The wet grey light of the lowering sky barely lit the vast room. It seemed too far for it to travel down from the high windows to the dark parquet floor and the broad hard bench which occupied the dead centre of the gallery. Here a girl sat, a young girl huddled up in a heavy coat, her blonde hair almost greenish in the poor light. She seemed so utterly alone. The man stood a long while watching her as her eyes flicked across the several pictures on the long wall before her. The pictures were watercolours of famous rock bands like the Beatles and the Stones in their heyday, ten or fifteen or twenty years before. He felt awkward, as awkward to speak as to stay silently watching. He didn’t want to intrude, and he turned to walk away. His sneakers made a squeak on the floor and the girl’s head whipped around suddenly, catching him in flight and she gasped. The man supposed he had frightened her and he was swift to offer his humblest apologies.
“No, that’s alright” she said immediately as if she wasn’t even listening to his words. “It’s amazing to meet you! The guard said you had been in the gallery today, I supposed you would have gone before now as no one is around”
The girl looked slightly flushed, breathless. Her eyes were lively and intelligent, she was neither very fat nor slim, but a little stocky; a typical English girl.
“I’m Nate” said Nate
“I know” said the girl, holding up the slender pamphlet that served as a catalogue to this modest exhibit. On the back was a large photo of Nate and a brief biography.
“I’m Sally” said Sally.
The pair shook hands, and then laughed awkwardly.
“Let’s go and find some damn coffee” Nate said and watched in wonder as the unremarkable face lit up like a thousand suns and transformed her into a beauty before his very eyes.
“Yes please! That would be wonderful”
There was a café on the corner of the street, diagonally opposite the entrance to the deserted art gallery. It was raining hard. Sally put up her hood and Nate pulled his collar high over his head trying to make a protective tent over himself with it, and they made a dash for the café.
It was not like the cafés we are used to now, bitter black coffee gushed from a steel urn into tiny cups, there was sugar in a tall caster that one had to measure out onto a spoon and there were small steel jugs of cream. A selection of dry, rather dusty looking cakes and pastries resided on the counter under a glass dome. Sally gratefully accepted a chocolate truffle ball in a fluted paper case, her favourite. Nate sat and let the excited, slightly star-struck girl talk, and soon he had her whole history, the happy and the sad, and how she had to find a job quickly that would support her and her mother for the foreseeable future as higher education didn’t seem like a viable option. Nate was struck by her earnestness and her honesty, she was being more real in communicating with him, a complete stranger than he had experienced from most other people he had ever met. He knew how lucky he had been to have fallen on his feet with a good marriage. And felt the need to pay some of his good fortune forward.
“How would you feel about working for me Sally? Can you type?”
The girl’s eyes grew wide.
“Yes I can type. I’m not really very fast, but I was improving all through my last term at The Grange, and I passed a few of the easy examinations”
“Good. I shall want you to learn to drive, to do some sort of speedwriting or shorthand for me, and I will want you to study for a university qualification as well… all part of the job”
Sally’s eyes grew wider still
“Do you really mean it?”
“Yes. I can’t think of anyone I would sooner trust to deal with my horrible muddle I am always in”
“You will never regret this Nate”
“I’m sure of that, or I never would have asked you” he smiled at her beaming face.