Melanie sits in the safety of a derelict piece of land that borders the south of the town, near the silent and neglected shipyards. The flat white stone upon which she sits is flanked by long grass, argumentative thistles and pretty purple vetch plants. She drinks coffee and eats a sandwich. She is hidden from public view. She sees industrious honey bees looping from plant to plant. To the east, building works are well advanced, scaffolding hiding half-built flats. A van belonging to MacArdle and Son rests lazily against the kerb. Of MacArdle or his son, there is no sign.
Melanie looks up at the sky. Clouds gather, ragged and grey. It looks like it will soon rain. She hears the plaintive cry of a herring gull being harried by several wheeling, scolding jackdaws. Within the housing complex, a workman hammers away at a piece of wood. The sound reverberates across the redundant land.
Occasionally, people pass by; a bald young man with a rucksack; a pretty girl studying her mobile phone with the intensity of a gambler checking the Racing Post. Melanie’s adopted bench is cold and she shifts her position. She watches a JCB grumbling along a path, its amber warning light flashing. A black cab with no fare on board blunders along a side road, narrowly missing a stationary lorry.
For the length of time it takes Melanie to finish her lunch, she quite forgets her duplicity. As it happens, being inconspicuous suits her. She is, for a meagre twenty minutes, entirely at peace. Her reverie is broken by the appearance of a red-faced and panting Tom.
'Sorry, Mel. Old Carnforth kept me in the office over some trifling customer complaint. He's a first-rate berk.'
She looks at him wearily.
'Better late than never.'