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Maureen’s Story: Falling In Love Again?

Fifty-one and going out on a date! Who’d have thought it.

He pulled up outside the house – some would say, in today’s dating world, that letting someone know where you live is a risky strategy – but I’m old school and trusting, I’m not sure I buy into all that nannying! He seemed like a nice enough man on the phone, and that’s good enough for me.

I peeped through the Venetians and hoped he hadn’t seen me. That’s fair enough isn’t it, wanting to check out if he looked as good as he sounded? Nothing wrong with that. Anyway, he did…I think. I like a man who looks after himself, and even though I could just make out a slight stretching of his shirt over the tummy area, everything else looked dandy. He still had hair, polished his shoes, and had obviously pressed his trousers and shirt. Good job he wasn’t wearing jeans, because if I’d seen any evidence of pressed jeans it would have been a no no, and my best mate come wing-woman Sandra, would have been sent a text immediately, informing her that an emergency phone call was required within the hour. That’s what mates are for, and I have played that role many a time.

Anyway, Paul sauntered up the path, pressing that key fob thing without looking (smooth) so that his car doors locked – yes, I was still nosing – adjusting his shirt and fiddling with his hair as he came and knocked on the door. I left it for a minute or so while I descended the stairs, always good to keep them waiting, and opened the door with a big smile and a sort of ‘I’m not quite ready’ (but of course I was) air about me.

‘Come on in, I’ll just be a minute, running slightly late’, I said. Poor thing.

‘Oh god, am I early? Sorry….’, he said, anxiously. Poor thing.

‘No no, it’s me, I’m a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda girl. Come on in. Make yourself at home. I’ll be 2 mins.’ And I was gone. Poor thing.

Of course, this was all a pack of lies as I’m one of the most organised people I know, anally so. So, I was reduced to sitting on my bed waiting til I thought the time was right to reappear. I couldn’t really down a glass of Dutch-courage wine as our date was a day date. Yes, you heard right, a day date…..what’s that all about, I mean, what’s the world coming to? What’s happened to going to bar, all dolled up and getting royally slewed together. Doesn’t happen nowadays apparently, it’s all about ‘the conversation’. Anyway, I’d agreed to it, so that was that.

just as an aside, talking of getting all dolled up….trying to decide on something to wear on a ‘day date’ nearly finished me off. I mean really, how do you know what to wear? Smart casual is always safe, but it sort of reminds me of work. Anyway, I did it, and we sort of seemed to match. Weird that.

After what I considered to be the right amount of time, I breezed down the stairs and into the lounge. Paul was stood by the mantlepiece looking at some photos.

‘Nice pictures. That looks like Thailand to me. Been there then?’

‘Yes, a few years ago now,’ I said. More like twenty, I thought to myself.

‘You still look exactly the same’, he said. Flatterer, I thought.

‘Ha. Well that’s very nice of you to say so.’

I offered him a coffee, which he politely declined saying something about a reservation for lunch. Impressive, I thought, I’ve clearly got myself an operator here. That’s fine with me, nice to be spoiled. So off we went, in his nice blue car, to God knows where.

The drive was about twenty minutes. I didn’t think we’d arrived at a restaurant when he pulled up.

‘Here we are’, said Paul, and out he jumped. I looked around me, slightly bewildered, and jumped out too. My date was rummaging around in the boot, he slammed it shut and appeared with a wicker basket.

‘Ready?’

‘Uh, yes, yes, indeed, ready for anything me, ready for anything.’ I’d been totally thrown off guard. The man had prepared a picnic: ground rug, shawl, umbrella, the lot.

We talked and laughed for what seemed like five minutes, in fact, it was three hours. He’d kept a safe distance, but I could tell that he was into me. We packed up the basket and headed back toward the car. We stopped close by to the little cafe and sat on a park bench. We watched the birds, listened to the brass band playing in the band stand, and he sidled up to me getting gradually closer and closer. I played at being cool. He didn’t. I was aware that people were looking at us. Maybe it was because of our age. He rested his head on my shoulder. I stared straight ahead. He looked up at me with puppy dog eyes. I felt sick. And left. Date over as quickly as that.

All that effort, all that patience, but I couldn’t help myself, he’d made his move – and a sickly one at that –  too soon.

Poor stupid thing.

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A Fiction: Life Changer

Do you ever just get in the car and drive? I mean drive without thinking about it, autopilot some might say. You can sometimes get from A to B without remembering the journey at all. Well, that will never happen to me again, never, because I will never get in a car again.

I remember the day well. It is etched in my memory until the day I die. It altered my life, irrevocable.

The sun was shining, but the day was cold. You know, one of those fiercely cold days that make you smile because you feel alive. I’d been duped by the sunshine so left the house in jeans and just a thin jumper. I turned round and went straight back in to grab my coat. Graham followed me back, as usual, but letting out an excited bark which warned me that his promised turn on The Heath was a definite goer! I wrapped my coat around me and opened the rear door for Graham to jump in, and then settled myself into the drivers side, belting up as usual.

I’ve done this journey many many times. It’s a pleasant one, one that most people would love to do, but one that I’ve now realised I take for granted. The roads are narrow and tree-lined, they border The Heath which is pretty visible no matter which angle you approach it from. I love my area, but you know how it goes when you’ve lived there for a while…….

I was working to a deadline, plus my sister’s baby had been quite ill. I was due at a party that evening, and I was thinking about the possibility of taking the next belt in my quest to dominate the Judo world. Should I eat at home before the party, or should I arrange to meet people for dinner before? My thoughts were erratic today, all over the place, and Graham was groaning in the back as he always does when journeying toward his place of freedom.

And then it appeared. From nowhere. A pushchair. I braked. It flew up in the air, or so it seemed. It flew straight ahead….or so it seemed. And also to the right and to the left. It seemed to go everywhere, and in slow motion. Why do things like this go in slow motion, why couldn’t the seconds before be in slow motion, then I’d have seen it. I know that this is an irrational request, but what the hell…..

The noise was immense, like nothing I’d ever heard. Cars were screeching to a halt. Doors were slamming. Horns were blowing. There were screams, screams like I’d never heard before, but screams that I hear all the time now.

I pulled on the handbrake and just sat, staring ahead, I simply couldn’t move. Every face that I looked at seemed to morph into what could only be described as a gargoyle, or worse, like a something from a painting by Francis Bacon that haunted me as a teen.

I came back into reality, unbuckling my seat belt as it happened, undoing the door before my belt was fully off. I was confused, stunned, incapable of saying anything even remotely coherent.

‘What happened?’ I managed. It seemed like such an inane thing to say, but nothing else would come out. I was utterly bewildered. People were staring at me, some were swearing at me. My god, what had I done? Hell was opening up in front of me. I knew that I’d run into a pushchair, and I knew that my head was full of every other kind of thought but driving. I could see a group of people kneeling on the ground, huddled around something. Time stopped. Graham barked somewhere in the background. And then she appeared. My Guardian Angel.

‘Don’t look over there dear. Stay here. Don’t go over there. I saw everything.’ Her voice was calm, as calming as aloe vera on a burn, and I immediately wanted my mother, my soothing taken-before-her-time mother. She was like my mother.

I remember being back in my car surrounded by dog noises. And then I remember being at a police station.

I was prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, but surely the mother should have been prosecuted too. I had to pay a hefty fine and my license was revoked for 6 months, at the judge’s discretion. The child died. But I had been deemed not wholly culpable because I was driving within the speed limit and my Guardian Angel had not only confirmed that, but had drawn attention to the fact that the mother had pushed the child out ahead of her so that she could check the traffic. The absurdity of that. She had come from between two parked cars, chatting to her friend, straight out into the road leaning forward to check for oncoming cars, but it was too late, I was there, killing her child.

My life would never be the same again, my life sentence had begun.

And Graham now had to walk everywhere.

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Frank’s Story: The Things We Do For Love

‘Did you do it? Did ya?’ I listened while she told me what she’d done. We laughed. We flirted, moderately. ‘You’re a star,’ I said, ‘Thanks darlin’.’

My Sergeant Major had told me he’d do, and he had. I knew he would, he was a tough bastard, Robeson.

‘Axl, you little shit. You’d better not be winding me up. Give me her number? NOW!’

Christmas leave was coming up and I’d been told it was a week. The love of my life was half way round the world. She’d been travelling for a year, and we’d hardly seen one another. We tried to speak as much as possible, but it was hard, what with my patrol duties and her island hopping. I needed to see her. And besides, Aldershot was doing my head in.

As I said, I had a weeks’ leave but needed to fly to Australia. I concocted a plan.

I’d often walk past the local travel agent in the town and was aware of the girls sat at the desks inside. My mates and I would stop and look at the latest deals, managing a cheeky peak at the totty, who were always willing to flash their pearly whites at us. Sometimes they’d wave and we’d cock our heads at them and walk on by. And then one day, I went in.

‘Alright ladies’, I said, and planted myself at the desk of the one who always blushed whenever she saw me.  What I needed was a one to one with one of them, and fortunately for me some other customers came into the office which meant that there’d be no eavesdropping.

‘So, I need to book a return flight to Perth leaving on the 23rd of December, coming back about 4 weeks later. And I need a receipt saying that I’m coming back a week from the 23rd.’

‘Soldier are you?, she said.

‘Yup, parachute regiment.’

‘Mmmm, yes. Lovely. Really? Parachuting, brave. I could never do that. Don’t you get scared? So, 23rd of Decccccember. It’s just loading. Um, sorry, what did you say? Coming back a month later, right? Ok, what have we got here then. 23rd of December, coming back a month later. Flexible by two or three days? Um, what did you say before? Coming back about a month later, but a receipt for….’

‘Yeah, a receipt saying I was coming back a week later.’

Our eyes locked. I smiled at her. She blushed, then quickly smiled and looked me square in the eye.

‘What are you up to?’

I laughed, and began to tell her my story.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Sandy, what’s yours?’

‘Frank. So, Sandy. This is what’s going on…..’

The truth was that this could have gone either way. She’d either resent me for flirting with her and tell me to F-off or she’d buy into the romance of it and fall hook, line, and sinker.

‘I’m gonna be honest with you, right. My girlfriend is backpacking around Australia and I haven’t seen her for a year. All I’ve got is one weeks’ leave coming up and I need to find a way of extending that into a month without getting into trouble. I’ll be AWOL, but can’t be. I’m desperate to see her, to make sure she’s ok, but have no way of knowing when I’ll be getting time off again. Can you help me? Please? Any chance? I’ll take you for a drink?’

She smiled at me.

‘God, you’re sooooo romantic.’ She twiddled her hair, and looked at me again. ‘Ok, yes, I’ll do it.’

‘You’re fantastic darlin’. Thanks. Um, there’s one more thing though. Sorry. You see, my sergeant major is a right bastard and he might call you, well I mean, he will call you. Would you be able to tell him that there was a flight delay problem?’

For some reason, she bought it and agreed to everything. I paid for my flight, got my dodgy receipt, and her phone number, and headed out into the cold December afternoon as smug as you like.

A few days later I landed in Perth and immediately made the call to my COS. I told him that someone had made a mistake and the dates on my ticket were for a month later. I was desperately searching for a flight home, but none were available and I was stuck. Job done.

Suffice to say, my holiday in Aus was amazing: a month of sun, sea and sand. And my love of course. Also, suffice to say…..upon my return he made the call.

Sandy was an absolute star. Not only did she remember our deal. She performed it to absolute perfection….and more. Apparently, according to Sergeant Robeson, my carrier had got the dates wrong on the ticket. Sandy had explained to him that it wasn’t their mistake so how could he blame them. The airline I’d travelled with had royally messed up the flight times, and they were the ones to blame.

Had I been found out I’d have done two days in jail for every day I was away. At the very least. This was what I was willing to do for love. Oh, and some serious sunshine.

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