beautiful," I say.
She'll have been here before the sun hit the streets.
"Coffee or tea?" she says, ignoring my smile-and that word-as if insisting
I'll have had a rough start.
But I don't have a sleep problem, not now. Though maybe I should. I grab
it when I can, catnap, get by on little. An old trick of the trade. And
Rita's sleep problem, if she's honest about it (and sometimes she is)
isn't really a sleep problem either.
"An empty bed, George, that's all it is. If there was someone there .
"Tea, I think, Reet. Nice and strong."
She's wearing the pale pink top, soft wool, above a charcoal skirt. Round
her neck a simple silver chain. The small twinkly stud earrings, a waft
of scent. She always gets herself up well, Rita. We have to meet the public,
But the pale pink is like a flag, her favourite colour. A very pale pink-more
like white with a blush. I've seen her wearing it many times. I've seen
her wearing a fluffy bathrobe of the same soft pink colour, loosely tied,
tits nuzzling inside. Bringing in morning tea.
I go into my office, leaving the door open. The sun is streaming through
my first-floor window, the low, blinding sun of a cold November morning,
the sun Rita never gets in her compartment, except through the frosted
glass of my door.
She follows me in with the tea, and a mug for her self, a bundle under
her arm. There's always this morning conference-my office door open-even
as I settle myself in, take off my coat, switch on my own computer, sit
down. The sun's warm through the glass, even if outside the air's icy.
She puts down my tea, already sipping her own, eyeing me over the rim.
She slips the bundle onto my desk, pulls round the other chair-the "client's
chair." She steps through bars of bright light.
It's like a marriage really. We've both thought it. It's better than a
lot of marriages (we know this). Rita-my assistant, my associate, my partner,
or not-quite partner. Her job description has never exactly been set in
stone. But I wouldn't dream of calling her my receptionist (though she
is that too) or even my secretary.
"Be an angel, Reet."
"I am an angel, George."
Where would I be without her?
But she's going to leave me, I can tell. One morning like this one: she
won't bring in a mug of her own and she won't put down the bundle of files,
she'll keep it hugged tight to her, a shield, and she won't sit down.
She'll say "George" in a way that will make me have to look up, and after
a bit I'll have to say, "Sit down, Rita, for God's sake," and she'll sit
facing me like a client.
"It's been good knowing you, George. It's been good working with you,
but . . ."
She knows what day it is. A Thursday, and Thursdays are special, but she
knows the date, the day of the year. November twentieth. Two years-if
you count it from that day. Two years and it hasn't stopped. And if it
hasn't stopped, it will go on for the years to come, however many they'll
be. The time's gone when she could say (as she did once), "How can you,
George-with her?" Or when she could say, to herself: He must be mad, he
must be off his head, but he'll come round, it'll stop, give it time.
He'll come slinking back. And meanwhile what better guarantee, what better
safeguard, really-that woman being where she is?
I think she's come to accept it-even to respect it. A fact, a feature.
Mr. Webb is always "on an assignment" every alternate Thursday afternoon.
I've even seen this look of sweet sad understanding in her eyes. That's
why I think she's going to quit.
"Those are for Mrs. Lucas-this afternoon. Five forty-five. Earliest she
can do." A quick glance. "You'll be back?"
We both know what's in the envelope. Photographs. Photographs of a man
and a woman in a hotel room. A little blurred but clear enough for recognition,
at six-by-nine enlargement. "Surveillance equipment" is reliable these
days. We have to get the film processed specially-a private contract-and
Rita collects. A man and a woman doing things with each other. But this
sort of stuff hardly raises an eyebrow or even gets that much of a look
from Rita and me. It sits there, like the morning mail, between us.
Our stock-in-trade. Can you see who's who? That's the vital thing.
"Yes, I'll be back by five-thirty."
"And I'll just say"-she doesn't push the point too much-"you'll be out
of the office till then?"
"But I won't leave before ten. I can take calls till then."
"It's a beautiful day out there," I say again. "Cold, but beautiful."
Another sideways look, more lingering this time. She might be saying,
You poor bloody idiot.
The eyes are tired, made up immaculately, but tired. The sunlight streaming
in is like a warm bath, but it isn't kind to the lines round her eyes.
It catches a wisp of steam rising from her mug and puts a sparkle in her
hair. She moves a bit closer to point out something. A silver bracelet
at the end of the pink sleeve.
A long time now, since the last time. I'd asked her round to try some
of my cooking (Rita may be an angel, but she's a hopeless cook). I might
even have spelt it out to her: a meal, that was all. But that's the trouble
with good cooking (if I say it myself). Not to mention red wine. It warms
the heart, the cockles, as well as the stomach. Melts the resistance.
"Things on your mind, Reet?" The considerate boss.
"Not exactly, George. You?" She'd cupped her wineglass in both hands-her
nails wine-red too. "It's just not having anyone there. You know. Somebody
by your side."
Excerpted from The Light of Day by Graham Swift Copyrightę
2003 by Graham Swift. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of
Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
of Day combines a powerful love story and a narrative of intense suspense
into a brilliant and tender novel about what drives people to extremes
of emotion. As in his Booker-winning novel Last Orders, Swift transforms
ordinary lives through extraordinary storytelling.
novel from Graham Swift -- his first since the Booker Prize-winning Last
Orders -- is the work of a master storyteller. The Light of Day
is a luminous and gripping tale of love, murder and redemption.
is a divorced ex-policeman turned private investigator, a man whose prospects
seemed in ruins not so long ago. Following the course of a single, dazzling
day in Georges life, the novel illuminates not only his past but
his now all-consuming relationship with a former client.
and intricate in its evocation of daily existence, The Light of Day
achieves a singular intensity and almost unbearable suspense. Tender and
humorous in its depiction of lifes surface, Swift explores the depths
and extremities of what lies within us and how, for better or worse, its
never too late to discover what they are.
Swift was born in Catford, South London in 1949. His father was a
civil servant, working at the National Debt Office and served a as a naval
pilot in WW II; his mother lived through the bombing of London.
to become a writer began in his early teens. He attended attended Dulwich
College went on to read English at Cambridge and then began an academic
career at York university, working on a PhD thesis on The City in Nineteenth
Century English Literature. He later abandoned this as he pursued
his writing, teaching English literature at various colleges until he
became a full-time writer in 1983.
Waterland was shortlisted Booker in 1983, and wonthe Winifred Holtby
Prize. Ever After won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France,
in 1992. Last Orders won the 1996 Booker Prize, and was filmed
by Fred Schepisi with Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Bob Hoskins and Helen
Mirren. It also won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and shortlisted
for the Dublin IMPAC Award in 1998
An avid fisherman,
Graham Swift has also co-edited an anthology of fishing in literature.
He lives in Wandsworth, south London.