Life Begins at Sixty

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: CLOG
A second short story, based on the characters of the Peckham Novels. Eventually some twelve or more such stories will make up a volume entitled 'Teabreak Tales.'

Submitted: October 25, 2016

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Submitted: October 25, 2016

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Harry Derry scrutinised the dregs in the bottom of his cup. The past few days had shattered his normally dull routines, and he wondered what the future might hold. Despite a total absence of Romany blood, and thus no skill at interpreting the longer term future from the leaves, he had a good idea what his immediate future held. His intuition was based more on the rumblings in his stomach, than on any pattern in the sludge that might, or might not, have been tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. The longer term future, however, remained a mystery. The events of the past few days gave him hope that what was in store would be quite different to the past decade of long boring years of widowhood, with its diet dictated by the tin-opener and the shelf life of white-sliced bread.

His mind was in a turmoil. Harry had met his future wife when they were both teenagers, and had never wanted the company of any other woman. They had thought and acted as two halves of a whole, and after she died he resented those well-meaning friends, who later tried to introduce him to available female companions.

But now he was beginning to think that perhaps he had accepted his dull cycle of work, housework and sleep too readily. For the past year, even since the new factory manager, Jason Ponsonby, had tricked gullible young Reg Swinton into becoming his assistant on a derisory wage, things had been happening which enlivened his life. It started with Reg revealing that his mother was engaged to a local crime boss. A revelation that was quickly followed by Harry being included in an evening out, and dinner with the evil Ernie Ernshaw.

This was followed by amusing regular snippets about Reg’s reluctant love life with Mabel Longman: a match as different as it was possible to be from his own memories of idyllic domestic bliss with his late wife. More recently the factory had changed hands, and, to his surprise, Harry had discovered that Reg had played some part in transferring ownership to the voluptuous Tracey Mulligan.

It was this change of ownership that eventually caused Harry to question his dull daily routine. Tracey wore Evening in Paris perfume: the same as his wife had done, and, together with her beautifully filled haute couture clothes and beguiling personality, she stirred emotions in Harry that he found difficult to describe. Initially that perfume simply brought back memories of his dear departed wife, but more recently the scent invoked a baser emotion. He had told himself not to be so silly, as his thoughts returned again and again to the woman half his age, especially as she would not look out of place on the cover of Vogue magazine, and had dozens of admirers.

Over time he came to realise that perhaps the emotion was not quite as base as he had at first thought. Harry and his wife had not had any children. It was the only point of sadness in their otherwise gloriously happy marriage. Both had wanted children, but it was one of nature’s cruel tricks, frustrating the pair of would-be parents. Eventually it had dawned on Harry that Tracey was about the age that an own daughter would now be, had he had one, and that his increasingly close affinity with her was becoming more akin to the pride that a father takes in his children.

He had come to treasure the occasions when work brought him in contact with her, and watched her in the same way a proud parent would. She, in turn, looked upon him as one of the more sensible of her employees, and frequently consulted him on matters beyond his own remit in managing the stores. With her tactile nature, often resting her hand on his arm as she spoke, he drew much envy from the many younger workers.

But the past week had brought a new dimension to Harry’s emotional roller-coaster. Tracey had introduced him to a visiting aunt. The aunt, Doreen, was older by some twenty or so years than her niece, but in many ways a clone of his boss. She had the same hour glass figure, the same long blonde hair, and she wore the same alluring perfume. The facial similarity was sufficient to lead strangers to assume they were sisters, especially when she smiled that smile which Tracey used so effectively to cajole those around her into submitting to her will.

Beset by crisis after crisis at the factory, Tracey found that work robbed her of the leisure time she had planned to spend with her aunt, and she had persuaded Harry to look after her out-of-town visitor. Reluctant at first, Harry was surprised at his own feelings at he escorted Doreen around the sights of the Capital, and eventually a relaxed evening for two, in the local Indian restaurant.

So today Harry sat in the canteen like an awkward youth, making a cup of Edith’s foul brew last as long as possible, and hoping that Doreen, who was spending the morning in the office with her niece, would show up so he could engineer a casual meeting.

He was trying to decide if he could gain time by purchasing a second cup, or if the internal effect of the additional hot liquid would hasten his departure from the canteen, when he noticed the noise level in the room become muted. Forty conversations were suspended, as workers turned to admire their boss and her aunt walking down the stairs from the offices above. Harry was torn between trying to attract Doreen’s attention, and appearing not to be too eager. There was definitely something between them the night before, but he was unsure if it was a passing intimacy fuelled by wine and soft lights, or if it could progress to a longer term relationship. He settled for casually looking down at his newspaper, and hoped she would notice him.

“Hello Harry. I thought you might be avoiding me, tucked away in the corner here.”

Harry turned, and glowered at his young assistant. He got on well with the man, but just now he did not want his company.

“Just having a quiet few minutes, Reg. Have you labelled this morning’s production already?”

“Yes, Harry. I’ve got the stock figures here. I thought you might like to give them to the boss.”

Harry nodded his appreciation, and held out his hand for the folded sheets that Reg offered him. He got up to approach Tracey, but Reg put a hand on his shoulder.

“Not here, Harry. Wait until they go back upstairs. More private that way.”

Harry stared at young Reg. By all account the man’s own love-life read more like a horror story, but it was sound advice. He slumped back down in his chair, and returned his attention to the newspaper. Reg turned and made his way to the counter, joining the queue a few places behind Tracey and Doreen. As Doreen picked up her change and turned, she saw Reg, and smiled. Reg nodded his head sideways and she glanced at the corner of the room. Her smile widened into a grin.

“Time to join me for a walk in the Park?”

Harry spun round to face the voice from behind. He did not need to see who it was to recognise her. That slight burr, imparted from a life in rural Cheshire, told him within her first three syllables as she spoke. He blushed as he vigorously nodded his acceptance, then hastily pushed back his chair. As he rose to stand, and his face came up past her eye-level, a hint of Evening in Paris curled into his nostrils. He paused for a moment, before straightening to his full height.

Doreen slipped an arm in the crook of his elbow and steered him towards the stairs.

“I’ve a favour to ask you,” she purred, as they mounted the staircase to the ground floor. “I was going to go home tomorrow. Tracey has another guest staying, and I think I’m cramping her style a bit. But I could stop on for a while, if I had somewhere else to stay.”

Rather than ask outright she had left it to him to invite her. Harry desperately thought about the state of his spare bedroom. It had not been slept in for ten years or more, and it would take some effort to make it habitable. Doreen took his musings to be hesitation.

“Of course, if you’d rather not...”

“Yes…! You can stay with me. I just need to sort out some things first.”

She laughed, and it went right through him. It also attracted the attention of other workers around them. He steered her towards the exit.

Harry felt embarrassed as people he knew nodded to them as they passed. He had not walked out with a woman since his wife died, and until recently had considered even the thought of such an action disrespectful of her memory. But there was something about Doreen that made it feel like the right thing to do. He pressed his elbow against his ribs, drawing her closer.

“If you give me your key, I’ll get Tracey to take my stuff over. Then perhaps I can get some supper ready for when you get home.”

Harry bit his lip and nodded again. He had heard from Reg how Tracey could always persuade people to do what she wanted, and convince them that it was what they wanted to do at the same time. Clearly it was a family trait, but Harry was more than happy to accede to her wishes. He fished in his pocket, and brought out a bunch of keys.

She took them, and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

“See you tonight,” she purred, as she freed herself from his arm and walked away.

Harry watched her wiggle away, and baser instincts again rose up through him. He glanced at his watch. Another four hours before the factory hooter announced the end of the day, and Harry was not sure how he was going to get through them. Perhaps another cup of Edith’s evil brew would distract him enough to pass the time bearably.

 

 

*****


 

Harry Derry and Doreen Mulligan are characters from the Peckham Novels, available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon and other on-line bookstores.


 


© Copyright 2017 James Court. All rights reserved.

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