Back To Phoenix Street
Secrets are uncovered in this delightful short story by Joanne Duncan.
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