This was the spot. Brian was sure of it. The bulldozers had already taken most of the old familiar reference points: the Palace Cinema, first victim of the wrecking ball; the Railway Tavern, on the corner of Station Road and Manchester Road; the UCP Tripe shop next door. All gone. It would have been impossible for Brian to find the spot but for the partly demolished Co-Op Laundry building, still standing at the centre of the demolition site.
For the next few days, at least.
The ground was soaked and muddy, grey sky puddles reflecting the twisted lattice girders of the shattered old laundry. Brian loosened his collar. That morning’s flash thunderstorm had left the air hot, still and oppressive. The storm had moved south, probably halfway through Cheshire by now, soaking the stuck-up residents of Wilmslow and Alderley Edge.
“The rain it raineth every day,” hummed Brian, “‘Upon the Just and Unjust fellow. But more upon the Just because, the Unjust hath the Just’s umbrella.” He’d always liked that poem; the vindication of crime with a little humour. He turned and paced out fifty yards from the front entrance of the shattered laundry to where he thought the small cobbled yard at the back of his first home would have been.
Wilmslow was where Joyce’s mum and dad had lived. Naturally, when Brian and Joyce were courting, he’d never dreamt of taking her to the Railway Tavern, or the Bricklayer’s Arms down the road, or even the Midland Hotel on Burnage Lane. Beer might have been one shilling and eleven pence a pint in those pubs back then, but those pubs weren’t for the likes of Joyce.
No; for Joyce, it was chicken in the basket at the Berni Inn, Didsbury. Or scampi and chips in the Dog and Partridge next door. Beer was three times the price in those places, “establishments,” as Joyce’s dad used to call them. But needs must, his own dad used to say.
When The Devil Drives, thought Brian.
It hadn’t taken long after their marriage for Brian to realise his mistake. “You can’t marry outside your class,” his dad said. If only he’d dispensed his sage, nodding, pipe smoking, after the fact, stable-door-locked-too-late-the-horse-has-bloody-well-bolted advice a bit sooner!
The arguments. The neediness of material possession. The cramped little terraced house behind the laundry that they’d rented for twenty years, waiting, scrimping, saving for the deposit on a semi-detached house fit for Joyce, from Wilmslow, Cheshire.
Brian still recalled their arguments, sometimes violent, the hatred always simmering just below the surface; a cruel retort, a door slammed, the silent replay of how he could have won the day with a smart response always delivered too late, always delivered to an empty kitchen or parlour.
And then she was gone.
Brian put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the puddle. Just another old fool reminiscing over lost times and happy days. The pool of water obscured most of the ground, but he thought he could make out the foundations of the walls surrounding the yard.
He should have done this months ago, when he’d first heard the area was being redeveloped.
Never mind, he thought, this particular stable door’s still open at least. He’d come back after dark with a pick and shovel and get Joyce. He placed a brick, upright in the centre of the puddle to mark the spot, and walked away.