The novel in process.
Working title Lunsford
The story so far: the eponymous character, Martin Lunsford, and his friend Mick Downs have been involved in a hit and run on their ways home from their social club in a small city in the south of England. Mick’s wife, Jean – a senior member of the nursing staff at the Royal County Hospital – is at home. It’s a Friday night.
In the countryside, the ghosts of the past and future are eying the present with a concern reserved for families over the activities of angry children or grandparents riddled with fractured nostalgia.
(Elsewhere in the city a group of people have had their first meeting to forge a brave new political party the aim of which is a return to traditional, sensible, godly, British “values”)
And an important dog called ‘Adelaide’ appears soon…
This is the raw first draft and unedited for grammar, meaning, language, sense…
Please leave useful subbing comments below, and if you’d like to read more, please let me know.
23rd November 1977 (23:45)
Mick died on the spot. His body wrecked. Blood everywhere. No pain except sadness and grief, his own grief at his own death. A realisation of how much he’d miss his life. His wife, Jean, was waiting at home to chide him gently about his weight and her wait.
She’d been reading a book on the sofa under the light from a tall, simply designed lamp, sipping a dark rum. She’d not been thinking about much else other than she had a long weekend. She wasn’t on shift at the hospital for a clear three days. Three days. Mick and her were going to try once again to get Lunsford out of himself. Maybe a trip down to Port Hampton for the sea air. They’d try to get him to talk about Chloé again. Her name had been reduced to her gravestone and had slipped from conversation. They were all so close before. There’d been a few ups and downs over the decades, of course there had.
If Jean was honest with herself, which she invariably was, as much as anybody ever is, Chloé had been the only real friend she’d made down in the south, in this small town that considered itself an important city because it was fat with ancient architecture and ideas. Crosschester staggered along under its own tonnage of time: Celts, Romans, Saxons, Normans, ruins, repetitions, battles, Roman Catholics, Protestants, fighting, law courts and minor aristocracy, plagues, fires, murders and marriages of political convenience, whiteness and Georgians, Victorians and hard Christianity, canes and schoolboy suicides up on Mizmaze Hill, hung from the tree because of loneliness and the expectation of sex and heritage. All looking back.
Jean’s family were, for the most part, in Birmingham. She’d met Mick at a dance club not so long ago. He’d travelled up to Brum for a course and had ended up in Accident and Emergency with a sprained ankle. While she was wrapping his foot, they started to chat. He was shy but funny. She was at the end of her shift and sick of the abuse or groping or combinations of the two that she’d endured. They liked each other immediately. She was professional and lovely. He was bumbling and kind. That should have been it. But they met again by accident in the Bullring a month later when he’d travelled up to see a football match, or at least that’s what he’d told himself.
“Too much coincidence”, she’d smiled at him in the teeming rain.
“Just about enough, I hope”, he’d replied in his usual quiet way.
They’d swapped addresses and for the next few months would visit each other, travelling by bus, hot on the way, terribly empty on the return. He’d proposed to her in the Bull Ring with wide eyes and the expectation of kind rejection. She’d accepted with relief and love. Then decisions, decisions. The wedding, with Lunsford as his Best Man, was in Birmingham with much outrageous joyfulness, rum, chicken and peas (which confused Lunsford, although Mick cheered him along). A honeymoon in Scotland because neither of them had ever been and then she agreed to move to Crosschester.
And there she was. In their house. Midnight came and went. She was cross, it was so unlike him. She couldn’t call Lunsford at that time of night but that’s where he was in the kitchen of Lunsford’s Oak Cottage home, tipsy and playing dominoes or talking about work and football, dead friends from the navy. She went to bed with plans for wrath and forgiveness.
The telephone rang at 1am, just a second after she had fallen asleep. She knew exactly what it meant before she went downstairs in her dressing gown to pick up the receiver.
She knew the junior doctor on the other end of the bloody line, she entered her work-body and asked him for the exact details and she breathed deeply and calmly as she fell to her knees in agony as her uniform responses slipped off her like useless, dead skin. She cried, she sobbed, she stood and went into the cupboard under the stairs where she found her sewing box. Slowly and deliberately she chose a length of red ribbon which she tied around her wrist.
Soon afterwards she had reached the hospital, saw Lunsford unconscious, bruised, hatefully thankfully alive, and then she went to hospital’s small morgue. Her beautiful man’s hideous body was there. She swore it was still warm and some life was left calling to her not to let him go. No tears, though. No tears. He was cold, and there were Nine Days of mourning on her own to occupy herself with. Nine Days, and a plan was already forming for the future.
“Don’t worry. He won’t be left alone in the dark, we’ll make sure of that, we’ll look after him for you”, said one of the people in the room. Someone with a voice and a family, and a home to go to with a cup of tea to share and bills to complain about and plans to make, someone who didn’t have to say anything at all but said that out of love or at least care for someone who they hardly knew.
She thanked the duty staff. There was nothing to be done for Mick any more, but there was lots that needed doing in the future. The future like an angry, needy, hungry dog wouldn’t back away for anyone. She tried to reach her bicycle in the staff rack at the back of the wards without meeting anybody along the way but the further she went, the slower she went and the more people approached her with condolences so formal and mannered that they could have been offers of marriage or the serving of legal writs.
“Sister Downs, I just heard I don’t know what to say…” she walked on, not knowing why anybody needed to say anything.
“If there’s anything you can think of that the hospital can do, Nurse Downs…” on she walked unable think about anything expect why she was expected to reach conclusions and have solutions.
“Jean, if only there were words…” she walked on. No words. No words ever.
“We’ve never really talked but I want you to know how terribly shocked and sad I am for…” she walked on and on and on, never fast enough.
“Jean! Jean! Hold on, wait! Was it your husband? I heard the name from Sam Kenyon and I couldn’t believe it… Jean! Wait!” on and on and on and on, she began to run, she fled. She reached her bike and rode home in the darkness and freezing cold to a new life.