My Father In Reflection
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Three Short Fiction Stories from my Father.
Dusting Off The Angler!
“You don’t like me, do you?” The question was put directly and without any preamble.
Geoffrey Wright was sitting on the bench, sprawled would have been a better word. His boots were on the floor in front of him, and he was wiggling his toes. He looked up, his toes stopped moving and he regarded the speaker with a puzzled gaze.
“Are you talking to me, Harry?”
“Yes, I’m talking to you, Mister Wright.” The last two words were spoken with distinct venom, which even the other players in the dressing room recognised.
“I see. Would you care to explain to me what in God’s name you are going on about?”
“I said that you didn’t like me. I thought that was plain enough.”
Geoffrey sat up straight, his aching feet forgotten. “Harry, be a good chap and explain what it is that’s biting you.”
“You don’t like me, because I’m a dustman. You don’t like me because I ain’t like you, a big company director, with a BMW, a big house and prizes for being the champion bloody angler in Surrey. You don’t like me because I’m only a humble bloody dustman, picking up your rubbish once a week for a living. And you don’t like me because I’m a better footballer than you.”
“Harry, I have never heard such a lot of old cobblers in all my life. I hope you won’t object if I remind you that we are due back on the field in two minutes and we are losing 2-1.”
Harry Brent was not finished yet. “And that’s another thing, why are you the bloody skipper?”
There was a howl of derision from the other players, all busily putting on their boots again, or fixing their shin guards. “Shut up, Harry, you dozy pillock. Let’s get on with the game.”
They trotted out on to the muddy strip of grass which masqueraded as a football pitch, lining up opposite their opponents, the regulars at the Fox and Ferret. Pub football was serious stuff. Harry Brent, still glowering and muttering to himself, wandered down to take his position in goal, while Geoffrey Wright assumed his spot on the right of the back four. It was a hard fought match, and, the Rose, the team that the two antagonists played for, drew level in the 73rd minute with a superb right foot shot from Billy Mills, whose tee total habits made many question his eligibility to play for any football team purporting to represent a pub. Just before the final whistle, Billy was tripped inside the penalty box, and the referee pointed to the penalty spot, amid howls of protest from the Fox. Micky Duff, the local butcher, with a kick like a mule, walked back ten paces, turned, charged in, and scored.
The locals at the Rose, players as well as spectators, were delighted, and began whistling to remind the referee of his duties. In one last desperate attack, the Fox’s forwards swarmed around their opponents’ goal. The ball swung over from the right, and in the goalmouth, the attackers and defenders rose to meet it. As Geoffrey Wright climbed, Harry Brent rushed from his goal to punch the ball clear. The goalkeeper and his defender collided in mid air and fell heavily, the strongly built Wright on top of the slight keeper. Everyone heard the crack as the pair tumbled to earth, everyone on the pitch, and nearly everyone recognised the sound of a breaking bone. The other players hauled Geoffrey off the smaller Harry, who lay still.
The centre forward of the Fox pushed his way through. “Let me past, I’m a doctor.” He knelt in the muddy goal area, the other players standing in silence. The doctor looked up, his face a stony mask. “It’s his neck, it’s broken. Someone get a mobile and phone for an ambulance.”
Blue lights flashing, and sirens screeching, the ambulance braked to a halt at the A & E at St Peters. Some of the players arrived in their cars, still in their mud stained strip. It was too late. Harry Brent was dead on arrival.
Billy Mills and Micky Duff stood in a corner whispering softly, as if out of respect for the dead man.
“Funny thing, Billy, you know old Harry was giving Geoff’s missus one?”
“He was screwing Geoff’s old lady, and here you are, Harry’s dead. Strange, innit?”
“Are you suggesting it wasn’t an accident?”
“I dunno, but Geoff is as jealous as hell where Veronica is concerned, and the word is that he knew all about it.”
“Christ!” Billy had suddenly turned pale. “Geoff has asked me to go sea fishing with him next weekend.”
Micky looked puzzled. “Yeah, so what?”
“Well I’m screwing his missus too.”
Talk Your Way Out Of This
It was a largish room, with a long table in the middle and a dozen or so chairs scattered around it. The room seemed smaller as piles of signs, bit of piping and redundant furniture impinged on its purpose, that of a meeting room. I leaned back in my chair and could see the front gate and part of tank seven through the dirt streaked window. I looked at the two men sat opposite me, the elder of the pair also leaning back in his chair, viewing the scene with what seemed to be a detached air.
The younger man opposite coughed unhappily. “Can we break for a smoke?”
“OK. Twenty minutes long enough?”
George nodded and scuttled away.
I looked at my watch. “1020, Steve, interview suspended.”
Steve, sitting to my left, nodded and made a note.
“All OK with you, Doug?” I looked across the table.
The other man got to his feet slowly. “Right, in a moment then.” He went out, followed at a distance by Steve and I.
The cold winter morning was a blessing after the artificial heat of the office and was welcome. It also reminded me that I needed to relieve myself. Doug was at the urinal, his lit pipe clenched between his teeth as he zipped up his fly. He went to wash his hands, a feat achieved with the pipe still in his mouth.
“What do you think, John?” He held the pipe by the bowl and pointed outside the toilets.
I zipped up before answering him. “You’re his shop steward. What do you think?”
“I think the bastard’s lying.”
I nodded. “I agree, let’s see how he talks his way out of this.”
As we walked back to the office he grasped my arm and stopped me. “John, don’t get me wrong. I’ll stick up for my blokes, when they deserve it, but if they have been thieving from the Company, you can fucking hang them as far as I am concerned.”
“No dispute on that one, Doug.”
We reassembled in the stuffy meeting room.
“Right, George, let’s just run over the facts. On 27th you returned to the terminal with one full compartment of 5000 litres. You declared this and said that the foot valve must have stuck. Right so far?”
“So the controller rang Granada to tell them their delivery was short and they said that the same thing happened one week earlier, on 20th when they also had a shortage of 5000 litres. You had done that job as well, but had not declared any product on board on return to the terminal.”
“I didn’t steal it.”
I put two circular flat discs on the table between us. They were about five inches in diameter. “You know what these are?”
“They’re tacho discs”.
“Right, and that is your signature?”
The man hesitated and I thought he would deny it. “Yes,” he conceded reluctantly.
I put two typed reports on the desk and turned them around to face George. “And these are the analytical reports from Aston University on what journeys are represented by these discs. I have also driven the route myself.”
“Yeeeesssss.” Christ, it was like extracting teeth.
“They show you were stopped for 20 minutes at Park Service Station on the evening of 20th.”
“Yes, the dealer is a mate of mine.”
“He says he never saw you.”
“He’s a lying bastard.”
“I thought he was a mate.”
“Not when he’s lying.”
“On 27th you stopped there for four minutes.”
I tapped the report. “That’s what it says in there.”
George shrugged, and looked to Doug for help. Doug was carefully examining his fingernails.
“The report says you also stopped at two other Mobil dealers on the 27th, for short periods. George, I‘ll tell you what happened. On 20th, at Granada, you fooled the nineteen-year-old assistant manageress into thinking you had delivered all seven pots. She is too scared to go on top of the truck to check the dips. You dropped off the spare 5000 litres at Park and came home. On 27th you ripped off Granada again, but this time Charlie Herd at Park was windy and wouldn’t take it, so you tried a couple more Mobil Stations and they were windy as well. So, George, old lad, you brought the full compartment back and gave the controller some spiel about a sticking foot valve. How am I doing?”
Doug, Steve and I looked at George, who was now rubbing his pursed lips.
“I think I’d better tell you the truth.”
“Go on then, we are all waiting.”
“Well, you see, I have a girlfriend, and I didn’t want my wife to know.”
“That’s normal, I understand.”
“Well, I used to meet her at Mobil service stations along my route.”
“Really, and did you meet her on 20th?”
“Yes, at Park Service Station.”
“OK, George, how do I put this? Did you have sex with her?”
“In the 20 minutes you were stopped there?”
“In the cab of my truck.”
Steve, Doug and I all stared at him. I think he was blushing.
“A classy bird was she, then, George?”
“Oh, yes, very classy is Debbie.”
“What’s Debbie’s surname?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s her address?”
He shook his head.
“How did you arrange to meet?”
“She’d phone me at work and we’d meet at a service station.”
“So, she’d phone you, and you would nominate a station and she, the nameless Debbie, would turn up and you’d have a quick bang in your cab. Is that it?”
“Yes. On the following week she wasn’t there so I called at two other sites in case she’d made a mistake, but she wasn’t there.”
“Not very romantic, George, was it?”
“George, your defence is that you were not thieving, but screwing in the truck?”
“George, I have never heard so much old bollocks in my life “
George turned in silent appeal to Doug, who got up and took his pipe from his pocket.
“Listen to what the man says, George. I’m going to have a smoke.”
“Ok, George, let me tell you what is going to happen now.”
She dove slowly, too slowly for the driver following her on the single-track road. He sounded his horn angrily, but the woman merely looked in the driving mirror and continued on her fifteen-MPH way. “Wait,” she muttered to herself. “I won’t be long.” Finally she saw what she was seeking, a small parking area on her right. She turned into it, without signalling. Her mind was too full to consider such trifles. As he roared past, the man in the car behind leaned out of his window and roared, “Learn to drive, you stupid old cow.”
The woman shrugged and switched off the engine and sat facing out to sea. Stupid old cow? Yes, probably he was right. Learn to drive? Well, I did that over forty years ago. The sea was calm, little white tops skipping easily up to the tiny beach, just as it had been on the day, what fifty years ago? The clouds drifted lazily, allowing the weak sun occasional chances to peep around them and turn the water from dark to a lighter blue. She sat there for a long time, just staring at the sea, but only seeing that day, that awful day.
After some time, she didn’t know how long it was, she got out of the car and stood for a few seconds, pulling her dark wool coat tighter around her. Was it really fifty years? Yes, 1955, a different time and a different world. She had been eight and Katy six. They had been coming to this isolated place in Cornwall for their holidays ever since she could remember. The long drive from London, the terrible traffic queues in those pre motorway days. Dad’s new Rover 90, the smell of leather and car polish. Those smells were still in her nostrils. She raised her head and sniffed, turning round as if expecting to see her Dad sitting on the car’s bonnet smoking his pipe while her mother spread out the picnic things on the grass.
Mum and Dad, Emma and Katy, a perfect family. Everyone said so, so it must have been true. Well, Katy had been perfect, again they all said so, Mum, Dad and Katy herself. Perhaps you were, sister dear, but it isn’t how I remember it. She walked to the edge of the car park. They have railings here now. That’s new, there hadn’t been any fifty years ago. That was part of the problem they had said, no railings. Emma looked over the edge at the rocks about two hundred feet below, the sea lapping in and out. They had been sisters, but never friends. Looking back it must have been jealousy. Katie had been everything Emma had not been, pretty, slim, blonde and popular. People liked her, especially Mum and Dad. The sisters had fought a great deal, sometimes physically. Most of all they had fought about the radio which her father had bought and given to Katy to take on the holiday. She, Emma, should have had it. After all, she was older. But then, Katy got everything and Emma got nothing. Of course she mused, that was how it seemed. After fifty years she knew it had not been true. A bit late now, you silly old cow.
She hadn’t known at the time what an inquest was. It had been just a big room with lots of people, including Mum and Dad and a man asking questions. “Accidental death,” he had said. Mum and Dad had never been the same and her mother had simply withered away. Her father grew distracted and distant as he saw his wife go into an irreversible and terminal decline. After his wife’s death he had taken to drinking before cutting his wrists at the age of fifty. It had been the edges of the cliff, the Coroner had said. They had been crumbling for years. He ordered that strong fences be constructed.
Emma walked back to the car and took out a bouquet of flowers. Bloody radio, why did they argue so much over it? Roses, not English at this time of year surely? It didn’t matter. She removed the wrapping paper and the rubber band around the stalks. Slowly she returned to the edge of the cliffs, separating the flowers as she went. ‘Brave girl’, the Coroner had said, ‘for being so strong after her sister’s death. You must be strong, he told her, for your mother and father.’
She tossed the red roses high into the air, where they seemed to hang motionless for an eternity before being picked up by the wind and blown away, some back to the cliff edge, some to the sea. “Sorry, Katy that it has taken me so long to come back. I just couldn’t do it.” She checked the pocket of her coat. The letter was still there. Emma slipped out of her coat and put it on the front seat of the car.
She climbed over the railing and stood for a moment looking down. “I’m so sorry, Katy. Dammed radio. I shouldn’t have pushed you.” She stepped forward.
Written by BM