THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING
Will Stanton woke up and saw sunlight streaming through his bedroom curtains. This was quite an event. They were coming to the end of one of the worst Winters in years. Sub-zero temperatures, the country frequently brought to a standstill by snow. At times Will had felt like hibernating, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he had a “lifestyle” to maintain, he would have done so. There had been times when he could understand how some people gave up and just lived on benefits.
Not that that would have realled Will, whose whole attitude to life could probably be summed up in the words of an old Blur song, ‘Charmless Song’ … “I think he’d like to have been Ronnie Kray”. Thankfully, Will had no wish to go around beating up and murdering anyone, and he vastly preferred women to men, but he liked the whole street-smart, sharp-suited side of the thing, and he liked to think of himself as the kind of man you simply didn’t mess with. You gave him Respect. Or else.
The stark truth was though that Will, at the age of 36, still lived in a bedroom of his parents’ semi-detached house in a small Wiltshire town, and Will worked in IT, doing geeky stuff (in Swindon). Who cares? thought Will. What’s really important anyway are the props of life. What you wore, what car you drove, what you drank, which restaurants you frequented. Those were the things that made a man, not his marital status, or the fine details of his job.
“Dracula’s risen from his coffin at last”, said Will’s dad, who was rinsing out the teapot at the kitchen sink. Newly-retired, Will Senior seemed to be at home all the time these days. It was starting to get on Will Junior’s nerves. His dad had too much time on his hands, sitting around complaining.
“He’ll be late for work again if he’s not careful”, said Elaine, Will’s mother “He’s starting to worry me like that. It’s not as if there’s plenty of jobs around these days”.
“God help us if he loses his job”, said Will Snr “We’ll never be shot of him then!”
“Oh love, don’t be too hard on him”, said Elaine “It’s hard for young people these days. House prices being what they are, and as for rented … There’s plenty his age still living at home, or coming back home for that”.
“It wasn’t any easier for our generation”, Will Snr protested “We lived in the spare room of your mother’s house for the first year we were married, but at least we got married! His lot seem to think they can stay kids forever”.
“He’s got a good income”, said Elaine.
“Yeah, and he spends it all on suits and that damn car”, Will Snr complained “He should be saving up, not living like a perpetual bloody teenager”.
“Ssh, he’s coming down the stairs”, said Elaine.
Will strolled into the kitchen. Sharp grey suit, crisp white shirt open at the neck, no tie. Cufflinks in place. Shoes buffed and polished. Designer glasses on, with clear glass in the lenses.
“Hadn’t you better get a move on”, Will Snr grumbled.
“I’m not going in today”, said Will “I’ll call in sick. It’s too nice to work”.
“Too nice …” Will Snr nearly pegged out on the spot “Did you ever hear anything like it Elaine? What kind of an attitude is that!”
“You’re a long time dead, Pop”, said Will “The country isn’t gonna grind to a halt if I miss a day at the office”.
“No, but they might get fed up and sack yer!” said Will Snr.
“So what?” said Will “They need me more than I need them”.
Much as she loved her son, and was very proud of him, Elaine wasn’t entirely certain that was true. But she forebore to comment.
“So what are you going to do today instead?” she asked.
“Take the car out for a spin”, said Will.
“Where to?” Will Snr barked.
“Dunno”, Will shrugged, slurping from a cup of black coffee “I’ll just drive and drive and see where I come to. Might not stop til I run out of land”.
“In this country that means you’ll end up somewhere like Ipswich”, said Will Snr “Or Land’s End. Oh very romantic. There’s nothing there!”
Elaine, ever saddled with the burden not to conspicuously take sides, tried hard to suppress a giggle. There were still times when she thought her grumpy old clot of a husband was the funniest man in the world.
“I was gonna say see yer tonight”, said Will, preparing to leave “But I won’t make a promise on that”.
“Give us a ring if you’re not coming home, love”, said Elaine “Just to let us know you’re safe”.
“Yeah alright Mum”, said Will, irritably. Sometimes she still treated him as if he was ten-years-old.
Outside, he stood captivated, as ever, by the sight of his pride and joy. A black E-type Jag convertible. The very pinnacle of his life’s achievements. it was a masterpiece. If he ever had to sell his belongings, then it would break his heart to part with this. Even the most beautiful woman in the world would not be able to compete with this beauty.
He checked it over to make sure no pesky birds had crapped on its gleaming bodywork, and then he set to rolling down the roof. This was definately an open-top kind of day. Where to go? Well it wasn’t often he was inspired by his old fool of a father, but the thought of heading west, perhaps all the way down to Cornwall filled him with a certain buzz.
He slipped into the driver’s seat, and turned the key in the ignition. The engine thrummed into life. Will practically got an erection when he heard that. Stuff the office, stuff sodding computers and all their problems, today was for driving in an open-top car.
The usual tedious snarl-up getting out of town. Just how many roundabouts did this place need? And then out into the rolling, eerie countryside of Wiltshire. Through Marlborough, with its chaotic marketplace and kamikazee pedestrians, past the posh school with those smug little dickheads who’ll probably end up running (ruining?) the country one day, and then onto the long stretch of road which ran off towards Avebury.
The Spring air was intoxicating. The sap was definately rising. I could do with a woman right now, he thought. We could pull over into a layby and she could give me a quick blow-job. The thought of being seen or caught only added to the thrill. A woman with tumbling, glossy curls, chestnut brown or dark blond. The sort of hair you only ever saw on shampoo adverts. Flawless skin. Perfectly-manicured nails. A glossy, golden goddess was the only type of woman that could really do justice to his car.
It was getting near lunchtime. He had left Wiltshire and was heading deep into the West Country. He was hungry. He hadn’t had any breakfast. He would find a nice little country pub. Who knows? The glossy goddess might be waiting there for him. Why would she be there on her own though? Stood up by her twatty boyfriend that’s why. Waiting to be rescued by a suave city boy in a smart suit. He would descend on the sleepy little village like a god. A god in an open-top car. It would be just like something out of a car advert. Sexy woman. Quaint pub. Handsome man in a smart suit. A chance meeting. She glances out of the window. Checks out the Jag. That clinches it. They leave together. Discreet fadeout.
‘The Air Balloon’ wasn’t quite what he had in mind. It was bloody freezing for one thing. He knew it was the first day of Spring, but it wasn’t THAT warm. Last night’s ashes lay cold and neglected in the open fireplace. The dark furniture and the barnlike rafters only added to the distinctly inhospitable feel of the place. He had counted on there being a roaring fire, it was all part of the fantasy picture. There were no other customers there but himself.
The woman behidn the bar, wearing a grubby black polo-shirt bearing the logo of the brewery, looked at him with distrust. Clearly she found his sharp suit worthy of this look.
“Are you doing any food?” said Will.
The woman instantly clicked into a fake smile. She must have suddenly remembered that customers are a valuable form of business, thought Willy.
“Course we are”, said the woman, breezily.
Will despondently ordered a cheese and ham toasted sandwich. It was the only item on the menu which remotely appealed to him. The barmaid flicked on the wall-mounted plasma TV, presumably so that he wouldn’t feel quite so alone. Sky News was showing the Prime Minister turning up for some important meeting somewhere.
“I wish someone would shoot him”, said the barmaid.
“Bit harsh innit”, said Will.
The barmaid gave him a filthy look, as if to say “I might have expected that from a jerk in a suit”. The day wasn’t turning out to be quite what he’d expected.
He was glumly biting into his toastie when an old woman came out from behind the bar. Old crone might be a more apt description, thought Will. She was carrying a plate of what appeared to be old bones. Will assumed she was taking them outside to a bin, but instead she went and stood by the empty fireplace, and began to gnaw on them.
If Will wasn’t fed up before, he sure as hell was now. He settled his bill and left, just as a party of waterproofed elderly ramblers poured in.
Turning on the engine didn’t work its same magic as before. All it did was remind him that he was faced with a long drive home. He no longer had the slightest inclination to drive down to Land’s End. He had been there once before. It was cold and windswept, and depressingly tourist-y. There seemed to be no reason to go back there at all.
He quickly checked his messages on his phone. There was one from Helen, a woman in his office whom he couldn’t stand.
“‘HEY WILL'”, she had texted “‘IF YOU’RE OUT SKIVING IN THIS LOVELY WEATHER CAN I JUST SAY IT’S GOING TO RAIN LATER LOL LOL LOL XXXX'”.
The boring bitch was right. Clouds were already building up in the sky. Another pensioner walked past, giving him a disgusted look. At first Will thought he was just pig-sick with jealousy over his car, then realised it was in fact disapproval, because he was sitting there with the engine running.
“Fucking hell”, Will gave a loud, rebellious rev of the engine, and roared off.
“Haven’t heard from Will yet”, said Elaine.
“Behave yourself woman, it’s only half-past five”, said Will Snr.
“I know, but that rain’s really coming down now”.
“Probably had to stop to put his hood up. I’d laugh like a ruddy drain if it got jammed open”.
“Ooh you are rotten”, said Elaine, slamming some mugs on the draining-board.
“Poseurs are there to be laughed at”, said Will Snr “Or they were in my day anyway. And our Will’s a poseur alright. He’s the sort who, when we were kids, would have hung furry dice in his car, and wore leather driving-gloves with holes in the back of them!”
“He was in such a funny mood when he left”, said Elaine.
“How could you tell, he’s always in a funny mood! Got too much romanticism in him, that boy. Boy. Hark at me. He’s 36! When I was his age I’d been married for 14 years, and had two kids”.
“Oh stop going on about when you were his age”, said Elaine “The world’s changed”.
“Yeah, and not for the better if you ask me”, said Will Snr “People stuff their heads with nothing but fantasies these days. I blame things like that Facebook myself. It encourages everyone to think they’re celebrities. People posting pictures of themselves all day long. Everyone on a massive ego trip”.
“The only person on an ego-trip round here is you!” Elaine retorted “Constantly spouting out your opinions all the time, and giving us advice we don’t want. Why shouldn’t people have the odd little fantasy if they want? What’s so bloody marvellous about living in reality all the time?”
“Because it leads to disillusionment that’s what”, said Will Snr.
The front door slammed, and heavy footsteps could be heard thumping upstairs. Elaine went out into the hallway.
“Hello love”, she called up the stairs “I didn’t hear you pull up. Not with your father going on as usual. Did you have a nice day?”
“NO!” came the angry growl from Will’s bedroom.
“Oh dear”, said Elaine “I’ll put the kettle on and make you a cup of tea. I expect you could do with one”.
Will Snr looked up at her with a grim satisfaction when she came back into the room.
“See what I mean?” he said “Disillusionment”.
“I’ll give you disillusionment in a minute if you’re careful”, said Elaine “You silly old fool”.