Always you – Part 2

The second and final part of this short piece…

Part 1 is here

The cold metal frame of the trolley digs into my hands as we wander past the bust station, the street lights flickering into life in the growing gloom.

“It’s Just around the corner here” Tom says pointing as he shuffles along beside me, directing me down a long street of identical red brick houses that sit squat over the road like dark haired fisherman on a river bank.

Again he tells me how grateful he is and I reply and tell him that it is no problem at all.  

“Have you lived around here long?” I ask avoiding the puddles trying to keep my good work shoes dry.

“Oh yes” he says, a sense of pride in his voice.  “Been here since they went up new in the seventies.”  He straightens his flat cap and then pauses for a moment as if remembering before I jog him from his thoughts.

“This way?” I ask, shifting the weight of the trolley from one hand to the other.  I can feel the splashes of water soaking through the bottoms of my trousers. 

“Yes, yes straight on, not far now” he says pulling his coat tight around him as the rain continues to fall.  “Quite a thing it was back then you know” he continues.  “To buy our own home, took every penny we had saved up plus some we borrowed from the family.  But it was worth it in the end.”

“I’m sure it was” I reply and he leads me across the road and down a smaller side street.  Cars line one side, the water swirling and swerving around their tyres sweeping litter along.  Weeds strain through crevices in the path, and as we pass the houses the cracked paint, cluttered yards and stained net curtains tell of better times now past.

He tells me how he’s seen everything change so much over the years, and I’m reminded of my own grandparents who I see less than I should. 

“Just over there” he says and nods to a house with a neatly tended front garden and freshly creosote stained fence that stands out from the others.  The Gate squeaks as he holds it open for me and he looks almost embarrassed.

“Better get some oil on that” he says and pulls it closed behind me.

The gravel path, dark from the rain,  leads to the front door and Tom fumbles for his keys as I let him pass.  Eventually he pushes the door wide open and encourages me to head inside.

“It’s straight ahead to the kitchen” he says as I step into a small entry hall.  I’m uncertain if I should take off my shoes but head down the short hall anyway, desperate to put the trolley down. 

“Anywhere in there is fine ” he shouts taking off his coat and hanging it on a peg behind the door.  I place the trolley down gently on the light colored linoleum.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” He asks.  I check my watch.  Not sure if will even be worth going to the pub by the time I get home now.  Even so I decline politely but Tom insists and takes an old battered kettle from the stove and fills it.  “Please, take a seat” he says waving towards a small wooden table and chairs against a wall.  A biscuit barrel in the middle of the table in the shape of a bear grins at me as I sit down.  He seems grateful for the company and I find it hard to refuse.

Slipping off my coat I hang it over the back of the chair and It begins to drip onto the lino.  I start to apologise but he laughs, a glint in his eyes.  “Oh don’t worry” he says, “now if my Kathy was still here that would be another matter.  She liked things just right she did.  Very particular.”

His words are a mix of pride and sadness, and it seems to me a fair assumption that she has died.  Looking at Tom I guess he must be somewhere in his eighties at least.

“How long since you lost her?” I ask looking about. The kitchen is simple and compact with clear work surfaces and plain white cupboards.  A single plate and glass are drying next to the sink and a small vase of tulips sits on the window ledge which looks out onto the garden.  

“Oh nearly eight years now.” He looks out of the window as he drops three tea bags into a pot on a tray with two white china cups.  “One for each of us and one for the pot” he says smiling.  Steam begins to drift lazily from the kettle spout.  “You’d have liked her.” He fetches a half pint of milk from the fridge, “Everyone around here did.  Not a person she wouldn’t help if she could.”

For a while he says nothing more, concentrating on the tea.  He pours the boiling water into the pot and gives it a stir before bringing it over to the table and setting it down.    

“Do you take sugar?” he asks.

I shake my head even though I normally take two.  I don’t want him to have to do anything else.  He moves so slowly as if distracted, yet each action is so purposeful.  I wonder if this is the pattern of his days. A quiet private existence filled with the routines developed over a lifetime which are now all that is left.  

Waiting for the tea to brew he remembers that he has not yet asked my name and apologises. 

“Oh you have the same name as my father” he says when I tell him and his hand shakes as he pours the tea, the china cup clinking as he lifts it from the tray and offers it.  I accept with a thank you and add milk.  Just a little.

“So do you have any children?” I ask.  I don’t like the idea of him being alone all of the time, dragging that trolley to town once a week and then straight back home.

“No, it never happened for us.  it was just the two of us.  We would have liked a family but I guess it just wasn’t to be.”

I take a sip and add a little more milk.  

“Looks like the rain’s stopping” he says and asks if I want a biscuit, reaching for the grinning bear.

“No I’m fine thank you” I reply as he takes a KitKat from the jar and slowly opens it.

“Kathy loved a KitKat, always used to hide them from me.  I knew her hiding places mind, just pretended I didn’t.”

A distant single chime of a church bell tells me it’s half past six.  I check my watch to confirm.   I could actually probably still make it if I set off now, I might be a few minutes late but nothing major.  

“Do you need to get going?” Tom asks taking a bite of his KitKat. “It’s okay if you do, I am just so grateful for your help.  Not sure what I would have done if you hadn’t stopped to help me.”

I check my watch again and then pull my shirt cuff over it and reach for the biscuits.

“Maybe I will have one after all” I say lifting the lid on the bear barrel. “And then I’ll help you put that shopping away shall I.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always you – Part 1

At this point I remember why I wanted to work in an office.  I’ve never been any good with my hands, unless you count typing, which most people don’t.

It was raining the day I met old Tom, my light summer coat proving completely inadequate against the violent deluge that fell from the dark November sky.

“Did you not check the forecast?” Joanne asked me as I stood huddled in the office doorway as she locked up.  I started to answer but the question was more an admonishment that an actual interest in my ability to plan for meteorological eventualities.  She didn’t wait to find out though and scurried under the shop awning of the bakery next door and lit up a cigarette.

“Those things will kill you” I told her trying to be funny.  Her withering glance told me I had been anything but.

“See you tomorrow then.” I shouted. 

She nodded and waved as she took a long drag on the cigarette, the embers lighting up the sharp features of her mostly unremarkable face.   

Waving back I turned as the rain cut through the pall of silver smoke and pulling my coat around me as best as I could headed off to catch the bus.

The number 45 runs just a few minutes from my place and If I hurry I’m thinking I might catch the Five-twenty which means I will be home before six and at the pub by seven.

Not wanting to get my good work shoes too wet I avoid the puddles as best as I can and trying to stay under cover I head past rows of unremarkable shops all closing for the night.  Lights blink out and shutters rumble closed as people, seemingly as grey as the sky above, head home after another day not wholly different to the day before and likely quite similar to tomorrow.

The place has certainly seen better times I think to myself, and that’s when I saw him.  

He had the posture that only age can bring, hunched over an old blue shopping cart and the rain cascadied onto his flat cap and spilled down his long brown coat.  

“You alright mate?” I ask him checking my watch.  I’d normally not bother asking but somethign about him said he needed help.  And if everythign is okay there’s still time to get the five-twenty.    

He looks up slowly, his face long and gaunt with thin lips and deep set dark eyes.

“Bloody wheel’s come off” he says pointing a long bony finger at the right side of the trolley, which I can now see is sitting quite lopsided.  “Typical when I’ve just bought my week’s shop.”  He shakes his head and fumbles with the wheel.

I tell him I’ll take a look if he wants and he nods appreciatively. “My eyes aren’t great, thanks” he says.

At this point I remember why I wanted to work in an office.  I’ve never been any good with my hands, unless you count typing, which most people don’t. That said even with my limited knowledge I do know though that it looks knackered and tell him so.

“Oh that’s no good” he says shaking his head and he asks me if I think he needs a new one.

“What do I know” I think to myself and check my watch.  If I don’t leave now It’ll be gone eight before I get to the pub.

I nod and scratch my chin as if I’m suddenly a shopping trolley mechanic.  “Do you need a hand with it?  Are you going far?”

“Oh yes please” he says, his face brightening.  “Are you sure?”

I shake my head and tell him it’s not a problem really and he smiles.  “Not too far” he says, “it will only take ten minutes.”

 

The place where he once sat

In her final few years, her family now long gone,  she would simply sit and watch the seasons change from her chair in front of the window.

The challenge…In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a chair on a porch. Why is it there, and what might it mean? Think about using it as a prop or the main thrust of your story.

The deadline for the piece has passed but I figured I’d write it anyway.  

 


In her final few years, her family now long gone,  she would simply sit and watch the seasons change from her chair in front of the window.

As memories faded into nothing, time racing by unrelenting, neighbourhood children passed by and waved occasionally before running off excitedly.  Spring enticed summer, and autumn blew away into winter and always she watched.

When snow fell she would pull a small blanket across her knees.   It was the one he had given her all those years ago.  Before he left.  She smiled to herself and waited, he would be home soon surely.

 

https://carrotranch.com/2017/11/02/november-2-flash-fiction-challenge-2/