A final check round the room.
Three o'clock on a Thursday was an odd time for a visit, but it was the only downtime between my part-time jobs that suited Jo. More unusual than the time was the prospect of a one-to-one rendezvous in my bedsit with someone about my age and attractive.
It had been a jokey idea at first. At the weekend, a big group of us - mostly staff from the pub we both worked at - were queuing for a club after our shift. Jo's bunch were up ahead. She got refused entry because of her ripped jeans (both knees, like wide smiles). Her pal, Beth, joked that I could sew them up for her, given the upholstering training of my youth. A few days later, during a slow shift together, Jo and I ended up arranging the visit.
At 2.58 Jo texted to say she was on her way over.
Of course, I had tidied up. The main task was to clear my junk off the armchair so there would be a choice of places to sit. The bed as the only option might be awkward. Jo mentioned a boyfriend once, so I was surprised she suggested doing the repairs at my place. Who knows what she was thinking? I didn't have the skills or inclination to ask her straight out. And I didn't want her not to come around.
She would know that I was 'usually single'. It was a small town and we had mutual friends. In conversation I was very much an 'I' person rather than a 'we' person; not out of choice. On the contrary, it was high time I found someone, or someone found me.
The door buzzer sounded.
'Come on up, Jo. Second floor.'
I thought about putting on music but left it. With the window open, the twitter of the sparrows and the oo-oh-oors of the wood pigeons in the elder tree was enough to soften the unpleasant urban sounds of traffic, car doors, a delivery, and loud street conversations.
She came up the last few steps slowly. I pointed at the offending jeans, and she laughed. I should have guessed she would wear them. I would have put them in a bag.
A quick hug and she came in.
'Oh my God!' almost a shout. 'This is amazing. What is this place?'
Of course, I lived there. I was used to it. Sometimes I forgot.
'Where did you get all of this? It's like … I don't know. A Bedouin tent or a medieval castle. No, a stately home – they have tapestries, don't they? But some of it is more William Morris.' I just let her talk on.
There was something like love on her face. I caught a touch of it as her eyes met mine as she looked around the room. She was wide-eyed, mouth half-open, the start of a smile, long strands of light brown hair falling over her cheeks.
'I had no idea,' she said.
'You can keep looking while I mend your jeans if you like?' I said.
'Can I have a look round first?'
'Is it all right if I touch them?'
I nodded again.
She went over to the one by the fireplace and placed both hands on it.
'I love this one. And it feels so soft.'
The late spring afternoon sunshine from my south-facing window gave a gallery-quality illumination to the detail. It was one of my favourites, too, and one of the more expensive. People often liked the ones with animals. This was a forest scene with squirrels, deer, badgers, the lot; it had something of A Midsummer Night's Dream about it.
'Where did you get them all from?' Jo asked.
'All over. I just find them.'
She pointed at a pale brown canvas, lower down, by the chair.
'Why's that only got one bird?' she asked.
'That's mine. I mostly repair them – sometimes I have a go. I gave up on that one.'
'Why? I like it. It's funny.' She knelt down and ran the palm of her hand over it. She would be getting the feel of the soft gentle bumps of the wings and legs.
'The material and thread didn't suit each other,' I said. 'That canvas turned out to be too thick. It took me the robin to find out. I keep it as a reminder not to make that mistake again.'
'We all make mistakes,' she said, alluding to something I couldn't guess.
Jo asked which were mine, so I gave her the tour. I realised how many of mine were left unfinished, but I had years ahead to finish them.
She had many points of reference from her course; an arts foundation year - a few weeks of photography, then fashion, ceramics, and so on. I guess she was deciding what to do with her life.
After a few minutes, she found another one to get lost in.
I stood close by. She smelt of honey shampoo. Her hair under the dry outer layers was still wet.
The sunlight showed up the flaws in her skin. She must have had an adolescence like mine. Her nose ring was golden-coloured, maybe real gold. Her eyes jumped about the tapestry. Her pupils were large, with a hazel ring around them – green and brown, overlaying a yellow base. The amber glowed around the black circles like Saturn rings around dark planets.
She turned and looked at me – she must have sensed me studying her. Her eyes locked onto mine; not reading them, just looking straight on, in her innocent, carefree way. It was her most common expression; open, frank.
I reciprocated with some verbal frankness.
'I was just looking at the colours in your eyes.' Hopefully, she would respond to that.
'Would you like to embroider them?' It started as a serious question, then an ironic smile broke out.
'It's a funny way of saying it, but I would, actually.' My voice was croaky, and I thought of making tea. Too much directness.
'Yeah?' she went. 'That could be interesting.'
Her eyes began to sparkle. She caught her own smile, biting her lower lip that released itself slowly then popped back out to a pout. She had no make-up on, but her full lips were cherry-red.
She laughed and threw her head back so her brown hair swung about. The darker wet bits showed and must have felt cold on her throat.
'Maybe we should get on with what I'm here for,' she said. 'Shall I take them off?' she asked.
'I can do it with you wearing them,' I replied.
She sat in the armchair and I knelt in front of her. She leant forward so she was sitting up quite straight. She clasped her hands, almost in prayer, keenly watching me.
'You should rub your hands - like a doctor - if they're cold,' she said, with a mischievous cheeky grin that made her look years younger for a moment.
I did feel like a doctor, inspecting a wound. I played along, although I already knew what the prognosis and treatment would be. The jeans were paper-thin, light-blue faded brush denim. No wonder they were ripped at the knees. Stitches might hold for a while, but they would hitch up and spoil the form of the legs, making them uncomfortable. A patch would be better, but she didn't want that. After some explaining, she compromised and agreed to let me sew a dark-blue corduroy patch to the inside. The jeans would have to come off after all.
She took them off sitting down, with a total lack of self-consciousness, then put her coat over her legs like a granny rug.
I sat on the bed and got on with it.
I could see her looking round.
'I knew you did upholstery, and I knew about your apprenticeship, but this is something else. You're like a curator, with your own pieces thrown in, too. You could display this.'
I smiled as politely as I could.
'People would pay,' she said.
That was funny.
'No, really,' she said.
We were back to our pub-shift banter.
I focused. One of the tapestries caught her eye and she was up and wandering about, peering and stroking them. Her coat slipped as she walked around.
She came over and sat next to me. The mattress wasn't great. It sunk and rocked us close together so that I nearly pricked myself. Jo didn't notice. She leant against my elbow to watch.
'It's so funny to see you sewing.' She was bright and smiling.
I didn't know what to say to that. I finished off, secured it, and turned the jeans back out. When I handed them over, she looked satisfied if not happy. She dropped her coat on the bed and pulled her jeans on. Two little dark blue smiles peeked out at her knees.
'It feels warmer. No draughts.' She was happy again. 'Thanks. Look, I'd better go.'
At the doorway she paused and threw a final glance around the room, smiling, eyes shining, her pupils dark and large, her mouth hanging half-open again.
Her hazel eyes finally rested on me. 'I had no idea about this part of you.'
I felt her hand on my shoulder. She leant in and kissed me on the mouth.
When she stayed there, for some reason I counted; one thousand, two thousand, three thousand …
'I'm leaving my boyfriend this week. It's been coming,' she said.
'Maybe I could come again next Tuesday?'
'Yes, sure,' I said.
She skipped down the stairs.
I closed and then leant on the door.
Sunbeams were falling about the dusty floor. It was warm in the room. I sometimes thought I was mad to collect the rugs, tapestries, and wall-hangings. Weaver art. It was the best thing in my life. You get so used to everything being shit, you treasure and cling on to the good stuff. I wondered what Jo was really like.
In the following days, we stole secret kisses at the pub. She didn't wait until Thursday to visit.
After a month she went back to her old boyfriend, who I never met. She kept him hidden as I did with my tapestries. I gave her the robin on her last visit. It might serve her as a reminder of past mistakes, as it had for me for a while.
In the autumn I got together with her pal, Beth, from the club, who had suggested that I mend Jo's jeans. I moved in with her after a fortnight. Beth had a proper job and a modern new-build flat with white walls that she covered with framed movie posters. I left my tapestries under a bed, in suitcases, at my parents'.
I never saw Jo again. Beth lost touch with her too, but we heard that she went to Leeds to study textiles.