With watchmaker’s precision, Robert inscribes an inverted ‘V’ against the final figure on the bank statement, rules a red line beneath it to mark the month’s end. The bank account, adjusted to allow for cheques still uncleared, agrees with his total in the café’s cash book; reconciled to the penny, the weights of debit and credit in perfect balance. Robert Whiteside, negotiator of numbers, reconciler of differences, returns the ledger to its shelf in the windowless back room with a quiet reverence.
Now his mind is free of the accounts, noises from outside begin to find their way to him. Human voices and mechanical maneouvres; the random chaos of the café. Chelsee will be hot and bothered, boiling with endeavour.
It’s time to go home. Robert feels the first small waves of panic lap against his temples; a coolness above his upper lip. He forces himself to control his breathing as he clasps his hands around the door handle. A short walk, that’s all it is.
Three, two, one…
Robert snatches the door open and steps into the disordered stew of clientele. If he keeps his glance aimed straight ahead he has a chance of escaping without incident. And yet disorder claws at the periphery of his vision: the new woman by the radiator, her car with the number plate not in the middle of the bumper: he’d seen it outside the B&B and couldn’t walk past it. The other two with their shrieky voices and cloying scents; Chelsee, distracted again.
“Bye, Bob,” reaches him as he finds the door. “See you tomorrow.”
He’s outside, head down, counting the paving stones.
One, two, three…
A cacophony of gulls swooping above him, swirling with the wind, clamouring for the attention he refuses to give.
…nineteen, twenty, twenty-one.
His key in the lock, unlatching, pushing open the door; and then turning, shouldering it shut against the chaos. Closing his eyes and feeling the calm order of his home cocoon him once more.
The cat will need feeding. Seven spoonsful.