Henry Dowson is watching while waiting for the 18:46 Leeds to York train. Henry notices that the family have encouraged many his neighbours out onto the back bank. Norman the man from the top floor, like a magician, produces five balls from somewhere on his person despite having no sleeves or trouser legs. Before passing a ball to each child he demonstrates how to throw the ball up the hill and how to miss catching it when it rolls down. He also perfectly illustrates why the children should move along the bank away from the food and away from the newly planted primrose flowers.
Henry is poised ready to record the precise moment the train passes Elton Bank. Four times a year he takes his son Michael to a clinic in York and has been keeping an almost complete daily record of York trains ever since experiencing a delay of sixty-three minutes, five years earlier on Tuesday 17th July.
His latest notebook rests on a purpose built ledge attached to the windowsill but by the end of the day will join its predecessors in retirement on a nearby bookcase. The retirement age of notebooks is steadily falling as Henry’s notes expand to include weather conditions, wildlife and in the last month the activity of his neighbours.
Henry licks his pencil and begins to scribe. He speculates on the exact number of sausages and finally admits, but only to himself, that his wife could be right that the family are not Muslim. Henry knows that Ramadan has started and acknowledges that even the most unholy Muslim wouldn’t be laughing at a pork-invested picnic, in plain sight, during daylight hours.
Perhaps his wife did see them in the Baptist Chapel on Livingstone Place. It has been nine years since Henry crossed the threshold of the Chapel. He refuses all attempts by the deacons to entice him back. His protest has continued long after the departure of the minister who nine years ago had clearly stated that he didn’t want to cause offence, before making suggestions for how to keep Michael quiet during the services and where to put him so that he wouldn’t disturb the congregation.
The 18:46 arrives a full two minutes earlier than expected. Henry engraves the time below the ever-growing list of picnic food. He also correctly lists every name of those partaking in the picnic, providing up to three alternative spellings where his Internet searches are currently inconclusive.
The early arrival of the 18:46 leaves Henry with an unexpected moment of freedom. He sees the tall man heading down the slope towards the back door and uses his spare minutes to make an interception on the second floor landing.
Henry is pleased to confirm the spelling of two names and delighted to learn of a fourth and correct alternative to the daughter’s name, even though it means extensive notebook revision going back several weeks.
He is surprised to be asked to spell his own name and the names of his family and has to un-Frenchify Margaret’s spelling several times.
Henry has never been to the top floor and admires the vastly superior view of the railway line afforded from the elevated position. The tall man passes the fruit bowl to Henry and then looks embarrassed when he realises that he probably could have managed it all on his own without Henry’s help. However, with Henry managing the fruit, the man is able to take out the kitchen table so that everyone can eat more comfortably.
Henry places the fruit bowl on the table next to the picnic bench and leaves without responding to the well-meaning encouragement to bring Michael and Margaret to join the party.
It is only when he reaches his front door, that he realises the man has followed him and he is unable to refute all of the man’s suggestions of how to overcome the logistical nightmare of moving Michael from the flat to the outside bank.
Michael bobbles his head in excitement and Margaret applies fresh make up that matches the man’s exotic mispronunciation of her name.
Michael initially joins the kitchen table but soon escapes from the confines of his wheelchair when Norman miraculously materialises a sixth ball from his skimpy, summer attire.
It takes Margaret’s intervention before Norman understands Michael’s gestures and ill-formed speech. Norman stretches back and spends a moment digging into his bag before being able to repeat his magic trick. He triumphantly holds a ball aloft and following Michael’s urging, waves it to entice the nose squashed against the window on the second floor. The immediate effect is a rapid retreat of the nose.