I’m happy. We have an almost[-firm date for our move back to Leeds, only the better part of two months after we expected it to happen. But better late, etc….and my copies of Fair and Tender Ladies have arrived, with its wonderful cover.
On an unrelated note, in recent weeks I’ve been reading a great deal about the 1950s. It’s the decade when I was born, so I assumed I knew it well. Wrong. Seems I knew next to nothing. But my reading sparked an idea. Or the start of one. Like they say in music, it goes something like this….(no apologies for typos – it’s rough). Let me know what you think. Please.
He was falling, falling, somewhere between heaven and earth. He reached out but there was nothing to hold on to, only the feeling of tumbling through space. Pictures spun and twirled in his head, things he could quite place before they moved on. A face, a building, a hand.
Then he landed.
It jolted the breath out of him. His skull banged down hard and a shock of pain ran through his body. For a moment he could do nothing. All he could manage was to lie there, trying to gulp in air and stop the nausea rising.
Finally it passed and he was breathing steadily. He rolled gently onto his side and opened his eyes. He was lying on the pavement, the flagstones shiny and wet against his cheek. It was night and he couldn’t remember what had happened.
The next he knew, something was pushing gently against his ribs.
“If you can stand up and walk away, I’ll not arrest you, lad.” He blinked, trying to bring the figure into focus. A copper, he saw finally, with the pointy hat and the black boots that shone in the streetlights. “Had a skinful, have you?”
He didn’t try to answer, but sat up, his head drumming with every movement. One hand against the wall, he eased himself upright, pausing until the dizziness passed.
“I’m sorry, officer, I don’t know what happened,” he said honestly, rubbing the gash by his temple, then the bump at the back of his skull, wincing at the tenderness.
“It’s alright, sir.” The policeman’s mile was almost hidden by his thick moustache. “Couldn’t let you sleep there all night, that’s all.” He bent and picked a trilby from the ground, dusting it off with large hands. “This yours, is it?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Get yoursen home, that’s my advice. You’ll be feeling it in the morning.” He gave a brief nod. “Goodnight, sir.”
“Goodnight. And thank you.”
He waited until the constable had disappeared around the corner, brushing the worst of the damp and the dirt from his suit and picking gravel out of his palms. Then he felt inside his jacket, checking the wallet was still there, and the watch still on his wrist.
His head hurt like buggery but it was beginning to clear. Looking round, he knew exactly where he was, on Merrion Street, the ABC cinema dark at the bottom of the hill. He moved his fingers gingerly around the lump on the back of the head.
Why had someone coshed him?
All around, Leeds was quiet, two in the morning and barely a sound, the shop windows dark. He sat in the old Anglia, window rolled down, and smoked a cigarette. Men had taken a swing at him before; it came with being an enquiry agent. But no one had ever used a cosh. Why? There was nothing unusual on the books. Just the usual divorces and frauds that paid the bills.
Finally he pulled out the choke then turned the key in the ignition, pressing down on the accelerator as the engine caught. There was no traffic, just a few lights shining behind curtains where sleep wouldn’t come.
In Chapel Allerton he turned onto Town Street, then down the alley between the police station and the Nag’s Head, parking by a brick house. Inside, he climbed carefully to the third floor, avoiding the tread that squeaked, and let himself into the flat.
It was a small place, no more than a bed-sitting room with a sink and gas ring in one corner, the bathroom and toilet on the landing, perched at the top of the stairs. From the window he looked down on the graveyard. But it was his and a damn sight better than the lodgings.
He stripped off the suit, examining the material and hoping against hope that the dry cleaner would be able to rescue it. It was good worsted, better than any fifty shilling job. He’d bought it right after National Service, a sly deal that didn’t involve clothing coupons, and it had worn well.
Sod it, he needed to sleep.
He woke as the early sun streamed on his face. He clawed his way out of a dream, opening his eyes as he sat up, stopping as something seared behind his eyes.
By nine he’d washed and dressed. He couldn’t do much about the dark circles under his eyes but he’d shaved and cleaned up the cut on his temple. At least he no longer looked like he’d spent a week on the razzle.
He parked the Anglia on King Charles Street and walked down Lands Lane. Everyone he passed seemed subdued. The third of September. It was a date none of them could forget. The start of the war and thoughts of lost comrades, fathers, sons, brothers.
He’d been ten, called in from a Sunday morning playing in the garden just as his sister was dragged down from his bedroom. He’d sat cross-legged, picking at a scab on his knee as Chamberlain’s voice came out of the radio. When the speech had finished, his father had looked at his mother and simply said, “That’s it, then.”
He was a bright enough lad, set for a scholarship to grammar school. He knew what war meant. Or he believed he did. All the bravery of Empire, the things he’d been taught in schools. It wasn’t until he did his time in the army that he learned the brutal truth. The empty faces, the ruins as far as he could see. He spent a winter there, working in military intelligence. He saw the people freeze and work and scrabble for anything resembling a normal life. What they taught him at Roundhay, death and glory and greatness, it was all bollocks. Dead was nothing more than dead, another memory and a poppy in November.
“Good morning, Mr. Markham.”
He glanced up, thoughts vanishing behind him.