Back To Phoenix Street

Se­crets are un­cov­ered in this de­light­ful short story by Joanne Dun­can.

The People's Friend Special - - TRAVEL -

ABOUT 18 months after Colin had died, Jan came across her bus pass. With a fa­mil­iar mix­ture of sad­ness and ex­as­per­a­tion, she re­called per­suad­ing him to drive her into Moors­ley on the day she’d of­fi­cially be­come a pen­sioner so she could ap­ply for it in per­son.

“I don’t see the point,” Colin had grum­bled as they left the coun­cil of­fices. “If you ever need to go any­where, I can take you.”

“Well, I’ve done it now,” Jan said rea­son­ably, “so shall we try one of the res­tau­rants in the shop­ping mall while we’re here?”

“Sorry, love, all this traf­fic’s given me a headache. Tell you what, we’ll go out for lunch to­mor­row in­stead. Some­where nice.”

By some­where nice, he meant Bor­row­bridge, a gen­teel mar­ket town which lay 30 miles in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

Jan sighed. Much as she’d loved her hus­band, there was no deny­ing he could be a bit of a snob.

The bus pass had been put in a drawer with some old pho­to­graphs and other items be­long­ing to Colin’s late mother.

Jan gazed at it now.

She’d sold the car, no longer con­fi­dent be­hind the wheel after years spent as a pas­sen­ger.

So far, she hadn’t missed it too much. There were some pleas­ant walks in her area, though they weren’t so invit­ing now that it had turned colder, and a neigh­bour gave her a weekly lift to an out-of-town su­per­mar­ket.

If she wanted to visit her daugh­ter she could eas­ily book a taxi to take her to the rail­way sta­tion.

On the other hand, it would make a change to go some­where on a whim, with­out plan­ning ahead.

An on­line scan of lo­cal timeta­bles con­firmed what she’d half-sus­pected.

Ser­vices in the di­rec­tion of Bor­row­bridge were two-hourly and the route was com­pli­cated, po­ten­tially in­volv­ing more than one change.

Get­ting to Moors­ley, on the other hand, would be a dod­dle. Buses ran ev­ery half hour and the stop was at the end of her road.

The next one would be pass­ing in 10 min­utes. She de­cided to catch it.

“Hold it there till it bleeps, love,” the driver told her when she got on.

Hav­ing coaxed a chirrup from the ma­chine, Jan sat down, aware of the eyes of fel­low pas­sen­gers on her.

She and Colin had taught at a pri­vate school 20 min­utes from home, and he’d con­tin­ued to drop her off and pick her up after he re­tired, so it was a long time since she’d taken a bus.

At first, the con­stant stop­ping and start­ing irked her, but grad­u­ally, she re­laxed.

Moors­ley, which Colin had al­ways dis­liked, de­spite be­ing born there, was ad­mit­tedly dispir­it­ing.

There were a cou­ple of de­part­ment stores, but noth­ing caught her eye in ei­ther of them.

She treated her­self to a meal in a café, think­ing it would save her the bother of cook­ing later, but her lasagne tasted rubbery, her tea was stewed and she ar­rived at the in­ter­change to find she’d mis­cal­cu­lated and her in­tended bus had al­ready left.

There wouldn’t be an­other for half an hour and the wait­ing room was closed.

Rue­fully, Jan pic­tured the cob­bled al­ley­ways, an­tiques shops and cosy tea­rooms of Bor­row­bridge. Colin’s prej­u­dices, it seemed, had been thor­oughly vindi­cated.

An­other bus duly turned up, how­ever, and be­fore long they were edg­ing their way through the rush-hour traf­fic.

Dusk had fallen, lights were be­ing switched on in of­fices and shops and Jan had a sud­den sense of the town’s pulse quick­en­ing at the ap­proach of evening.

Com­pared to her own quiet es­tate, Moors­ley did at least feel alive.

Soon, they were leav­ing it be­hind. The tide of pas­sen­gers ebbed away un­til only Jan re­mained.

She alighted and hunted for her keys. She was home.

Jan’s hus­band hadn’t liked vis­it­ing his home town. He’d pre­ferred the finer things in life . . .

****

The next time there was noth­ing she fan­cied on tele­vi­sion, she caught a bus shortly after seven.

At the ter­mi­nus, she sim­ply stayed in her seat till the driver turned them round and brought them back again. She didn’t need to get off and min­gle with the crowd in or­der to feel the en­ergy – it was all around her.

She be­gan to make it a reg­u­lar thing. Oc­ca­sion­ally, she spot­ted a fa­mil­iar face, and smiled and ex­changed a few words be­fore head­ing up to the top deck.

Some­times, a group of bois­ter­ous teenagers surged past her, mak­ing for the rear seats.

Un­like Colin, who’d de­tested noise and any­thing that smacked of peo­ple be­ing out of con­trol, Jan didn’t mind them. They

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