Wrapped up warm macs, scarfs and sturdy shoes, Hilda and Andy stood at the bow of the ferry as it chugged across the Mersey. Two OAPs staring through the mizzle, their thoughts were of course elsewhere: they saw summers in New Brighton, better than Blackpool in those days! A boulder of wind brought Andy back and he tightened the grip on his shopping bag. His thoughts now plummeted to the contents. A different memory engulfed him.
When Andy was 10, his daily thoughts and efforts were dominated by one thing: a trip to the Peak District with the Boy’s Brigade! He’d run errands around Toxteth for weeks to save up the money to go. Andy recalled his anticipation: he was getting away for a whole week, away from Liverpool and away from his mother, Florence. As the camp drew closer, Andy’s excitement built and Florence must have sensed his growing restlessness. Andy sighed at the remembrance and wished again that he’d faked indifference.
When the morning of the camp arrived, Andy was up and in the back kitchen early. He had set about making his sandwiches and was struggling to cut the loaf straight when she entered and sliced into his bliss.
“Are you hacking at that loaf, again?”
Florence stood over Andy as a doorstop flopped onto the breadboard. He winced.
“What you doing that for anyway?”
“It’s camp today, Mam.”
“You’re not going.”
He grabbed the bread knife, turned on her. For just a second, fear swept across her face: this tiny flash of vulnerability obliterated Andy. He watched his hand, (his hand?) place the knife on the table in slow motion. As soon as he’d yielded, Florence flew across the room and him hard. He hurtled out of the kitchen.
He remembers his too baggy pajama bottoms and how as he took the stairs, two at a time, he nearly lost them. Hauling them up, feeling frustrated and foolish, Andy was still faster than his mother. As he slammed his bedroom door behind him, he’d never felt so relieved.
Then Andy heard her footsteps, measured and controlled on the landing floorboards. He held his breath so as not to disturb the safety of silence. He knew, that she knew exactly where he was. He braced himself for the screaming, expected her to push the door. Then the key in the lock: one click and it was over.
Andy never made it to camp. When they came to call for him, she told them he had measles. Later that day, Andy opened his bedroom door to his packed bag. He checked for his trip money although he knew it was long gone. He never cried over it.
May Rodgers, an audacious so and so, said she could see into my future! My Mam said this was hooey and I told May too but she persisted in trying to get her hands on me tea cup. I knew of course that what she really wanted was to get her hands on our Arthur. I also knew that May had only made a friend of me to increase her chances of encountering him. The offer to do my tea leaves was all part of it but as she continued to badger me, despite myself, I began to consider it…
One day whilst I was washing down the front steps she collared me again, “Eh Hild’ is your Arthur in?” When I told her no she paused to consider her next move.
“You’ll be ‘avin a cup of tea when you’ve finished those steps, then?”
“Good. I’ll come back in a half hour then and I’ll do your tea leaves, like I’ve been promising.”
May returned and credit to her, although Arthur was still not back, she determined to read my tea leaves. Resigned to the fact, I took her into the back kitchen and made the tea. When we’d drained our cups, May took my mine and stared intently at the speckled mass in the bottom.
“You’ll meet three men, one blonde and two dark and one of them will be the man you’ll marry.”
With three brothers and any number of their mates invading our street, this didn’t sound so remarkable to me though I noted it down in me little book all the same.
A few weeks later, my uncle died and in the days that followed we were besieged by neighbours offering their condolences. Then, one afternoon, when I was on answering-the-door duty I opened it to our Arthur’s mate, blonde Billy Griffiths – and his two dark haired companions! My heart skipped as suddenly as May’s words came back to me. Her prediction seemed to be coming true, right there on our front steps!
When the mourning had passed, Billy Griffiths started to visit the house, not to see Arthur but to see me! I was a bit of a tomboy and really not comfortable with his attention but Mam said I should give him a chance and so we began going to the pictures together. I wouldn’t have nothing off Billy, not popcorn or anything. I did try my best to talk to him but Billy only ever gave yes or no answers. The trips to the pictures continued though because although I didn’t feel much for Billy, I did love the films. And then Andrew Miller started to come along too.
Andy was a lovely looking lad, with dark curly hair, glittering eyes and long lashes. He got many admiring glances and I immediately recognised him as one of the friends who’d come with Billy when my uncle died. He turned up one night and joined Billy and me on one of our trips to the pictures and after that he began to join us almost every week. I enjoyed spending time with Andy because like me he was a good talker. I found myself hoping that as Billy and me approached the pictures, he’d be waiting there to meet us.
Then one evening when I was expecting Billy, I opened the front door to find Andy standing on our front steps. When I asked after Billy, Andy told me he was working. As we laughed our way through the evening, I forgot about Billy until we got back to mine and found Billy there waiting for us. The next week, again, it was not Billy but Andy I found on the front steps.
“We’ve had a fight. You’re going out with me now.”
In that short reply, my fate was sealed.
Hilda squeezed her husband’s hand, turned and retreated to the wooden slatted bench. Andy opened the bag and lifted out the brown plastic tub. He stood on the bow of the ferry and emptied Florence into the Mersey, grit whipped into his face.
“Hilda! I just got a mouthful of me mam!”
“Be careful soft lad!”
Laughing, they shoved the plastic urn back into the shopping bag, turned and left the deck, Flo’s ashes blowing in their wake.