As We Remember It
Anger battled with Drew’s grief and it threatened to strangle him.
Everything around him had a coating of white, from the cheap furniture to the doors. White sheets tucked in flush-faced men in white beds and doctors in dry white coats standing in rooms of four white walls. Everything so overwhelmingly white. The view outside the window had promised some color, the trees dressed in autumn coats of gold and red surrounded by wire fencing that ran along the road which terminated from view at the junction.
Drew was looking through the window for an answer that might not exist. As though somewhere out there was an answer to everything.
Drew entered his father’s hospital room. His father rose from his bed, hair pulling away from his head like solar flares. He sat upright in bed with his slippers on as though he had a place to go. None of this felt real; Drew had not made a series of midnight calls to gather everyone in time for a final goodbye. No, he had not spent the night sobbing down the phone. No, the future had not switched from being a promise to a threat. Some family members and friends had been and gone. Others had not bothered to make an appearance; as though that person that lived so far away that they said they loved so much, really didn’t matter at all in the end or maybe, they just didn’t want to remember him this way.
There was a time that his father was big and loud, a swaggering tower of noise and muscle.
Now he was nothing more than bones and whimpers.
“Sit down, over there”, said his father.
Drew sat in a chair by the bed and shuffled in his seat as his Father coughed violently into his balled fist. Drew began to rise to pour a glass of water but his father motioned waved him down back into the seat. “It’s fine, fine,” said Drew’s father clearing his throat.
Drew had already seen the blood in the tissue despite his father’s best efforts to hide it.
“No, Drew. No. It’s already got me. It’s too late now,” said Drew’s father as he waved away Drew’s advancing hands.
“It’s never too late, dad, never,” Said Drew in denial.
Drew’s father shook his head, “I wish I had done things differently. I wish I could have gone back and told myself to make the most of what I had because this is not worth it. It’s too late for me. Something so simple. Give it up. Live. Nah, I had to stick my fingers in my ears and pretend I was the only person in the world who was right. You know how they say a penny can derail a train. Well, sometimes it can happen to people.”
Drew found himself driving in away from his home, along with the roads leading to the outer villages. A left here and a right there, then another and another before he realized where he was going, where he was going all along.
His car coughed, sputtered, and bunny hopped to a stop just in front of a large white sign in bold black letters that read;
WELCOME TO FRIDAYBRIDGE, PLEASE DRIVE SLOWLY.
Drew looked up and saw the place he had not seen in twenty-five years.
It seemed that time had forgotten this place. Even the parked cars he passed seemed older somehow. Then he saw it, Crawley’s fish and chip shop. Drew wondered how this place was still here.
He walked down the slight incline towards the entrance and found it was open.
The place was exactly as he remembered. The pebbledash walls and big silver counter, metallic surfaces with orange panels, PUKKA PIES in bold black lettering across them, and the plain white linoleum floor with a pattern of stains that long refused to leave. A teenage girl with an elfish face sat behind the counter, blonde hair tied back. She looked up expectantly with the impatient look of someone who wanted to be anywhere but here. Drew pushed down his excitement as he spoke, “Do you still do chips in a paper cone? You know, where you get a puddle of vinegar at the bottom?”
The girl nodded, looking thrown by the request.
“I used to eat here. A lot. The one thing I remember always ordering – a cone of chips, Fred Crawley the old bloke who ran the place back then would throw in a can of coke as well, all for fifty pence – you won’t get that sort of value nowadays,” said Drew as he laughed softly and a little apologetically.
The girl looked at him a little quizzically then shrugged, turned, and started to shovel chips into the cone.
“You know, you look familiar to me, as though I’ve seen you before.”
“I just have one of those faces” the girl shrugged.
“It’s been a long time. Twenty-odd years since I left here” said, Drew, as he reached the bottom of the cone. “It’s like nothing changed as time had forgotten here.”
The girl placed a can of coke on the counter in front of Drew and held out her hand, “that’ll be fifty pence please”
Drew fished around in his pockets then stopped abruptly, “fifty pence? For chips and the coke?”
The girl nodded and smiled.
“Fair enough, I won’t tell if you won’t,” said Drew with a smile and a wink as he handed over a fifty pence piece “that was kind of you”.
“I have no idea what you’re on about, but okay.”
Drew passed the soggy cone back over to the girl and dusted his hands off, “Funny. How many memories you connect with a place. I always thought that if I ever came back here that it would all have changed”, Drew turned on the spot and took in a final look, “it’s like I left yesterday, I almost expect to catch old Fred Crawley sleeping on a bag of potatoes out the back, skiving just like he always did before he died.”
Drew turned and made for the exit, tilted his head over his shoulder and looked to the girl amazed how some places seemed still as time passed it by, “thank you” then left back into the village.
The girl wiped down the counter and watched as the man walked from view. She checked the fridge and realized that she had sold the last can of coke to that odd man.
The girl walked out back to where the sun warmed the bricks and found the old man sleeping on a bag of potatoes.
The old man opened his eyes, took a deep breath, smacked his lips, and rubbed his jaw.
“We’re out of coke.”
Fred Crawley nodded and winked, “I’ll grab some from the cash and carry later” he then went back to sleep.
Drew walked down further, past the church, past where his friend Scott used to live, past the huge white clock tower that sat at the center of the village and south from there, past the primary school he attended as a child. Drew listed off the houses as he passed, remembering which houses his old friends lived, “Dewey’s house, The Hobbs, Cooper’s…Fordy’s house…”
A spinning chain rattled out noisily as a rearing shadow of a bike rose behind him, the wheel clunked down with a screech of brakes jerking the front wheel down and pulling the rear wheel up before thudding down again.
“I did it! I did it! I pulled a wheelie!” exclaimed a sweaty headed child dressed in faded jeans and a baggy tie-dye Joe Bloggs T-shirt.
“I remember my bike, I went everywhere on it, you any good?” Asked Drew.
“Dunno. Never thought about it.” Said the kid.
“I only came off badly once, I always rode on the pavement, and I hit something that sent me flying like Superman over the handlebars and smack-bang into a post,” said Drew recalling the pain from some distant memory.
“Yeah, I did that too,” said the kid rubbing his forehead, “right on a lamppost on my paper round near Flint’s Corner. My dad says I’m lethal on this, but I know what I’m doing.”
“Ouch!” Drew laughed lightly, “You know, I lived here as well, right down there the first house you come to beyond the trees here”, pointing down the road.
“The Allan house?”
“That’s right. You still call it that?” said Drew, the excitement barely contained in his voice.
“Call it what?”
“The Allan house, I’m Drew Allan. What’s your name?” Said Drew holding out a hand to shake.
“You’re not Drew Allan,” said the kid wide-eyed and pushing off on his bike, gathering speed quickly he disappeared from sight, outrunning the sound of Drew’s voice.
Drew sighed. He continued down past the road and past the trees towards his childhood home.
The house was exactly as he remembered it. Two up, two down. A shanty garage at the side with a red Ford Escort parked inside.
Drew walked down the path, past the shanty garage, and towards the back door.
Slowly Drew reached out and knocked on the door, he heard the bark of a dog and saw the blurry outline of a person approaching through the frosted glass.
“Yes?” A middle-aged man smiled as he answered the door, the scent of smoke and Brute hit Drew’s senses his legs buckled and every part of his body was stunned into numbness. White-faced and wide-eyed, his jaw moving but not articulating the words his brain demanded.
“Dad. Dad.” The words trickled out from Drew’s mouth.
“Who is it, Jamie?” said another voice from inside the house.
Drew leaned against the door to support himself. How could something so impossible be as real as the pain that he now felt?
“Mum. Is that Mum?” Said Drew, his voice trembled.
“Who are you? What do you want here?”
“Why are you both here? How can you be here?” said Drew as he shook his head.
A woman appeared from behind the door, stepping in front of the man.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
Drew stepped forward with his arms outstretched as though to embrace them both, “don’t you know me? It’s Drew, your son, Drew.”
“Drew?” The woman turned her head to the man and lowered her voice it had turned high and shaky, “I don’t think he’s all there. I don’t want him here.”
The man started to close the door, Drew threw his foot over the threshold, stopping it from shutting him out. “Wait. Wait. Don’t be scared. I’m Drew. I grew up here” The enormity of the mystery did not matter right now, what mattered was that they recognized him and right now they didn’t.
“What’s the matter with you, don’t you recognize me? Look at my eyes, look at the hair at the white patch at the back”, Drew turned his head to flash the back of the white patch of hair set in a brown crown. “And my little fingers, look them, bent inwards at the top, crooked”, Drew held up a hand as he resisted the door closing against him. Drew was losing the battle.
“Dad, look at me…please.”
The door closed, shutting Drew out.
Drew stared at the door, then to the floor, his thoughts scattershot across his mind Drew found himself unable to comprehend what it was that was happening. His face a mask, Drew turned away from the door and made his way back to the road.
A couple of boys played football against the Community Centre wall. Legs, shouts. The scrape and snap of Kickers on loose pebbles catapulted their voices high into the air. Drew watched the coordinated grace they shuffled around each other. No goals in mind, no scores kept, just the bounce and punt of the ball. They’re doing this for themselves, not as a show for some stranger walking around the village. They noticed Drew’s presence, even though there was two of them and one of him, they gathered up the ball and walked casually from view. They had heard things about strangers.
Drew heard the wind rustle through the trees across the narrow street, the smell of sap and leaves in the breeze, dissonance so rich in nostalgia that he paused momentarily to listen. He remembered being at the top of those trees, right at the very top, he would feel like a king.
Drew wondered towards his forgotten kingdom, as he approached the grove of trees, a bike leaned against the trunk of one of them, and he saw a kid up a tree with a penknife in his hand in the process of carving something into it. The boy glanced down at Drew and threw his penknife into the bushes. Drew stepped over, looked up, and examined the carving it read;
DREW ALLAN WUZ ERE.
“Drew Allan? You’re Drew Allan?”
The boy leaned backward, “I didn’t mean nothin’, honest. Lots of kids carve their names here. Honest. I’m not the first-”
Drew interrupted, “You’re Drew Allan. Sure, that’s who you are. That’s the way I looked -”
The boy leaned back further and fell from the tree, he bolted his feet, limped to the opening in the trees, and broke into a shambling run. Drew, his face contorted with excitement and discovery, called after the boy.
“Drew! Drew, don’t be frightened –hey, Drew-” Drew started to take a few running steps after the boy and then stopped. There was no way he was going to be able to run and catch his younger self, even if his younger self had appeared to have hurt his leg. Too many bad habits and adulthood had seen to that. Drew turned slow1y to see a woman staring at him. There was a curiosity on the woman’s face and almost an accusation. Drew’s voice sounded hesitant as he pointed in the direction of where the boy had run and disappeared.
“I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted to talk to him… ask him some questions. I was going to tel1 him what would happen to him.” Drew closed his eyes and ran a hand over his forehead, “I don’t know. I really don’t know”.
The woman looked uneasy and started to walk away.
“You don’t understand, do you? Please. Let me tell you what’s happened to me…” said Drew as he stepped closer “please…”
The woman walked with no intention of listening.
There were no street lights along the road, just the milky radioactive glow of the moon. The chirping night songs of grasshoppers and the rustle of the wind whistled into the barley.
Drew made his way to the back yard of his old home to find his father sitting on the bench smoking.
“Back again, huh?”
“Mum still doesn’t know you’re still smoking again, not yet, anyway. You had told her you had quit” said Drew as he looked around taking it all in. Inside a living, breathing memory, everything as real as he had left then right in front of him now. “I had to come back this is my home. These are my hands,” said Drew holding up both his hands to show each crooked little finger”, this is that white patch of hair I have that all the kids tease me about” Drew turned his head to show the patch that sat in the middle of his crown.
The cigarette slipped from his father’s hand and rolled across the ground into the grass.
“Who are you? What do you want here?” asked his father softly.
“I just want to rest. I just want to stop running for a while. I belong here. Don’t you understand, Dad? I belong here”
“Look, son, you’re probably sick. You’ve got delusions or something. And I don’t want to hurt you and I don’t want you to get into any trouble either. But you better get out of here or there will be trouble.” His father replied.
The outside light came on and his mother came out, not noticing at first that Drew was standing there.
“Mum, won’t you look at me? Look into my face. You can tell, can’t you?”
“You’re a stranger. I’ve never seen you before, Jamie, tell him to go away.” ”You’ve got a son named Drew, haven’t you? He goes to Fridaybridge Primary School. Every school holiday, he spends the week at his Nan’s farm in Waldersea with his cousin Matthew, and a couple of summers you’ve gone up to Hunstanton and rented a caravan there. And once I had a sister and she died when she was a year old.”
“Where’s Drew now?” His mother’s voice trembled with concern.
Drew reached out and grabbed his mother by the arms so he had her undivided attention, beyond logic, beyond caring, it only mattered that they believed now.
“I’m Drew! I’m your son! You’ve got to believe me. I’m your son, Drew.”
With his free hand, Drew grabbed at his wallet and tore into it. Coins tossed out and landed on the concrete, his driver’s license and bank card tumbled out, an old photo with him and the parents, older than what he is in this exact year and a lot younger than what he was now.
The existence of one man summarized in one leather wallet.
“Please. They’ll show you -”
Drew saw the desperate, frightened, look on her face as she struggled to get away, Drew recoiled as her hand struck him hard across the face. A dead silence fell.
From inside the house, the shrill tone of the phone rang.
“Make him go, Jamie, before Drew gets home,” his mother said as she turned and entered the house with an only single glance. Drew hoped there was doubt there somewhere.
His father bent down, gathered the fallen items, he glanced over them. Turned them over in his hands, and took an interest. He looked over each item, again and again, brow furrowing.
“How is it even possible? It’s you. Is this what a driver’s license is in the future, a card with your photo? The coins feel real and they have dates on them years and years from now. Future years. Then there’s this…” Drew’s father held up the photo “This is us in the future, isn’t it?”
“You know now then, don’t you?”
“Yes, I think I know. I know who you are and I know you’ve come from a long ways from here. A long way and… And a long time. I don’t know why or how — do you?”
Drew shook his head.
“But you know other things, don’t you, Drew? Things that will happen.” Drew nodded, “yes, I do.”
“Do you know when I am going to…you know…pop my clogs?”
Drew nodded, “I have an idea, but it doesn’t have to be. You can save us both.”
“Us both? Are you…already?”
Drew shook his head, “No, I’m not dead, but I might as well be if I lose you like that”.
“Like what?” then his father held his hand up, “actually, don’t tell me. Best I don’t know.”
“No, I have to tell you, then I can save us both because I know I will lose you one day, but I don’t want to lose you like that. No one should go like that.”
His father’s face looked ashen, confused, as though the world had revealed all its secrets and those of the universe. “Better I don’t know,” said his father lighting a new cigarette.
“Make that the last ever smoke and you’ll never have to know.”
Drew’s father looked at Drew then at his cigarette then back at Drew before he stubbed it out on the floor and then reached into his pocket and threw what remained of the packet into the field.
His father watched the stillness of the night and reflected for a moment.
“Drew, you know you have to leave here. There’s no room for you… and there’s no place. And you can’t ever tell yourself anything, do you understand?”
“I see that now. But I don’t understand. Why not?”
“There’s no telling what we’ve changed already, maybe this was the only time you could come back, and maybe it isn’t? How could you ever know? Maybe you’ll find another thing you want to change, then another, and another, and maybe you’ll never have the memory of doing it. Maybe you’ll keep changing until the day you can’t and won’t remember whatever was or ever will be.”
Drew rose to his feet and stared into the night.
“Is it so bad where you’re from?”
“I thought so. I’ve been living…I’ve been living at a dead run, Dad. I was so tired. So sad. And then… every day…I wished I could have seen it coming and have the chance to change it. I wished to come back to get you to listen. I can stop wishing. I can breathe and close my eyes and smell and listen and maybe not have to worry.”
The door swung open, his mother stood there with her arms crossed.
“Isn’t he gone yet? He needs to go and we need to get to the hospital, Drew has had an accident, he fell from a tree, hurt his leg. His grandad is with him, reckons he’ll have a limp for life. Thinks he knows more than the hospital.” Drew’s mother shook her head. Drew knew that look in her eye. He knew it well. Now was a good time to go. He couldn’t live in the past forever. He knew that now.
Drew’s father nodded.
“How can you be so damn calm, Jamie? Get rid of him and so we can go.”
Drew’s father smiled. His mother stormed off into the house.
“I guess we all want that. But, Drew, when you go back… maybe you’ll find that things have changed. Maybe they haven’t. Maybe you haven’t looked in the right place. You’ve been looking behind you, Drew. Try looking ahead.”
“Maybe. Goodbye, Dad.”
His father nodded and stepped towards the door, but stopped just short of the threshold.
“Hi, something for you?”
“Yeah, two cones of chips with lots of vinegar in one and none in other and two cans of coke”
“Mind if I sit and wait?”
“Go for it.”
“That’ll be four pounds please.”
“What about this old place? Old Fred Crawley used to run this place when I was a boy, he used to skive out the back, he used to sleep on a bag of potatoes at the back” replied Drew.
“Oh, he died. A long time ago. Must be fifteen-twenty years.”
“Visiting the old hometown then?”
“Yeah” Drew reached into his pockets and winced, “I’ve changed my mind. Guess I’ll pass on the coke.”
Drew rose from his seat, hissed through his teeth, and stumbled back into the chair onto his backside, gripping his cane for support.
“You okay?” called the girl from behind the counter, she had an elfish face and blonde hair.
“Yeah,” replied Drew with an embarrassed smile “I fell out of a tree a while ago, I was chased out of it by some stranger. Never saw him again after that and I’m glad, he scared the hell out of me, my dad stopped smoking the same day. He was a heavy smoker too. Twenty, thirty a day, easy. Then suddenly none. Ever again.” Drew paused for thought “weird, scary. An eventful day”.
“Which trees were that?”
“The ones that were across the road from the community center that still there? I practically spent my childhood in them”
“The building is, but the trees are long gone, houses there now. Little late now, I guess.”
“How’s that?” asked Drew
“A little late for you”
“Yeah, I suppose. Too old to be up against some tree now.” Said Drew with a wry smile as he limped over and handed over the money. “I’d better get back to the car, I left my dad there. We were just passing through and thought we’d take a look at the old place.”
Drew glanced over his shoulder for one final look, “this village, nothing has changed, it’s just as we remember it”.
Rob Teun writes horror, sc-fi and fantasy. He lives in Lincolnshire with his family.
You can follow Rob on Twitter @rob_teun