Another 2007 story that was originally posted elsewhere under "The Wanderer" by-line. I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills for their assistance in preparing this tale for posting.
Sorry to those of you who get confused about the situation, but in this tale we have two folk who are referred to by more than one name. For clarification, in this tale "Stella", "Estelle" and "Goldie" are all one in the same person. The Character "Gary" is also known as "Scratch". I apologise for any confusion that this might cause some readers.
Clarification: Pukka = excellent, proper or genuine: Get ones end away = have sexual intercourse.
You know what it's like! I was back in the big city, it had been a long time since I'd been back there and I was kind-a nosing around for old times sake. I'd actually been called to my company's head office for a meeting, where I thought I was going to be dragged over the coals for insubordination. But instead I got myself a promotion, so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself that day, and maybe a little too excited to undertake the long drive back home again.
I'd discovered that I had been right; the deal that my boss had claimed was going to be so lucrative for the company had turned out to be a complete stitch up. I'd told my boss that it all looked just a little too good to be true but he would have none of it; well, it turned out that I had been correct. There's not much point in going over the fine details here; suffice it to say I'd sent an email to someone I thought should know what was going on, behind my boss's back. When I sent it, I knew that I could well be ending my career in the company. As it turned out that didn't happen.
Anyway there I was in the big city, all alone and with nothing to do. I don't know why, as I said maybe for old times sake or it could have been because I was feeling on top of the world. Whatever, I thought I'd take a little detour on the journey home and pass through the area where I grew up. I think the good memories of the fun I'd had whilst living there were at the front of my mind. Or maybe I was getting melancholy for the past as I got older.
Yeah, well, I knew it would probably bring back some sad as well as happy memories of my courting days with my late wife, and I'd take a look at my parents' old house. They were both gone now; except for the kids I was pretty well on my own. I guessed it wouldn't be too many years until the children were off to university and I'd be on my own. Shit! What would my life be like then?
Yeah you get the idea, although I'd just had good news about the promotion, I was feeling melancholy about the past.
When I finally got to the old neighbourhood, things had changed a lot. The café I used to hang around at as a teenager was long gone. So had some of the shops; they'd been pulled down to make way for a massive Supermarket. I can't say that I was enamoured with the so-called "civic improvements" the local council had made to the area either.
I swung past my parents' old place, the house I was born and grew up in. It had been updated a bit, and extended; I could only just recognise the place. I stopped for a while, up the street and sat in my car staring at the old house and the street, remembering days long ago.
"Changed a bit since your day, lad!" I heard a voice say.
Looking across the road I was surprised to see old man Thomas standing in his garden smiling back at me. "Jesus, he always seemed to be an old man when I'd been a kid, he must be over a hundred now!" I thought.
"Hello, Mr Thomas. How are you keeping?"
"Still moaning at the kids for playing football in the street, lad." He grinned back at me.
"Yeah, you used to tell me off something rotten," I replied.
"It was that motorbike of yours that I really used to go on at you about. You were lucky you never killed yourself, the way you rode that thing."
"Gave up motorbikes years ago, sir. Tell me; are you the only one left? You know, from when I lived here?" I asked, ignoring his comments about how I actually rode that old Triumph Bonneville of mine.
"'Fraid-so, son! They've all moved away to greener pastures over the years. Me, well, I've got my spot next to the wife in the churchyard over there on the corner. I reckon I'll be joining her before too long."
"Somehow I doubt it, Mr Thomas. Who's going to keep all the little brats in line if you're not around?" I smiled back at him.
Without another word he smiled again and waved his goodbye, then went back into his rundown looking house.
I started the car and began the long journey home. I don't know what made me take yet another detour to the other end of the district. It could be it was old man Thomas mentioning the motorbikes. Back in the old days we had two biker cafes locally. I generally hung around at the café in the town centre. Some of the other guys hung around a café out by the factory estate.
We weren't rivals or anything, but we tended to mix with our own group most of the time. When I got to the factory estate I was surprised to see that the café was still there, only looking just a little bit smarter than I remembered it. There were no motorbikes outside like there always used to be. And a big sign hung outside said, "Café, eat in or take away."
Damn it, I was a little hungry, so I parked the car and went inside. The bell I remembered rang as I opened the door, and I saw a man's head poke out of the kitchen for a second to see who'd entered.
"Customer!" I heard him shout, but no one appeared.
I found myself a table that - although somewhat battered - didn't look dirty and sat myself down. Thoughts of a fry-up had been dispelled from my mind, by the look of the guy whom I assumed was the cook. But I still perused the menu anyway.
"Tea or Coffee?" A female voice suddenly asked from somewhere above me.
Surprised that I hadn't been aware of her approach, I looked up at the woman who'd spoken to me.
"Well, I'll be buggered, it's Scratch Caisey! What the hell are you doing back in this hell hole?" she exclaimed.
I had been taken by surprise at her arrival and my mind was wondering a little because of the excitement earlier in the day. I must have had a somewhat confused look on my face; the woman did look vaguely familiar but for some reason I couldn't place the face. Look, it is confusing when suddenly someone that you don't recognise calls you by an old nickname that you haven't used in nearly twenty years.
"You don't recognise me, do you?" she said, sounding slightly disappointed. "Stella, Stella Blakely, or Forman as I was back then." She took a step backwards from the table so that I could see her better.
"Only you always called me Goldilocks," she added with a smile.
Immediately long suppressed memories of Goldie sprang into the fore of my mind.
As you get older there are always going to be some memories - often-painful memories - which you tuck away into a part of your brain that you hope never to venture into again. Suddenly the floodgates opened and they all poured back into the conscious part of my mind.
"So Goldie had finished up marrying Toby Blakely," I thought to myself. Not a particularly good friend of mine, but I had known the guy quite well. We'd often raced each other up and down the Watford Bypass, as teenagers.
"Oh, my God! Goldie, I'm sorry but..." I exclaimed, feeling embarrassed and slightly annoyed with myself for not recognising Stella immediately. But perhaps it was something to do with the part of my mind that really didn't want to recall memories of our previous encounters.
"Don't say it! I know I've put on a few pounds and lost my looks a bit over the years," Stella said.
"On the contrary, Goldie, you're just as beautiful as you ever were. Maybe a little bit more mature and that overall doesn't do you justice. But Toby must be a fool to let you out on your own."
The expression on Stella's face changed a little and she sat down in the chair opposite me.
"Toby's gone, Scratch! He was killed on his bike about five years ago."
"Oh, God, Stella, I'm sorry!" I said, feeling even more embarrassed.
"Don't be, Scratch; he went doing what he loved best, riding his bike. But it has been hard on the kids and me. I somehow always knew it was only a matter of time though; Toby rode that bike of his like a man possessed. He was only ever really happy when he was on a bike riding faster that he should be."
"Anyway how about you? How's... ?" Stella faltered, obviously trying to remember who it was that I'd been shacked up with the last time she'd seen me. "It was Elaine that you married, wasn't it?"
"I'm in the same boat as you, Stella. I'm a widower! Elaine went three years ago, ovarian cancer! She didn't tell anyone that she was feeling ill until it was too late!"
"Oh, god, I'm sorry, Scratch. Any children?"
"Two: Jimmy's fifteen and Angela's just turned seventeen. They are good kids; I don't know what I would have done without them. How many sprogs have you got running around?"
"Two, the same as you. Their ages are remarkably similar as well. Little Toby is coming up sixteen and Claire is almost eighteen. They've been my life since Toby went."
"You taken that order yet, Stella?" The man's voice demanded from the kitchen. "You're paid to work woman, not sit around and chat all day!"
.... There is more of this story ...