Chapter 8: Meanwhile, In Radcliffe.
Harold’s goggle eyes darted about under his spectacles, he smacked his lips together and his neck wobbled like a turkey.
‘Bedroom tax! Bedroom tax!’ he spat, as he read the pub’s newspaper to himself ‘Well, they do say that we are all only six steps away from being homeless’ The Bridge Tavern, the finest pub in the centre of Radcliffe was the town’s Winchester. That is to say, that should there be an apocalyptic incident, The Bridge is where the residents of Radcliffe would accumulate, in the same way as a popular film about Zombies. Harold often treated himself to a pint and a read of the papers. You would not be mistaken for thinking that Harold actually enjoyed getting his knickers in a twist over whatever repetitive news story caught his eye. He ordered his second pint.
‘Making that one last, Harold?’ Trisha was very friendly with all the customers from the safety of behind the bar. She could not help being a little offhand with Harold though. He never tipped and always looked over the top of his glasses at her short skirt. He was the type her older brother had warned her against when she got the bar assistant job. Harold was daydreaming and looking right down Trisha’s low-cut top.
‘Scuse me’ A brutish bearded bloke pushed Harold off his stool, Harold grabbed hold of the bar, which in turn, knocked his pint over.
‘Excuse you!’ Harold outraged. The bloke ignored Harold and mumbled his order at Trisha through his beard. It was all pints and shots. Then he asked for some Rizzla papers, Harold made a scoffing noise.
‘You say summat?’ demanded the bearded bloke. Harold’s face reddened, he coughed, and his newly shaky hands fluttered with the newspaper.
‘It’s ok, he was just coughing’ Trisha said, unconvincingly. Now, this was the type of bloke that her brother should have warned her about. She handed the brute his change, who then held on to Trisha’s hand for longer than was necessary, caressing her palm with his work-shy fingers. He left the two red faces at the bar and went to join his mates who downed their drinks, punctuated by manly exclamations.
‘Time Gents please!’ Tricia shouted. Harold’s heart was thumping in his chest. He felt woozy as he stood up… His heart was in his boots…
‘WATCH OUT HAROLD!’ Tricia thought Harold was going to fall ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost!’ she steadied his arm. It was closing time anyway so Harold went outside for some fresh air… I knew that Tricia fancied me, he thought to himself. Serving me up a full pint of beer instead of the shandy I asked for! The little minx, met her type before, trying to get me drunk! Harold, of course, had not met Tricia’s type before. He had asked for a shandy, but she had served him up watered down slops when he was not looking.
‘I’ll put you in your grave, mate!’ of course, the bearded bloke was waiting outside for Harold. A noise came out of Harold’s mouth which was neither neutral nor forgiving. The bearded bloke clutched Harold around the upper quarter of his coat, dragging him near to his bearded face. It was then, eye to eye, in the night light that Harold could tell that the bearded bloke could only be in his early twenties. ‘The cheek of it!’ Harold protested. The bearded bloke dropped Harold, throwing him against the pub sign. He pointed at one of his mates. ‘See ‘im?’ Harold had to look, ‘See ‘im, he’s psycho Steve’ Harold said nothing, but the bloke’s eyes were now touching Harold’s spectacles, expectant of an apology or show of misguided respect from Harold. Psycho Steve approached Harold, he could not allow his name to be shunned. He started what he and the bearded bloke had set out to do that night, what Harold would be unable to finish. Harold was thrown to the floor, their actions punctuated by laughter. Through adrenalin filled squirms, Harold saw the wheels of a car pull up, his plea of rescue was quashed by the sight of a pair of trainers. The trainers walked over to the pub entrance, initially ignoring Harold’s misfortune. The trainers stopped and dropped a cigarette butt. Good! They have noticed what’s going on! The trainers walked over to Harold, wait! That’s not right! Are they going to join in? Can’t you see I’m out-numbered?! (As if Harold could have taken the bearded bloke!) Then the trainers spoke.
‘Steve! I’ve not seen you for time!’
Harold sat up and saw another twenty-something man bumping fists, not with ‘Psycho Steve’ but with the original instigator, the bearded bloke. Are they both called Steve? Psycho Steve and Sleeveless Steve?
‘This is my mate, ‘psycho Steve’. The bearded bloke thumbed towards the other Steve, who let go of Harold and walked towards the new man, and shook his hand.
‘I’ve just come to pick my sister up, she works behind the bar here’
‘Oh, I’ve seen her, she’s tidy!’
‘Watch it!’ The trainers dismissed with a laddish laugh ‘I won’t let her get a taxi, I’m not letting you near her!’
Harold’s protest of ‘I-have-just-been-assaulted!’ were drowned by laughter, stiletto heels and car engines. That was the trouble with Harold, he always wanted to have the last word. He stood up and flapped towards Trisha. ‘Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t you think you should call the police?’
‘Huh?’ Trisha said one foot already in her brother’s car. Then Steve’s turned on Harold. ‘Do one Grandma!’ Harold turned and ran. He was running for his life, all the way home. All the way to his mother’s old house. The house he grew up in. Running in lace-up weasel shoes resembling shiny tan mice. How fast could he run in these? His arms outstretched his palms braced for the door but Harold turned and noticed something, a pristine BMW parked right outside, like borrowed pomposity. Raindrops patterned randomly on the bonnet, a reminder of Radcliffe. His neck made a loud cracking sound, and he skidded directly to the front door. ‘Who’s that parked outside my house?’ Harold thought. Of course, he didn’t own the street, he owned the house. Although, that in itself was another matter. Last time he had driven was some years ago, and so he had no need for the parking space. Last time he had driven he was in Morecambe Bay, a place that made him think of his sister, and childhood trips to the seaside. The gentile ambience of Morecambe Bay, bracing winds and stiff upper lip made Harold’s mother lose her Radcliffe swagger and adopt fanciful airs and a matching posh voice. For example, she was always telling Harold she had named him as such because ‘A fancy name costs nothing’. Harold had already adopted his mother’s uppity airs presuming that he was better than his older sister, because he had been named after royalty, and she was called Sharon. They were children, of course at the seaside, the siblings had not seen each other since their mother’s funeral. Harold opened the door, something was different, and there was a smell of perfume, a light left on in the kitchen. Harold strode towards it, to turn it off before bed. He almost stumbled over a woman’s shoe, pointed, polished, proud, although stunted, like a puffin’s beak. The shoe dangled off a woman’s crossed leg. Harold stopped in shock at the sight; he was not alone.
‘Hello Harold’ the pointy shoe said.
Happy reading, Samantha xx