Nanthology – Where Now?

Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead.  Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.

MY NANTHOLOGY

Day Twenty

Asleep

This prompt comes from Lisa Reiter at Sharing the Story (twitter: @lisa_reiter)

 Where Now?

I almost walked past. You do, don’t you but I said, ‘Is that you, James? James Simcox?’

He lifted his head, like a weight was attached. There was something in his eyes – or maybe something missing – that made me think he wasn’t James after all.

Then he nodded. ‘Greg Passmore.’ If he knew my name, it had to be James.

I said, ‘I thought you were in Manchester?’

‘That’s a long story. How are you?’

‘Great. We all say that, don’t we? Ok to middling. Commuting’s a chore but, yes, it’s fine. You?’

‘I thought you said you’d never live in London.’

‘Did I? That was in a different life. We’ve all moved on, haven’t we? How long has it been? Sally and Warren’s wedding?’

‘ Yes, three years. You were with a Chinese girl, weren’t you?’

‘South Korean. Sui-Yen. Married with one out and one on the way. She’s a computer geek. Makes me… Anyway, I’ve  settled down. At last, eh? What about Claudia?’

‘Computers? Good work in this day and age.  So what do you have? Boy? Girl?’

‘Boy. Harrison. Right bundle. They’re exhausting, aren’t they? Wait, I’ve a picture… Is this your train?’

‘No rush. Show me.’

‘Look if you have time, what say you I buy you a beer?’

‘Coffee would be good.’

‘Off the sauce, eh? Sue’s always telling me to cut down. Tyrant that woman. So, coffee it is. There’s a café just outside.’

‘I know it well.’

‘Do you live around here?’ I remember thinking he was doing ok if he lived in this neck of the woods.

‘Not exactly but I visit often.’

He had these bags, which he picked up. I thought they were shopping but one fell open. It was full of old clothes.

‘You off to Oxfam? We give to the RSPCA. Not true about Koreans and pets. You know, last Christmas she even had us going to Battersea.’

We didn’t say much until we entered the café. He didn’t stop at the counter but headed for a seat at the back. ‘What’s your tipple, James?’ It was a joke but I caught the barista’s eye and he looked really angry. I assumed it wasn’t to do with me but when I approached the counter he still seemed pissed.

‘That barista needs some client service training. He’s got a real attitude problem.’

‘He’s ok. Had a rough time, though. Lost his brother in knife attack last year.’

‘You’re a good man, James.’

He looked at me oddly. ‘Why’d you say that?’

‘I’ve just remembered, at Uni. That girl sitting on the pavement? The faculty dinner?’

He looked confused.

‘Come on. No false modesty. She was drunk, swearing but you stayed with her. Just as well if I recall because she passed out and you stopped her choking. Puke all down…’

‘Oh yes. Long time ago.’

‘The Dean wrote you a letter. About putting you up for an award… hey, you ok?’

He was crying. He shook his head and dabbed his eyes with his sleeve. He said, ‘I was a different person. Very different.’ He sniffed and added, ‘Weren’t you hankering to go and volunteer overseas?’

‘No. No, things…. Did you hear about my divorce?’

‘Divorce? But you said you married… Sue was it?’

‘Before that.’ I hadn’t spoken to anyone about this, bottled it right up. For some reason seeing James, remembering his easy way with listening to people’s problems, even at University when you’re wrapped up in yourself mostly – something made me talk. ‘After we graduated, I moved in with my girlfriend at the time. You remember her? She…’

‘Amanda. I remember. Amazing legs.’ That was the first time he smiled. The only time. We both smiled. Everyone, well every heterosexual male, knew about her legs. Thank heavens for tight jeans.

‘She dumped me soon after Uni. Can’t say I blame her. She’d got a super job with ICI or some such and I didn’t want to work. She’d go off to her office in a suit while I’d smoke as much dope as I could get hold of. I don’t smoke any these days. Not around the kid.’ I didn’t need to say that but for some reason I felt I had to. I needed him on my side. Or that’s the way it felt. ‘Finally she threw me out. I don’t remember who suggested there was a job for a geography graduate with a crappy third in Hull but I got work at a textile finishing shop, trainee in the accounts which meant invoices, payroll and debts. Utterly mind numbing.’

He started fidgeting. Like a kid, squirming in his seat. He said, ‘Can we sit outside? Would you mind? I like the fresh air.’

We took a table and he waved me on. I remember thinking it odd he hadn’t bought me a coffee but just then I wanted to complete my story because it would have been so easy to stop. ‘There was this girl. Pauline. Worked in the shop itself but used to bring in the time sheets so we could sort the wages. She was so confident. I thought she was 18 or 19 but turned out she was just 16. Within 3 months we’d had a few dates and she was pregnant. Funny thing, my mum told me to walk away. Said I’d regret it but something told me I had to marry her. You know what I found out? She was selling tricks throughout our relationship. I caught her when I took ill one day and came home early. She was having a threesome with two lads from the club with the baby in its cot in the corner of the room. I played football with them. Made me a laughing stock. I left that day.’ It felt like I was back there again, hearing the voices, just knowing what was going on.

‘Probably well out of it.’

I’d almost forgotten he was there. I held his gaze. His eyes still seemed red and I realised I’d not really asked him why he’d got upset. ‘I told her I didn’t believe the kid was mine. He was as cute as anything, and he could have been. Right colour of skin and hair. Just told her that if she tried it on for maintenance I’d tell the world. Three months later he was dead.’

‘Shit.’ He started chewing his lip; I felt bad dumping all this on him.

‘I haven’t even told Sue. Just mum – dad’s gone – and now you. That’s why I came south to get away from the mess. Best move really. Especially meeting Sue.’ It was then I remembered something about his mum, something that happened in our third year.  ‘Wasn’t you mum ill? Is she ok?’

The chewing stopped and the tears really flowed, dripping off his chin, snot dribbling from his nose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so upset yet so still. He barely twitched.

‘MS. She died in March.’

‘I’m sorry. Do you have kids? They can be a compensation, can’t they? At times like that?’

I was sure he nodded. At least the tears stopped. ‘Look, sorry for going on about me. Tell me about you. How many kids? How’s Claudia? Everyone knew you two would stay together and be our role model. And hadn’t you just got a partnership or something? Going places.’

Even as I said all of this I think I already knew. I should have stopped. Just backed off but something made me press on. ‘We always said you’d be the first millionaire amongst us.’

He stood, collected his stuff, then paused. He was going to say something. I know he was. But he didn’t. He just nodded again and turned away. I watched him disappear, back towards the station.

A minute later the surly barista emerged with a tray and cloth to wipe the table. As he tidied up I said, ‘The guy I was with. Do you know him?’

‘Sure. He comes in for a free cup every morning. Lovely fellow.’

‘Free cup?’

‘You know. People buy an extra cup so if someone’s homeless they…’

‘He’s homeless? Are you sure?’

‘Yeah. I mean look at him. He’s got all his life in those bags. And he hates being inside. But he never makes a fuss. Really kind.’ He went to leave and turned back. ‘Sorry about earlier. I didn’t know you were with him. When you said about the tipple I thought you were taking the piss. See, he had a drink problem when he first came in, but the boss told him he’d have to stop or stay away and he’s got himself clean but it’s been a struggle and he’s very fragile. He’s… he’s had a few problems recently.’

‘I…I didn’t know. We were at University together. House mates. Really close but I had some issues after and we drifted apart. Do you know what happened?’

‘A lesson for us all. He never says but… did you know he was married?’

‘Claudia. Yes I know her.’

‘I don’t know her name. She came in. Last week. She’s worried about him. He’s got two kids. According to her, a year ago everything was peachy. Then in close order his mum died, he was made redundant and she left him for another guy. He takes to drink, can’t keep up with the bills and before you know it he’s out of his house, he’s bankrupt, he can’t get anywhere to live and he’s on the streets. Because he’s never been so low he doesn’t know how to cope and he gets rolled, the drink doesn’t help. Not sure seeing his wife helped much. Since she came by he’s been in a funny mood. He…’

It was then we heard it. The café is right above the platforms. There was a scream, a squeal of brakes. The barista and I exchanged a look. I think we both knew.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in miscellany, nano 2015, nanowrimo, nanthology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Nanthology – Where Now?

  1. If ever I needed reminding there are people worse off than me… Great story, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. trifflepudling says:

    My jaw stopped mid-chomp at the end. Cripes …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Autism Mom says:

    So sad…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rgemom says:

    Ah Geoff….heartbreaking but awesome story. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mick Canning says:

    Wow. Quite a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ritu says:

    This is chillingly sad Geoff!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You ave such a gift for telling stories that can be true and for honing in on the way we miss really meeting each other until it is too late. This one causes a real pause for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ali Isaac says:

    Great story, Geoff! I don’t know how you keep ’em coming. I’m well impressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Friday Favorites #13 | Three's a Herd

  10. Another goodie. Tell me, did you work that out as you went along?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Anabel Marsh says:

    I was cringing as I read that, your narrator was so insensitive and self-centred, but I didn’t anticipate the ending. Great (but sad) story.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lisa Reiter says:

    Crikey Geoff. I suppose it was hard to hope for a happy ending with this one. I knew as I started reading, it wouldn’t turn out well but part of me was hoping Passmore was going to be his solution.
    The topic strikes a chord with me as I see so many more homeless people around London. And I don’t think many of us appreciate how difficult it is to get off the streets once you have been made homeless. It is all too easy to turn a blind eye.
    Thanks for this one
    Lisa xx

    Liked by 1 person

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