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by Paul Murgatroyd



I was on a day trip back to my old home town with the Oldies Club when I spotted Jan. I’d slipped away from the museum visit and wandered the town centre, depressed at how many places had closed down – all the department stores, and Moats, and Philips, and the Fat Ox. When it started to rain, I ducked into the Vic for a pint. I was sat at a sticky table, taking in how dingy and run down the dump was, and I was vaguely aware of an old lady in the corner reading a newspaper. But then I saw she was unconsciously twiddling the hair at her right temple into a little horn, which was exactly what Jan used to do, way back when. And she had half a pint of Guinness, which had been Jan’s tipple. Her hair was darker than I remembered Jan’s being (dyed presumably) and shorter, and she was very thin and had specs, but I was pretty sure she was Jan.

It all came flooding back to me – the great times we’d had together, chatting away and joking. We were in the same tennis club. I knew her when I was fifteen and sixteen. She was three years older, and joined when her bloody fool of a fiancé broke it off. I joined a few weeks later, tennis-mad from watching Rocket Rod Laver at Wimbledon on the telly. We got on like a bloody house on fire from the start. She was the first grown woman that I had a close relationship with. I fancied her too. Christ, who wouldn’t? She was pretty, with a good figure, and great legs, which her short tennis skirt showed off, as well as giving flashes of white panties, and she was bright, lively and funny.

Before long I was building up to asking her to the pictures, but must have telegraphed my move, because she grinned and said: ‘If you’re going to ask me out, don’t bother: you’re too young.’ But that didn’t stop us being good mates. We often played tennis and table tennis as partners, and she kept on apologizing for bad shots, but, shit, I didn’t mind, I was made up just to be her partner. Once randy old Bruce chased her round the club-house, laughing but with his glasses steaming up, and she sheltered behind me. I can still  feel her hands gripping my waist, as I shooed him away. We both liked the Liverpool Poets, and she was dead fond of Confucius jokes. Like Confucius he say man who run through revolving door at Singapore Airport naked… going to Bangkok.

Then dad got a job in another town, which was shit, because we had to move, and then came A-levels and university. I went back to the club once, a few months after we moved, and saw her for the afternoon, but it was a long way to travel. I wrote her a letter in my first term at university, and got a postcard back, but that was it. I hadn’t seen her for over half a century.

And now there she was, I was more and more sure. Unbelievable! Bloody unbelievable!

As I gazed at her all alone at her table, it struck me that she must have got married but by now might well be on her tod again, like me. She didn’t look all that happy with life either, so I thought she might be lonely too, like me. She was still an attractive woman, and I still felt a real spark. Although I’d been happily married, I never forgot Jan. I joined clubs and did voluntary work after my wife died, but I never met any woman who I really took to. But now there she was – Jan. The age difference wouldn’t matter now, and it would be great to pick up the threads, and who knew what that might lead to if we hit it off again, as I was sure we would. I got quite carried away.

When I stood up, my back had seized up while I was sitting. I managed to straighten up, so I didn’t look like a total old crock, then I went over and said: ‘Jan?’

She looked at me and screwed up her eyes.

I said: ‘Are you Jan? Janet Rimmer?’

She smiled, that smile that lit up the room, and said in her husky smoker’s voice: ‘A long time ago. Janet Burgess now. Do I know you?’

I was thrilled: bloody brilliant, it was her. I went: ‘Bloody hell, Jan! It’s Bugs, Jimmy Moran, you nicknamed me Bugs for a joke, from the Vagabonds, the tennis club.’

‘Yes, I remember the Vagabonds,’ she said. ‘On Park Drive.’

‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘We used to play tennis and table tennis together there, back in the sixties. You reckoned my face had a good bone-structure, so I would age well – do you think I have?’

She said: ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t tell.’

I thought it might be the moustache putting her off, so I told her to try and imagine me without the moustache, and with fair hair and no wrinkles. When that didn’t work, I got a bit frantic and started babbling. ‘We were good mates. Both big fans of Danger Man. And The Man from U.N.C.L.E. You got me to get my hair cut and combed forward like Illya Kuryakin. And you played in a table tennis tournament with me, and that was when I went for my first meal out, with you. It was at Aldo’s, and you slipped me a quid under the table so I could pay the bill. Remember? And you used to take the piss out of David Frost, and did that very funny Dylan impersonation. And told us those smutty Confucius jokes. You must remember them.’

She grinned and said: ‘Yes, I remember them.’ Then she murmured: ‘But I just don’t remember you. I’m sorry, I really am.’ She took a drink of her Guinness to hide her embarrassment.

I felt totally deflated, crushed. I told myself we’d only known each other for a couple of years, yonks ago, and a lot must have happened to her since then – marriage, kids, grandchildren and so on. But I couldn’t believe I’d been such a small part of her life.  I wondered how she could have forgotten all those Saturday and Sunday afternoons, when she’d always been a very solid memory for me. That hurt. I supposed I must have been just an amusing little schoolboy and she’d had lots of boyfriends since then, and a husband. I told myself to accept that and just get over it.

But I couldn’t let it rest there. I said gently: ‘I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable. You say you don’t know me, but please let me buy the other half to that Guinness and see if I can’t come up with something to jog your memory.’

She smiled that smile and nodded, but then I heard a loud snort behind me. I turned to see a hard-faced young woman, with some strands of hair come loose and tightly compressed lips. She ignored me and said to Jan: ‘There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you. Where the hell have you been? Wandering off like a bloody kid!’

Poor old Jan recoiled and asked her who she was.

She hissed: ‘Suse. Suse, your grand-daughter. Come on. Mum’s really pissed off with you. Time to go.’

Jan was trembling, and I didn’t want her to leave yet, so I said I was just buying her a drink. The nasty little bitch rounded on me and snarled: ‘She doesn’t need another fucking drink. Her wits are scrambled enough as it is without bloody alcohol. Come on, gran. Now!’

I said: ‘But I haven’t seen her for ages.’

She shouted: ‘Look, piss off, will you. She doesn’t know you, so fucking leave her alone. Trying to take advantage of her in her state, you dirty old man.’ 

She pulled Jan up out of her chair. When I protested, she shoved me, hard, and told me not to interfere, her Duggie was outside and would beat the shit out of me if I followed them.

I suppose she was right, it was none of my business really, but, Christ, I wish I’d done something more, anything, for poor old Jan. The last time I saw her, she had tears in her eyes and looked confused and frightened as she was dragged off. And then she was gone, out of my life again.

I went back to my table and finished off my pint quickly, keeping my head down, because everyone was staring at me, some of them smirking. I felt so sorry for Jan. And I actually ended up wishing I’d never seen her again – that way she could have lived on, sort of, as the lovely, lively young Jan that I’d always remembered.




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