Eight years on the list, this view made the wait worthwhile. Across the harbour Portsmouth, HMS Victory and Warrior in the dockyard. He never tires of visiting the museums or the historic ships. Flat eleven, sixteenth floor, overlooks the new marina. It is the Gosport side of the harbour. He and Gill made the right choice to buy it. Originally a council property, the government ‘right to buy scheme’ meant they could own the freehold.
The old man opens the window and lights his cigarette. A non-smoker for twenty years. On the afternoon of Gill’s death, he started again. Why not? There is little left to live for. Their son flew over from Canada to attend the funeral. He had not seen him for twelve years ‘It cannot be that long Dad’ he lied. The daughter used to visit every fortnight in the summer. A cheap hotel for the weekend, that’s how she used the flat. She doesn’t drive down these days ‘It’s a three-hour drive father’. Truth to tell, he knows he will never see his children again. They were ‘ashamed’ of their mother’s funeral service. What the hell would they know about their mother?
Mel throws the cigarette end out of the window. The wind it carries away, like a small firework rocket. He does not care for the environment these days. There was a time when he did, Gill saved the plastic bottles, swilled out the tin cans. She refused to buy polythene bags or pre-packed food. His wife voted for the Green Party, believing he did so too. The X went in the Monster Raving Loonies box. Politics? He had seen politicians greed and listened to their sanctimonious rhetoric during his career. Liars the lot of them.
The window closed. Melvin puts The Pretenders on the turntable. While sipping fruit tea and molasses, he listens to Chrissie Hynde singing his favourite songs. Mel could not tell you the name of the album, nor the titles of the tracks. He has ninety-one LP’s and has played them for thirty years. Ask who he likes, he’ll name the artist. Ask for details? None. The last track is playing, the instrumental. Across the room his new iMac, to the left of it, the green baize notice board. Mel stares at the ticket pinned in its upper left corner. Next to it Gill’s photo, the one he took in America. He showers puts on his pyjamas. It will be some time before he sleeps.
Fruit and porridge for breakfast. Shower and dressed by nine. It is Saturday; he’ll take his Triumph T120 motorcycle along the coast. Arriving at Poole around noon. Sandwich from Tesco’s, followed by a harbour tour. Maybe an hour or two at Studland Beach, home by five. He rides in jeans, tee shirt, Harris tweed jacket. Leather ankle boots, gloves and white Bell 500 helmet, are the only concession to safety. One speeding ticket in eight years, he’s lucky, he’s not frightened of twisting the throttle. The bike and his image have made him many friends.
Everyone liked Mel and Gill. The were close, not touchy close, in love close. They did not talk about their past. ‘No importance now, today’s the day’ Gill liked to say that phrase when anyone asked about her. There was no real mystery, she’d owned a successful business. Few would know the couple were wealthy. ‘Act like your poor’ Mel had taken that one for himself on his sixtieth birthday.
At six he goes to the Submarine pub. The Brazilian barmaid ‘Pin’ smiles as he walks to the bar. She had already taken the pint glass and ready to pour Mel’s beer. ‘The usual Mel?’ ‘Yes please Pin’ No matter how many times he listened to ‘the usual’ spoken with a South American accent, he cannot get used to it. Still, it is evident Pina likes Mel; a real smile is impossible to fake. And her looks would distract the Pope, so what is the problem? Terry shouts across the bar ‘I’ll pay for Mel’s pint, give him a shot of rum as well’ argument is futile ‘Thanks, Terry’.
Terry is a window cleaner and small-time property developer. Last year he crossed the line with some building supplies. The providence of ten thousand bricks became worthy of criminal investigation. In the magistrate court, Mel defended the young man. He questioned the evidence given to the police. So good was his advocacy, the prosecution’s lawyer, shook his hand after the ‘no case to answer’ verdict. ‘How much do I owe you?’ The acquitted rogue asked ‘Buy me a beer sometimes’ replied the amateur lawyer. Terry vowed Mel would never pay for his first pint for as long as he lived. He is true to his word. Amateur is not correct; when Mel retired, he became a mature student and attained a honours degree in law. While taking the picture after the award ceremony, the photographer asked ‘Bet it feels great to achieve a degree at your age?’ The reply ‘An absolute waste of time and money young man’. Mel always regrets he wasted those years. He could have found more purpose in learning how to be a plumber.
He sits at his usual table and says ‘hello’ to Gill. They drank at the ‘Sub’ every week-end, the locals took to them and the couple made many firm friends. Gill died of a heart attack walking home on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The last words ‘Take your time Mel’ being a reference to the Triumph.
His daydream is broken; ‘How was your ride out Mel?’ ‘Fast’ the old biker laughs ‘Have you been working on the house, Terry?’ The young entrepreneur nods his head. ‘Coming along fine, I have to get it finished quick-snap. There’s property in Old Portsmouth coming up. I’m going to need four hundred thousand to buy it, another hundred to convert it’ ‘will you make much on the deal?’ ‘half a million, it’ll make me Mel’ ‘That’s a deal my friend’ ‘Sure is, old fella. I’m going now, can I get you another?’ ‘I’ll get my own Terry, thanks’ He knows full well when he goes to the bar his drink will be paid for.
The ‘Sub’ is a time warp. The regulars are like wasps in a jam jar. There is no escaping its lure, and once accepted; the drinker is part of a tribe. Gill cracked the code when she became friends with Pina. Twice a week they would enjoy the day together. The friendship went deep, almost mother and daughter. When Gill died, the whole micro community went into mourning. A whip-round went further than the pub, many locals contributed. The large sum raise was to pay for the funeral. The service and cremation were prepaid, so Mel kept the money. A few weeks after the service he purchased, new cooker, washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, fridge-freezer and the iMac. His partner would be pleased her death had achieved such a bonus.
For the wake, the landlord Freddie paid for the food and closed the bar to the public for the evening. God knows how many attended the service. The whole event continued until the police stopped the party around three the following morning. Pina and Freddie woke up in the same bed; she is now carrying his child. Freddie’s over the moon; he’s sixty. She’s happy too; she can marry Freddie and stay in England. She told Gill her family are incredibly poor. She came to here to send money home. Her brother is in prison and needs ten thousand dollars for a bribe.
At eight Mel leaves, first stop the newsagents to buy his cigarettes. Mr Singh, passes over the packet and the evening ticket ‘I printed your lucky dippy Mel’ ‘Thanks, Paul, had a good day?’ ‘Not so bad. Have you checked your Euro? There an unclaimed 54 million from the Portsmouth area. Some lucky chappie is not checked his ticket’ The old Asian would like to befriend Mel, there is something about him he likes. ‘Yes, I know about the ticket. Some lucky bastard alright’ The pair laugh. Next stop, the fish shop. Haddock, chips, onion and peas, fresh cooked, wrapped for takeout.
By eight thirty Mel is home, eating his supper. David Bowie is spinning on the turntable. He folds the wrapping and places it in a new bin liner. Sprays the bag with air freshener and ties a knot to seal it. All tidy, everything tidy. In the cupboard is a bottle of Woods rum, next to it a glass, he half fills it. Turns his chair to face the harbour and watches the ferry put to sea. He thinks of his family.
Jason is a troublesome son. His arrogance during the funeral isolated him from conversations about his mother’s last years. The evening before he’d talked about his business success, happy family and Canada. A lifetime interviewing strangers gave his father a ‘second sight’. Jason’s business is struggling, the pots of money he talked of, non-existent. His clothes, lack of ready cash and the fact he had travelled alone proved the reality. Lorraine was a spiteful creature, her work for women’s rights had made her sour. She saw the weak side of every situation. Her academic achievements while admirable had set a gold standard of superiority. In truth, she had a gilded personality, bright smile, good looks and heart of lead. Mel takes responsibility for his children. The Twins would benefit from a generous cash handout. He looks at the ticket, pinned to the board.
Terry will not make the deal; he will not finish the present renovation in time. Five hundred thousand would see him through. Pina, poor Pina, she is soon to be broken hearted. Freddie’s Pub is busy and making lots of money. The problem is two-fold; the mortgage is short term and high interest, so the profit is swallowed up in bank charges, and worse, Freddie has cancer. A hundred thousand and the situation would turn around. He looks at the ticket pinned to the pinboard.
A warm shower and clean pyjamas before bed. Most evenings Mel is asleep within half an hour. For the last two weeks, sleep has become evasive. He picks up his book, Derek Jarman’s ‘Smiling in Slow Motion’. Derek lived in a converted fisherman’s cottage in Dungeness Kent. Its name is Prospect Cottage. The word ‘Prospect’ spins in his mind. Journalist’s tools are cameras, pens, computers, voice recorders and the magic ingredient ‘Words’ – The Oxford Concise is opened at Prospect.
Prospect; there is little prospect of success: likelihood, hope, expectation, anticipation, (good/poor) chance, chances, odds, probability, possibility, likeliness, promise, lookout; dream; fear, danger, hazard.
Mel gets out of bed for a cigarette. He stands by the window and smokes one and then another. The firework stub is blown outward toward HMS Dolphin. Before returning to the bedroom, he takes the pink ticket and rips it into small pieces. The wind blows, and Fifty Four Million prospects sail away.