NEVER LET A ROW……..
The queue for the bus was long and, by the time I managed to board it, my wet hair was plastered to my head and rain was dripping from my raincoat. I tapped my bus pass on the panel next to the driver’s compartment and collected my ticket. Other passengers ahead of me were still trying to find seats when the driver closed the doors with a loud hiss and edged out into the roadway
Every now and then I was thrown forwards and backwards by the bus’s jerky progress through the traffic.
I made my way towards the rear of the vehicle and, finally, reached the one remaining seat. Even before I got there, however, I felt disappointment. The woman whom I’d be sat next to was Beryl Thompson, a former neighbour. My late wife and Beryl had never got on and they hadn’t spoken for ages when Eileen and I had moved house ten years ago.
“Good God,” I thought, “that’s all I need. An appointment with the solicitor, a deluge of rain and Beryl Thompson. With luck she’ll blank me, pretending she doesn’t recognise me. Otherwise I can expect an ear-bashing.”
The rain-laden clouds and steamed-up windows justified the yellowish illumination of the bus’s overhead lights. A pervasive, muggy smell of wet passengers added to my dread of the forty minutes or so of the journey ahead.
I removed my sodden coat, folded it, reached up and placed it on the overhead rack. I couldn’t delay matters any longer so I made to sit down. I glanced across towards my enforced travel companion to see if she would be acknowledging me. “Too late,” I thought. She’d clearly been watching me as I parked my coat above.
“Michael Bradbury,” she said, “I don’t believe it. Has she let you out on you own then?”
“Morning, Beryl,” I replied as civilly as I could, “You’ve not changed much.”
“I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted,” she said.
I didn’t elaborate.
“You two were always inseparable,” she said, “when you weren’t at work. Where is she? Why isn’t she with you?”
“She’d have a job Beryl,” I said, “Eileen died two years ago.”
Her hands flew to her face. Her eyes were wide open, staring at me.
“Shit Michael. I’m sorry. How? What happened?”
“Heart attack. Died in her sleep.”
“Oh my God,” she said, “She was a year younger than me.”
She was quiet for a few moments – a near miracle from what I remembered of her.
“Like I said Michael, I’m so sorry. Wait till I tell Billy. I feel awful that it’s been so long since I saw her to talk to. It’s only a couple of days since we were looking at a photo of us all at a Turkey and Tinsel party.”
“Listen Beryl. No offence, but you’re the reason we moved away. You never stopped interfering. It drove her to despair.”
“How can you say such a thing?” she said.
“Don’t go acting offended Beryl. You don’t have a sensitive bone in your body.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said.
“Come off it,” I said, “You wanted to dictate where she shopped, how much she should pay for things, where we should go for holidays, how she should bring up Joanne, even what she should be eating. That’s just a small sample. You never knew where to draw the line. And you’d get where water couldn’t. Any time we had visitors you always invited yourself round to make yourself guest of honour in charge of conversation, talking over anybody else who was speaking. The last straw was when her mum died and you tried to tell her how to organise the funeral.”
“Bloody Hell Michael, you’ve changed,” she said, “You were always quiet as a church mouse.”
“True. When Eileen was alive, if I’d said what was on my mind, she’d have been mortified. She hated confrontation or risking upsetting folks. She’s not here now, Beryl, so I can speak freely.”
“Is that true Michael? Is that why you moved up here? To get away from me.?”
“God’s honour. It was the only way we could get some peace?”
“Michael I was really upset when you and Eileen left. Both me and Billy. He’s always saying how he misses you both. I’m sorry. Genuinely. You know, Billy told me that he thought that I was the reason you left. He’s always blamed me, but I couldn’t accept it.”
Beryl paused and wiped a tear from her eye. A woman on the seat in front on the window side, turned to glance towards me. She smiled. It confirmed what I’d thought – that she’d been listening. Her and the woman next to her.
“Michael, You’ve shocked me. Hearing it from you. I’m devastated. I wish I’d listened to Billy more and realised. Now it’s too late. I’ll never be able to say sorry to her. I can tell you though, and I am – really, I promise. I am deeply sorry for the damage I’ve done. Me and my big mouth. But it’s too late to make things right with Eileen.”
She paused again. Now the tears were running freely down her cheeks. She had a tissue to her eyes.
“Do you think that you could ever forgive me?”
I’d never seen Beryl so shamefaced. I don’t have it in me to bear grudges so I gave her the reassurance she wanted and changed the subject.
“How are the twins?”
“Thanks for asking, Michael. They’re both well. It’s their fiftieth birthday’s a week on Friday. We’re having a party for them at our house. Would you come? Please. Billy would be so happy to see you again. I would too of course, but it would be special for him. And the twins would be delighted.
As I’ve always said, life’s too short for bitterness or anger – and Eileen wouldn’t have wanted me to say No. So I agreed.
Today, I feature a another photo from my walk between Carr Mill and Billinge. This shot shows the Mason’ Arms public house at Chadwick Green near Birchley. The pub was closed, of course, because of Covid restrictions. By now, I was well on my way towards my destination at Billinge Beacon – the highest point between St Helens and Wigan.
As for all the shots in this series I used my Pentax KP camera and a 35 mm f/2 lens. The EXIF data are 1/320 secs @ f/8 and ISO 400.