| A Good Day For It
By Martin Westlake
“Here we are,” said Smiley, turning into a small, gravel-covered car park.
There was nobody else there. Smiley nevertheless carefully turned the car, then reversed and
straightened it out to make sure that it wasn’t taking up more than one space. He put the handbrake on
and took out the key then turned and looked at his passenger.
“You all right?” he asked.
Smiley opened his door and got out with a satisfied grunt. Isaac watched as he stood and stretched.
“Ah!” said Smiley. “It’s a really good day for it, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Isaac. “Yes, it is.”
It was a beautiful day. No longer summer but not yet autumn. There was still warmth in the sun’s
morning light and only a few leaves on the ground. Smiley walked around to the back of the car and
opened the boot. Isaac smelt the forest air waft through the car’s interior. Smiley started to whistle; a
tuneless whistle, but yet somehow in tune. It must be a special ability, thought Isaac, to be able to whistle
continuously like that. Wasn’t that what nightingales did?
“You coming?” asked Smiley.
“Yes. Yes, I’m coming.”
Isaac opened his door and got out. He breathed in. The air was still cool and carried the scent of dew
and damp earth from the copse behind the car park. He walked around to the back of the car.
“Oh, that’s a shame,” said Smiley, staring down at Isaac’s feet.
“What’s the problem?” asked Isaac.
“You’ve only got your town shoes, haven’t you? If I’d have been thinking, I could have loaned you a pair
Isaac looked about him.
“It seems relatively dry.”
“Yes, here it is. But it can get quite muddy in the woods.”
“Well, not to worry. It can’t be helped now.”
“You’re right,” he said. “Not to worry.”
He started whistling again as he rummaged around in the boot. He pulled out two spades and handed
one to Isaac.
“Could you carry that for me?” he asked. “Is that all right?”
Isaac nodded and took the spade. He watched as Smiley carefully leaned the other spade against the
side of the car then bent over to tidy up the rags and tools and ropes and hessian sacks and various other
bits and pieces in the car boot. Finally, Smiley stood up.
“There,” he said, with a slight chuckle. “I reckon that needed doing, don’t you?”
His name definitely suited him, Isaac thought. Smiley must have been in his mid-forties. He had a faint
paunch but was otherwise trim. He wasn’t particularly tall, but wasn’t short either. He had a good head of
darkening blonde hair with no hint of grey in it yet - the colour looked natural, at any rate. His eyes were a
sparkling blue. He already had boyish good looks, but upturned creases in the skin at the corners of his
eyes and mouth gave him an attractively good-humoured expression.
Smiley shut the boot and the doors, then locked the car. He picked up the other spade and put it over
his shoulder, then stopped and looked at Isaac with concern.
“Are you all right, old man?” he asked.
“Right! You coming, then?”
“Ah!” said Smiley. “What a day, eh?”
Isaac picked up the spade and put it over his shoulder, as Smiley had done with his. A lane led away
from the car park into the copse and downwards enigmatically into the shade. The two men followed the
winding track. At first, Smiley continued his tuneless whistle, but after a while he stopped, quite naturally,
and the two men strode on at a good pace in silence. The lane sank gradually between earthen banks.
The branches closed in over their heads, making Isaac think of the entrance to a crypt. Further down the
side of the valley, the trees receded on one side, revealing a series of fields and the blue sky above them.
The dirt under foot was still moist with dew and the recent showers, so that Isaac had occasionally to skip
around a puddle.
“How are you doing?” Smiley asked. “All OK?”
“Yes, yes. I’m fine,” Isaac said.
“All right-y, then,” said Smiley.
It was strange, Isaac reflected, the way Smiley seemed to be smiling, even when he was being serious
or solicitous, yet his smiling expression wasn’t incongruous. Rather, it was somehow reassuring.
The trees continued to their right. To their left, the fields had been planted with corn which was now tall
and almost ripe for harvesting.
Smiley halted abruptly.
“Here!” he said, putting up his hand to stop his companion.
“What is it?” Isaac asked.
“It just suddenly struck me.”
“No, no,” said Smiley, laughing to himself. “No; it’s nothing.”
“No,” said Isaac, curious. “Please tell me. What struck you?”
“Well, all right then,” said Smiley. “Do you remember that film with the plants?”
“Those plants that moved. You know the one that I mean?”
“Yes, you know; they moved around. As if they’d got legs. It’s an old one. In black and white.”
“Oh! I know the one you mean. What’s it called again?”
“It’s on the tip of my tongue.”
“It’s got the word ‘day’ in it, hasn’t it?”
“The day of something.”
“Yeah, well, whatever it’s called, don’t you think he got his idea from corn like that?”
“The fellow who wrote the book!”
“The book they made the film from, silly!”
“Oh,” said Isaac. “Sorry. I see what you mean.”
“Do you?” asked Smiley, suddenly enthusiastic. “You see? You see what I mean? Look. Just look at
He had taken a few strides off of the lane into the field and was pointing down at the aerial roots of a
particularly tall corn stalk.
“You see? They look almost like legs, don’t they?”
“I think I see what you mean,” said Isaac.
“I mean, he could have been thinking of hollyhocks or foxgloves, I suppose, but they don’t have legs
like this corn has, do they?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“And it’s taller than a human being, so it would have a sort of tactical advantage, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, yes. There I do see what you mean.”
Smiley stood up and looked with concern at his companion.
“Here, Isaac! Are you all right?”
Isaac had had a fleeting urge, but the advantage of surprise had gone and, anyway, it wouldn’t really
have done any good. He rubbed his face with his free hand.
“Yes, yes. I’m all right, thank you.”
"Are you sure?" asked Smiley. That solicitous expression again. “You looked almost as though you
were going to do me a mischief.”
“Right, then. Onwards and upwards! Actually, onwards and downwards, ha, ha!”
Isaac smiled obediently.
Finally, they came out onto a low, rolling plateau, with the trees behind them and wide expanses of
freshly-ploughed fields before them.
“Ah! That’s better!” said Smiley. “A bit of air, a bit of sky! You know what I mean, Isaac?”
A little farther on, the track wound between a freshly-ploughed barley field and an old copse where,
Isaac saw, the ash trees had been coppiced until relatively recently. Smiley started to whistle again. A few
hundred yards along the track they came across a splay of feathers in the still-wet grass.
“Wha-hey!” said Smiley. “Foxy got lucky last night!”
Isaac scanned the dirt and the surrounding banks, but there was no sign of the pigeon’s body. Either
the bird had been totally consumed or its corpse had been dragged away.
“I’m only surprised there aren’t more of these pigeon wrecks on the path,” said Smiley. “After all, think
how many crushed pigeons you see on the road in town. There are loads of the blinking blighters. So why
don’t more of them get eaten by Mr Foxy?”
Isaac shook his head.
“I really don’t know,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I wasn’t really expecting you to give me the answer.”
Smiley studied the horizon beyond the distant fields.
“There’s nobody about, is there?” he said. “Not a soul.”
“No,” said Isaac. “Nobody at all.”
“It could be the end of the world. You know what I mean?”
“Yes, I do.”
“My imagination runs away with me sometimes, you know? Just supposing everybody had been
gassed or killed by radiation. This place would still look just like it does, wouldn’t it?’
“I suppose so.”
“It gives me a shiver up my spine, it does. I wouldn’t want to be around if there was nobody else around.
You get my drift?”
“I wouldn’t like it either.”
“You’ve got to have a bit of company, haven’t you?” said Smiley. “I’d go crazy otherwise, wouldn’t you?”
Smiley unselfconsciously slid his hands down the back of his trousers and scratched his buttocks
“Ooh, ah!” he said. “That’s better.”
He looked at his watch.
“Come on!” he said. “We’d better be moving. Time waits for no man and all that…”
A few hundred yards further on, they came to a crossroads.
“Left,” said Smiley unhesitatingly.
Isaac followed him as the track curled around a hillside and then straightened out to run once more
between empty fields where fresh pats in the grass told them that cattle had recently grazed.
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” said Smiley. “The way there’s absolutely nothing and nobody about today. It could
almost be an omen, couldn’t it?”
Isaac stopped and rubbed his chin.
“You all right?” Smiley inquired. “Isaac? Are you all right?”
“I’m OK,” said Isaac. “I just had a funny feeling, that’s all.”
Smiley walked up close to him and studied his face.
“Are you feeling all right now?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Are you sure, Isaac? We can stop for a while if you’d like.”
“No, no. I’ll be all right.”
“Do you want me to carry that spade?”
“No, no. I’ll be all right.”
“Okeydoke,” said Smiley. “Then its best foot forward…”
The two men strode on with their spades over their shoulders. Isaac was a slightly taller man and his gait
was longer, but every so often, the paces of the two would coincide so that just for a while it felt and looked
as though their walking motion was synchronised.
The dirt track became a cobbled lane. Smiley had a comment and an explanation.
“Here,” he said, pointing at the different surfaces, “I bet you we’ve changed local councils. Look at that! I
ask you. Why else would you have a change like that in the road surface in the middle of nowhere?”
“Does it matter?” asked Isaac.
Smiley turned and Isaac just caught a fleeting expression of irritation flitting over his face, like the
passing shadow of a crow overhead.
“Nah,” he said, smiling again. “Of course it doesn’t. It’s just strange otherwise, that’s all.”
“Let’s be carrying on, then, shall we?”
He hoisted his spade above his shoulder and started forward. A few paces later he broke into his
tuneless whistle again and then he stopped, and looked at Isaac.
“It’s rotten what’s happened to you,” he said. “Really rotten.”
Isaac bowed his head.
“I’ve got a theory about life,” Smiley continued. “May I tell it to you?”
“I call it my lamp post theory of life.”
‘Yeah. I’ll tell you why. You see, one day a few years ago I was walking down a street near where I live. It
was a lovely spring day, you know what I mean? Blue sky but not too cold and all the girls had got their
spring frocks on for the first time. Lovely! Flowery dresses, bare legs, and all that. Anyway, I was walking
along minding my own business when this girl came out of a house and started to walk along in the same
direction as me. She was about ten yards in front. She had a lovely figure and had this sort of swing in her
“Hang on, I said to myself. I know what’s happening here. She’s all happy because it’s a lovely spring day
and she’s on her way to meet her bloke; that’s what it is. So there I am following her along the road when I
suddenly hear this tremendous “bang!” And the next thing I know, I see this girl falling to the pavement with
her hands up to her face. I thought she’d been shot, honest. Anyway, I ran up to help her and she was
moaning and wouldn’t take her hands away. I could see blood running out between her fingers so I knew
she’d hurt herself quite badly somehow. And then I realised what had happened. She’d walked into a lamp
post. She’d been distracted by something and she’d walked into a flaming lamp post. Can you imagine?”
“Dead right. Well, I called an ambulance and soon enough they came and took her away, but she wouldn’
t talk to me and she wouldn’t take her hands away from her face, so I never knew who she was.”
“Poor girl,” said Isaac, again.
“Yeah, well. Ever since, I’ve had this lamp post theory about life. One moment you’re walking along with a
spring in your step, you’re happy, you’re beautiful and you’re on your way to meet your bloke. The next
moment, bang!, you’ve walked into a lamp post and your lying on the floor with a smashed face and the
blood seeping through your fingers. You know what I mean?”
“I think I do,” said Isaac.
“You see,” Smiley continued, “that’s what happened to you, isn’t it? You’ve walked into a lamp post,
“I suppose you could put it that way, yes.”
“Well, I think it’s rotten, really rotten.”
Isaac bowed his head again.
They’d been walking for another five minutes when Smiley stopped, looked about him, and sniffed the air.
“What do you think?” he asked.
Isaac stopped, put down his spade and looked around. To their right, a series of fallow fields stretched
away towards gently undulating hills. To their left, a wood swarmed up a hillside. They could hear birdsong
deep within the wood. It echoed a little, like birds caught inside a church.
“Well,” he said. “There’s nobody about, that’s for certain”
“Nah. There’s very rarely anybody about around here. Occasionally you get one of those loonies on a
bike, legs spinning like a flaming windmill, but otherwise, it’s rare.”
“Do you come here often, then?” asked Isaac.
Smiley looked at him with interest.
“When I have to,” he said.
Isaac gazed across the fields. A crow flapped up onto a distant fence post. In the far distance a buzzard
wheeled on invisible thermals. Above him, the blue sky soared away to infinity.
“You like it?” asked Smiley. “It’s not bad, is it?”
“It’s all right,” Isaac replied.
“Well, we’d best be getting on with things, hadn’t we?’
Smiley stepped carefully over a barbed wire fence, holding the top wire down with his spade.
“Do you think you can manage?” he asked Isaac.
They walked into the wood, up the hillside. Smiley started to whistle again.
“Would you mind?” said Isaac.
Smiley stopped, a puzzled look on his face.
“Mind what?’ he asked, and then he realised. “Oh! My whistling, is that it?”
“Of course not!” said Smiley. “I should have thought myself!”
They carried on in silence until they reached a sizeable clearing. Smiley chopped back a spray of
brambles with his spade.
“‘What do you reckon?” asked Smiley.
“It’s as good a place as any, I suppose.”
The two men started to dig down through the accumulated leaf mould, into the loamy soil beneath.
Neither man was used to such sustained effort and they had to stop frequently. Finally, Smiley threw his
spade to one side and jumped into the pit.
“That should do it, don’t you think?”
“It looks OK,” said Isaac.
Smiley clambered out.
“You can chuck away that spade, then,’ he said.
Isaac did as he was bade.
“Take your jacket off, Isaac,” Smiley instructed him.
Isaac took it off.
“Now roll it up.”
Isaac rolled it up.
Smiley inspected the result.
“OK,” he said. “Down you get.”
Isaac climbed into the hole and stood, looking up at Smiley expectantly. The sides of the hole came up to
just below his knees.
“Lie down,” said Smiley. “You can use the jacket as a pillow if you want.”
Isaac carefully place the rolled-up jacket at one end of the hole, then lay down on his back and rested his
head on it.
“How does that feel?” asked Smiley. “Are you comfortable enough?”
“Probably as comfortable as I’ll ever be,” said Isaac.
“Right,” said Smiley. “Now I’d like you to close your eyes and try to forget about everything. Just let
yourself drift away… That’s it. Drift away…”
Smiley had lowered his voice. His tone was soothing, reassuring.
“Just drift away, Isaac; drift away…There’s a good man.”
A crow cawed somewhere down the hillside, but Isaac didn’t hear it.
It took Smiley a good half an hour to tidy everything up, and another hour to walk back up the lane to the
car with the two spades. As he drove to the city, the rush hour traffic began to thicken on the motorway. He
whistled to himself and thought about things. Poor Isaac. He’d walked into a lamp post all right. Still, it had
been a good day for it; a really good day for it.
|About Martin Westlake
Formerly a civil servant
and currently an
academic, Martin Westlake
is a budding creative
writer with some poetry
and short fiction
published and a vast and
doubtless over ambitious
novel on the go.
|To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.