What Year Is It?

I woke up in another place, in another time, sitting in a chair and staring at a man I had never seen or met before. “ Hello” he said. “I wondered if you’d wake up here or just return to your time “present” or whatever you call it and think this was a dream”

His voice was calm and he seemed to find everything about the situation normal, though we both know “Normal” is an apparition served up to make life bearable.  

“Who are you?” I said, and he replied, “I’m your great-great grandfather’s older brother, so a connection of sorts before adding, almost as an afterthought, “Have you found love, I never did?” It seemed an odd question, but perhaps it was question he kept asking himself and anyone he met: I did not reply!

To explain, I am a man approaching his seventieth birthday, whose life has been a patchwork of misfortune and good luck, and here before me was a character claiming to be my relative: a man I’d never heard of in my entire life.

“You might recognise the chair you are sitting in” he said, and when I looked down at it, indeed I did. It was the armchair I had inherited from my father, killed when I was young and a sentimental resting place I relaxed in after working in my study.

I raise my eyes to his, no-doubt filled with unease, and he said, “There is something odd about that chair, clearly. Those in it are sometimes posted to another time although only to people who have previously owned it, as you do, if only for an interlude. Would you like a drink while you are here?”

“Yes please, a large whisky would be nice” I said and he smiled, “My favourite tipple too” Every life’s a battle between the lies and the unsettling truth or at least mine has been. How about you?

“ Do you speak  in anything apart from profundities” I asked. “I thought it was about surviving and supporting your family” but still I think I knew what he meant: I hope I did. I looked back at the wreckage which was my past and laughed as people do when they meet someone who  might understand them. He replied. “If you meet someone who has travelled through time you don’t tend to waste the moment discussing the weather, or at least I don’t” and he smiled.

“What year is it anyway?” I asked and he told me it was 1906. From my pocket I pulled out my mobile phone and said to him, “Do you know what this is?“ and he smiled and shook his head so I continued, “There are going to be many changes and events in your future but I will let you discover them for yourself. ” I did not want to alarm or depress him by saying his world was moving towards the numbing destruction which was the First World War!

Strangely, he seemed almost untroubled by my reticence and said, “The essentials are the same: you know everything changes but then nothing does”

As he said that I moved from one “present” to another or awake; you take your pick: the whole thing seemed a fantasy apart from the glass I was holding in my hand!

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A Passing Memory

Sitting with my wife and grown-up son waiting to board the train to Cornwall I saw a lady from my past walk by, catching my eye as she had so many years before. She was my first wife and the woman I loved and lost before the time I had discovered the conflict between appetite and judgement.

She said nothing but her eyes asked “Do you miss me?” and the answer will always be “Yes.” Back in those reckless years I indulged in a night of passion with a colleague only to discover a month later that she was pregnant:the matter was made worse by the fact that soon all at work heard the news and the unspoken question to me was “Are you honourable,” though clearly I was not.

Like many men of appetite I pretend to be moral with those who do not know me, and that pretence caught me in its grasp, forcing me from the marital home: abortion was not an option in those years and standing by the woman, any woman you had placed in social jeopardy, the unspoken rule.

She,my first wife said she would forgive me and I remember her crying as she said it: I was crying, as I told her the news, aware of how I had allowed myself to lose her presence and fall through a trap-door into that pitiless and indifferent darkness we call misery: I am left acting “happy” while self-knowledge eats me from within: non-committal and merciless.

On instinct I found myself rising from my seat and hurrying after my first wife, my dear and only love, who I had not seen in thirty years. I grabbed her arm and turning her round said to those familiar always treasured eyes “Don’t you miss me?”  I knew I could never lie again when I was with her. “You were always more in love with yourself than me” she said before freeing her arm and walking from my life again.

Turning round I saw my wife, the controller, staring up at me and with my son at her side. She said. “ Do not come to Cornwall!”  

The truth, it seems, is best avoided  and seldom comforting!

Posted in creative writing, Fiction, Love, Peter Wells, Relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Meeting A Home Truth!

I’d entered the winner’s circle: wealth, travel and: ( check,check,check. ) women:  mine and any one else’s I could charm. I could walk into any restaurant and they would say, “On us sir” and I would nod, because modesty is part of the package. I was a known speaker, whose financial visions had been aired on television. I had children by more than two women, all of them cherished and nurtured because that’s what civilised people do. My money was my own to spend in my lifetime, but my children could inherit my insights to light their future, and trust in their own abilities.

All, well and good. Pat on the back for the big man, and mine’s a large one. Oh yes, I could  ” Hang out”  with the crowd and sniff a line of something: drink without regard to safety and spread the word that life’s a party once you find the invitation. Sometimes I might go “missing after action” and wander the streets recalling fragments of my childhood.

I am the product of Manchester parents, a cleaner and a decorator, later divorced. My childhood was scrapped together in those fleeting moments when my father was sober enough to remember he had a home, and my mother was not accepting her compensations from passing strangers. Me and my older sister used to sit up in the attic pretending we had parents, and that somewhere just out of sight, there really was a field of green.

My sister is my only friend: my constancy. She lives a quiet life married  to a man of routine and then there is me. I have been that watchful, wild man, who knows more than he should and takes more than is his, because we are all bandits are we not: some braver than others?  I walk through a landscape of my own making and leave others to talk of world peace and comfort themselves with new furnishings, until now that is.

Out late at night, and slightly drunk, I met a lady sitting on a step, and of similar mind to mine, staring up at what London street lights allow us to enjoy of the night sky. She looked at me and her face filled with recognition.  “Your that famous fucker” she said and I nodded as modestly as drunks  can do. Just as I was about to accept her admiration she followed up with “You’re full of shit, and the sad thing is you know it.”

Truth is seldom comfortable  and often arrives unexpectedly so I was silent and then I asked her “What her grief was?” and she introduced me to her life. She had been a photographer in Afghanistan, recording the pain and trauma of a besieged population. She had travelled across the Arctic, and sat in deserts in India swapping languages. ” And as for you, ” she said, ” You made money and used it to avoid criticism: the cowards victory. Do something better with yourself.”   I offered to help her, of course, because that’s what patrons do, but she just laughed it off and walked into the night. Brave and independent. she was a women who travelled through life without the aid of maps.

The light does not shine on every diamond. Some jewels are wrapped in modesty and never worn for display, but in her anger, born of weariness and contempt, she brought me to a life of context. In her I found another sister.

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Life By Chance

It was only an hour since we’d met. She had missed her train and I missed mine, both of which were taking us to different parts of the country. Now we had to wait for five hours, or six in her case to catch the next connection.  

I bent to pick up the small parcel she had dropped and, while she thanked me, we both noticed there was only one table left in the waiting room and, with a smile, we took the unspoken agreement to share it.

Don’t ask me the why or how, or if stars were aligned, fates joined or destiny was speaking through the railway timetable but as we talked, it was if doors opened into our hearts and we shared connections richer than any I thought possible.  

Although our schools were single sex and catholic, it turned out that she had been to the girl’s school in the same town as mine, both of which shared some of the same teachers. From there we moved to music, food, a sprinkle of political leanings and anything else our minds drifted towards: there was a synergy only the gods could have thought of and we revelled in their kindness.  As the hour hands drifted slowly towards the time when we should part, there was an urgency about our conversation it would be hard to miss. Let me explain. 

She was going to Manchester to stay with her sister for an indefinite period owing to some catastrophe in her personal life, and I was going to Southampton from where I was sailing to America, probably never to return, touched as I was by the recent death of my wife and the decision to live with my daughter and her husband who had made their homes over there. 

Finally as the time ticked away a sort of panic filled me, and I could see it mirrored in her face. To make light of the moment I picked a coin out of my pocket and said “Look, heads we get married, tails we don’t. What do you say?” and she replied, “What do we have to lose!”

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A Sip Too Far

I am married, have been for many years, and you can tick the boxes on all manner of shared activities from shopping to watching foreign box sets on television and the occasional holiday at an unfashionable coastal resort. My wife cooks delicious food and we both have figures which bare testament to her abilities: in short to the average gaze we are the essence of a stable and harmonious couple but there is an area where “No comment “ may be the politest thing to say and that is within the bedroom or any other area where an active imagination might encourage you to express yourself.

As time passed it seemed as if I was harbouring an untamed wolf somewhere on the borders between raw instinct and my wish to be civilised. I suffered the lack of closeness as best I could without revealing my inner torment to my wife, friend or any passing stranger: that is what the polite man does I understand. All well and good until …

I work for the customs and excise department as a VAT inspector and try and carry out my work in a professional and impersonal manner as far as possible: always have.

Pine Furnishings made bespoke items which, it boasted, could add lustre to any room and the boss, Helen Patterson was on hand when I came to inspect her books. It being a small company I worked in the same office as her and as I worked my way through the ledgers I caught her smiling at me regularly and crossing her legs in, can I say, a less guarded manner than is customary.

I discovered an irregularity in one month followed by another, and the possible inclusion of invoices which were not associated with the company. I made a note of these so I could discuss them with her at the end of my visit. After a while she leaned over to offer me a cup of tea and, you’ve guessed it, her blouse was not as buttoned up as you would expect in a work environment.

I did my best not to look but I could not resist taking one peek and then another and I saw her smirking softly to herself, but still I couldn’t detach myself from that longing which was threatening to overwhelm me.

When she returned from the kitchen area with the tea she said “Why don’t you come over here?” pointing at the sofa and, of course, I know I shouldn’t have but I did. Once seated beside her she placed her hand on my chest and then the back of my neck saying “You’re such a nice man” and before I could stop myself I was leaning in and kissing her, almost pushing her into the sofa.

Immediately she sprang up and said, “What you have just done has been recorded on video and if anything untoward is entered in your report that film will be emailed to your head of department. Can you sign the certificate to show all is good and then you can go.” Her change in manner was remarkable!

When I got home, a little earlier than expected my wife greeted me with her habitual warm indifference, and I tried to pretend that I was returning from another uneventful day, but we know differently don’t we!?

If I did nothing all might be fine for a year, I hoped, but in the following year some new auditor, who might well be immune to her charms, might spot the errors I had ignored and pass the query up to my superiors: in the meantime I lacked the courage to own up to my conduct. I discovered that secrets can become the prison you pretend to others does not exist; and becoming exiled from your home the price of your escape!

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Courting In Seven Pints

My club was actually I pub I visited three times a week in the afternoons when only the lost are drinking. I bought my pint and glanced at my non-existent watch as though time was in short supply before retreating to a corner table and reading the news on my mobile phone as if it might affect my life. Three visits a week only because I’ve got £20 to spend a day and that doesn’t go far, even for a man who just wants to lose himself.

Day after day in this northern town which is my new home and where I know nobody, I walked the streets as if I had a purpose and then retreated to my single room, free of pictures or romance, to reflect on ruin and friendship’s ebbing glance: poverty enjoys a limited social life..

Week after week I sat there, often alone but sometimes in the company of other souls, spaced out across the bar through embarrassment and drinking what they could afford. The barmaid, Nuala, don’t ask me where that name came from, always smiled at people as if they’d made her day and in between serving the occasional customer walked round the bar polishing the pumps and then tables: it was the same each time I saw her.

“That’s a lot of cleaning for one girl with a whole pub  to attend to as well” I said, and she replied “You’ve got that right!” Her face was pretty, engaging you might say, though she was over-large below the neck in the opinion of those fashion magazines my wife read when I still knew her, before she divorced me, took most of my money, the children and moved to the house of my ex-boss shortly after I was sacked.

I am not a bitter man, that takes too much energy but I am lost if you can understand that: alcohol is my holiday and strangers provide my only solace: “The Falcon” was club where I went to gain a sense of company. Nuala had that friendliness which says “This is just brochure” in case you tried to take her literally, but I took her literally anyway.

One day, driven by madness, I spent part of my twenty pounds on a cloth and general polisher and half way through my drink, rose from my table and began cleaning the surfaces near me. “What are you doing she said?” and she sounded more puzzled than angry which I liked: “I stopped asking that years ago” I said while moving to clean the next table. “You’re mad” she said and I replied “I’ve just discovered that” but somehow, despite the clumsiness and the sense this was the last card I had to play she smiled and added “Crazy mad” and I smiled because she had it in one.

Each week I returned, ordered my drink and then cleaned some tables, watched in bewilderment by her and that scattering of undirected souls who inhabited the bar in mid-afternoon.

One day I said, “I cannot buy you a meal or do anything grand but we could get some fish and chips when you get off” and she said “We could” and so we did.

Through her I also got a job at the same bar, working in the evening when they are busier and my income is now £35 a day. Between us we are rich if you don’t want foreign holidays and sometimes, on an evening off we can afford a meal: contentment has visited me and Nuala is the angel who holds the door open to that blessing. I love her and she accepts me willingly.

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Bunter Macingtosh Discusses His Ancestry

Those who know me recognise “Curiosity” is my middle name: I might have startled the odd cat in my search for knowledge but never killed one, I hope, while discovering the magic of dipping apple slices into chocolate sauce, an experience which adds luxury to my television viewing. This drive to learn “What is round the next corner” recently found me reading old letters sent between a deceased aunt, and my late grandmother.

It seems, in Victorian times, some distant ancestor, Bathsheba Splattersby by name, who worked behind the scenes at Windsor Castle, spent some time sharing the wonders of horizontal gymnastics with a resident Prince while hiding in a laundry room, resulting in the birth of my great ,great–grandmother: that’s the story anyway, according to my family and, let’s faces it, it adds glamour to an otherwise lustre-free life spent exploring various careers from taxi-driver through to my current occupation as an undertaker’s assistant. “Keep it glum, and lay off the chewing gum,” as my boss says, “And the job is yours for life.”

All well and good, sorted and ducks politely in a row until, oh joy of joys, his eminence, a royal prince is paying us a visit during a tour of our area.

I line up with other staff members, all dressed in somberest black, but now wearing grins of splendid welcome as befits the occasion: no gum obviously!  At last the prince reaches me and says, “Enjoy your job do you?” and with an eye on the boss I say “Oh yes Prince@@@” or may I call you cousin @@@. Eyebrows are wiggled so to save the time it would take them to ask me additional questions I add, “My great grandmother,  Beth Spattersby and Prince xxxxxx enjoyed a spot of bedroom pilates up at Windsor and I’m one of the results.”

Just to show that I was not awkward when dealing with relatives, I told him I was holding a “Cousins Party” back at 24 Lynchmore Crescent on Saturday and he was more than welcome to join us.

“That’s enough now” said my boss, not enjoying the revelation as much as I expected so I just tapped his Royalness on the lapel and said “Always nice to keep in touch with relatives. How’s the Queen by the way?”

Oddly, the Prince moved on without offering a reply leaving my boss to glance backwards at me in a manner which suggests promotions may not be forthcoming in the near future.

Is it time to seek out new career I ask myself!

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