Joyce’s B&B looks almost identical to my memories. Maybe a bit cleaner, but the same sign, the same door and the same windows that only slide an inch up. There are two lights on behind the curtains. One on the ground floor and one at the top, on the second floor.
“All my clothes were in the car,” I say, mostly to myself as I’ve just noticed.
“Oh, that’s a shame. I’ll pick you some up tomorrow from Wexgate. What’s your size?” Jet asks
“You don’t need to do that. Leave it. I’ll sort it out.”
“No, you’re a guest and we will treat you as such,” she says getting closer and pulls back the neck of my t-shirt. “Medium.”
“Hey stop it.”
“Don’t make me wrestle you, what’s your trouser size?”
“34 reg. Jesus. You’ve changed.”
“Don’t you love it. Now you get on up there. You’re expected. I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t worry about the money. It’s all covered for you.”
I take a couple of steps towards the building and then turn back.
“Thanks, I appreciate it. I’m sorry I left back then without a word. I’m glad I get to see you again.”
“Same here. And don’t mention it. We’re happy for you to be here.”
I turn back and walk through the door. Walking back in time. The beige walls, the beige carpet, the rack with local maps to walking destinations. It’s all exactly the same. The reception counter is to the right opposite a sofa that looks about fifty years out of date. Above the sofa is a black and white photo of the building from the sixties. Before it was a bed and breakfast and it was just a house. I used to love looking at photos like this, a time long gone.
There is a single dim light hanging in the middle of the room, not illuminating much beyond. Behind the counter a young man’s face is being lit up by a fat old CRT TV. The old bulbous machine blurting out whispers. His face turns from the TV to me as I approach.
“Chris?” he asks, with a smile.
“Yes. I don’t recognise you. I thought I would know whoever worked here.”
“I’m sure you would recognise a couple of us, but not me. I’m newish to the town. Moved in around five years ago. It’s a wonderful place.”
“Sure. If you say so. What’s with the old TV?”
“It’s nice isn’t it. To have something so old and out of place, but it still works still does its job.”
I want to reply with a sarcastic one-word answer of, cool, but that’s not the best idea right now. I’ll let him have his fun and enjoy old and outdated technology. What real difference does it make to me.
“I’m told there’s a room here for me,” I answer instead.
“Yes, room one-oh-two, just behind those doors and up the stairs. One level up. Do you have any bags that need taking up?”
“Breakfast is served between seven and ten in the room on this floor, just behind the stairs. If you need anything don’t hesitate to stay and enjoy your stay here at Joyce’s.”
That probably came across more sarcastic than I meant. Opposite the main entrance was a single door, with a small window taking up the upper right-hand side. I walk over to it and push it open. Behind it a light flickers on and illuminates a staircase that starts right in front of me and slightly to the left, works it way up and then turns right when it hits the back wall. To the right of the stairs is a hallway that is still shrouded in darkness.
The floor, including stairs, is covered in the same sterile beige carpet as the reception and the wall is an even more sterile white. I hate generic rooms like this, inoffensive and bland. If I ever own a house I’m going to paint every wall a strange colour and probably not even have carpets. Easier to clean.
I take the steps, two at a time and go through the door marked floor one. My room is on the right. It’s not really a B&B anymore is it? It’s a proper hotel, just kept the name. Apart from the reception I remember none of this. I don’t know why I would either, maybe it’s always looked like this. I just feel like it’s changed.
The room is just as bland as everything else. A single bed with a floral design quilt. A bible on the bed stand and a table with a chair under the window. No TV. Not that I was hoping for one. The whole room is smaller than back in London. Cleaner as well, which makes a nice change. The beds in front of me, pushed against the wall and the table is at the foot of it. At the end of the room, near the table, is a door that I’m assuming leads into the bathroom. Other than that the room is bare. No pictures, just beige. No leaflets on the table. It doesn’t even look like anyone has been in this room. No air conditioning either, just the window slid up an inch or two.
My phone is nearly dead. Under twenty percent. That, my keys and my wallet are my only possessions. I feel like I messed up somewhere along the way getting here. What bad choices did I make to get to this finish line. It’s past nine. The whole town is probably getting ready for sleep. I turn off my phone and lie down on the bed.
I want a drink, I need a drink. The day’s been a distraction, but I need a drink. I can’t will myself to get up and get one from somewhere, but I need it. I have the money. Just need to get up and not be lazy. That’s a plan. Get up and not be lazy. Get a drink and then all will be good. But from where? I don’t know where I am really, what shops will be open. The pub must be open though? Doesn’t it?
I slide out of bed and slump onto my feet. At least I still have my wallet with me. I don’t care about the phone but being stranded here with no money would be a nightmare. I open the door and skip down the stairs, using every bit of energy not to look like I’m about to collapse and die any second.
The guy at reception has turned his attention back to the old TV in front of him, the light reflecting of his face like strobe lighting at a club. He doesn’t look up at me as I walk past, or acknowledge me in anyway, almost as if he’s in a trance.
The cool air welcomes me outside. I step onto the empty street and breathe in that cool night air. The whole world is silent. It’s hard to imagine that London is relatively close and would be completely awake right now. Every other street light is turned on, but no one is out to use them. I remember where the local, The Bear, is and start in that direction.
This place seems to perfect. Not how I remember it at all. None of the pavement is cracked, none of the roads have potholes and every lawn is smoothly cut. No rubbish sticking out of bushes, no graffiti on any of the walls. Something about that doesn’t seem right. There isn’t a light on in any of the houses I walk past. Not a noise coming from inside any of them. No TV sounds drifting through the windows, no muffled music, nothing.
I reach The Bear and thank God that it’s still open. There’s a light on behind the dark tinted windows. I can just about make out the lights of a fruit machine twisting out towards me. God something normal. The outside of the place looks the same. A hanging sign with a bear standing on its hind legs with the words “The Bear” curved above him. Big double doors on the corner of the street, opening to a dark, but no longer smoke filled, pub. I remember finding my Dad in here so often. Sneaking up to the window and trying to peer through the dark glass, having to press my face to the glass just to try. Now that he’s dead I imagine they’ve lost quite a lot of business. It never seemed that busy in the first place, especially now that I know how busy pubs can get in London.
The door swings back with a thud as I take my first steps into the deserted room. Great this place doesn’t feel as normal as I was hoping either.
There’s one person in the entire place. An elderly man who I don’t think I recognise behind the counter.
“Good evening, Sir.” He says.
“Evening,” I answer and start towards the bar. “Where is everyone?”
“Probably at home in bed, it’s a weeknight. Rare I get a customer past eight.”
“It’s quite a while after eight so why are you still open.”
“The sign out there says we open till midnight so I stay open until then. Can’t be lazy on shift, now can I? I have a business to run,” he says with a laugh.”
“I suppose. But if there’s never any customers what’s the point in being open this late?”
“There is a customer, you. I’m here for you.”
“A pint of lager. Whatever you’ve got doesn’t matter.”
I sat at the bar and watched as the guy turned, grabbed a glass and filled it up. He brought it back to me and let me take a swig.
“So what brings you back to these parts then Chris?”
“You know me?”
“Yeah went to school together, a couple of years apart. I remember you, but only by name really.”
“Sorry. I don’t really remember you.”
“That’s cool. Who remembers everyone who went to the same school as them really? I don’t. I heard you were back in town and it reminded me of you. I knew of you, shall we say. My name is Daniel Attwick.”
“Nice to meet you,” I start. “So, did your dad own this pub then?”
“No, my Dad did not. He worked in Wexgate. A phone salesman for some company I can’t quite remember. I bought the pub when old Terry left. Worked here once I left school and then never left.”
“Fair enough. Seems like a lot of people have left in the last ten years.”
“You could say that. Things have changed. Changed for the better, I think at least. Can I get you another one?”
God, I demolished that. I’m probably a little more than just thirsty. Don’t even remember drinking half of it.
“Here ya go. So, what is you’re doing here? Writing another big story about where you came from? Not that anything happens here.”
“Not quite. I’m heading up north. Just stopped through earlier to see how the place had changed. Then went to Wexgate, got something to eat and my car was stolen. Luckily, I could contact Jet. She hooked me up with a room at Joyce’s and here I am. Hopefully my car will show up soon and I’ll be able to get on my way. If not, then I don’t really know. Back to London I suppose. Haven’t got that far yet.”
“That’s some bad luck you’ve got there, good thing you had someone who could help out. Jet was it? Who’s that? I don’t think I know them?”
“Jess? Jessica Ray. We called her Jet back in school.”
“Oh, I know her. She runs the little shop down the road. Yeah she’s a nice girl.”
“Good of her to pick you up and bring you to us.”
“Yeah it was. Can I get another one please?”
“Sure thing. Any friend of Jess is a friend of mine.”
Something about his words leave a bitter tingling inside. I’m friends with Jess. I knew her way before this guy, but now I’m the outsider. I suppose this is what I wanted, but who does this guy think he is. Jet was my ex. Not his. I take the next drink and sip it. Gotta slow down, it’s been a long day.
To Be Continued…