Here, for a change, I’m sharing a story I wrote a couple of years ago. It began with a prompt about the wind whistling through an open, or broken, window. I thought about an abandoned inn and some people who might have frequented it in the past.
Today I give you part 1 of the story which is in 3 parts. Parts 2 and 3, which are shorter, will be posted together on Wednesday 7th December.
Meanwhile, if you want to read more of my stories you can purchase my collection, Prompt Responses at $0.99 from Amazon.co.uk by clicking here. Better still, if you include your e-mail address in a comment below, I’ll send you a coupon code to enable you to get it free in the digital format of your choice.
I call the story “Remembering Barry Davies”. The first part is told by a former girl friend.
Remembering Barry Davies
The wind is rushing through a broken window. Down below, the sea thunders against the rocks sending clouds of spray over the cliff edge. That cliff edge is much closer now than it was when we first came here. I suppose that is why the old pub has been abandoned. Back then there was a small garden with tables. We preferred to sit outside with my g&t and your pint of real ale, watching the gulls’ antics and listening to the crash, hiss and suck of the waves, only sitting in the snug when driven inside by summer storms. We never saw this place in winter. In my mind it will always be summer here. That glorious summer when I knew you and shared part of my life with you.
I wonder if you remember how we met in that bar on the seafront? I was out with two of the girls from work. You were with colleagues too. Younger than you, they were eager for pick-ups. I sensed straight away that you were married. You stayed on the edge of the group, observing; your face registering amused interest. I too was on the fringe of the group. My young companions deep in conversation with your lads, laughing, flirting shamelessly, allowing themselves to be jostled closer to the boys as people pushed their way through the throng to get to the serving point.
We looked at each other and smiled. Both spoke at once, apologised, complained about not being able to hold a conversation above the noise of a dozen shouted interchanges. The others were heading to the Winter Gardens, to what we used to call “The Bag’s Ball”. It was a place where women whose husbands were away working on the rigs would go to find male company. I favoured the disco although it was a little way out of town, too far to walk. I offered you a lift and you accepted.
I don’t think we did much dancing, just sat watching and chatting. We got on so well together. You confirmed what I’d already guessed. You were married with a family whom you loved. You had come here to carry out some maintenance at one of the big factories on the other side of town. You were staying in a small hotel just around the corner from my flat. When we got there I parked outside my own front door and invited you up for coffee. You declined. I leaned across and kissed you. I could sense you were shocked by that. You had your hand on the door handle. You hesitated; I think you were on the verge of changing your mind about coffee. Your innate common sense must have won out, for you got out of the car, wished me good night and good luck and were gone.
I thought that was the last I had seen of you; a pleasant evening, a delightful adventure that had ended, as so many of my dalliances did, with disappointment. Why, I asked myself as I made my cocoa, did I so often allow myself to become involved with married men? I wondered if I would ever find an interesting man who was free to form a permanent attachment. I resolved to stop wasting my time with men who enjoyed the thrill of an affair more than they cared for my feelings. So, when you rang me at work the following week and said you’d heard about a place where there was live music you’d like to try out and would I care to join you, I knew I should make some excuse and decline. Instead I heard myself tell you I would be delighted.
The next week we decided to drive down the coast a short way which is how we discovered this little old pub. We thought at first it was closed; the parking spaces at the front were empty. The front door was in need of a coat of paint. The enameled signs advertising the local brew were chipped but the brew itself, you assured me later, was excellent. And so it became our special place. Every Thursday evening throughout that summer we came here for a drink and a chat. Then back to my place where I’d cook us a light supper and we would listen to music on the stereo. My ’70s nostalgia albums seemed to suit the mood, somehow. Barbra Steisand singing “The Way we Were” or Kris Kristofferson “Help me Make it Through the Night”.
We never made love. We came tantalisingly close several times but you always held back; said it wouldn’t be fair to me or to your wife. You told me you were “fond” of me. Funny word that. I chose to believe you meant you loved me but were afraid to say so. I know now, if I didn’t then, that I was in love with you. Why else am I here now, all these years later?
A gull just swooped down, caught the wind and soared up to land on the roof. There are several loose tiles up there and a place where the timbers are exposed. There is an extension that wasn’t here when we frequented the place. A sign says RESTA ANT, the S hanging upside down. It reminds me of something I read in one of the local papers Mum used to send me. One of the last I think, not long before she died. There was one of those advertising features about the place, how the new proprietors had turned it into a gastro pub. I wonder how long it lasted before the sea came too close?
Our summer ended all too soon. Your project came to a close and you stunned me with the news that you had been offered a permanent position here, at the factory where you had been working. You and your family would be coming to live here, in my home town. You had already started looking at houses. What was I to do? I couldn’t go on living here, knowing that I could bump into you any day on the street or in the supermarket, you playing happy families and me still a lonely spinster. So I asked about positions in another branch of the bank; one as far away from here as possible.
I took your advice and studied to improve my qualifications. The Open University is a marvelous institution. I met George, my late husband, at one of their summer schools. Unlike you, he was older than me. His wife had been killed in a road accident and he was struggling to come to terms with it. Just like us, we delighted in each other’s company. He said meeting me had helped him deal with his grief. When he asked me to marry him I did not hesitate. We were both too old to think about having children, concentrating on our respective careers instead. We had thirty good years together, traveled a lot. George worked for one of the big oil companies. In most of the places he was posted to I was able to secure short term engagements lecturing at a nearby university. I considered myself lucky; I saw so many beautiful sights and experienced so much. Visited places that most people never get to see.
And yet I never forgot our summer together. Could never hear any of those old songs without thinking of you. Right up until she died my mother used to send me copies of the local paper so that, wherever I was in the world, I always kept in touch with events back home. So I know a little about what happened to you; how you led a campaign to keep open a school threatened with closure. Did you know it was my old school, I wonder? That led to you becoming a councilor; you were mayor one year; was it 1995 or ‘6?
You also started a successful business. Left your job at the factory and set up your own design consultancy. That surprised me at first, I never had you pegged as a risk taker. Then I realised that by then your children were grown up and making their own way in life so you were free to take a chance. It seems to have worked out for you. The factory you came to work in is long gone now, replaced by a modern business park. One of the units bears the legend BDD, derived, I know, from Barry Davies Designs. I asked someone about it and they told me you sold up just before the recession and went to live in the South of France somewhere.
I picture you sitting on a sunny terrace, white hair curling out from under a straw hat, a glass of something cold glistening on a table beside you. You are reading a heavy looking book. I remember you told me you would love to have the time to read the classics of literature. Now you are retired I guess you do. Your wife, in a white cotton blouse and pale blue skirt, potters in the garden below the terrace, collecting flowers for some artistic arrangement. Not the life I’d choose. If I beat this disease – and my oncologist says the prognosis is good – when I’m well enough I intend to go traveling again.
We never made it to South America, George and I. There always seemed to be a revolution happening whenever the opportunity came up. I would really like to see the Amazon rain forest and Machu Pichu before I die.
Behind your stone built house, as I picture it, there are vine clad hills and in the distance, beyond the garden, a glimpse of deep blue ocean. Nothing like the grey waters that menace our old trysting place.
In a way, my journey around our old haunts has been, like our original affair, a bit of a let down, an anti-climax. Just as well, I suppose. What could we have possibly said to each other had we met, as I’d dared to hope we might?