JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS by Don Jones
How could it have ended like this?
I’m standing in my garden in the evening sunshine, shoulders drooping, eyes downcast. My life feels like the ashes I’m raking through in the incinerator, disintegrating before my eyes.
The long evening shadows disappear abruptly as the sun sinks below the horizon, and I give another poke at the fire, a fire made from all the love letters you have written to me.
What an attraction of opposites, that was. On one side, myself, a bespectacled nerd, never happier than when I have a microscope slide in front of me. And on the other side, there was you, Kate.
Oh, Kate. My lovely, caring Kate. Why didn’t I just walk on, when I saw you in the High Street? You were stooping by the pavement edge, holding something and crying. I did carry on for a few more steps before I turned and came back. ‘Can I help you?’
You looked up and I saw that you were holding a tiny black kitten that was mewing piteously. ‘It got hit by a van,’ you said. ‘It needs a vet but I don’t have a car.’
A few minutes later you were sitting beside me as I followed your directions to the vet. The visit was short. ‘It had internal injuries,’ you said, tearfully. ‘It had to be put to sleep.’
Back in the High Street, you offered to buy me a coffee by way of a thank you and, once we started talking, neither of us could stop. Impulsively, you had asked, ‘Can’t we meet again sometime,’ and it had gone on from there. Early on, I’d abandoned my specs to please her. I only need them to read anyway.
You live in a shared flat so we often used to meet at my place. I shall never forget the night when I’d said, ‘It’s time I saw you home,’ and you had hesitantly asked, ‘Can I stay?’ At least, I have the memory of that wonderful night to keep with me.
So, what has gone wrong? Like the song says, it was just one of those things. It had started with something trivial but suddenly we had been shouting at each other and you had stormed out, screaming that you never wanted to see me again. We were both so sure that we were right, that neither of us would take that first step back. And now it has come to this.
The pain had been so acute that my stupid first thought had been to erase all memories of you, which was why I’d impulsively thrown your letters into the garden incinerator, although, as they caught fire, I already knew what a mistake that had been.
I look down at the burning pile. Strangely, for a modern girl, you have always loved writing letters, and delivering them by hand, and to please you, I had adopted the same old-fashioned habit. I’d never written a love-letter before.
I wonder if you’ve destroyed mine.
A sudden breeze whirls around the incinerator, and a few unconsumed sheets of paper flutter up in the thermal. Two lift higher, one disappearing and the other drifting to my feet. I pick it up. All I can read is the date and a couple of charred lines. It’s the beginning of the last letter you’d sent to me; the one I’d simply taken from the envelope and torn into two pieces, unread, and added to the others. Now, I force myself to read…
‘… ever see you again. I have suffered too much since we broke up. Forgiveness? Some things are too hard to forgive. I know that now from bitter experience and…’
I let the paper fall back into the flames. There it is, the final rejection. Suddenly I’m sobbing out loud, and I hurry indoors as I see my neighbour turn his head.
I try to console myself with a large whiskey but, after just one mouthful, I pour the rest of the glass down the kitchen sink. It will only cheapen the memories if I get drunk.
I sit for a while, as the light fades, trying to rationalise what has happened. What had been the trigger? And then I remember and I swear at myself. How could I have let such a trivial matter ruin my life – and perhaps yours too?
Now I shall never know.
I look at the clock – it’s time for bed. I don’t fool myself that I’ll sleep, but routine is always good; it will keep my mind occupied. Upstairs, I look around my bedroom, remembering you there. The night has become chilly and I open a drawer and get out my pyjamas. I haven’t worn them since that wonderful evening when we first made love. As I start to put them on, I look out of the window at the garden and see the incinerator still glowing. Half naked, I grab a torch and hurry outside. I need to douse the ashes in case anything floats into a neighbour’s garden. After the hot summer, everything is like tinder.
What’s that? The beam of my torch picks up a piece of paper caught in a rose bush. I pull it free. It’s the lower half of your last letter, the one I’d torn in two. Hesitantly, I read the words.
‘… even if you can’t forgive me, I know that I will always love you. Since we met…’
‘Oh, my God!’ I turn and hurl myself back into the house, throwing on my clothes, and then running out into the street. Just my luck – my car is in the workshop, so I start to sprint along the road, desperate to get to your flat. I have to see you. I just have to.
But I’m running too hard; I have a stitch in my side, and I have to stop. Gasping, I look up, and that’s when I see you, my Kate, my lovely Kate, running towards me.
Don Jones ©️2017
Albert awoke with the dawn as he always had. Market Day today. Shivering, he dressed quickly, which didn’t take long. In the winter months he slept with all his clothes on, apart from his cut-down topcoat.
He looked at the bucket of water by the door. There was a thick layer of ice on it so he ignored it. He had washed his face once this week already.
Opening the door softly so as not to waken his father from a drunken sleep, he went outside, gasping in the icy air, and pulling his belt tightly around his waist, to ease the hunger pangs. There was rarely any food in the house, which was a mixed blessing. Although this meant that there were usually no rats, his mother could turn a dead rat or two into a passable meal for the three of them.
Albert started up Gold Hill, his small feet slipping on the icy cobbles. As he neared the top, his nostrils quivered at the smell of food. Already there was a hum as stallholders haggled good-humouredly with customers. Gasping for breath, he reached Shaftesbury’s High Street, and started to mix with the crowds that quickly increased as folk from the surrounding villages arrived.
His first job was to fill his own stomach, and he darted in and out, picking up any food or scraps that fell to the ground. There were other young boys there too, but they had long agreed amongst them which patch was theirs. Nearby, a Sally Lunn bun tumbled from a stall but, as Albert darted forward, the stallholder bent down, wiped it on his coat and put it back. Albert cursed quietly but, as the crowds slowly swelled, he managed to scavenge enough scraps to fill his belly and to start filling a sack to take home.
Then he heard the ringing sound of a heavy piece of metal striking cobble, and Albert saw a large coin bouncing as it disappeared down Gold Hill. ‘Oh well, that’s lost,’ lamented a fat stallholder, but Albert followed the sound, half running and half tumbling down the hill until the metallic noise ended abruptly, as the coin bounced onto the grass verge. In the half-light, Albert knelt, with his hands brushing the ground until they touched metal.
He picked up the coin and was slightly disappointed – it was one of the new cartwheel two-penny pieces, first minted in that year of 1797. He had hoped for something more valuable, but all the same his eyes gleamed. This was relative wealth. It could buy several loaves, but he knew that if he took it home, his father would seize it and head for the alehouse. Albert slipped it into his pocket. The treasure would be his. He had been the one in the right place at the right time.
As he climbed the hill again, he heard the sound of cheering amongst the crowd. A coach had just pulled up at the inn and the news was good. The British fleet had won a great naval victory at Cape St Vincent, where a young captain, Horatio Nelson, had distinguished himself. Seizing the moment, Albert approached a smiling stallholder, his hands held out in supplication. ‘Spare a crust, sir. My father is in the navy,’ he lied. ‘Here you are lad.’ Albert thanked him, taking a battered loaf and putting it into his sack.
It was to be his lucky day. Three more times, his sharp young ears caught the sound of a falling coin and each time he picked up a farthing, hidden amongst the cobbles. He looked at his half-full sack. That should be enough. Slipping and sliding down the hill, he reached home, where his father cuffed him for being late, seized the tiny coins and headed for the alehouse.
Albert didn’t care. He had his cartwheel two-penny piece. Today he was a rich man.
Don Jones © 2017