"Look," Tim said, slamming his can of Strongbow down on the coffee table, "look, you just don't get it."
A bit of cider had slopped out on to the back of his hand. Daisy looked at it pointedly, but he was currently not receiving telepathic communication. On the other side of the living room Marsha shrugged exaggeratedly, sharing an exasperated look with her half-empty glass. The bottle of cheap Oddbins chianti had left a pink ring on the table.
"I just don't see how we're supposed to believe two attractive young people cooped up in that little office together have never- you know- never done anything about it." She winked conspiratorially at Daisy. "I mean, just look at that Mouldy bloke. Bloody stupid name, but I would have by now, wouldn't you?"
"But the purity of their cause!" Tim made a sweeping gesture with his can, threatening to get cider all over the sofa. "There are more important things in some peoples' lives!"
"Well I think it's ridiculous," Marsha said, settling back into the chair. On the TV screen, Gillian Anderson was pointing a gun at a bloke with a scruffy beard. "I mean, supposing I was to go telling people that you two lovebirds were just-" she made air quotes with one hand "-'good friends' who live together?"
Daisy stiffened slightly, and finally managed to catch Tim's eye.
Initiate Operation Professional Couple!
Wilco, Agent Steiner!
She slid over several inches to be right next to him on the sofa, and he threw a casual arm around her shoulders. Tim giggled nervously. "Well of course that would be ridiculous…"
Marsha gave a firm nod as if to say 'I told you so', and turned back to the TV to pay closer attention to David Duchovny in wet pyjamas.
Daisy tipped her head back to mutter in Tim's ear, "What does 'wilco' mean?"
"Oh." He frowned slightly, and glanced down at her. "I think it's a band."
"Tim, have you ever had Oolong tea?"
"Oolong." Daisy pronounced it with an exaggerated pout, waving a box at him over the shopping trolley. He shrugged.
"I've never even heard of it. Why do you want to buy it?"
"It's a world tea, Tim." She pointed at the sign clipped on to the edge of the shelf. "I just feel like… you know, expanding my horizons. Experiencing some culture."
Down the aisle, in front of a solid wall of granulated sugar, a harassed-looking man with a goatee was trying to force a dummy into the mouth of the uncooperative baby strapped to his chest. A uniformed teenager was restocking jars of coffee granules in between examining the chipped polish on her fingernails. Tim folded his arms and looked gloomily into their trolley, where a bag of carrots and a multipack of crisps were reclining at their ease on top of a whole tray of value baked beans.
"We're in Tesco. There is no culture here, only assimilation into the soulless corporate machine." The fluorescent lights overhead seemed to glare at him, as if disapproving of such truths.
"Yeah, but we should take advantage of the man, man." Daisy nudged him companionably in the hip with the trolley. "Come on, we live in London and all we ever eat is baked beans on toast. This is a thriving international metropolis!" She looked thoughtful for a moment. "If aliens invaded the Earth, this is probably somewhere that they'd fire their space… death… ray… things!"
Tim rolled his eyes. "Daisy, when aliens invade the Earth, I don't think they will be so stupid as to re-enact the plot of Independence Day, which was a shit film anyway, and why that is a justification for buying oblong tea in Tesco I do not understand."
"Oooolong," she said, and chucked the box into the trolley on top of the bread. "And I'm getting some rooibos too. It's from South Africa."
He got up at two am for a piss and a biscuit a couple of nights later and saw the box of oooo-who-gives-a-shit tea on the worktop beside the cooker, the lid ripped a bit from Daisy's enthusiastic opening. Clouds drifting lazily by diffused the moonlight falling through the kitchen window, muting the shadows of the pans on the draining board.
Tim and the slightly ripped box regarded one another warily for several minutes across the darkened kitchen. He imagined tense Ennio Morricone instrumentation, except that might wake Daisy. The living room clock ticked ominously. The fridge hummed.
"Oh what the hell," he said, and reached into the cupboard for a mug. He wondered if you were supposed to put milk in it.
"It's… such a pure green. Like a distilled…"
Mike scratched his ear. "Lawn?"
There was an extended beat.
"Yes." Brian held up the little glass of crème de menthe to the light, turning it in his hand. "The colour of a hundred English mowers, little men in their shorts and folded handkerchiefs on a hundred square little lawns, mowing back and forth eternally…"
"Are you going to drink that or put it in an installation?" Tim licked the froth off his top lip and looked sceptically at the other two men over the top of his pint. There were only a handful of other people in the pub, but then it was Tuesday afternoon.
"I'd go to an exhibition like that," Daisy said, drawing circles in the condensation on her glass. "'Booze through the ages', or something. 'The alcoholic rainbow'."
"You could put this as 'orange'," Mike said, looking at his drink. Daisy wondered if it would be a good idea to mention that Southern Comfort and lemonade was Twist's favourite drink too. Brian was nodding furiously, looking into the middle distance.
"Alcohol as representative of the British malaise, yeess," he mumbled, and pulled a tatty little notebook and a biro out of his coat pocket.
Tim giggled. "Surely that would make this Malaysia."
Daisy snorted. Brian and Mike looked at him blankly.
"Get it? Malaise? Malaysia?"
"That's near Vietnam, isn't it?" Mike asked.
Conversation #127 about Apocalypse Now loomed suddenly on the horizon like a dark cloud, the echoes of Mike's incredibly boring speculations about the unreleased material rattling in the distance like gunfire. Under the table Tim grabbed Daisy's hand, and they met one another's eyes.
"I fancy some crisps, don't you Tim?"
"I thought I'd order some onion rings, if we're going to stay until the quiz."
"We'd better go to the bar."
"Back in a minute guys."
They made it in a crouching run and hurled themselves onto a pair of empty barstools. A few feet away the landlord was nodding patiently along with an old man comparing at length the relative merits of Tetley's and Carlsberg, unaware of the peril just a few metres away. Daisy was still breathing heavily when Tim waved the tatty menu under her nose.
"Look, they do burgers."
While he ummed and ahhed over the food she took a moment to look around the pub. Apart from the four of them there was a little gaggle of pensioners in the other corner and a pair of teenage girls in heavy eyeliner and leopardprint coats- neither of whom looked old enough to buy a drink- fiddling with the aging jukebox.
"Our future selves," Tim muttered, waving his finger between the pensioners, who seemed to be squabbling over the paper, and Mike and Brian back at the table. Mike had grabbed Brian's notepad and was drawing some sort of diagram; Brian was taking a very tentative sip of his crème de menthe. With a loud thunk the jukebox kicked into life and the opening chords of that whiny song that had bored everyone to death last summer buzzed out through the speakers.
"Here, do you want a look?" Tim tapped the back of Daisy's hand with the menu and she took it from him, looking down at it distractedly. "You know, I never really understood this song. If I tolerate what? What will my hypothetical future children be next for? It's very non-specific."
Apparently the pub served toasted sandwiches as well. "Mmm… I heard it was about war or something." She glanced sideways at Tim, who was leaning back against the bar with his legs splayed, tugging on the cord of his hoodie. "I didn't know you wanted, um, hypothetical future children. Or the other sort."
He shrugged. "Well, I suppose it would be a bit sad to get to be that old-" he gestured at the pensioners again "- and have spent the whole time just sat in pubs or drinking tea in the flat. Sarah, um-" he bit his lip "- Sarah brought it up once, but I pretended to be asleep and she didn't say anything again. But yeah, I suppose kids would be alright."
Daisy's stomach suddenly swooped, and she kept her eyes on the menu in her hands. "I think you'd make a good dad. You already have all those toys."
As predicted, Tim's serious expression suddenly vanished. "They are not toys, they are collectible action figures. In a hundred years time they'll be valuable antiques! They're monuments of our culture, Daisy!"
Before she could form an appropriately silly response, the landlord clapped his big hands down on the bar behind them and made them both jump. "What are you ordering then?"
"Stop looking at me like that."
The sausages spat in the frying pan. By Tim's feet, Colin was sat perfectly still, his entire scruffy little body honed in focus, the menace growing in his eyes. Tim tried very hard not to think about the fact that he wasn't even wearing any pants under his pyjamas as an extra line of defence.
"What's wrong with that expensive shit Daisy buys you? You don't need sausages."
Colin tilted his head, lifting one paw slightly off the ground. There was a loud thump from Daisy's room, and a moment later she opened the door, fumbling to find the sleeve of her dressing gown.
"Morning Tim," she mumbled, shuffling over to the table. "Morning Colin," she added, in a much brighter tone of voice. The dog graced her with a few seconds of attention before turning back to the sausages.
"Put the kettle on would you, babe, these are nearly done."
"Mmph." Daisy pushed a chair out of her way and turned the tap on. "You working today?"
"Hard day at the grindstone," he confirmed. "You could come by if you want, Bilbo's not working this afternoon."
"No offence Tim, but getting ogled by spotty fourteen-year-olds and watching you re-alphabetise old copies of Batman isn't really my idea of fun." She flicked the switch on the kettle and leaned back against the counter dramatically. "Besides, I have to go to the Job Centre."
The sausages hissed loudly. "Ouch. What are you going to tell them this week?"
Daisy scrubbed a hand through her hair, making it stick up even more at the back. "Dunno. I mean, I'm trying, I really am. It's just so hard."
"Course. You even got the typewriter out of its case yesterday."
"Exactly." Daisy sighed, also dramatically, and yanked the lid off the tin of teabags. Tim smiled indulgently down at the sausages. Colin made a strange noise somewhere between a whine and a growl. Tim switched off the heat and reached around Daisy to get at the bag of bread on the worktop.
When he had assembled his sausages and was slathering them with ketchup Daisy brought over the tea and slumped into her chair, looking thoughtfully at her own plate. "Have you ever thought it was maybe a bit wrong to have sandwiches for breakfast? I mean, they always seemed like such a lunch-y food."
"I had cold fish and chips for breakfast once." A spectre of it swam up- still battered- in his mind, full of congealed grease and fish slime, gleaming like a thousand horrible eyes. "That was wrong."
Daisy cut off the end of one of her sausages and dropped it on the floor for Colin, who leapt on it like Han Solo presumably had on his first meal after being frozen in carbonite, while she reached over to take the ketchup bottle out of his hand. They thumb wrestled for it, briefly.
"Twist's coming over for dinner tonight, by the way," she said, after wresting it out of his grip. She looked at the bottle victoriously for a few seconds and then upended it over her incomplete sandwich.
"Is she going to slope off downstairs afterwards and pretend we don't notice like last time?"
Daisy shrugged. "Probably."
"Young love," Tim sighed. Colin barked. Daisy bit into her sandwich with gusto, ketchup leaking out of the sides like really bad fake blood. There were still smudges of makeup around her eyes from last night and a weird blue stain on the shoulder of her dressing gown. He smiled again. Upstairs he could hear the early clomp of teenage feet in high heels, familiar as the weather.
"I have seen this film sixty-seven times," Tim declared loudly, closing the fridge with a slam, "and it is never boring."
"I bet it would be boring if you watched it sixty-seven times in a row." Daisy snuggled her hands further into the pocket of her hoodie and tipped her head over the back of the beanbag to look at him.
"Nah, by then you'd be sleep deprived so it would probably be even better." He pulled the lid off the beer with a bottle opener and wandered back over. "Then again, the bit with the snakes would be fucking awful if you were really out of it."
Harrison Ford was running (attractively) from a boulder (much less attractive). She shifted over slightly and Tim settled down on the beanbag next to her, his arm looping easily around her shoulders. There was a distant siren somewhere outside and rain rattling against the windows, but the light from the television was cosy. Colin was curled up on the sofa, one paw over his nose.
"You know, it's alright really," Tim said after a little while, looking thoughtfully at the screen.
"Not being, you know-" he gestured with his beer "- some kind of action hero. It'd be pretty tiring. I bet Indiana Jones doesn't get out to the pub much."
"Probably not." Daisy wriggled her toes inside her slippers. "Wouldn't you like to be getting all the, um, hot action chicks though?"
Tim was quiet then, and she didn't look at him, concentrated hard on the film as if she hadn't seen it about twelve times herself. The rain was getting louder outside, drumming against the walls of the house.
"I think I'm alright," he said, and squeezed her shoulder, leaning his head against hers. She nudged his foot companionably. "Did you buy any biscuits?"
"You sexy beast."
Colin made a sleepy grumbling noise. On the television, Harrison Ford was bickering with his hot action chick. Tim sipped his beer, the sharp, sour smell of it pervading the room, their small home.