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That Same Old Line

A song brings back memories as a man travels across borders

By Wilkie StewartPublished 3 years ago 7 min read
vinyl memories

Fred re-tuned the radio as he drove across the border into England. He was angry at what Sandra had said, the reason she was leaving him. There was a trace of her perfume in the cab of the lorry, but he couldn’t remember when she had last sat in it. Perhaps the scent was coming from his jacket. They had embraced by habit at the front door of the house.

The road was getting busier. He checked his mirrors and adjusted his speed. He stopped poking at the radio controls, settled on a station playing a song that he knew. A ballad. He remembered a singer on Top of the Pops - a long-haired male with a foreign sounding name. Was that really forty years ago?

Mary had worshiped that song. The first few weeks they were properly going out she had played it endlessly on her box record player with the Smash Hits stickers on the top.

It was one of the songs they played at the school disco. Some teachers and pupils had put up decorations, but it still looked like the assembly hall when they were done. It wasn't a Prom. They didn't have those back then. Just a teacher playing records and some tables with soft drinks and crisps you could buy. Fred couldn't remember what he wore, but Mary had a short haircut like the girls in Human League, and a puffy skirt in dark red.

They had been friends before the party. Or at least, since they lived in the same street, he walked her to school most days. Usually when she met her girlfriends at the shops, he became invisible. She was going out with a boy in sixth year who didn’t seem to care. Fred had never understood the concept of ‘keeping them keen by treating them mean’. He still didn't. Maybe that was why Sandra was going? What had she said, he was 'too nice'? Who did she want? Simon Cowell?

At the disco he stood at the back wall with a mate. Leo was never going to get off with anyone with his acne. He and Fred shared some interests, especially Star Wars. Mary and Jon were dancing to a slow number with all the other couples. She had her arms around Jon's neck and Jon's hands slipped further down the small of her back. Leo moaned about the music. "Why can't there be some Rush?" he said. Fred nodded but didn't really agree. If he had the chance, he'd dance with Mary to a song like this one any day of the week.

He was bopping with a girl in his class when it all kicked off. Mary slapped Jon on the face, and Jon shoved her back roughly. "You're nothing but a slag," he said. They glared at each other and when it looked like Mary would slap him again, one of the teachers stepped between them. Everyone had stopped dancing to watch.

"That's enough you two," the teacher said. "Any more of this and you'll be sent home. All right?"

Jon walked off to buy himself another can of juice. Mary went to sit with her friends. As the last song came on, she was sitting there, alone. Fred sat beside her. She sniffed. "Can you walk me home?” she said. As they fetched their coats, they passed Jon who was leaning against the corridor wall, kissing some other girl.

breakfast

A car pulled into the lane directly in front of the lorry and Fred had to brake sharply. He blasted the horn, but the car was already back onto the fast lane, motoring away.

It had been a long drive since Inverness, and according to the tachograph he was due a break. He'd had nothing to eat before he left, not able to face it after all the arguments. He pulled off the motorway into a service station and settled down to a fried breakfast, humming to himself while he ate. The place was busy. Families on their way to the south coast. Londoners driving north. Truckers like him heading for the ferries.

The girl at the next table had a look about her that reminded him of Mary. She had that same way of draping her arms about a boyfriend. The guy hadn't finished his food and was fighting her off while trying to get another mouthful of bacon and eggs into his mouth. A forkful dropped back on his plate as she speared a kiss. "Jodie," he said, "will you fucking let me eat?" He was smiling. She lifted her phone from the table and angled it so that she could take a selfie. She pouted, adjusted the angle to get her partner in the frame, beans in his beard and his eyes glistening. As she lowered it, she looked directly at Fred. She enlarged her eyes and wobbled her head, stuck her tongue out. He finished his tea and got up from the table. Before he set off, he sent Sandra a message.

He made his booked slot with only fifteen minutes to spare, held up by traffic on the M1 idling past a three-car shunt. The ferry crossing was smooth and the customs in Holland were slick as ever. Was that going to change with Brexit? Would these continental runs be possible? He had tried to find out, but no-one seemed to know how it would work.

The Sat Nav directed him to the highway that would take him into Germany. The flatness of Holland was monotonous even with the swathes of colour from the flower fields, so he was glad to see a change once he crossed to the German side of the border. He made a comfort break and before restarting the engine, he flicked through his music to find an album to play rather than allow the shuffle throw random tracks at him. There was an Eighties compilation he hadn't noticed before. He checked the track-listing. Mary's song was on there. Had he been drunk one night and downloaded it?

After weeks of lying on her bed listening to the same old singles play over and over, with her shrugging him off when he wanted to do more than kiss, she had allowed him to remove her bra and lift her skirt. He had been a virgin, and was hesitant at first - what will it feel like, what do I have to do, will I make a mess of it? But it was the easiest thing in the world. He lay there afterwards enjoying his nakedness, her parents were out, no need to rush back on with the clothes.

She turned to look at him. "Do you love me?" she asked. "Will you do something for me?"

He sat up put his arm around her. "I'll do anything for you," he said. He almost sang it. It was a line from the song.

She kept looking directly at him and he felt self-conscious about his nakedness. He pulled on his underwear. "What is it?" he asked.

"I'm going to have a baby" she said. "Will you be the Dad?"

A call came in as the highway cut a straight line through two forests lined up like opposing armies. "It's me," Sandra said. "Do you know where Fiona's laptop is?"

He flipped the music off. "Have you looked in the garage? She might have dumped it when she got out of the car the other night."

"I don't think..." she said. "Yes, you're right. It's here." The call went dead.

She hadn’t said what time they were leaving. It didn't matter. He wouldn't be back for two days, and they’d be gone by then. He pulled into a truck stop, had his dinner, checked the cargo was secure and settled down for the night. There were some girls wandering between the lorries. He pulled his blind down, locking the door against random invaders.

on the road

He crossed over into Poland ahead of schedule. He had dreamed of the night in the hospital. Her dad shouting at him, angry at finding out his daughter was pregnant, upset that she was distressed at having a miscarriage, that Fred was the father. "You're not good enough for my Mary. She can have any boy she wants, not a runt like you." There was spittle on his lips as he spoke, and for a moment it sat there before Mary's mother wiped it away.

In the bed Mary lay on her side. Fred asked if she needed anything. She didn’t look at him. "No," she said and turned away. He remembered the lonely walk out to the bus. His own dad was angry when he got home, talking about responsibility and messing up their lives before they had even started. "Just as well she's lost it," his mother said. He didn’t tell them the baby wasn’t his. He never did.

He was turned away when he tried to visit Mary again at the hospital. When she was home, she came to her door just once. She was wearing a set of Disney pajamas with elephants and crows on them. There were dark rings around her eyes. "I don't want to see you anymore," she said.

The random shuffle began to play the song again. "I'll do anything for you," the singer crooned. That should be his motto. Every relationship since had him running around after someone, fulfilling every demand, and then getting the push when something better came along. Mary left to go to University, and he never saw her again. He came across Jon years later working in a bar, still trying it on with any female in the vicinity. You could see they were tired of his patter.

Fred deleted the song from the player after reversing the truck into the unloading bay. He was done with being someone’s backstop. He sent ‘good luck’ by text to Sandra, then jumped out the cab and opened the back doors.

Short Story

About the Creator

Wilkie Stewart

Writer of strange little tales living in Glasgow, Scotland. A former IT professional who loves literary fiction, poetry, Eurovision, art-house film, post-crossing, and comics. Walks daily with his camera when he can. @werewegian1 on Twitter

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    Wilkie StewartWritten by Wilkie Stewart

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