CONSTANCE AND THE END OF AN ERA

CONSTANCE AND THE END OF AN ERA

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
"

There's such a lot of pressure on the public purse that maybe a mayoral trip overseas is more important than a lending library.

"

It was Constance’s last day at the library.

Everything had happened so quickly. There had been a council meeting, the Mayor had been awarded an expenses-paid visit to India because Brumpton town ought to be modern and twinned with a town of the future, and India was, in the opinions of the councillors, the future. So the Mayor, with his chain of office and a couple of secretaries, was sent to India and the library was closed due to a shortage of funds.

Times, the councillors explained, were hard.

Constance received enough severance pay to make her think twice and more about suing for unfair dismissal and her last day had come. Janet Goody had already been laid off, the presence of such a part-time employee not worth the peanuts paid for her services.

Anything of value … the computers, a selection of elderly books that might prove to have more value than their appearance suggested … had already gone, as was her cubbyhole of a staff room and desk. All that was left for her was to sort the bulk of the stock into those too tatty to be worth doing anything with but pulp, those that other libraries might want and those that could be sold to second-hand book shops, probably at a loss.

She hated this miserable dead-end of a job that she loved but what could she do? She had no influence with the council. Money ruled these days, and certainly not the needs of society. Years ago the first female Prime Minister had announced that there was no such thing as society, and events were proving her right as those who might have benefited by the embracing nurture of a civilised society were left in the cold. That’s as she, bitterly, saw life in Brumpton and she was musing over a deterioration in the quality of life as a van pulled up at the street door … the van due to take most of the older stock to be pulped.

She got a shock when she saw who the driver was.

It was Frank Brownadder and rather than wearing the suit she’d seen him in so recently when she’d had a queasy day or two and he’d driven her home, he was dressed in overalls.

I thought you said you worked for the Brumpton Courier,” she said when she saw who it was.

And hello to you!” he grinned. “I did when I left school, but I couldn’t take cat and dog shows for long, so I left the paper and now I work for Partners of Swanspottle!”

Oh. So have you come for the boxes of books for recycling?”

I’m afraid I have.” He shook his head sadly, “I was shocked when I heard they were closing the library.”

It wasn’t necessary,” murmured Constance, “it’s just that they needed money to send important people round the world on extended holidays. Books didn’t meant anything any more.

He nodded. “It’s the way of things these days. We little people don’t seem to mean much in an age ruled by billionaires.

I’m upset, Frank,” whispered Constance, and he noticed a tear starting to run down her cheek.

I can see you are. Look, why don’t you pop across the road for a coffee, I’ll load the stuff onto the van and join you when I’ve done.”

Do you mind?”

Of course not. And if any pompous council fool comes along and asks where you are I’ll say it’s your time of the month and you’re in the loo if they want to help you!”

You wouldn’t!”

Wouldn’t I?”

This isn’t the Frank who helped me when I was ill, this is a braver new Frank, confident, lively, understanding… I like him like this...

Constance took herself to the cafe across the road and sat at a table by the window with a cup of cappuccino. She could see the recycling van and Frank with his assistant carrying cardboard boxes of books and carelessly dumping then into it.

Then she sat up and almost spilled her cappuccino.

That assistant. She recognised him. He was the only man who had ever shared her bed with her, and that had been a sterile, sexless, almost pathetic kind of sharing when he had been forced to stay the night and she only had one bed. He had been the window cleaner she had tried to help because he wanted to learn how to read, a desire that had been misunderstood by his judgemental wife. It was Bert. She hadn’t seen him for ages, not since he had sold his window-cleaning round and got a steadier job.

Bert,” she whispered, “imagine that, Frank and Bert… probably the only two men who have stepped over the doorstep into my house...”

And that, she thought, was most likely to be true. She lived a solitary life once her day at work was over.

I ought to be more outgoing…

And that thought expanded itself inside her head. I ought to have a man…

The two men finished their job, locked the van and crossed the road to the cafe where she sat.

I guess you know Bert, Constance,” grinned Frank when he’d ordered coffee for himself and his assistant.

I was thinking … the only two men to step over the threshold of my mansion,” smiled Constance. “Together at the end of the job that’s casting me onto the scrapheap.”

I brought Bert for a reason,” said Frank, “when I knew I was coming to the library. When I hoped that I might see you.”

You did?” Constance raised her eyebrows.

I wanted to ask you something.”

That sounds ominous!” She frowned. She couldn’t imagine anything he would want of her.

Remember when you were ill?” he asked, almost shyly.

I felt awful,” she remembered. “I did thank you for driving me home, didn’t I?”

Of course you did. And I told you the story of my life,” he confessed, “I told you a lot about myself.”

I remember.”

What I want to know is...” He suddenly dried up, turned shy like a schoolboy on his first date, wrung his hands.

Yes?” she asked, frowning.

Can I … would you mind terribly...”

Say it, Frank,” urged Bert.

This is a mistake. Forget I said anything!” blurted Frank.

Bert shook his head. “Come on, boss,” he said, “it’s not hard! Constance is a good woman!”

Frank shook his head miserably. Then he stood up abruptly and sighed, then, “I’m sorry… Constance, I’m so sorry...”

And he walked out, crossed the road, and climbed into his van, still shaking his head.

Silly idiot,” sighed Bert, “Constance, honestly, he only wanted to ask you out! He wasn’t going to propose marriage or anything, he just wanted to see if you’d go for a meal with him. He might be my boss, but I can’t get my head round him sometimes.”

Is that all?”

Bert nodded. “I’ve never known such a confirmed bachelor in all my life. It’s as if something scared him off women and he stays scared however long passes.”

I think I understand him,” said Constance. And then, plucking up her own courage to the breaking point she said, “hang on here, Bert, I’ve something to do.”

And she walked across the road towards Frank in his van, theatrically shaking her head as she went.

© Peter Rogerson 24.01.18





© 2018 Peter Rogerson


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Added on January 24, 2018
Last Updated on January 24, 2018
Tags: Constance, library, closure, end of an era, Frank, Bert, coffee, nervousness


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing