Empty farmland and the occasional rambler: that’s the usual view from my bedroom window of a weekend. That’s why I noticed her; even wrapped up in a thick winter coat and a daft purple bobble hat, the way she moved dragged me to the window to get a better look. She was patting her coat and repeatedly checking the pockets. I knew that dance. I grabbed my own coat and went out to be of assistance. She looked up. When she smiled I realised she was quite a bit younger than me. Hound-on-the-prowl to dirty-pervert in a heartbeat.
“Saw you from my window,” I said. “Over at the farmhouse. You lost something?” I kept my distance so not to worry her.
She was on her knees scrabbling about in the grass at the foot of the stile marking the start of the Meriden-Blythe footpath. “Yes,” she said. “I think I dropped some keys around here.” There was a trace of something local in her voice, it bubbled beneath a dominant Kent accent.
Her car was parked up on the opposite embankment, the driver’s door open into the road. “Shall I shut that for you?” I asked. “There’s not much traffic comes through here but what does comes hurtling through like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Thank you,” she said.
I went over and when it slammed shut I said: “Wouldn’t want you damaging your car and losing your keys now.”
I climbed over the stile and looked in the long grass clumped there, crouching so as not to get my knees dirty. “Am I looking in the right place?”
She looked up at me and shrugged with her eyebrows. “I opened the car with them when I got back from my walk so they can’t be far. They must have fallen. Honestly, I’m not normally like this. I’m usually the one shaking their head and tutting at other people losing—”
“Don’t blame yourself; things are always wandering off around here. I’ve seen people before doing just what you’re doing. Patting themselves down and all that.”
She laughed politely. She struck me as the sort that maybe did lots politely.
“I’m not even joking either,” I said. “The bloke that used to live in the house across from me–”
“The white cottage?” she asked.
“That’s it. He used to call round here the Birch Lane Triangle. His stuff was always going walkabout.”
“There’s a lot of space around to here to lose things in,” she said. And then added: “It’s so lovely.”
“Two miles either side of us and I’m the only one living here at the moment,” I said.
“No one’s in the white cottage?”
“Not at the moment. Not since Rog went.”
“Rog who loses things.”
“That’s the fella.” I shuffled along a bit to look in another bit of grass, moving like some sort of man-crab.
“Have you ever lost anything in the Birch Lane triangle,” she asked.
“Only my heart and soul,” I said. “But that’s divorce for you.”
Another laugh from her: polite.
“No, seriously,” I said. “I don’t have enough stuff to lose. I’m only renting that place up there while I get on my feet. What I’ve got is all in a garage down in…” I shut myself up. “Don’t worry, we’ll find them. Rog used to say things always turned up eventually.”
“I hope he’s right,” she said, and we carried on the search in silence.
Felt like ten minutes had gone by when she said: “I wish I’d brought my gloves today.” She blew hot air into her cupped hands.
“You cold?” I asked. It was a stupid question. My hands were already numb. Not expecting a yes, I asked: “Do you want a cup of tea or something? My kitchen’s just there and maybe we can warm up and come back out in a bit.”
“Yeah, go on then.” I can’t say for certain, but it didn’t sound like she was just being polite.
We didn’t talk on the short walk to my place; I might’ve believed she wasn’t standing next to me at all.