Amy couldn't stand the heat any longer. ‘It's far too warm in here Craig. Aren't you bothered about the gas bills or anything?’ She stared hard at her boyfriend as he watched TV, willing him to turn towards her and say something - anything.
Craig didn’t move. Craig said nothing. Craig behaved normally.
Amy wondered, not for the first time, if it was time to forget Craig and move on. There was only so much a girl could take, whatever financial possibilities might dazzle her colourful imagination.
Eventually Craig turned his head to gaze through thick spectacles around a spacious, expensively furnished living-room. In passing he allowed his eyes to fondle racks of T-shirts hanging on a rail by the door.
‘I don’t want this room to get cold’, he said eventually, after much nose-picking deliberation. ‘I have to be very careful of damp. Once mildew gets into the fabric of a T-shirt, especially a cotton one – well then you've really lost it as far as value goes.’
‘As a collector's item it’s ruined. You can’t wash mildew out of a cotton T-shirt, not one that’s signed. It never looks right afterwards and anyway you’re not sure about the ink used to sign it and so on. The value collapses.’
‘Oh come on Craig - aren't T-shirts supposed to stand up to a little cold and damp?’ Amy drummed impatient fingers on the arm of her chair. They'd been through this kind of thing before – many times.
‘A little cold and damp what?’ Craig looked blank - faintly alarmed.
Amy sighed. She really ought to give up on Craig Flute in spite of his one big advantage. He lived with his mother in a large house and collected autographed T-shirts, but when he died, Craig's father had left his only son a pile of money and his share of Flute's, the family engineering business. To Amy, with her background, that was a huge plus in Craig’s favour. Even so, there were limits to what a girl was prepared to put up with in the name of financial security.
‘Are you sure you should still be collecting autographed T-shirts, Craig?’ Amy asked wearily.
‘Maybe their time has gone. You have loads of them and nobody else ever joined your T-shirt collector’s club. You're still the only member. Wouldn't stamps be more interesting and take up less space? A few stamp albums on a nice set of shelves would be so much more practical. They could look quite smart – like proper books.’
‘Stamps?’ Craig turned back to the TV. ‘No thank you. Whoever heard of signed stamps? Celebrities don’t sign stamps.’
‘Not signed stamps you pill... It was just a suggestion Craig.’
‘It's a very rewarding hobby, collecting autographed T-shirts. You have to have your wits about you and wear an unsigned T-shirt all the time in case of meeting someone famous to sign it.’ Craig said over his shoulder. ‘And you need to have some felt-tip pens with you.’
‘But your T-shirts are signed by people I've never heard of.’ Amy got up from her chair, took a T-shirt off Craig's rail at random and studied a signature scrawled on the front in lurid green ink. ‘Like this one. Who the hell is Lewis Coker?’
‘He's quite a famous autograph collector actually,’ Craig said, turning away from the TV with a tiny ripple of enthusiasm. ‘Standard autographs rather than T-shirts, but very well-known in autograph circles.’
‘Oh wow. You have the autograph of an autograph collector?’
‘Yes and Lewis Coker isn’t the only one either.’
Amy shook her head and reviewed her options. Was all this grief and tedium really worth it? She dabbed at her brow with a tissue, the room was far too hot. Perhaps she should use the temperature as an excuse to take her clothes off. What would Craig do if she simply stood before him stark naked?
A few feeble sparks of sexual interest had persuaded Amy that Craig wasn’t gay, so maybe blatant seduction was worth a try... Or worth yet another bloody try to be accurate.
‘Do you enjoy games?’
‘No I don’t. What kind of games anyway?’
‘Oh anything that comes to mind. Just think of a game – anything you like. A game where you do just whatever you want.
‘What are the rules of this game?’
‘You choose the rules Craig. Anything you choose is okay by me.’
‘I’m not very good at thinking up rules. Anyway, I think you should know the rules already – if you are playing some kind of game. It’s a funny kind of game where the rules –
‘Oh never bloody mind Craig. Just forget I ever mentioned it.’ Amy sighed and leaned wearily against the T-shirt rail. Craig would probably throw a T-shirt over her anyway if she stripped off – just in case his mum came in.
‘Could you put it back now?’ Craig asked.
‘My Lewis Coker.’
Amy was surprised to find she was still holding the T-shirt signed by Lewis Coker, famous autograph collector. She wondered if Lewis had Craig’s autograph... Oh God the T-shirt was all grubby and greasy round the neck too. She shoved it back on the rail with a little moue of distaste.
‘Thank you.’ Craig turned his attention back to the TV.
Perhaps sex was worth one last try? Amy felt round the back of her jumper and pretended to be struggling with her bra strap.
‘Well would you believe it Craig, my bra clip's come undone again, right under my jumper where I can't get at it. Can you fasten it up for me love?’
Craig blushed. ‘I don't know, I broke my fingernail the last time, it's still painful.’
‘I’ll help you –
‘And Mum might come in.’
‘She never comes in when we’re alone. I thinks she hopes we’re up to something.’
‘I don’t think she does –
‘Oh don't bloody bother then Craig. Anyway, you probably wouldn't notice if my bra had three cups.’ Angrily Amy flounced out of the room to join Craig's mother in the kitchen.
‘Hello Amy dear – has Craig got his nose stuck to that TV again?’
‘Yes he has Mrs Flute.’
‘He watches a lot of TV does our Craig.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘Yes dear, I know what you mean... You know dear –
‘You know - I'd feel much easier about Craig if just once I found him with his hand up some girl's jumper,’ Craig's mother said with a sharp sideways glance in Amy's direction.
‘He might break a fingernail,’ Amy replied. Was Craig's mum a mind-reader? Craig certainly wasn't, he probably had enough trouble reading his own mind, let alone anyone else's. She set about mashing a cup of tea, crashing crockery about in her frustration.
‘Is Craig playing hard to get?’ Craig's mother sipped delicately at a large lipstick-stained tumbler of gin.
‘Impossible to get would be a nearer the truth,’ Amy replied shortly. She only added six sugar lumps to Craig's cup as he was trying to cut down. As Amy picked up the cups, Mrs Flute put out a restraining, talon-like hand.
‘I've been watching you my love. I think we're two people who understand each other about... Well about Craig mainly.’
‘Yes?’ Amy waited.
‘Flute's have always been a family business, but to keep a business in the family, you need - ’
‘A family?’ Amy supplied. ‘The patter of tiny feet?
‘And someone to pod them?’
‘Yes dear – if you want to put it like that. I wouldn’t put it quite like that.’
‘Someone to make Craig live up to his responsibilities - to produce a whole orchestra of little Flutes?’
‘Eh? Oh... Yes dear, most amusing. But I’m sure we understand each other really. I’m quite sure.’ Mrs Flute smiled and took another delicate sip of gin, somehow managing to empty half the glass.
‘I didn't know you were keen on grandchildren,’ Amy said.
‘I'm bloody not, it's purely a matter of keeping the business in the family.’ Mrs Flute winked with a bloodshot left eye and poured herself more gin.
A bearded collie wandered into the kitchen so Amy bent down to tickle her ears. ‘I like your dog,’ she said, changing the subject. Amy was fond of dogs. Mrs Flute seemed to have lots of them.
‘Suki's a bitch actually,’ said Mrs Flute.
‘She has a lovely pretty face with all that silky fur and those floppy ears, I think she's really lovely.’
‘She's just for breeding, dear. Her pups make the money.’
‘Really? I didn't realise you breed dogs.’
‘Yes dear, I’ve done it for years as a kind of hobby to pass the time. Suki's just a puppy machine I’m afraid, so don’t you go getting all sentimental over her.’ Craig's mother lit a cigarette and blew a thin stream of blue-grey smoke towards the kitchen ceiling.
‘A puppy machine?’
As I say, the pups make the money in dog breeding.’
‘How interesting – but I think I'll be off now.’ Amy took her coat from the back of a kitchen chair.
‘Going already dear?’
‘Yes – time to move on.’
‘Aren't you even going to have another go at our Craig?’ Mrs Flute’s cigarette quivered in bony fingers. Half an inch of ash dropped into her gin - a sure sign of agitation.
‘No,’ said Amy. ‘I've just realised I have far more options than poor little Suki.’ She left, slamming the door on her way out.
‘Little bitch – never liked her anyway.’ Mrs Flute took another sip of gin.