I was on a day trip back to my old home town
with the Oldies Club when I spotted Jan. Id 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 Jans tipple. Her hair was darker than I
remembered Jans 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 wed 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 wouldnt? 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 youre going to ask me out, dont bother: youre
too young. But that didnt 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 didnt 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 hadnt
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 didnt 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 Id 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 wouldnt 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 didnt 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
She smiled, that smile that lit up the room,
and said in her husky smokers 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! Its 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.
Thats 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: Im sorry, I really
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 didnt 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 Aldos, 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
She grinned and said: Yes, I remember
them. Then she murmured: But I just dont remember you.
Im sorry, I really am. She took a drink of her Guinness to hide her
I felt totally deflated, crushed. I told
myself wed 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 couldnt believe Id been such a small part of her
life. I wondered how she could have forgotten all those Saturday and
Sunday afternoons, when shed always been a very solid memory for me. That
hurt. I supposed I must have been just an amusing little schoolboy and
shed had lots of boyfriends since then, and a husband. I told myself to
accept that and just get over it.
But I couldnt let it rest there. I said
gently: I dont want to make you feel uncomfortable. You say you
dont know me, but please let me buy the other half to that Guinness and
see if I cant 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. Ive 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
She hissed: Suse. Suse, your
grand-daughter. Come on. Mums really pissed off with you. Time to
Jan was trembling, and I didnt 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 doesnt need another fucking drink.
Her wits are scrambled enough as it is without bloody alcohol. Come on, gran.
I said: But I havent seen her for
She shouted: Look, piss off, will you.
She doesnt 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 Id 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
Id never seen her again that way she could have lived on, sort of,
as the lovely, lively young Jan that Id always remembered.