A collaboration with Gordon Lewis
Published ‘Red Republic of Parasol’ 1998
Rain Rain go away — Come back another day — sang the little boy, his face pressed against the window of the speeding train, lashed with rain that gained momentum with the speed of the express on track for the seaside town of Fairhaven. The last line of the jingle was lost in the thunderous noise of the train being swallowed up in the hungry mouth of a tunnel where the rain could not reach.
I wanted the rain to stop too, but couldn’t for the life of me remember the rest of the jingle that I used to sing over forty years before...
* * *
I struggled from the warm covers of my bed (that’s not strictly true). It was not my bed, but one of twins in a hotel room, only mine for a few days. It was against my wishes that I was occupying a twin-bedded room, but it was all the hotel could provide. That second bed was a painful reminder of my ex-wife. Almost three years had passed since she slipped out of my life after a devastating divorce.
Never again I declared, promising myself I would live the life of a happy-go-lucky bachelor. Yet here I was in a strange town, embarking upon something I thought impossible. I had chosen Fairhaven as a venue for a ‘blind date’(that’s not strictly correct either). It was an arranged meeting, by of all things a ‘Lonely Hearts Dating Agency’. So, I had at least, a description of what appeared to be in print, a very good looking lady I was to meet near the bandstand of Central Park, Fairhaven, on the Sussex coast.
I opened the curtains of my hotel window and was dismayed to find the rain had followed me, and that child’s voice entered my head again:
‘Rain, Rain, go away... Come back another day…’, but this time the last line came too. Why I had not remembered it was ‘Little Johnnie wants to play’ was very strange. My name was John... and Johnnie is what I was always called by my dear mother… a name that died with her.
I wondered if my date would turn up at 11 o’clock. The rain was unabating, and there had been no arrangement — ‘If wet somewhere indoors’.
I had asked for my breakfast to be served in my room, not wanting to mix with folk on holiday, bemoaning the weather, spoiling a holiday planned months ahead. What would they do with the children? Again I saw that little lad smearing the carriage window with who knew what, wishing the rain to go away.
I prepared myself for my excursion to the park, my furled ‘Morain’ umbrella at the ready. I twirled out of the revolving doors of the best hotel in Fairhaven, surprised to find that, for the time being I wouldn’t need to unfurl my brolly. The sky had lightened, heralding the approach of the most welcome Sun. Everything was sopping wet, but midsummer heat would soon dry up the park, towards which I was heading for the morning’s meeting. That little boy too, would be happy with his bucket and spade, his parents spared from having a fractious child on their hands.
But then I thought again. Any organisation purporting to match people up as couples — surely, they’d not be so blatant as to call themselves a ‘Lonely Hearts Dating Agency’! I, for one, didn’t consider myself to be a ‘lonely heart’ so called — and it would be very patronising for a third party to deem me such. I should really have impressed upon them that I was simply ‘between partners’. My heart was only lonely by virtue of being the sole tenant of my chest. I was never very good at Biology in my schooldays; of course I knew my heart had neighbours, but I regarded heart and lungs as an entity keeping one alive. Whatever the case, I challenge anyone to say different. All people are fundamentally selfish. But sometimes it pays to hide it.
The band was playing a lively tune, one I recognised as ‘High Jinx’ — so the dating agency had even got the venue wrong!
I had imagined an empty bandstand, a disused one, with nobody else about to confuse me as to the identity of my assignment. Instead there were crowds of holiday makers on their feet — careless of the deck-chairs they had thrust behind them — as the all-woman wind ensemble made even the summer sky throb with their rasping sounds.
The repercussions, then, which I had anticipated emerging from the eventful meeting, were drowned out by real items of percussion. Not only bugles, euphoniums and cornets but a snare drum had brought these otherwise sedentary souls to their fidgetting feet. I, too, failed to dislodge the rhythm from my head — especially when the lung-bursting players went into a remarkable rendition of ‘Sergeant Pepper’.
Rhythm was just another version of rhyme on the hoof. The parallel beds back in my hotel room were exact echoes of each other. And, yes, towards the rear of the wind band, were two identical shapes of female persuasion, both wearing white gardenias: the heavy clue that the ‘Lonely Hearts Club’ had informed me would be the sign for my entree to the creature of my dreams.
The Sun had skidded behind a rather abrupt bubbling accumulation of thunderheads — and once more, rain shoved slantwise across clattering deck-chairs as their erstwhile human inhabitants abandoned them...
My white identifying button-hole was hidden in my coat pocket. I wanted to see the lady I was meeting first — the flattering description could well have been much exaggerated. Now that there were two women put a different complexion on things, I decided to end it all as quickly as possible, but instead of just leaving I decided to have, at least, a bit of fun out of a very unfunny situation, although one might argue it was becoming comic. I suppose I was intrigued by the turn of events, and as I moved a little closer to the twins’ table, I have to say the description I had been given was not at all flattering; they were very attractive ladies, and there were two of them, mirror images of each other.
By this time all the people around the bandstand had left, the hard working ensemble, still wrapped up in their music, womanfully trying to outdo the rain clattering on the roof of the band-stand. Their erstwhile audience were now in a building called ‘The Winter Gardens’, where there was plenty of room. The bad weather of the past few days had kept, at least, the usual crop of day-trippers away.
As it had passed the time for the usual ‘elevenses’, I decided to partake of an early drink from the licensed bar. This I carried to an unoccupied table where I took out a folded daily paper from my inside pocket, then pretended to be occupied with the news of the day; with an occasional sip from my glass of white wine spritzer.
Though I thought I was surreptitiously flicking my eyes in the direction of the two women from the bandstand, it must have been obvious to them that I was the man whom one of them was to meet. They must have abruptly taken shelter here, leaving their colleagues to blast an empty park with their music. I stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the obvious holiday-makers, dressed as I was in a smart grey suit, to say nothing of the slender furled umbrella I kept close to me; something of a treasure it was with its silver and leather embellishment. Of course, not forgetting that they, too, would have a pen picture of what I looked like, even without a white gardenia.
‘In for a penny, in for a pound...’ I decided to walk over, but had already promised myself, my search for a soul-mate was not going to end with one of the ladies. It was probably a bit of lark for them; surely they were not expecting me to pick out the twin that was actually the ‘lonely heart’ hoping to couple with the heart that I had thought was beating alone (a little faster than usual) within my breast.
I suddenly remembered a condition — a rare one, true — where the heart is placed on the wrong side of the chest. I’ve forgotten the name — a rather medical/technical word. And why I suddenly thought of this condition was as a result of a dream’s reminder...
Or had it been a dream at all ? It seemed so real now and I wondered how I had completely forgotten about it until this very moment. When asleep in my hotel room, I had woken suddenly — or dreamt I had woken — really scared about something. A frisson trickled down my spine like icy droplets, as I sat up in my clammy pyjama top. My heart was beating very hard. I could feel it beating within my chest. I was breathless f or literally minutes on end, as I listened to my heart, not from inside me, but from that other bed parallel with the one in which I had chosen to sleep...!
Shaking off this disturbing memory of what could only have been a dream, I did finally follow my original impetus to walk over and introduce myself to the two women. But I had missed my chance. A brief brown study on my part... and they had already got up — with their shiny golden instruments slung over their backs — leaving for the now sunny evening outside. I hadn’t even noticed the thunderclaps moving on to other quarters of the world.
I had imagined one of the two figures had given a glance in my direction: a surreptitious one which revealed more than it intended. I almost suspected that the gender of this pair of creatures was even more ambivalent than I had originally assumed from my first impression. Well, with one of them, at least. The one with the shifty glance.
And I couldn’t help noticing they were holding hands.
I shrugged. I’d do no better than to abandon them to their lung-bursting renditions of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and suchlike. This had been merely one day in my life. There were thousands more to go. I vowed, in future, to listen only to my own heart.
When I went to sign out of the hotel, I was amazed to find I had already done so, and it was raining again as I walked to the railway station. The childhood jingle had vanished from my head, along with all those nursery rhymes which my mother intoned to me as I sat on her lap. One with a title that quite escaped me. Perhaps it would come back another day...
* * *
Little Johnnie raced raindrops down the train window towards its leather tongue. The tongue’s sharp edge reminded him of a wife he might love one day and then hate the next. Or rather warned him.
But he was too young to understand. He could not even feel disheartened.