I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Dull things to do with cars


A Word That Deserved Better
Short story: 1489 words

It wasn’t all bad having Marge drive, Grainger got to see things. Over the new bridge he craned his neck towards the river, following one of the eights, oars outstretched like the legs of a water boatman. Or here, stalled by the lights, side by side with a battered Corsa driven by a girl trying to work her mobile without attracting the law.

The lights changed but nothing moved. Marge drummed on the steering wheel as he might have done. But Grainger was happy enough sitting in the stationary car.

Nearer the supermarket, a small white van edged over. Marge sucked in air noisily and inched forward, closing the gap. Undiscouraged the van driver edged some more and was through, causing Marge to sigh. Grainger, averting his face, thought the van driver very daring.

Traffic was slow into the supermarket car park. Grainger saw only the white van, the back door carrying a single word, Tecalemit. Nothing more.

Quietly, to himself, Grainger pronounced the word: Te-cal-em-it. The syllables slid by easily as if familiar. They were familiar. Like the word itself, back over the decades, back to his childhood. On a poster attached to a garage door at the bottom of Sherborn Road. Near the petrol pumps.

The garage had been the centre of his play life. Sherborn was steep and a wedge of land had been taken from the hill to accommodate the one-storey building. Further up you walked out on to its flat roof used for parking vehicles.  Edging the roof was a flat-topped wall which Grainger and friends tip-toed round, terrifying the neighbours. Amazing how Tecalemit had stuck. 

“Tecalemit.” He said it aloud entering the supermarket and Marge turned.

“A word I knew when I was a kid,” he said.

“What does it mean?”

“For the life of me, I don’t know.”

“That’s not like you, G.” Marge called it out herself. “I see why you like it. There’s a lilt. It could be poetry in another language.”

Inside Marge unfolded the list for the big weekly buy-in and Grainger helped, taking items from top shelves beyond her reach, from low shelves which would have strained her back. His mind dwelling on the Sherborn Road garage.

Back from the garage’s flat roof was an old workshop full of rubbish and divided by an inexplicable low wall. Grainger and his friends tossed the rubbish over the wall, clearing half the floor space. From then on they met there regularly in this secret place. Often when it got dark. Sometimes they lit a fire.

At this time two newcomers joined their group, Bernadette and Terry. Their family had moved into a house in Sherborn Road but the children were only intermittently available. Both were boarders at a school twenty miles away which made them slightly exotic. Even more so the school was “Moravian” a detail that was never explained.

Both Bernadette and Terry were demonstrably better educated than the rest of the group but neither showed off in any way. Both were pleased to sit on the filthy floor of the old workshop and to talk about whatever cropped up, their faces lit up orange by the flames of the fire.

Without realising why Grainger was drawn to Bernadette. Too young to be aware of sexual attraction he knew she wasn’t pretty. Tall and gangly for her age, she wore plaits which drew her hair back and left her face looking skinned. To compensate for acute short-sight she used black-rimmed glasses that appeared to belong to someone much older. In talking she gestured awkwardly, both wrists seemingly disjointed. Despite these features her disposition was attentive and pleasant, her behaviour confident without being assertive.

But her greatest asset was knowing about adult matters and explaining them without being patronising, pitching them exactly at Grainger’s level of understanding. On one occasion in particular.

“My dad,” he had grumbled, “is always talking about politics.”

Bernadette moved her hand suggesting she was on Grainger’s side. “I know. Fathers don’t mind who they bore, do they?”

“So is politics boring?”

“Actually it isn’t. The problem is fathers never take time to explain. They leave you in the dark and dark’s boring.”

“Do you know about politics?”

It was her expression that struck him. At the time he couldn’t describe it, now he saw it as sweetness. Bernadette said, “Oh, bits and pieces you know.”

“Tell me. Bits and piece will do.”

“Well, I’m sure I’ll get it wrong so you must be kind, Grainger. I'm not an expert. Politics is the way we do things so we all get what we need.  Look, you take the bus to school. Suppose a man knocks on your door and says he can do the buses better: more buses so you don't have to wait, faster buses so you get there quicker. If you believe him you can, on a special day, put up your hand to say he can do the buses. If lots of people do that he does the buses and everyone should perhaps be happier."

"But it's not just buses, is it?"

"No, it's everything we need. Lights in the streets so we can see where we're going - some people may be able to do that cheaper. More policemen so burglars can't break in and steal our wirelesses. And this happens all over the country, all at the same time."

"That's politics?"

"Well sort of. The problem is all these things need to be paid for. And there may not be enough money to do them better."

"So the men who want me to put my hand up may be fibbing? And that's why there's so much argument?"

Again that special look. Being friendly, was it? Pleased that he understood? "Now you know as much about politics as I do, Grainger."

The trolley was getting heavier. Grainger looked around and saw Marge bending over the cheese counter. This would take time, Marge was particular about cheese.

When Bernadette had looked the way she did the impression had remained. Long enough for him to be grief-stricken when Bernadette didn’t return to Sherborn Road for the next school holiday. Adults said the family had moved, that they were always moving. But nobody knew why.

Irrationally he wished he’d pointed to the poster on the garage door and drawn Bernadette’s attention to Tecalemit. He was sure she would have said something interesting. But how could he have done that? The word itself had only taken on  meaning with the passage of time. Then it was just a word.

Suddenly he realised they were in the vegetable department and Marge had raised her voice. “I said asparagus or cauliflower. You must be still dreaming about - What was it? -Tecalemit.”

“More or less. But can’t we have both? I can’t choose.”

The irritation on Marge’s face melted away, replaced by affection. “Go on then.”

After they’d filled the car boot Marge said, “You know what? You need to Google Tecalemit. Otherwise you’ll always be wandering.”

“Oh I intend to but I know I’ll be disappointed. It’ll be some dull old thing to do with cars. What matters is that the word has lasted. Linking my childhood: a time when I was regularly surprised connected to a time when surprises rarely happen.”

“All the better I’d say. Surprises at our age are usually for the worse.

After the evening meal which they both still called tea, Grainger went upstairs and switched on the PC. It was as he suspected: Tecalemit roamed worldwide and manufactured equipment for use in garages: lifting devices and lubrication systems, mainly. Yet a small but gratifying surprise had occurred – the way Marge had reacted. Saying the word had a lilt.

On the verge of switching off the PC he remembered Bernadette’s surname. Golspie! Moderately unusual, would it be worth a punt? Breathing more heavily than he cared to acknowledge he re-opened Google. Nothing among the first batch of sites, or the second. But on the sixteenth… a blog. And among the keywords that inexplicable word: Moravia. He found himself breathing through his mouth, quite agitated. Then, abruptly, he turned off the PC.

Downstairs Marge was reading a library book. He summarised what he’d found out about Tecalemit.

“You were right,” she said. “I think it’s an odd word, a good word. It deserves a better home.”

For half an hour he read his own library book but found it hard to concentrate. Finally he said, “Do you remember how we met?”

“I’m not that old. Of course I do.”

“Did I say anything?”

“If it had been Mills and Boon you might have said – sparing my blushes – it was love at first sight. But you being you it had to be different. It had to be engineering talk.”

“Engineering?”

“Have you forgotten?”

“I’m not sure. Remind me.

“You said I fitted a template you’d carried around for years.”

“Of course I did.”

6 comments:

mike M said...

It's all about OoA for me at present. This makes me feel like I've skipped chapters and character introductions.

Blonde Two said...

I love the drifting off whilst at the supermarket. Best thing to do, hateful places.

Lucas said...

Cars, a van, a supermarket: these seem unlikely starting points for a memory track, laden with significance. Yet, the story takes us there. I like how the character of Bernadette becomes more and more attractive to Grainger. I think the mysterious word "Moravia" adds to the sense of dislocation. Moravian Church?

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: Technically, this story is better written than OoA. But then it's easier to come closer with a story than with a novel. And in any case that's just my opinion. After you're done with OoA I'd like your opinion on Roy but you've got plenty of time before you meet him.

Blonde Two: Supermarkets are good places for plotting (story structure that is). They're full of people from whom you are detached; thus you can move them like chessmen, speculate about their lives, wonder especially at the nature of their faces. Supermarkets are your lab.

Lucas: Technically I thought it was the best story I've ever written, though readers have the best say. I was pleased with the way I'd managed to slide backwards and forwards in time without confusion though I may be completely wrong about this. Emotionally it satisfied me but for a very personal reason: many of the facts are true. I never usually ask VR to read anything I write though she frequently does, of her own volition. This time I did and she said she objected to being called Marge. Many a true word...

Moravian, for instance,is true, but I could make nothing of it. Thus I left it as a mystery.

As usual I appreciate your detailed appraisal.

Ellena said...

To bad you beat me somewhat to it here.
My comments were clear when awake at night and disappeared as I was trying to make them.
I enjoyed reading this very much.
He had forgotten or did not realize that Marge attracted him because she reminded him of Bernadette. He did not have to
choose.




Roderick Robinson said...

Ellena: I'm glad you liked it. I thought most people wouldn't because it was historical and perhaps a bit too English here and there. It mattered to me because Bernadette existed and at the time I was too young and/or shy to say I liked her company. Alas Bernadette is not her real name which I have forgotten so even in the unlikely event of her noticing it she wouldn't immediately make the connection. However, if she read on she might. We all have our little fantasies.