Read by Peter James
A man gets off a bus, stumbles, looks around and sees a woman smiling. He wants to berate her, yell at her, demand to know what she is laughing at. Instead, he stuffs his carrier bag back inside his black donkey jacket and heads off to buy his weekly lasagne.
‘Hey! Hang on! Wait!
Charles knows it’s the grinning buffoon chasing him, like a tired tiger tracking a geriatric gazelle. The slap-suck sound of her flip-flops beating against bare feet reminds him of his seventh birthday when that jellyfish clamped itself to his screaming face while his mother laughed.
‘Sorry. Busy.’ Charles stomps away, blue eyes staring at his shoes. ‘Charles, it’s me! Maureen! Please stop, I’m knackered!’ Maureen, bent
double, ignores laughing faces in stationary cars, her cheeks glowing brighter than the traffic lights.
Charles is astonished this woman could know him.
He turns to face his folded stalker. ‘I’m afraid you have the advantage, madam. 1
‘Madam? It’s me, you silly sod! Maureen! She wheezes towards him, rearranging a bosum clearly not used to being tossed around, brandishing a name badge, ‘Maauuuureeeen!’
Large orange freckles danced on her pointy chin. ‘I see.’ Charles swallowed his anger.
‘Charles! My first love! Seems like yesterday we was sixteen. Can’t stop. Late for work at Kwikykleen. Meet me in The Anchor. Midday. We can discuss our plan.’ Her flickering green eyes flash over his untidy body like a victorious vulture.
Charles has no intention of meeting this lunatic. He wants to buy, lasagne, go home and continue reading the Napolean biography.
Cursing his curiosity, Charles nurses a lager shandy as his microwaveable lasagne defrosts on the bar.
‘Hello handsome!’ Maureen hugs the breath out of him. ‘Over forty years.
Isn’t that incredible? I went to Scunthorpe at twenty. Married a pig. Now I’m back! You know Scunthorpe? Don’t go •••’
Charles keeps smiling. Her hammering voice is like chewing silver paper. ‘You mentioned our plan?’ Charles slips in a sentence as Maureen gulps
her gin, simultaneously swabbing her forehead with a scruffy bar towel.
– ‘You’re keen!’ More of a deal really. No ring on that deliciously naked finger, Charles.’ Maureen grips his unsteady hand.
Charles squirms, glancing at the few regulars. ‘Never married.’ He
wonders if this stranger has a volume control.
‘Waiting for the right woman?’ Maureen gestures for another drink. Her grey ponytail pulled so tight her face looks laminated.
‘Sort of.’ Charles remembers his experimental phase in university. ‘When we finished – your fault – you said if we were single at sixty
we’d get hitched. I’m sixty next week, you’re a month older, so… lets get married! I forgive you for going bald.’
Charles recalled his sixty-second birthday; sharing a box of dark chocolate liqueurs with his ginger cat, Archie, but he didn’t want to argue. Besides, she was right. They had a wedding to organise. He had been lonely long enough.
‘Do you like lasagne and Napolean, Maureen?’ ‘Not on the same plate, gorgeous!’
Charles orders two large gins.
Read by Peter James