News Flash In Manchester by Gillian Wellby (2nd place Apr20)

Ellie is on the train to her hometown of Manchester.  Courtesy of social media Ellie has been tracked down by little Ann Wheeler –  that is to say the daughter of little Ann Wheeler has tracked her down.  There is to be a  ‘This is your life’  style party  for Ann’s sixtieth birthday. Ellie has been invited along as the long lost school friend.

Ellie  is a small woman who tries to be invisible.  She does not like parties. She has agreed to go to this one because …because what?  Curiosity?  Something deeper?  She wears her straight brown hair with a side parting letting it fall over her damaged left eye. She dislikes talking about herself.  The questions are always the same.  Are you married? No I’m not married. Oh! Divorced? No. Not even divorced.  I am an unmarried spinster.   Oh well, people  say, no need for marriage these days.  Children then?  No . No children.  Really?  Not even an accident from a drunken one night stand. No. No accidents.  No one night stands.   Hah! A career woman then.  No. No career. Just a series of mundane office jobs.  Ellie has to  reassure people  that she is happy with her life.   Their expressions give them away.  How can you be happy with no man  and  no children. What else is there?

The train has arrived at Winchester. Ellie likes Winchester. Every year she has a weekend there, in December.   She once took a man-friend with her – she is not completely adverse to male company, but she found that having to consider someone else’s requirements was very wearing – waiting around while he took photographs.  Plus there was his endless talking…  talking about things he thought he knew about, but didn’t.

The train is approaching Basingstoke, rumbling her ever nearer to the party. Does pretty little Ann Wheeler know Ellie is coming she wonders.  Daughters don’t know all their mother secrets.  Ellie sighs.  Maybe she should pretend, just for tonight, that it had all worked out with her man-friend. She knows enough about him to talk about him. She could describe him as a reliable, solid man. She wouldn’t  use his real name though. She could not imagine herself ever marrying a man called Cedric.  Perhaps they’ve been married for years.  Divorced even. Yes. Divorced.  That would make it easier. She will tell pretty, clever  little Ann Wheeler she is a divorced woman who has chosen to have a few years single to take stock and decide what to do. She has spent too many years letting her husband have the limelight. Now she is deciding what to do next with her life. She might go travelling.  Perhaps she should invent a child too. Just the one. No need to make it too complicated.  Perhaps a son. Jake.  He’s been a bit of a wild child in his day. She doesn’t want a goody-goody son . She wonders why there is so much crime about these days because it would seem everyone she talks to tells her how wonderful  their  children are.   Pretty, clever, sneaky  little Ann Wheeler  has somehow managed to produce a loving thoughtful daughter.   Ellie’s son Jake will be a carpenter. No.  A plumber.  A manual trade cannot be looked down on, even in these days of digital, cybertronic codswallop.  Everyone still needs a plumber. Grandchildren? No. Keep it simple.  Just an ex-husband, she will call him Colin, a reliable, trustworthy name,  and a grown-up son that she doesn’t  see very often. He’s so busy. So busy … fixing pipes.

Ellie sees  Stafford  station approaching. She now has less than two hours to get used to being a mother and  a divorcee.  Why did we  split up she wonders.  Did Colin have an affair? Did I have an affair? No. None of that.  We just grew apart. You’re not the same person at fifty that you were at eighteen are you she will say.  She can see pretty, clever , sneaky, evil,  little Ann Wheeler nodding at this.

The train is leaving Stockport. The next station will be Manchester, Piccadilly . She has had quite a creative journey. All this mumbo -jumbo about  imaginary men and imaginary sons. What twaddle.  She is a spinster. She has a disfigured face.  People have to deal with the consequences of their actions.  Does she think about what life might have been like if she had not lost her eye.  Sometimes.  Definitely today.  Ellie tugs her case down from the luggage rack and makes her way onto the platform

Tonight, when it is her turn, and they say ‘and here, all the way from Bournemouth, is your childhood friend from fifty-five years ago’, Ellie will allow Ann a good look at her face before saying “Shall we talk about what happened to my eye  pretty, clever, sneaky, evil, guilty, little Ann Wheeler.”

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