The only available space on the supermarket car park was between two of those monstrous vehicles which have all but taken over the country's highways. Cursing my bad luck I manoeuvred the old Ford between them and climbed out. I had already toured the parking lot in search of the Audi, but there was no sign of it. Yet again I was first to arrive.
Initially, months ago, I was thrilled to see the stylish red automobile in the adjoining space. I studied its gleaming contour and gazed with admiration at the luxurious interior, red leather seats and polished wood dash. But as the weeks passed I found it unnerving and silently petitioned him to park elsewhere. Notice I said 'him'. To my mind it had to be a man driving such a car, a white shirted, pin-striped executive. It was stupid, I know, but I felt pursued. I got to wondering if I was being deliberately hounded; not too difficult a task since my car was easily identifiable ... there weren't too many white Fiestas sporting Micky Mouse logos on the doors.
For weeks I wandered the supermarket aisles scrutinizing male countenances, searching for an indication of acquaintance and pivoting with a reproving retort on my lips each time I was accidentally nudged. When nothing dramatic occurred I began weaving fantasies about the Audi driver, dismissing the stalker theory and conjuring up an image of a tall, lean individual with eyes like the deepening twilight, sun-browned skin, and silky black hair. He would carry the Telegraph and a multicoloured golfing umbrella - the latter, together with his car, being the only colours he allowed himself to display. To my inventive mind the sombreness of his attire was the cause of his obsession with the cartoon character on my dilapidated car.
Then one drizzly Friday he parked skew-whiff across the yellow dividing line, monopolising half my area as well as his own. I was so cross I pushed a note in his wipers informing him that another half-an-inch would have resulted in a fusing of paintwork and suggesting that he watch it in future. The following Friday his reply was impaled on my aerial, a torn-out diary page fluttering like an official ensign. The message, written in black in a distinctive style characteristic of a professional man, implied that I should be grateful he maintained a hairs-breadth distance, adding that a life can be saved by half-an-inch. I screwed the note into a ball and tossed it into the hawthorn hedge, thinking what an obnoxious creature he was.
After a profusion of memoranda - ranging between caustic and cryptic, then becoming kind of matey and at times romantic - we met. Needless to say, the encounter was unplanned. Armed with acquisitions from the in-store bakery and the wines and spirits section, he arrived at his car while I was affixing my latest missive. He was exactly as I imagined, except the eyes smiled more and his mouth was more sensual.
Without a word he took the paper and scanned the message I had composed, though for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was. My brain was decidedly addled, paralysed by his closeness and the dallying smile on his delectable mouth. I had a vague impression of using nouns like privacy and tryst, but seeing that his cheerful grin remained intact I guessed I was mistaken. If I had considered the meeting earlier, I would have expected to feel embarrassed. Certainly I would not have anticipated the emotional happiness coursing through my veins or the electrifying excitement.
'We obviously think alike,' he said. 'I wanted to ask, but hadn't sufficient nerve.'
It was then I recalled my boldly written words, inviting him to stop hiding behind respectability and arrange a secluded assignation. I had felt safe being brazen with only an inanimate motorcar as witness. Indeed, leaving the saucy proposition had seemed like a huge joke. I never dreamed that the Audi's owner and I might actually come together.
I locked the car door and swept a bunch of red-gold leaves from the bonnet. Autumn was not my favourite season. I appreciated its pulchritude, but not the soggy mess beneath my feet on rainy days. So much had happened since that incredible day I hardly noticed the weather change. Not surprising when you consider my perpetually dazed state. With memories of theatre visits, pub lunches and candlelit dinners occupying my mind I forsook the shadows of Land-Cruiser and Mitsubishi for the tree-lined walkway where the trolleys were moored. Knowing the Audi would be there when I returned, I practically skipped past the Rowans with their juicy clusters of red berries. The church clock began to chime, its heavy brass fingers glistening in the early autumn sun. and all's well. Rescuing an abandoned trolley from the penultimate tree I hurried towards the revolving door, anxious to get in and get out in record time.
Fifty minutes later I loaded my purchases in the boot of my car. The Mitsubishi had gone and the Audi was in its place. I sniffed the air, relishing the smell of baking bread, taking my time, savouring the moment before detaching the week-to-view diary page from the aerial. December '97. Saturday 20th was ringed in black. Nervously I read the inscription. An acceptable date for a wedding, don't you think? Say yes - make my Christmas complete.
I was stunned, yet exhilarated. Neurotic butterflies took wing inside my gut. My normally sound judgment deserted me, leaving me mentally incoherent and flushing like an adolescent. As if they had developed minds of their own my fingers began the frantic search for my diary - unnecessarily, for I knew I had nothing on in December. Absolutely nothing at all. Would the coppery leaves still be around, I wondered, tuning in to a vision of antique cream bridal wear wading through crisp amber leaves on the arm of the most handsome man in town.
At last my fingers closed on the diary and I riffled the pages until I reached December. There was one entry for the 20th, a hair appointment at ten. On cue the church clock struck the hour as if to confirm the time. Perfect, I thought, tearing out the page on which to scribble my reply. Yes, I wrote, using my green ballpoint pen, Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.