For a while I have had a character without a story… I’m not sure exactly what his story is yet, but having written about him wandering aimlessly around his village, and taking walks along the beach and round the estuary, he now is connecting with people:
“Hey!” and someone tapped Gus on the shoulder.
It almost made him jump, and he afterwards thought it was the first time anyone had touched him at all for months.
He turned to see a woman who looked familiar beaming at him.
“Hey, Gus! You were so deep in thought, I’ve been shouting at you from across the road!”
He apologised and she laughed in a friendly way but he still couldn’t quite place her… she was, he guessed, maybe thirties, maybe forties, very smiley, dark brows maybe dark hair but she was wearing a multi-coloured striped knitted hat pulled down round her face. She said she was going to the paper shop, and he obviously was as he had his foot on the bottom step so they went in together, he holding the door for her.
She had run out of milk, she said, he told her he was getting his newspaper… he got it every morning, a little routine he had developed to get out of the house, to try to meet people… and now he had met someone and he had no clue who she was, although she did look familiar…
She had mentioned milk, and when she opened the chill cabinet and took out a two pint bottle he said he needed milk too, and he picked up a pint… no point in getting more, it usually went off before he could dink it all… maybe he should start having cereal…
“Good morning, sir, how are you today?” it was a friendly little gnome of a man who always asked him how he was and then in return told Gus how he was. On this occasion, as Gus and the woman with the stripy hat stood in the short queue, the gnome didn’t list his own ailments but began to… well, to interrogate Gus. “I take it you’re not a holiday maker, sir, I’ve been seeing you every day for a month or more!”
“Um, no, I’ve moved here, moved in three months ago actually…”
The gnome told him he had been here twenty years – had moved here when he retired, it had been a dream to come here as he had visited every summer for a week’s holiday as a child.
“I didn’t realise you were a newcomer,” said the woman with the stripy hat. “I used to live in town but it’s only since I’ve moved into the village that I’ve been a regular at the quiz.”
The quiz! The pub quiz! She was not only one of the people whose team he had joined a couple of weeks ago, but she was one of the people who had rescued him from the mud!
He felt a little foolish, but as the gnome was now quizzing him further about where he had come from and where he was living, he hoped he concealed it. Fortunately an elderly lady had greeted the little man from the other side of the freezer and he was telling her about his appointment at Specsavers.
Gus tried to think of something to say to the woman in the hat… did he know her name? Had he forgotten that too? Since he had begun his solitary life his memory was shocking. He cast round for something to say, anything…
“Have you tried this apple cake?” he asked her desperately, pointing to ‘Granny Gibbon’s apple cake, locally made from local apples… and eggs!’ The label said.
The lady looked a little startled at the random question and gave him what seemed to be a saucy look, as if she guessed he was trying to make conversation. No, she hadn’t… she loved baking and made her own… there seemed to be a pause at the end of her comment, and for a silly moment Gus wondered if she was going to suggest something… drop round for a coffee, try my cake… But of course she wasn’t, and he felt an embarrassed blush of misery creeping across his face.
Then he was at the counter and paid for his milk and nearly forgot the newspaper until the man behind the counter, Bill, apparently told him to pick one up on the way out. He was trapped beside the elderly lady who talking to the gnome; she hadn’t seemed particularly big when she was on the other side of the freezer, but how he was trying to get down this side he realised she was… well, she was enormous from the waist down, and also had a pile of shopping bags around her ankles.
“Oh heck,” said the quiz team member behind him. “Ready about.”
This proved more difficult as the gnome was still at the counter talking to Bill.
“Bill’s been here since he retired,” the gnome announced.
“Yerp… left the old woman, told the boss to stick his boss, moved here, new beginning…”
“Excuse me, can we just squeeze past you…” and the hat woman actually put her arms round the gnome and moved him to one side, which amused him and amused Bill more.
The shop door was in sight but a woman negotiated her double buggy in blocking their way. Gus would have huddled against the magazine racks and waited in quiet irritation until his exit was clear, but the woman in the hat wasn’t having any of it.
“Excuse me, if you could just reverse so we can get out, and then you can come through this way!” she commanded in a firm but friendly voice.
The double buggy pusher wasn’t best pleased as Gus’s gran might have said, but she grumbled her way back out and Gus and the woman in the hat made it onto the steps to the shop… His gran… he hadn’t thought about gran for a long time…
He tried to think of something to say, some jovial remark, a see you next quiz sort of thing, but he’d lost it, lost conversation…
“Hiya Helja! Just going in or just coming out?” A very tall big-boned woman with a mass of very yellow hair looked up at them.
And then… and afterwards Gus couldn’t quite remember how it had happened, the blond woman had invited him and the hat woman for coffee… she’d just made a Somerset cider cake – and the hat woman had laughed about Granny Gibbon’s cake and introduced Gus by name… and he didn’t quite manage to protest of make an excuse, and the blond woman lived just opposite the shop… and suddenly he was walking into her house with the hat woman… Helja… was it Helja? Maybe it was Helen… And he was invited for coffee…
© Lois Elsden 2017