Monday, 2 September 2019

The Joneses

by Sandra Walls

The two lads were getting ready for their usual Friday night out.
            David, where’s my tie.
He walked into the room.
            You’re wearing my new tie.
Aw you don’t mind do you, I’m meeting that lass tonight and want to impress.
John continued to press his trousers.
            These bloody bellbottoms are murder to iron, David how do you get ready so fast.
            He sang, well I just pull on my jeans and I feel alright.
            Jeans and a tie?
            Why not I seen it on Top of the Pops, all the bands are wearing jeans.
            Better not let mum see you, she’ll be the talk of the village.
They both laughed.
After a splash of Brut they were ready.
They pumped fast down the stairs.
            John? … David? Your dinner is out on the table.
They made a face at each other and whispered together ‘run for it’.
They both skipped past their mother, John lifted the crisp Yorkshire pudding off the plate and said, we’ll get it later mum, we’re late.
She tutted and lifted the two plates, covered them and took them over to the microwave, one inside and one on top.
She sat down and lit up a Peter Styvesant. 
She always said, ‘I’m in my place, I’m in the kitchen.
But Clif, was generous to her compared to some men.
Having her cigarette, she spoke through the kitchen into the living room area to Clif.  I wonder how long our Betty and Robert will be. 
Well they’re coming from Hamilton for Christ’s sake, it takes a while to get here in those little windy roads. How long are they staying?
Just a week I think.
Are you still puffing away since the boys left.
For God’s sake Clifton, I’ve only had one… then this one.
You and Betty will turn the bloody walls brown, I’m not painting again this year.
It’s fine, I’ll pay old Gwyn to do it, he’s always looking for odd jobs to subsidise that old farm of his.
I’ll need odd jobs to keep you in your habit before long.
She shook her head.
            Samo Samo.
The phone rang.
            Get that Clif will you, I’m doing the washing up.
She was humming ‘Little Lambs eat Ivy’.
            Who is it Clif? is it our Betty?
He put down the phone…
            No, it was the police.  There’s been an accident on the road.
            Oh my God, god, please God let Betty and Robert be alright.
            It wasn’t Betty and Robert.
She just stared over at him, yellow rubber gloves dripping with suds.
David had the car keys, right get in bruv, we’re late.
            John? Stick the radio on.
            The radio?
            What channel.
            BBC Wales, they play the charts at this time.
John re-tuned it.
            Ha Ha Ha Ha Staying Alive – Staying Alive
                                    Staying Ali iiiiiiiiive hive.
Both of them were bouncing along on their seats. 
Clif got a great little bargain with this.
Yeah John, he’s always liked these old cars. 
Yeah he says it’s the only thing that came out of Germany that was any good.
Well he was a P. O. W. Some of his stories would churn your stomach, eh John, have     you heard the stories. 
Yes, some, but I’m more squeamish than you, I prefer my dad’s stories, they’re funny David, you’ve got to admit.
I know but dad wasn’t in a bloody camp watching soldiers being shot.  Anyway, lighten up that’s us here.
Right then, I’ll get you at the door at eleven, and remember you’re driving tonight, it’s your turn David.
I know, I know, I’m only having a few bitter’s coz I’m meeting that girl.
John, as promised was waiting at the door, bang on eleven.  He stood having a fag. Clock-watching, he was working an extra shift in the morning. David is always the bloody same.  I’ll probably need to drive home again, that lad can’t hold his drink. 
            Ope, hear e comes.
The girl had his arm over her shoulder, teetering on platforms.  John ran over and said to her to help get him on the back seat.
            What’s your name love, Gwen, your John yeah? Pleased to meet you. 
            Can I drive you home it’s a cold night.
            No thanks, I’ll get home with my friends, we’ve just called a cab.
John got into the front seat, started up the old diesel engine, and headed down the Great Orm.  It’s at least half an hour or more, depending on the traffic on the Devil’s Horn.  He flicks his head around to see David, ‘Hah! Out for the count, he laughed.’
The radio was still on and was playing ‘Summer Nights’, Grease-mania wasn’t his thing but David styled himself on Travolta, so he left it on in case he could hear.
The news came over the radio, bad weather conditions and high winds are causing chaos on the mountain passes.  The lights have been blown down so drivers need to rely on their headlights until emergency services can get there to fix the problem. Drivers are warned to slow down and take care
            ‘Yawnnnnn!, ahh straighten up’, he put the full beam lights on.
The driver walked into the depot in Chester for his nightshift 10 to 2.  He wore a dark donkey jacket, a fluorescent vest and a woolen tammy. 
Awright mate, is that you going off then?
Yes boss, ill see you in the morning. 
Listen, there’s been weather reports, so keep safe on those mountain passes, no overtaking, some of the lights are blown out.
Will do boss.  I’ve got my flask of coffee, that’ll keep me straight.
Good man.  He tapped the side of the 25 tonne beast.
The driver set on his way north towards Flint, out by the Horn and up the Orm.
He got on his CB, telling truckers about the weather warnings.  He had a laugh with colleagues to pass the time, it’s a short shift there and back in about 6-8 hours.
            I wonder if the garage boys checked my lorry for oil, water, windshield wash and the tyres.  I’m sure they did, they usually do.
He hums along to the songs on the radio and comes in and out of messages on the CB, he’s in the zone now and wanted finished.
            Ten four, I‘m on my way to get up the mountain pass in good time, probably another few hours before I get there but its pitch black, anyone out there went round the Devil’s bend.
He pursed his lips and poured the hot coffee into the flask cup.  Balancing the cup on his knee and screwing the flask lid back on.  A fox’s eyes peered into the cab from his headlights and he broke hard.  The fox ran off the road safe, but the driver was left trying to control the lorry that had started to jack.  His leg was scalded by the coffee and he jumped up and down kicking the leg about to cool the material.
            Phew, that was a close shave. 
The lorry straightened out again and he carried on.  Another couple of hours later, he was yawning hard and tears flooded over his eyes.  He thought about pulling over but he had already started the ascent up the mountain pass roads.
His head was starting to nod off, sleepy with the heat in the cab.
            Two full beam headlights appeared in front of him, and for the second time, hit the breaks in an emergency.
Robert and Betty had arrived in Seafield Nurseries, to visit her sister Agnes who’d stayed there after the war.  It meant the family could get a wee holiday whenever they wanted.
The crackled their way over the ‘Bach Iawn’ meaning tiny bridge.  The big house was all lit up. 
            That’s unusual said Betty, Clif normally goes to bed early as he’s up on the fields in the morning.
            Let’s just get inside, take your night bag in and ill get the big case in the morning.
But when they went in Agnes was screaming at Clif about the car, and he was telling her to calm down as the police were on their way.
            Oh Betty, there’s been an accident, I just know it’s bad, I can feel it in my heart.
            Don’t be silly, we had a decent journey, was a bit windy though, but no accident.
Nohhhhh, not you’s… the boys, John and David took that old German tin can out tonight, and we got a call from police saying there had been an accident.  I can’t think straight.
            Hi Clif,
            Hi Robert, the brother in law’s shook hands.
They went into the parlour and Clif filled Robert in on what he knew.
            Let’s just wait and see.
            Oh God, I hope it’s not John.
            C’mon now, don’t say that.
Robert, brought out a hip flask and offered the burning amber to Clif, he took it, and swigged again.
            Clif, Clif, it’s the door, the door…
            Ok ok, I’ll get it,
Robert went with him.
The two policemen took off their hats and asked to come in.
I’m sorry to have to tell you, that your son’s have been in an accident on the mountain pass with a lorry.
Noh, noh, not my boys, not John…
I’m afraid one of your sons, died on impact, and the other is in critical condition.
Which one, which one is dead?
Mrs Jones we don’t know, there’s a lot of blood, so we need someone to tell us, and then we can pronounce him dead.
We’ve already cut the boy in the back seat out and he’s on his way to hospital.
Betty said, ‘Ok Agnes, we’ll go to the hospital, and Robert and Clif can follow the police.
            No… I can’t go to the hospital, then I’ll know, I’ll know.  I don’t want to know.  Betty stay with me.
            Agnes, I need to use the phone and tell the family back home in Scotland.
            Betty get oor Serra to come, tell her to come, please.
Betty went on the phone, one call to each sister, brother, and cousin.  Serra came on the phone, ‘I’ll come right away, there’s a night bus, I’ll call and see when it leaves.
            Betty, do you know who died?
No, but Clif said he hoped it wasn’t John.
            Oh my God, he’s in shock, he must be, he loves both them boys like his own.
            Aye but he wasn’t saying it for himself.  Agnes went to bed, she can’t face the hospital.
            I’ll get her to go tomorrow, let her cry it out tonight, I’ll see you in the morning.
            Ok, ni-night.
Robert drove at the back of the procession of sirens and lights. You alright Clif… Clif?
            I haven’t felt as sick since I was going to that camp.
Robert didn’t speak.
They got to the scene, the fire brigade were working on freeing the car.  The chief walked over. 
            There was no fire, but I have to prepare you, it looks bad.  The wheel went right through his rib-cage on impact.
            A man was sitting on the back steps of an ambulance with a grey blanket.
Robert asked   ‘Is that him, is that the fucking …, was he drunk, was that bastard drunk.
Please calm down, the man is in shock, it was an accident, he was not drunk, just an overworked lorry driver doing his route.  The lights were out with the weather… and well it happened before he knew it.
            Clif, do you want to go and see who was driving.
            No, you do it Robert, you knew the boys longer than me.  I can’t tell Agnes.  Whose going to tell Agnes.
His voice broke down.
            It’s my fault Robert, I bought that old car, she’ll blame me. I blame me.
Robert walked up the hill on the mountain pass, the road was packed with police, ambulance, and fire services.  The policeman took Robert to the front of the car. And he knew then who it was.


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