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Drama

The car pulled up alongside the curb just as her phone went off.

Down at the waterfront for lunch. Come join me when you get in. Mum x

The woman driving the groaned and thudded her head against the headrest. “Great. Down at the stupid waterfront. And you don’t need to sign texts- it comes through with your number.” No matter how many times she told her mum that though it never made a difference. Just another backwards little quirk from her stupid home town.

Making sure her hair was perfect in the mirror the woman got out the car and adopted ‘the pose’. It was a subconscious thing she did now, pulling her stomach in and pushing her chest out, and she’d started doing it as soon as she’d escape this dive. It made her look taller and slimmer, and less like some country bumpkin, still in awe of technology. Unlike everyone else around here, who still got excited at the idea of satellite TV.

Locking her car over her shoulder she started the walk down to the dockside. In a way she’d have to thank her mum- this gave her a chance to strut her stuff, and show all the locals how much she’d changed. No longer the little sixteen year old girl who’d left for sixth-form all those years ago. Now she was a fully independent nineteen year old woman, with the world at her feet and a sparkling career ahead of her after her fashion degree.

A few people passed her while she made her ways down the side streets, though she pointedly didn’t catch their eyes. She was above talking to all these pensions; now her talks were with glamorous young people who looked like they should be models, in the trendiest and most expensive coffee bars. And one day she’d earn enough to be able to justify going to those coffee bars by herself, and wouldn’t have to nurse one drink for hours so she didn’t have to buy another.

The plan had been to march straight down the high street as well, not slowing for anyone, heels clicking and head held high, leaving everyone in her wake to whisper and stare in awe as she went by. But as she made it to the main street she had to do a double take. The shops had changed, pretty much every one of them as far as she could see. Gone were the betting shops, charity shops and greasy food shops. Instead it looked just like the main shopping street back in the city, all full of boutiques and brand names. There were three coffee shops that she could see just from that corner, as well as her favourite clothes shop (which she hadn’t even realised was a chain franchise).

That wasn’t the worst part though. If it was just the shops she’d have laughed, but all the people looked like those from the city as well. The women were glamorous and skinny, all on point with the latest fashion trends, and even the men were all smart and well dressed. Where had all the backwards, dopey kids that she’d grown up with gone? The ones who had thought she was strange for wanting to look good, who thought that badly fitting hoodies were the greatest invention ever?

“Oh my god, Alex? Is that you?”

It had been so long since she’d used her nickname that it took her a minute to register that someone was talking to her, and even then it took Alexandra longer to work out who it was that was speaking. “Chloe?”

“Oh my god, it is you! How’ve you been? It’s been a while since I last saw you, how’s it going?”

The woman in front of Alexandra was nothing like the Chloe she’d left behind, who’d been dumpy and spotty. This woman had perfect make-up, and a perfectly co-ordinated outfit, exactly the last thing that Alexandra had expected to see in her little run-down, archaic excuse for a town.

“I’m good,” Alexandra managed at last. “Yeah, I’ve been out of town.”

“Oh wow, that’s so cool. Oh, I’d love to go travelling, but it’s so hard trying to find cover for work. Speaking of, I need to get back. Hey, if you’re about for a while we should catch up, yeah? Grab a coffee or something? I’ll see you round, yeah Alex?” Even as she was speaking she starting to make her way across the zebra crossing, leaving Alexandra behind like a lost stray, helpless to watch as she went across and into the most designer boutique. It was a double kick in the gut for Alexandra, who was still working part time at a fast food restaurant.

Fixing her expression again, staying as neutral as she could, she spun on her designer-too-small-because-the-sale-didn’t-have-her-size heels and strolled off again. But the thought of stupid little Chloe chewed her up inside; she’d applied to her own local branch of that clothes shop and been turned down, damn it. What could Chloe have that she didn’t?

The anger hadn’t lessened by the time she got to the water front, but there she got distracted when she got lost. For a second she thought that she had walked the wrong way, despite having spent sixteen years living in this run-down prison. But no, there were the docks, and that was the old lot where they’d hang out on Friday nights drinking cheap cider straight from the bottle. Only now the abandoned lot was gone, and a tall, stunningly modern set of flats stood there instead, all bright windows and clean architecture. They were exactly the sort of place that she dreamed of living in, while she shared her damp apartment with six other people, none of whom had heard of cleaning.

Now that she was focusing again she could see that the whole of the waterfront had been done up. In only three years they had hidden all the run down buildings, and now all the old architecture looked so classy, the juxtaposition of old and new creating a sense of timelessness even as it embraced the future. At least, that’s how she’d describe it if she saw it anywhere else in the world. Here, her only respond was-

“What?”

Three years she’d been gone, only three years since she’d left this run down old relic, this hang-over from a forgotten era of coal-mines and inbreeding and no internet. Where had all this come from, and where had all this style been when she’d been kicking her heels here growing up, desperate to escape and start living in the 21st century?

Her mood didn’t improve as she crossed the plaza to where all the restaurants stood, or at least where they used to stand. By now though she wasn’t at all surprised that all the peeling paint fronts and tacky neon signs had been replaced by sleek black boards and the finest calligraphy. When she spotted her mother, sat out in front of a classy little up and coming chain- of which Alexandra’s local one already had a two month waiting list for table reservations- Alexandra was grinding her teeth. She was so angry that she’d forgotten about ‘the pose’, and was now hunched over very unattractively.

“Hi there!” her mum called as soon as she was spotted. “I wasn’t sure how long you’d be, so I’ve only ordered drinks for now.”

“What is this?” Alexandra asked, gesturing to the bistro, but meaning the whole town. The words weren’t there yet though.

“Oh, I didn’t have anything in, so I thought it would be nice to eat out,” her mum replied, entirely missing the point. “You know, like you do off in the big city.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Alexandra didn’t have the heart to tell her mum that she couldn’t afford to eat out in the ‘big city’, that she could barely afford little more than microwave meals, what with all she had to pay in rent. When she looked at the menu, and saw the prices- almost half what she’d have to pay in the city- she almost broke down in tears there and then.

After they ordered her mum started filling her in with all the news from the area, of all the amazing and interesting things that everyone else from her school was doing. As she talked though Alexandra’s mind wandered. For months she’d been planning her return; how she’d walk down the street and everyone would stare, how the boys would fight each other to get her attention and all the girls would get eaten alive by jealousy.

Yet here she was, the tables turned, as she had to listen to how well everyone else was doing, all living the life she’d been trying to find over the years. Girls from her school had jobs that she’d die for, and now they had access to all the best shops as well. The boys that she’d spent years teasing and tormenting had settled down and become respectable, all finding true love, while she was still single.

The worst part in all of it though was the small ache at the base of her stomach. She’d never felt anything like it before, but slowly she began to realise that it was nostalgia. The old disused lot, the battered waterfront, the small businesses that had been there for donkey’s years, she missed them all. At least, she did now that she realised they were gone forever.

The food arrived, and Alexandra could look down at the finest of current cuisine, then up across the water that she’d spent her childhood skimming stones across, when she was dreaming of the day that she could escape this hole.

“So, how’re you doing?” her mum asked. “How’s life in the big city?”

It would be so much easier if she stopped calling it that. Pushing all the feelings of remorse and shame down Alexandra fixed the biggest smile on her face. However much these people had changed, she could never accept them into the world that she wanted to be part of, that beautiful world of Hollywood glitz and excitement. She could never admit that she’d been wrong.

“It’s perfect,” Alexandra said. “A million miles away from life here.”

August 23, 2019 22:04

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1 comment

Roger Scypion
14:30 Feb 03, 2023

Great story about angst, acceptance and loss. Kudos!

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