Moss Nook

As I jump a red light at the junction of Styal Road with Simonsway and Finney Lane, I hear the deep bass rumble of a large aircraft. It flies over the roof of the car no more than 250 feet above us. I think about pulling over and having sex with Erica right there in the car at the side of the road. Instead I watch the plane as it follows a straight line – no evident sideslip this close to landing – on a diagonal trajectory towards the start of runway 24 less than a quarter of a mile away.

‘Look at that,’ I say. ‘747.’

‘You like planes?’ she asks, amused.

‘I like it when they go over. I like to think of all those people in there travelling at 150 miles an hour right above our heads. Some of them relaxed – reading, doing a Sudoku. Others terrified as the ground approaches ever faster. Toy cars revert to normal scale and ants become humans.’

I turn to look at her. She is wearing the pale-blue wrap top exactly as I wanted her to, but she has combined it with a simple amber pendant possibly as an act of mild defiance, or, more likely, self-protection. She smiles nervously.

I turn right into Ringway Road and then right again into the restaurant’s own small car park, which I notice has a lockable gate currently standing open.

Almost the moment we enter the restaurant, I realise I have made a mistake. It’s not the sense of stepping back into the 1970s: the patterned carpets, old-lady lighting, and tasselled swag curtains. I don’t mind all that. It’s not even the slightly uneasy combination of excessive formality with unconvincing overfriendliness, to which I am impervious. It’s more that as we are shown to a table by the window, I see a plane passing 200 feet above Ringway Road and I can’t hear a thing above the tinkle of cutlery and the rustle of conversation. I had anticipated it being the other way around. I knew the restaurant was a few hundred yards from the flight path rather than directly underneath it, but I had imagined diners straining to hear each other above the roar of jet engines. I had thought the mullioned windows would be rattling in their panes. Instead, the restaurant could be anywhere, double-glazed into the middle of nowhere. The place trades on its proximity to the airport, yet it goes as far as it can to eradicate any trace of aircraft.

I notice Erica looking out of the window.

‘Do you ever get to go to the Pyramid?’ I ask her.

‘What Pyramid?’

I sense her bristling slightly.

‘The Stockport Pyramid. The blue one. It’s got your bank’s logo all over it.’

‘No. If you don’t work there, there’s no need to go there. I work in town. You know that.’

‘Right.’ I take a sip of wine. ‘Well, I do need to go there. I need to get inside. I wondered if you could help?’

‘Is that what we’re doing here? You think I can get you into the Pyramid?’

I try to assess how close she is to walking out.

‘Of course not,’ I say.

She lifts her glass and appears to be debating what to do with it. She opts to drink its contents and I refill it from the bottle, which brings the waitress scurrying to our table. It’s that kind of place. The kind where they insist on filling your glass for you.
‘Is everything all right?’ asks the waitress.

I look at her. I can feel Erica looking at me. The waitress is of mixed race with light-brown skin and long dark wavy hair pulled back into a ponytail accentuating high cheekbones. She’s a tall, attractive woman but she looks worn out and it’s only the start of the evening.

‘I can’t hear the planes,’ I say.

‘You want to try living here,’ she says.

I raise my eyebrows. ‘Do you live locally?’ I can still feel Erica’s eyes on me.

‘Just down the road.’

‘This side of the runway?’


‘I like the planes,’ I say, leaning back in my seat.

She directs her tired gaze at Erica, whose cheeks, I notice, are tinged pink.

‘He does,’ she goes on, for Erica’s benefit, ‘he wants to try living here.’

‘Yes,’ I say, so that she looks at me again. ‘I do. I do want to try living here.’

‘It’s no fun when you’re tossing and turning and a great big bloody jumbo jet goes over,’ she says, her hands planted assertively on her hips.

‘Well, I beg to differ,’ I say, remembering Susan Ashton. Her Golf GTI. Hatton Cross tube station car park.

She shrugs as a way of bringing the subject to a close and asks if we have finished with our starters.

Erica is looking around the room. Anywhere but at me, I suspect. I follow her gaze. We are the youngest people in, by some way. Most of the other diners are couples. Golfers and their wives. Golfers and their husbands. The acoustics are such that you can hear conversations from other tables quite clearly even though no one is speaking especially loudly. You try to distinguish one table’s chat from another, as if angling a boom mic from one table to the next, but find you can’t. You watch one white-haired man’s lips move and realise the voice you can hear is that of a retired headmistress on the other side of the room.

The waitresses, meanwhile, are wheeling a trolley towards the table in the far corner. On it are two plates, each covered with a domed silver lid with a small knob at the top for a handle. They deposit the plates on the table in front of an elderly couple, and then, with practised ease, lift the lids in perfect synchrony with a flourish that comprises a girlish swing of the hips with the slightest genuflection like a half-curtsey. The elderly couple do not react; they’ve seen it all before. They’ve been coming here for years and now barely have the energy to lift their cutlery. For the waitresses the reveal is clearly a tiresome routine, one they yearn to leave behind, but it goes with the territory. If they had a contract, it would be written in.

The trolley is wheeled back into the kitchen and I turn to look at Erica. She turns at the same time and our eyes meet for an awkward moment. I look down and my gaze snags on her amber pendant. She has large breasts. The clingy material of her pale-blue top wraps itself around one of them like a promise. I have to tear my eyes away.

‘Are you married?’ she asks suddenly.

‘Kind of.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘She died,’ I say. ‘She’s dead. Or she’s enjoying eternal life, depending on what you believe.’

At that moment the two waitresses arrive at our table with their trolley. On it are two plates covered with the same silver domed lids. The girl with the ponytail and cheekbones places mine in front of me while the other waitress, a middle-aged woman with short dyed blonde hair, serves Erica. Then they each delicately grasp the nipple-like handles and their eyes meet. On a signal invisible to us they swing, bend and lift in one fluid movement. All it lacks is someone to say ‘Ta-da!’ in an ironic tone of voice.

‘I’m sorry,’ says Erica as the waitresses withdraw, and she sits forward to communicate sincerity.

I look back at her and don’t know what to say.

‘Who does work there?’ I ask eventually.

‘Where?’ she says, taking my non-sequitur as a sign that she may start to eat.

‘In the Pyramid.’

‘Mortgage people. Business and personal banking. Computer banking, training. All sorts. Why are you so interested? Are you a bank robber?’ she asks before closing her lips around a piece of salmon caught on the end of her fork.

‘No, more of a grave robber. You know, like Howard Carter.’

‘Howard who?’

‘Never mind. The Pyramid offers the promise of eternal life. I’m interested in that.’

‘Who isn’t?’ she says, tipping wine into her mouth.

‘I have a particular interest in it,’ I say.

There’s a pause before she apologises again and then there’s a further pause while we both eat.

I see that she has finished.

‘Shall we get out of here?’ I say.

‘I thought you had to write a review.’

‘I’ve seen enough.’

We cause a bit of a stir by paying on the way out. The staff handle our sudden desire to leave with tact and aplomb; it’s among the remaining diners that we detect the lightest of tuts and softest of glares.

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4 Responses to “Moss Nook”

  1. October 13, 2008 at 11:25 pm, smith3000 said:

    Bloody hell! It seemed like it was going to be one thing and then suddenly it’s something different altogether. A touch disturbing, I thought.

  2. June 12, 2009 at 11:48 am, Ian D Smith said:

    The A6 from Hazel Grove into Manchester never curves once. I like the comparison and awareness of the vast difference between London and Manchester, and the effects.

  3. August 15, 2009 at 11:18 am, Scott Devon said:

    Very nice, Nic. Again you use the effect of the dark journey to reveal your character. Nicely done.

  4. January 18, 2010 at 9:25 pm, Becky said:

    That was excellent. Full of tension, and great portrayal of both characters. I recognised that journey to the Moss Nook very well !


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