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What's in Swindon? . . .

It had been ten years since I’d last seen Angela Fulton, when I’d watched her toss a three-foot stuffed rabbit into an overflowing rubbish skip. I remembered the incident in astonishing clarity, not least because I’d won her the luckless animal from a hook-the-duck stall at Wigan’s World Famous Winter Wonderland Extravaganza. As a peace offering it had had the opposite of the intended effect.

The rabbit, however, seemed far from Angela’s mind when she called me late on a Tuesday evening. I don’t know how she got the number, neither does it matter.

“You never forget your first rejection,” she said after an initial uncomfortable silence. “It’s something from which you never recover.” I didn’t know what to say. She was just so controlled and so grammatically correct. It was like old times.

I didn’t know what to say. The fridge hummed as if deciding where its sympathies lay.

“Are you with some one?” Angela said.

“Well, no . . .” I said.

“Good,” she said “Meet me this weekend.”

I had no plans, and no defence. How are supposed to say no to a woman you still masturbate about a decade after she broke your heart?

“Okay,” I said “Where?”

There was a sound at her end, like she was holding her hand over the receiver and talking to someone else.

“Are you still there?” I said.

“Of course,” she said “I was just thinking where we should go. I think Swindon.”

“Swindon?” I said “What’s in Swindon?”

“I will be.” She said and rang off.

I had never been to Swindon before. I will never go to Swindon again. She booked a room at a hotel called the Nightingale. Inside it was woody, the ambience like a downmarket Swedish ski lodge. The man behind the counter was sullen and gittish. I told him of the reservation; he puffed out his cheeks and answered the telephone. I looked around for Angela but she was clearly not there. “Sorry,” the sullen man said. “Why don’t you wait in the bar?”

I took my place at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. It felt like the right kind of drink to be seen with by an ex-lover – from a distance it looks like carbonated water. The barman was sullen and gittish. He tried to get me to order some olives. I ordered some olives.

Angela Fulton arrived as I was skewering the last greasy olive. She looked older, but in a good way. Her hair was kinky and her eyes fizzed like Coca-Cola. She sat at the bar and drank the remainder of my gin and tonic.

“Say nothing,” she said and took me by the hand.

The bedroom was brown and cream and much too bright. She sparkled in her silver dress. She pushed me against the wall and for a moment we were twenty again. She guided us both back to a time when we didn’t need worry about bullshit and bills, pensions and cancer, lies and betrayals. I made sure that she came first; I had memorised how in much the same way I can still remember how to launch Honda’s thousand hand slap on Street Fighter II.

After it was over, she looked at me expectantly and rolled over. I held her close to me and felt that this was the greatest moment of my whole life.

“Hello,” she said, “I’ve missed you.”

“Me too,” I said “I never thought . . .”

“You can smoke now,” she said, laughing. “I booked a smoking room especially.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but I quit about five years ago.”

“Quit?” she said “I never thought you’d quit. Not ever.”

I didn’t like the maddened look in her eyes: she was naked but not in a good way.

“Well I did.”

I put my hand to her neck and she looked aghast, as though I had properly let her down.

“Do you still drive that Vauxhall Viva?” she said

“Of course not, that’s long gone. I’ve got a Mondeo now.”

She pulled the bed sheets over her body and put her head in her hands.

“I never should have done this,” she said, “it was a terrible idea.”

“What all because I don’t smoke?”

“You know it’s more than that,” she said before turning her back to me then and making her way to the en suite bathroom. She had cellulite on her thighs. It was sexy in a way that women don’t understand.

“I did what you always wanted.” I said “I grew up.” But she wasn’t listening. When she came back she was fully dressed, her hair wet at the ends.

“You’ll like the Oasis centre, “ she said, throwing me a flyer, “waterslides and a wave machine. I bet you’ve not grown out of them.”

I shrugged and she picked up her overnight bag.

“At least we both know now, don’t we?” She opened the door and waved quickly, then was gone. For the first time in years I felt like smoking again.

Stuart Evers writes about books for a variety of publications including the Guardian, the Independent and Time Out. He is currently working on a collection of linked stories called “Ten Short Stories about Smoking”, the first of which appeared in Litro 86.


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