The Final Countdown

So it’s Christmas Eve Eve, the day before my very favourite day of the year; a day filled with excitement and expectation. A day when we look skyward and dare to dream in magic. What a wonderful philosophy for life! And one I plan to do more of in 2017 as this is going to be the best year ever. I never want to look back and nothing much has changed. And even if it’s been a sad or difficult year, for whatever reason, I still want to know I made it all count; everything in it and moved forward with a dream and never stopped looking skyward. What about you?

So before I have a break from blogging until the new year I want to wish all of you the most wonderful Christmas or whatever holidays you celebrate… and allow yourself to look up and dream big.

So today I am going to do something I never do, I am going to share the opening of Chutney the novel… and leave you to all alone for a week or more…

Have a good one!

Chutney

 

Even in the darkest places there is light


 

 

January 1 1998

Crisp pages of unturned calendars hang in wait across a head-sore city.

Pens sit in the furrows of folded diaries. Blank pages wait like held breaths; for ink, for appointments, for doodles.

Rows of houses; tangles of Christmas lights draped from roof tops, wilted Santas on cluttered driveways; boxes waiting for the recycling man; empty bottles. Hundreds of empty bottles.

The number 79a bus turns the corner; the driver’s head full of why. Why he agreed to work; why anyone would catch the 9.17 on New Year’s Day; why his lone traveller presses the bell five times. He thinks how he should be at home; with his son, reading the instruction manual on his new digital camera.

The driver longed for a snow day.

There is no snow.

The pained squeak of the doors opening, the rattle of a bus engine, a muttered Happy New Year. The old man responds only with a grunt; all the driver sees is his back.

He doesn’t close the doors right away; he watches; thinks about his ex-wife; his son, resolutions he knows won’t be kept. He makes a note to renew his gym membership. The old man goes shuffle shuffle in his black coat; he thinks he can hear the creak of his shoulders, thinks he sees the peep of a whiskey bottle protruding from his pocket like the wet nose of stowaway puppy. He has seen the old man before; seen him stagger the length of Duchesse Road when he’s working the late shift. But today he wonders who he is. What’s his story? Everyone has a story; it’s what his dad used to tell him.

But he can’t tell him anymore.

He thinks about his dad now; always loved a new diary.

The old man goes shuffle shuffle some more before, stops at the bench, perhaps in contemplation to sit but then goes shuffle shuffle again. He stops outside the gate of the Morningside Allotments. He seems to hesitate; stands there for a moment as if he’s on pause. Any second now he will step inside.

As the bus doors jolt closed and the bus heaves a New Year sigh, the old man does not go shuffle shuffle but stands and looks out across the green allotments; hands clawed over the bars of the gate. The driver pauses, watches, even lifts his hand in a half-wave but the old man doesn’t see; just as the driver doesn’t see the old man’s face screw up or his lips gape open or hear his silent scream as he falls.

He is dead even before the number 79a turns the corner at the bottom of Morningside Crescent and disappears.


 

Chapter 1

January 18th 1999 (383 Days Later)

The Month of the Blue Moon

 

Steam rises from a silver kettle and curls the edges of Grow Your Own. They’re stacked to the ceiling like a leaning tower.

The kettle rattles on a single gas ring. The stove once belonged to Jim. Everything belonged to Jim: Jim’s shed; Jim’s camping stove; Jim’s kettle. And all the bottles. Three trips to the bottle bank it took. As the kettle whines George stares out of the shed window and waits for Billy.

George remembers the first time he met Billy. George’d been standing by the bus stop watching the lanky Asian with the beard and the baggy pants: colourful – like pyjamas. Next thing, Billy’d bounced his way over to him as if he had springs on his gardening boots. “I’m Runner Bean Billy,” he said, hand held out towards him.

George kept his hand buried deep in the pockets of his long brown coat, fingers curled over a key.

“One day you might actually come in eh and not bugger off,” Billy said and before George could answer he added, “I see you most days. You’re the one taking over Jim’s patch, right? Only it’s in need of some TLC.”

“What is TLC?”

Billy laughed. “All the best things start with tea.”

George didn’t tell him he didn’t understand.

 

George had made the journey to the Morningside Allotments every day for six weeks since he first met the man from the council to look at his plot. That’s what they call it:  a plot; like a plan; except George had no plans, except to tell them, “Not mine. You give someone else” but all he could think about was Irina; the glint in her eye when she said she wanted an allotment to grow her own carrots. But Irina was gone by the time the letter came and what did he know about growing carrots?

So he’d get off the bus and stand at the gate, and then he’d cross the road and wait on the bench by the bus stop on the other side. That was until the day Runner Bean Billy bounced into his life.

“I George Beletsky from Russia,” he told Billy.

“Nice to meet you Georgey from Russia.”

Georgey? No one has ever called him Georgey.

It was March 12th 1998. Two hundred and eighty-two days ago.

George edges closes to the silver kettle; it has black smudges on the front (Jim’s black finger print smudges) and he thinks many times he should wipe them off, maybe he should do it today. When he asks Billy why no one came to take Jim’s stuff away, like the council said, all Billy does is shrug and says, “Dunno.” That’s how he says it: ‘Dunno’ which isn’t even a proper word. There’s a green shoe box next to the leaning tower of Grow Your Own; the name Clarks on the side. Billy’s says it’s ‘Jim’s box of treasures’. That’s how he says it, eyes all wide. He says only Jim knew what was in there. George runs his fingers lightly around the edge, wonders if he should look inside today and then slides the box closer to the wall. It’s been more than a year since Jim died, but still George cannot look inside; it’s not his to look at. Billy says nor is the kettle his to boil but George doesn’t say anything to that. A kettle is a prized possession; besides, George pays for the Calor Gas.

One time Billy said, “Maybe he doesn’t have any family. Maybe that’s why no one comes for Jim’s things.”

All George said was, “Oh.” He thinks maybe he won’t wipe off the black smudges today.

© Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, 2016

carrots

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