonathan Joseph Maguire at your service, ma’am.’
He bows, unskilfully, from his stiff waist. The rain that has accumulated in the polythene which he has so lovingly wrapped around his guitar tips over his head and neck. As he straightens, the icy water pours down inside his jacket. Cold as he is, it still makes him shudder out loud, ‘Oh Shit! Shit!’ He meets her eyes for a second. She has stuffed her knuckles into her mouth, is she laughing?
‘Hi, Mairi.’ Not much of a greeting after so many years, but it’s all he can manage just now. ‘Can I come in, please? I’m bloody freezin’.’
She backs away slowly down the narrow hallway, leaving the door ajar. She calls out, ‘Gina, Gina!’ But her eyes seem fixed in a stare, directed at him. This could be an invitation to come in, he’s too cold to wait for any more.