Chapter 1

She sat in the shop doorway with her dog and her recorder. The tunes she played were barely recognisable, but people put money on the ground in front of her out of kindness.

"Hello! What's your dog's name?"

"Sam."

"Is Sam hungry?"

"Probably!"

"How about you?" the man asked. She shrugged her shoulders.

"There's a cafŽ just around the corner," he said, "suppose I go and get you and Sam something!"

She nodded. He came back after twenty minutes carrying a bag.

"Do you mind if I sit down?"

Once again she shrugged her shoulders. He took two large disposable drinks containers out of the bag and handed one to her.

"It's tea. Do you want sugar?"

She nodded and he put several packets in her hand, together with a plastic spoon. He then took something wrapped in metal foil out of the bag.

"I didn't think to ask ... I hope you eat meat!"

She nodded and he handed her what he had in his hand. He took out another one, unwrapped it, opened the bread roll and broke off a piece of sausage, which he fed to Sam, who ate it eagerly. He sat and fed Sam the rest of the roll. The woman, meanwhile, had eaten hers.

"Another?" he asked her.

"Please!" she replied.

He handed her another foil-wrapped parcel, then he fed another to Sam. Then he drank his tea. He took a small notebook out of his pocket and wrote something on it.

"I'm not being funny," he said, " ... but you do read?"

"Yes."

"Do you know this street?" She nodded.

"Well if you and Sam don't have anywhere to sleep tonight, this is my address," he said, " ... No strings ... and I'm not a perv! It's your choice!" He stood up to go.

" ... Thanks for the food!" He smiled and walked away.

The doorbell rang and she was standing there. Sam wagged his tail when he recognised his benefactor.

"Hi! Come in! My name's John, by the way ... John Neill."

"Jo ... it's really Siobhan, but I couldn't say it when I was little, so I chose Jo, and it stuck!"

"Would you like some tea, Jo? Come into the kitchen!"

Jo followed him and sat on a chair at the table: Sam laid on the floor at her feet. John put some water in a dish and put it down for Sam, who looked up at him with big, brown eyes. John made the tea and brought it over. He sat opposite Jo.

"How long have you had Sam, Jo?"

"I'm not sure exactly ... quite a while ... I inherited him."

"And what about you? How long have you lived on the streets?"

"A couple of years."

"And what's that ... a Manchester accent?" She nodded.

"Yeah, Salford."

"I've been to Salford: it's supposed to be a lot better than it was once!"

"Aye! But it's still shite! Can I ask you a question, John?"

" ... Why am I doing this?" he said.

"Aye! Do you make a habit of picking up down and outs off the streets?"

"No ... you're the first! Well, I'm a writer, Jo, so I do strange things! I haven't lived here long, but every time I've been in town I've seen you and Sam in that same doorway, and I was curious! Another reason is that I spent a little while living like that myself while I researched a book ... I know it's not the same, because I could give it up when it got too tough, but it did give me a bit of an insight. I've been cold and hungry, and I have had drunks pissing on me for laughs!"

"I'm sorry, John! But most people just drop a few pence on the ground and think they've made a big difference to my life!" He smiled in appreciation.

"Shall I show you your room now, Jo? You can just sleep if you like, but you're welcome to come down again, if you want to! Is there anything that you'd like to put in the washing machine, while you're here?"

"Maybe! And is it okay if Sam sleeps with me ... it's what he's used to!"

John showed her to one of the spare bedrooms.

"There are towels in the cupboard if you want a bath, and this door locks. Don't forget ... come down if you're hungry, or you want to chat!"

John was watching TV when Jo came down some time later. She looked like she'd had a bath and washed her hair. She was carrying a bundle of clothes.

"I used some of your shampoo ... I hope that was okay! You said I could use your washing machine, John ... if you don't mind! And I think maybe Sam needs to go out now!"

"Of course ... let him wander round the garden ... you can leave the back door open! I'll show you how the washing machine works ... separate loads, or all together?"

"I don't think I really need to worry about colours running ... although it would probably be an improvement!"

They put all of her clothes in the machine and set it on medium hot wash.

"Have you eaten since I saw you earlier?" John asked her.

"No, but we don't usually eat much!"

"What would you like? It won't take long to get you something ... how about some pasta ... that should only take about twenty minutes! And while you're waiting, you can tell me something about yourself ... unless you'd rather not, of course! And make yourself another drink: I'll have a coffee ... the stuff's all in that cupboard on your left!"

While Jo took things down from the cupboard, John gathered the ingredients for her meal.

"Do you like garlic, Jo?"

"No thanks! How do you like your coffee, John?"

"White with sugar, please! So had you always lived it Salford, Jo?"

"Oh, aye! Until I was twenty-four."

"So you're what, now ... twenty-six, twenty-seven?"

" ... Seven ... three weeks ago."

"And do you still have family there?"

"Oh, aye ... loads of 'em! There's me mam and dad, four brothers and two sisters, and dozens of aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces!"

"And are you single, married, or whatever?"

"Happily single! That's one of the reasons I got out ... if me mam and dad had their way, I would 'ave been wed and knocked up years ago!"

"So did you have a plan? Did you ever have a career in mind?"

"Well, I always wanted to be a primary school teacher. I was quite bright at school and I did okay at GCSE's ... eight good passes ... but they wanted me out earning, so I didn't do A-levels ... just ended up in a series of dead-end jobs ... which is more than most of my lazy sods of brothers did! I wanted to finish my education, but it never happened..."

"Are you ready for this?" John said, putting her food on the table, "I'll see if I can find something for Sam!" The dog was sitting by Jo, looking expectantly at John.

"This is great, John! Thanks a lot ... for everything!"

John sat at the table while she ate her meal, then all three of them went into the sitting room. He had many books ... including those that he had written.

"Do you read much, Jo?"

"Aye, I used to, but obviously not so much now ... unless I find a book someone's thrown away!"

"Well if there's anything here that you want to look at. Look, Jo ... why don't you stay here for a while! Maybe we can find a way for you to get those A-levels and then into teacher training!"

"Well, you're obviously a clever bloke, John ... we can at least talk about it ... and I can always do some cleaning or something for you, to try and pay you back!"

"All right! I work from home, so we can talk about it some more tomorrow!"

Jo had a look through his books and picked something that caught her eye.

"I'm going to bed now, John! Goodnight, I'll see you in the morning!"

"Yes. Goodnight, Jo ... sleep well!"

" ... Coming, Sam!" she said. The dog trotted off after her.

When the cycle finished, John took her clothes out of the washing machine and put them in the drier, and when they were dry he folded them. Apart from what she was wearing, he assumed that these were all the clothes she possessed: not much to show for twenty-seven years, he thought! He went up to bed himself, leaving the laundered clothes where Jo could see them when she came out of her room.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Heterosexual / Fiction / Slow /