Vicky said excitedly, having gulped the rest of her wine, “Why don't we buy a skip and just leave it in the middle of the road? Fill it full of rubble and garden waste. I don’t know…,” she paused for air, “it could be quite an asset for the community.”
“Save going to the dump,” said Steve. “They charge for builder’s waste now, you know.”
“Might help bring the doubters on board,” said Narendra.
“Yeah, but it’s never going to happen,” I laughed. I finished my own drink, stood up: “Who wants another?”
“I’ll have one,” said Vicky. “Thanks.”
“Me too,” said Steve, “if you’re buying.”
There were groans around the table.
We’d all been to countless Suffolk Street action group meetings and Steve had never once bought a drink.
We had failed, again and again, to get the council to install speed bumps, or anti-curb-mounting bollards. We had failed to attract any meaningful attention from the traffic cops. And while the local MP, a man fatter than myself, proclaimed support for our cause. he’d achieved nothing, either. “So much for his weighty presence,” my wife, Pat, liked to joke.
Claire, who'd been unusually quiet this evening said, as I returned from the bar, “I can’t stop thinking about that man who drove into the Yare. How he crashed through the railings down by the station, and flew straight into the river.”
“And then he was saved by a diving instructor who happened to be passing,” added Narendra keenly.
“Must have been mad jumping into that polluted muck,” said Vicky.
“Made the national news though,” said Claire, faintly.
I’d bought Claire another wine anyway and handed it to her. She took a huge gulp. Her hand was shaking.
“Not surprising, really,” said Steve, tackling his beer with typical gusto. “Biggest thing that’s happened around here for years.”
I’d even been toying with the idea of writing a script around it. How this man, a mini-cab driver, with a long history of personal and professional setbacks, had learned one morning that his wife finally intended to leave him. So he decided to end it all by ploughing through the ornate 19th century railing, opposite the cafe where she worked, and into the dark waters of the River Yare.
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” Claire said. “Being saved like that, the coincidence.”
“He didn't want to be saved, though,” said Steve, “did he? Try to top yourself and some action man dives in to pull you out. Risking his own life, too. What if he’d died, and not you?”
I caught Claire’s eye, but she quickly looked away. “Right everyone,” I said, “I’ve got to rush, but before I go, are we all clear about our roles for the forthcoming weeks and months? We don’t want another year to go by without anything being done.” This wasn't the first time I’d said this.
“You’re always rushing off,” said Vicky. “Stay for another. My shout.”
“No, I’ve got some work to get done before the morning,” I said.
“Hey, is your arm better?”
“The arm’s better, but the tennis isn’t,” I laughed. Last year, the wing mirror or a curb-mounting car clipped my elbow. The driver didn't even stop.
“I think we’re all pretty clear,” said Narendra. “I’ll stick to legals, Claire’s going to attempt to get the schools on board, Steve’s got the police again, Vicky the transport committee, I’m afraid — most thankless task of all, but if anyone can persuade that lot it’ll be you, Vicky — and you, David, need to keep pressing that fat chum of yours, and the media.”
“Fingers crossed,” said Vicky, smiling at me. She was always smiling at me.
As I stood to leave, grabbing my coat, Claire suddenly got to her feet.
“I’ve got to go too,” she said, finishing her drink.
We walked out the pub together ducking into the chilly, night air — the heritage-style street lamps dimly lighting out way to Suffolk Street, which at this time of the night was virtually devoid of traffic.
“Do you something think,” she said looking straight ahead, “that we’re making a bit of fuss about nothing?”
“For me, it’s almost become a point of principle,” I lied. “I don’t see why the council should so blatantly ignore national guidelines. And also misrepresent the real figures — don’t forget that.”
“What if I was to step in front of a car one morning?”
“You know sacrifice myself for the cause? They haven’t done anything because no one has been killed yet. They’ve said as much.”
I grabbed her arm, stopped her in her tracks. Half of her face was in shadow. She had beautiful bone structure, dark hair tucked into a beanie. “Claire, are you alright?”
“Couldn’t be better.” Her voice was strained.
“Are you hungry? Pat’s away. I could cook you something or we could head over to that new place on Surrey Street.”
“I thought you had work to do.”
“That can wait.”
A car accelerated up the road.
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
The car passed, pushing 40.
“Please, David,” Claire said, louder, firmer, “don’t take advantage of me, unless you’re serious, this time.”
I looked over her shoulder, at another car rounding the bend at the bottom and heading our way, gathering speed. I wasn't like that driving instructor. I was much more circumspect, much more selfish. “It’s complicated, you know that,” I paused, attempting to focus on the vehicle. “Don’t rush me.”