tagRomanceCharlie's Story

Charlie's Story

byHandley_Page©

Note: This story is set in England, during the '80s, when mobile telephones were still on the horizon, TV programmes were recorded on Video Tape and problems of 'erectile dysfunction' were kept very, very quiet . It is a work of fiction. All the parties represented are of a suitable age, ie., over 18. Please be aware that no authors were harmed during the writing and English English spelling is used.

In a traditional English pub (short for Public House), there were several bars: the Public (usually the largest), the Lounge (generally quieter, and better decorated) and the room often referred to as the "Back Bar," generally more comfortable than the 'Public Bar'. There were others, such as often found in very old (particularly Victorian) pubs, the Smoking Room and the Ladies Bar. A 'decent' lady was not to be seen in a pub unless accompanied by her man (and the single woman was Very Careful). But the Brewery fixed it so she could enjoy a glass of something - in a bar particularly for the ladies, who, presumably, enjoyed a glass of milk stout while their husbands enjoyed a pint of Bitter in the public bar.

Sincere thanks to Dr Miss for her guidance.


*****

Charlie sat in a corner seat of the pub, reading the local paper. The "back bar" of the pub was a rich brown, the dark colour of real age, and boasted a publican who firmly resisted the blandishments of the brewery wanting to convert it to a "theme pub".

Mahogany and copper shone on the bar top and the beer was good, cellar cool and hand pumped. The horse-brasses shone with real polished care, the old wood centre beam was black with age. The pictures on the walls were a mixture of sepia prints of old past publicans and regular customers, the cricket team gatherings and a few sporting prints from a time when Britain really was Great although it was not easy to gauge an age when this might have been. The windows were small and overlooked the trim garden.

Charlie was now over 40 but he did not look it. He was going a fashionable shade of grey on top, but still in reasonable trim. All the job adverts he had studied had wanted young trainees or shelf fillers at not a lot by way of pay, and he was too young for the local DIY place which deliberately sought mature people for the staff.

Job-hunting had been one of the responsibilities that had been impressed on him at the sessions in the Hospital following his breakdown. But there was another, almost unspoken, thing. Mention mental health problems and you were immediately regarded by all and sundry as unstable and untrustworthy at best, if not a newly-released rapist or murderer. "Suitable only for menial tasks and requiring close supervision" was the common perception. It did not make for a favourable entry on his CV. It was simply not true. As one therapist put it, "think about it as a broken bone between the ears." Try telling that to the potential employer!

The two years of recuperation following the breakdown of his mind, his marriage and his thriving company had been a time of continual discovery. Sights, sounds, and even smells all came slowly, or sometimes in bursts. His period in the hospital was not one he'd forget, nor did he particularly want to. He had been a little peeved about letters from her solicitor at a time when he could not do much. The divorce had come through whilst he was still 'in therapy' - as if by mail order, he thought.

Fortunately, he'd had insurance and enough put by to pay off the mortgage and most of the other debts. Even allowing for the division of the spoils he was not as badly off as some.

He was off the more aggressive tranquillisers, thank Heavens. He had been for a while now, although the Doctors had let him keep a few in a sealed bottle which was marked "In case of Emergency, Break the Glass," in tribute to hospital humour. He was down to twice-a-year visits, and he felt, if not at peace, that he could handle most of life's crises without recourse to any pills apart from the occasional something to help him sleep. The lads on the cricket team quietly kept an eye on him and made sure he'd not have too many beers.

He had eventually started work as a general factotum in a busy office of 'Blades', the local computer business. 'General Clerk' was the term used on his employment slip. The job had been negotiated for him by the charitable endeavours of the Hospital Trust after he was officially discharged. He was now officially sane — and single.

He was given leave when he needed it for appointments. At first, he felt 'supervised' by nearly every junior in the place. In a short time, his confidence increased and he proved that he still could mix it with the best of them, even if the most junior of Clerks was paid more. He managed to pay his way and that counted for a lot, in his mind.

As the office worked flexible hours, his time was never really lost; a fact which was noted favourably by his supervisors. And it was noticed that his opinion on this or that technical point was occasionally solicited by several influential workers.

He fixed up one printer problem in a few moments, and sorted out a Word Processor to the satisfaction of the secretary concerned and the visible relief of the department supervisor. Even programmers and technical help specialists occasionally made time for a coffee and a chat.

He had a computer at home, used as much for games as keeping his hand in with the programming, but he read books from the Library and even bought a few. He was working on a tricky bit of graphics code now, shaving a bit here, a bit there and it worked. He was quite pleased with it.

What did not please him was that following the divorce, his ex-wife Jan had quickly "taken up with someone new." Later, unsubstantiated, rumour had it that the someone new was a She, not a He. And the Someone in question was, apparently, none other than his former secretary and factotum, Lois, although he seriously doubted this. Perhaps, he'd wondered, this was why the settlement was so 'fair', as his solicitor put it. The implication was that Jan wanted 'out' and was prepared to do almost anything to leave. He'd managed to keep the house, for example, although it was rather sparsely furnished. The problem was not high in his mind, though.

In his new job, Charlie soon found he was spending more time with the programmers and the guys in computer support, where his demonstrated expertise was both useful and noted. Most of the guys seemed to welcome his visits. Once or twice he went in to help out when there was a bit of a panic and he thought he'd made his mark rather than blotting his copy book. When a minor vacancy occurred, he was asked by the Manager if he'd like to give it a try, with the proviso that if things did not work out for any reason, he'd still keep his old job if he wanted it. "It would mean," said the manager, "more money, more time spent at a computer and increased responsibility. Could you still hack it?"

Charlie said "Yes," almost without thinking about it.

Of course, it had meant less time with the secretaries, but most were pleased to see his increasing self-confidence and skills rewarded even if one or two seemed disappointed at his departure. Once or twice he thought he'd received a glance that suggested that a date might be considered.

His pulse rate rose at thoughts of an evening out, but it had come to nothing. He was celibate, and had no plans imperil his position at work. As a fellow hospital inmate once put it: "You don't puke on your own doorstep."

All the same, one or two of the ladies looked quite attractive especially in summer when the skirts were shorter and the blouses thin. He'd smiled as he reminded himself to get a few condoms in, just in case.

But now, the Cricket Match was high on his agenda. The prospect of a good cricket match at the weekend whetted Charlie's appetite and he went down to his local for a chat with the other players and to discuss any problems with transport and the usual things which can spoil an otherwise good day. The rain was persistent but the forecast was good and the pitch usually drained well. Meeting over, he and a couple of the lads were chatting about their week when Charlie made to go and get his round.

The woman in front of him at the bar looked familiar but he did not quite know why. She had a shapely figure and strong shoulders.

If she wasn't a swimmer, he thought, she did a lot of training in a gym. She turned away from the bar and nearly collided with him. She recognised him first and a smile lit her face as she said "Charlie: It is Charlie, isn't it?"

He looked at her, feeling rather embarrassed and suddenly confused as a million thoughts charged through his brain before he stuttered: "Yes."

He paused.

"I know you from somewhere. Forgive my not remembering, but my memory is still not particularly good at faces, especially in the past. I remember something about an exercise video and computers, but not much of people."

Lois looked at him with some concern. "It's Lois," she said. "I used to work for you before you took ill. You gave me a glowing reference which got me a good job. You taught me about computers and you are right, you gave me an exercise video one Christmas which was very good. I must say you look fitter these days; are you all right?"

She smiled and Charlie had a sudden memory experience; everything at once.

They'd always got on well, he and Lois. Friendly, often with a shared joke or amusing aside. They were both 'heading the same direction' as far as the fledgling computer company was concerned. She made effective and clever suggestions resulting in a good reputation among clients or would-be clients.

Lois was no catwalk sparrow; above average height with distinct curves and nice long legs. She always seemed to wear the right clothes for work: Skirts of just the right length, blouses of a well-judged cut and colour and hair always neat. She greeted clients with cordiality and remembered all the important dates despite not using either a computer or even an "Organiser."

She'd been quick to learn and anxious to get back to work following her own divorce, although they did not talk about it much after she'd first mentioned it. Their relationship was always professional but accompanied by intelligent dry humour; never anything else.

He gave her the right computer books and fired her enthusiasm; she studied at night-school and came to be almost as computer literate as he, who spent most of his waking time with one in front of him.

Lois had taken up sports and trained regularly, she played an enthusiastic game of Badminton. His gift of an exercise video one Christmas was appreciatively received and she used it - to visible good effect in the following months. The thought that Lois had taken up with Jan in some romantic assignation was just too daft to contemplate. She was the almost the antithesis of his ex-wife, Jan.

Jan was competent in the kitchen and witty at the dinner table but usually regarded a computer as something reminiscent of black magic; she had difficulty with almost any electronic gadget; the video often recorded the wrong programme, when it recorded anything at all. Her moods and taste in clothes took some catching up with but she laughed a lot. At least, she laughed until bed-time, which was often the time for the arguments which did little to ease his problems. Jan had a shrill voice when roused and a heavy hand when slapping his face. Why, he wondered, is it considered OK for a woman to slap the face of a man and not the opposite. He was still puzzled about it.

"Yes," said Charlie with a smile. "Much better, thanks. I've been working for a while at a local firm. I'm off the pills and paying my way." he added with a touch of defiant pride.

"That's really good." said Lois, "I'm here with a few people now. Is this your local?" Charlie nodded.

"I'll pop in again soon," she said, "and we can catch up on our lives. I'd like to know about how you fare these days."

"Would you like to come to a cricket match tomorrow?" he said. "It should start about eleven, if the weathermen get it right. It's on the Recreation Ground."

He wondered why he'd said it and almost blushed.

Lois smiled. "You know," she said, "I have not been to a cricket match in ages. I'm working in the morning, but I'll try and get there after lunch, if that's all right."

Charlie felt shyly pleased with himself and took the beers back to the table and his friends in some triumph. They greeted him with sly looks of envy and asked about the "pretty maid" he'd been chatting up. They knew of his past problems and helped him where needed, but not visibly so; he did not need it quite so often these days.

"No mystery," he said. "She and I once worked together. It was all a long time ago, before I was ill."

"Lucky devil," said Baz, the team Captain. "She's a looker." He paused and added with a grin,

"and no VPL either."

Baz was right. Lois was wearing a trouser-suit featuring fashionably tight trousers, high heels and looked very good, maybe not overtly sexy, just damnably attractive.

"VPL?" Charlie aked.

Baz grinned: "Visible Panty Line"

"Oh" was all Charlie could say as he took a sip of his beer. He hoped the quick peek he had taken on Baz's explanation hadn't been noticed.

Saturday

The sun shone on the cricket pitch, and Charlie, dressed in as near whites as he could get them, surveyed the outfield and decided the groundsmen had done a good job. The drainage was up to expectations and the grass cut relatively short. The soft wind had helped dry out the pitch and Charlie reckoned it would take a bit of spin. They won the toss and elected to bowl.

The opposition were doing good service and had made a modest total. With the main bowlers taking a bit of time out from their labours, Bazz asked Charlie to take a few and see if he "could keep their run rate down." Charlie took the ball, observed the field placing and ran up.

The ball curved in the air and struck the ground just outside the off stump. The batsman left it. Charlie repeated the offering and this time the batsman took a mighty swipe which shot past the slips like a missile and went for a four. The far fielder threw it to Charlie who took the ball, carefully polished one side and ran up to bowl again.

The ball turned in the air and cut out. The batsman started to make his strike, but before he could realise his error, it caught the top of the bat and the ball went straight into the hands of second slip. After the cheers were over and the field re-ordered, the new man took his stance and prepared for battle. There was something of a determined look in his eye, for he was known as a competent man at the crease who could be relied upon to make a few runs and steady the rest of the team by blunting the bowling attack.

Charlie's ball flew straight and true and the batsman struck it round to the midfield and took two. Charlie slowed his run-up and carefully bowled again, intending that the ball curve. It did not, and the batsman struck it straight back. Charlie swayed out from his run to grab it, but it was going very fast and his fingers bent back as he tripped and fell in a crumpled heap to the ground.

He didn't even hear the sound of the Ambulance.

Sunday AM

When Charlie woke up, he ached all over. The overhead lights were bright and hurt his eyes. The room was plain white, what little he could see of it. A nurse called the doctor who came to talk to him.

"As sports injuries go," said the Doctor after a Nurse had plumped his pillows, "yours is like a box of assorted biscuits. It will mean that your sporting pursuits are over for this season. You might make deputy scorer in a couple of weeks." He smiled. Charlie found it painful to smile, but he tried.

"We've strapped up your fingers for now, and re-set your shoulder; you'll get used to the straps and eventually you can probably do without them. The scratches to your face will leave a few minor scars. Your neck is strained, but that will be little bother apart from the odd headache for a bit. Your back will hurt for a while but with a decent rest, it will improve.

"We've done several X-rays and you have damaged nothing vital. And before you ask, yes, we do know of your previous hospitalisation.

"There were those who wondered if you'd done something stupid, but common sense and several good witnesses prevailed. There was one young lady, quite pretty, who absolutely insisted that she'd seen you trip and fall whilst bowling. She was most determined that we noted it although there were those who wondered just how you could do this much damage at a cricket match."

Charlie explained what he thought had happened. He continued: "Goin' to be a bit sore, I expect. And my head hurts."

He smiled ruefully. "It takes a bit of thought on how to move without too much pain."

He grimaced. He had moved as he said it. A nurse appeared and he accepted something to dull the pain with gratitude and slept.

Tuesday

By Tuesday morning, Charlie finally persuaded a nurse to contact work and tell them of his plight, explaining the difficult circumstances of his employment. She did so, but he was puzzled by her statement later that they already knew and it 'would be all right'.

"How long does this go on?" said Charlie to a visiting Doctor,

"And how long before I can work, you know - use a keyboard?"

"Well," came the reply, "a few days here followed by a good bit of physiotherapy. I know a good man who can help later on. He's a sportsman himself; cricket, too, I believe. If you did a manual job, you might need as much as three or even four weeks off. Given your generally good state of health, you should be typing reasonably well within a fortnight."

His request for a shave finally met with some success, although the young nurse doing it was not as skilled with the razor as he might have hoped or expected. His first unaided trip to the toilet hurt like hell and he asked for a stick.

Staggering unsteadily, and failing to find something to hang on to he looked in the mirror. The bruises to his face were bad and the scratches livid on a pale skin. His eyes were almost sunken and his back and shoulder hurt. He was very glad to return to his bed for a rest.

The library trolley came by and he grabbed a couple of books, determined to stay his impatience.

Wednesday evening.

As the evening visitors streamed in and out for the other patients in the ward, Charlie looked up from his book to see a woman he thought he recognised but could not exactly place. She was dressed in a business suit and looked at him expectantly. All he could say was "Hello."

He paused, then suddenly remembered: " How are you, Lois?"

Lois smiled. "Sorry I didn't made it earlier, but I've had a lot on my plate. I called in at the Pub and Baz and the guys send you this card." She handed him a large envelope which he managed to open. It was a cartoon character of a sportsman in a hospital bed. He smiled.

"Baz also asked me to bring you the stuff from your locker."

She handed him a large stiff plastic bag and a smaller cardboard box, containing his watch, wallet and keys.

She looked at him carefully. Most of his facial damage was a livid red, set on a pale, almost grey, face. His arm was in a sling and his hand wrapped in splints and bandages. His neck collar was on the bedside table.

"I'm OK, thanks," she said, and went on to tell him about the match and how she'd arrived in time to watch him keel over and get carried away in an ambulance.

"It was almost like a slow-motion ballet, watching you trip. If it wasn't for the obvious damage, it would have been quite funny. It was as if they didn't know which bit to disentangle first."

She smiled. "It has taken me," she ended, "some while to find out exactly where you were. The local hospitals are not very good at giving information out. All you get is `the patient is comfortable'; and that," she added, "was after several telephone calls to locate this particular hospital. I had to tell them I was a relative."

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