Once upon a time, on a High Street not so very far from here, a fresh-faced young virgin looked up from the record counter at Woolworth’s, straight into the beautiful chestnut-brown eyes of Mr Right. Flustered, colouring to the tips of her dainty little ears, she looked down again immediately and began flicking through the albums in the W rack and, when she looked up, he had gone.
Yet the image of his perfection was imprinted on her mind. She had to see him again. Over the next few days and weeks and months, she searched for him in all the likely places. But her efforts were fruitless. Roaming through the record shops, she had several sightings of shaggy Afghan coats, but none on the back of Mr Right. Loitering with a raspberry milk-shake in yet another coffee-bar, she was afforded multiple glimpses of men with flowing golden curls, but none adorning the head of her prince charming.
At that point, she could have given up on life, taken to her bed in despair, but, being a practical kind of girl, she decided to cut her losses and accept an invitation to see Tommy at the flicks with Mr Good-enough. A meal at the Wimpy followed soon after. Before she knew it, she was back on the High Street discussing wedding bouquets at the florist's. Then, after the proper interval, inquiring about remedies for colic and nappy-rash at Boot's. Later, with the kids settled at school, she had a desk at Prospect Residentials, popping out at lunchtimes to pick up some shopping from the Co-op.
She loved her husband, her children, even her job; never mind that it placed her lower, in the eyes of the general public, than politicians and traffic wardens. A proper fairy-tale ending. I should be happy.
Why, then, thirty-odd years on, are my dreams still haunted by a man I thought the spit of Roger Daltry? Why is each waking moment filled with thoughts of how life might have been had I had the courage to engage him in a deep-and-meaningful conversation about the relative merits of Pictures of Lily over Substitute when I had the chance? I'm not eating, I'm not sleeping, and sex is just going through the motions. My fingernails are chewed down to the stumps and I've given up watching my soaps because I can no longer follow the storyline.
"Tell me what you want," says Husband. "I can change." He even suggests sessions at Relate.
How can I expect him to turn back the clock to a time when I was younger than Daughter is now, and twice as naive, to a time before cassettes, CD’s and iPods? How can I blame Mr Good-enough for going bald and podgy on me, for falling asleep before the end of the Six O'clock News? That's just how real life is.
"File for divorce if you're not happy," says Best Friend. "The kids are grown up. It's time you had some excitement in your life." She's never forgiven Husband for turning down an offer to go bungee jumping as a foursome.
"I couldn't," I say. "He'd never get over it."
But, will I get over it? What will become of me if I can't expunge the thought of Mr Right from my mind?
Like the desperate teenager I once was, I seek him everywhere. Each time I go to assess a new property, each time I take a customer for a viewing, I'm scrutinising the faces of middle-aged men, looking for some hint that, if I were to close my eyes and kiss their leathery cheeks, their hair would grow and their trousers would flare out at the ankles and magic them into my handsome prince.
One day, off to view a property on Castle Street, the gas board is digging up the road and I have to find a different route. An unseasonal fog has settled on the town, and I lose my bearings. That's when I come across the little record shop on the corner that I'd swear wasn't there the last time I was round this way. The Slipped Disc, it says above the window, in funky pink and yellow lettering. I can't resist.
The tinkling of a cow-bell as I push open the door. A waft of sandalwood from the joss-sticks burning on the counter. Rank upon rank of vinyl. It's like stepping into a cheap film-set of the early Seventies.
A man looks up from one of the racks and meets my gaze. The hair, although now quite grey, hangs to his shoulders in luxuriant curls. There's no mistaking those rich brown eyes.
He smiles, as if he's been expecting me. As if he, too, has felt something missing all these years. "Is it …?"
"Yes?" I can hardly catch my breath.
He laughs, shakes his head. "Sorry, it's just that I've been waiting for the estate agent." He runs his hand through his wavy hair. "Every time somebody walks into the shop my heart misses a beat. I'm rather jittery about selling up, you see."
"But I'm an estate agent." I feel as if I've walked into someone else's dream.
He looks equally confused. "I was expecting a man."
My lip trembles as Mr Right reveals himself as Mr Chauvinist. Never mind the Seventies; this guy is a throwback to the days before women had the vote! Yet I've been equally ridiculous: building my hopes around a man I'd never even spoken to.
He flicks through a desk diary. "Mr King, I was told. But it doesn't matter. I assume he's given you all the details."
"Oh, I see. You're dealing with King's Commercials. I'm across the road at Prospect Residentials." They do shops, we do houses; it's a matter of specialisation, not gender. Perhaps there's hope for us yet. "I was on my way to Castle Street and got lost with the fog and the roadworks. And then I noticed your shop. What a coincidence you were waiting for an estate agent as well."
"Isn't it?" He steps towards me. "Although I'd call it serendipity." He blushes, like a teenager plucking up the courage to propose to his girlfriend. "May I ask you something?"
I hold my breath, half close my eyes.
"You needn't tell me if it's a trade secret. But there's something that's been bugging me since I spoke to Mr King on the phone. Is it true that estate agents sometimes give you a valuation a bit on the low side? Maybe they've got a friend who's going to snap it up on the cheap before it goes on the market?"
This wasn't in the script. The smell of sandalwood is making me feel distinctly light-headed.
Mr Right steps to the side, leans his belly against the rack of records. "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked. You must get fed up with stories about crooked estate agents. It's just that I'm nervous about having to sell up. I've got so attached to this place."
I look around. No sign of any customers. "Business not so good then?"
He shrugs. "Not that dreadful. But it's my wife. Wants to move nearer her parents now they're getting on a bit."
His wife! Obstacles keep springing up between us, like a thorny thicket on the path to the enchanted palace. Stupid to expect him to be my knight in shining armour, galloping across continents to rescue me from my turret.
I've got to take charge of my own destiny before I die of a broken heart. I can't let the opportunity pass me by like I did all those years ago. "Are you sure you're going to leave this place? It must be a fantastic job." Even princesses have to fight for their happy-ever-afters.
We stare into each other's eyes with total understanding. Then he looks away and flicks through the albums in the rack before him, his fingers hesitating over The Who's Live at Leeds.
"It was okay," I say, "but I preferred Quadrophrenia myself."
"That is gross," says Daughter. "I'll die of embarrassment! Didn't you even think of us?"
"Go for it," says Best Friend. "Life is for living."
"Why not?" says Husband. "A change of career might be just what you need."
"How dare you?" says Eric Knight. "I had my eye on that shop for a friend."
"That's really cool," says Son. "Vinyl is in for a revival."
I kept the corny name, despite Daughter's protests. Business isn't great, despite Son's optimism. Nevertheless, I'm happy running The Slipped Disc; how could I not be when I can play my favourite music all day long? As Best Friend says, when she pops in some mornings for coffee, with Husband's promotion and the children having left home, work needn't be about money so much now.
The work's okay but that's not the whole story. The real magic comes at closing time. That's when I look up and meet the eyes of Mr Good-enough across the record counter. Still bald, still liable to fall asleep in front of the television, still too boring to go bungee jumping, but, after all these years, the man for me. He leans across the ranks of vinyl and kisses me. Then I get my coat, lock up the shop, and let Husband drive me off into the sunset.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 60 published short stories. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.
|< Prev||Next >|