I glanced out towards the street, where a pair of schoolgirls were walking past in short skirts. I watched to see whether Maurice’s eyes would follow them and they did for a few moments, but without any particular interest, as he finished his beer and ordered another.
‘By the way,’ he said, reaching into his satchel and pulling out a magazine that he handed across. ‘I have a present for you.’ The publication was titled Coney Island and I felt an immediate aversion to the cover image, a close-up of a clown vomiting letters on the heads of George Bush and Michael Dukakis.
‘Thank you,’ I said, uncertain why he thought I would be interested in such a thing.
‘Turn to page sixteen,’ he said, and I did as instructed, whereupon I discovered a title, ‘Red’, with the words ‘by Maurice Swift’ printed in large letters underneath. ‘My first published story,’ he said, grinning from ear to ear.
‘Maurice!’ I said, truly delighted for him. ‘Congratulations!’
‘I didn’t know that you were even submitting to magazines.’
‘Well, I haven’t been, to be honest,’ he told me. ‘But I happen to know one of the editors there and he asked whether I might have something that would work for them. So I sent this along and he liked it.’
‘Well, I’m very happy for you,’ I said. ‘You must feel very encouraged.’
‘And your novel? How is that coming along?’
‘Ah,’ he said, pulling a face. ‘Slowly. I have the opening chapters and a good hold on my characters but I’m not sure where it’s going as yet.’
‘You haven’t plotted it out?’ I asked.
‘Oh no,’ he said, looking at me as if I’d just accused him of spending his days watching television. ‘I could never do something like that. Doesn’t it all become a little boring if you know everything that happens in advance?’
‘I don’t think so,’ I said, and I might have challenged him further on it were it not for an interruption by our waitress, who came over holding a tray that carried the two glasses from the divorcing couple’s table and looking inside them with an astonished expression on her face. She asked whether I had seen who had left them there and I related the events as I’d observed them earlier and she shook her head in disbelief before making her way back indoors. A moment later, Maurice’s trusty notebook was on the table again and he was scribbling away.
‘What are you writing?’ I asked him.
‘The story you just told her,’ he said. ‘It’s a good one. I thought I might use it for something.’
‘As it happens,’ I said, ‘after they left I thought the same thing. That it might make for an interesting opening for a novel. I was working through some possibilities in my mind.’
He lifted his notebook and waved it in the air triumphantly. ‘Sorry, Erich,’ he said. ‘It’s mine now. I wrote it down first!’
‘You don’t mind, do you?’