A Bus Journey – A Short Story

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.

Featured Photo

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.

Her Party Piece – A Short Story

Clarissa was perched on the edge of her chair. She was angry. The middle-aged man at the front was making it up as he was going along. What was that aphorism: ‘You can tell when a politician’s lying – his lips are moving.’?

It was the local Member of Parliament’s monthly constituency meeting day. For once, it was taking the form of a public presentation in the town centre library. He was talking about his party’s proposed changes to their health policy. They were going to work miracles, if you believed him, and they’d save taxpayers’ money into the bargain. Those in the audience were seated, socially distanced and masked, following the initial  lockdown.

Someone had pulled down a whiteboard for him and he was using a laptop and a table projector to display graphs of how they’d reduce bed-blocking, open new wards and reduce the need for Accident and Emergency patients to wait for treatment on trollies or in ambulances.

He paused for questions. The first few had obviously been asked by coached and carefully chosen constituency party members. Clarissa eventually managed to get the Chairman’s attention. Her appearance had probably helped – she was young, tall, pretty and well dressed, with nicely cut short blonde hair – every inch a typical target voter.

‘Please state your name, occupation and question,’ the elderly, silver-haired Chairman asked. Someone passed Clarissa the roving microphone.

‘Clarissa Tredegar,’ she said, ‘second year trainee nurse, I want to know where all these extra nurses you speak of will come from and when will they actually be trained and working on wards?’

The MP extolled the Government’s plans to award trainee nurses a non-repayable £5,000 annual grant to attract new entrants. He gave no details of the number of nurses expected to take up the offer. He smiled to her as if expecting applause.

Clarissa pointed out the shortcoming in his answer and told him that his figures did not recognise the number of existing qualified nurses who were leaving the profession – in fact, even if his optimism about take-up were justified, in reality, there would be thousands of nurses fewer employed. The Chairman tried to stop her flow, but she was on a roll. She spoke of the nurses and trainees who were quitting or sick because of Covid, and the fact that trainees were not receiving all the practical training they had been promised. They were being treated as unpaid healthcare workers yet were expected to continue to pay their course fees and accrue Student Loan debt. ‘Please fund the NHS properly,’ she told him, ‘instead of asking people to clap us.’

One of the party workers was trying to get to her in order to wrest the microphone from her grasp.

Her final words to the microphone were, ‘By the way, my friend has been recording this meeting on her phone. It’s uploading to YouTube as I speak and a copy will also be on its way to the “Guardian.”’ The politician sat and put his head in his hands.

Featured Photo

Another photo from my walk between Carr Mill and Billinge. This photo is of reflections in puddles on a path framed by the railway bridge beneath which the path leads to the village of Garswood (that wasn’t the direction I was headed in just a path that I passed on my way).

As with all the photos from that walk I took all the shots with my Pentax KP 24 MP apsc camera and a 35 mm f/2 lens. The EXIF data are 1/200 @f/11 and ISO 3200.