You can never go back. That’s one of the most common clichés THEY, that amorphous, admonishing THEY like to trot out. Or its slightly more wordy variant, You shouldn’t try to go back, which tells you that not only is it impossible (that word try!) it is also morally, or at least psychologically questionable (that word should!). Well, I don’t care. I don’t care in the slightest, and when I was told that the publishing firm I was working for wanted someone to be relocated to their new office in Limecaster, I almost literally jumped at the chance. I certainly felt my feet leave the ground. It was all I could do to stop myself pleading and making myself look very needy and stupid, though if it comes to the former, I won’t deny it.

Limecaster was the place where I had been happier than I ever was in my life, before or since. It was the city not far from the Irish Sea, the city where the castle was still used for modern day trials (though thankfully nobody faced medieval punishments!) and, even if I was doing it subconsciously, the city that served as my yardstick, and so far, much as there were other places I loved, everywhere came up wanting.

I had been a student there, in what I call my “normal age student period”, before I went back as a mature student. The university itself wasn’t in the city, though I loved it, too, but a 60s campus university, out on a wind-swept ridge, surrounded by silver birch trees. I was happy enough in my first year in a Hall of Residence, but happier when, in my second year, I was one of the few lucky ones to be able to find accommodation in Limecaster itself, not in the nearby seaside town. I had a flat in a quiet terrace, but not too far from the city centre.

Now here’s the thing. Though most people would agree Limecaster is an attractive city, it’s not generally seen as – well, in the Premier League – in many’s eyes. But I didn’t care. If anyone expressed that view it wouldn’t have annoyed me. I would just have thought that it wasn’t the kind of place everyone appreciated. And it almost worked to my advantage – I was told within a couple of weeks that I had been successful in my application to be moved to the office in Limecaster. Oh, I went through the motions. I told my colleagues that I would miss them, and it wasn’t untrue, and said that I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at my current, soon to be my past employment, had been happy, and that wasn’t untrue, either, but they seemed as nothing compared to the prospect of going back to Limecaster.

It seemed as if everything were working out exactly as I would have planned it. When I looked for a place to rent in Limecaster, I could scarcely believe my eyes – and yet I could – when I saw that there was a flat in Bower Close, where I had lived when I was a student! Okay, not actually the same house, but perhaps that really would have been too good to be true. That would have verged on the uncanny!

I knew that some changes had been made to the campus, which I drove past on my way. I knew that the multi-storey residence block called Rowland’s Tower, visible from miles away even though it was hardly a skyscraper, had been pulled down and replaced by low-rise student housing, and it hadn’t been largely mourned, as it was a frankly ugly building. Even though I had never lived in it, I still felt a little pang as I looked at the campus contours without it, but despite my affection for the University, my first loyalty was to the city.

When I arrived at Bower Close, my first thought was that I had come home. Oh, I’m not going to say it was as if nothing at all had changed. I suppose, obviously, the curtains were different, some of the doors had been painted different colours, now almost all the houses had satellite dishes on, when previously it had only been a few. But those were superficial things, though I couldn’t help lamenting the latter. I was relieved to see there was no dish on my old home. My new one was only a few doors up the road. It was furnished, but only with the bare essentials, and I could personalise it myself. I will have blue-grey curtains, I thought, like I used to before, and put my Escher prints on the wall, and even if they are not actually the same ones, they will look like them, and I will put my radio on the window sill, like I used to, and will put the little collection of china cats my Grandmother left me in a little corner unit, like I used to. I arranged my books, many of them the same titles, though of course there weren’t any textbooks, on the bookshelves that I would have preferred to have been on the opposite wall, the way they were before, but decided I could live with that.

I had already exchanged several emails with the lady renting the property, who was called Violet Simmons, and decided we would get along very well. After one token formality in the first communication, we had become Vi and Lizzie, and instinct told me that, just like my old landlady, Sarah, she was the kind of person who would be friendly, but not intrusive. I wondered how Sarah was doing, but decided not to ask. I wished we had stayed in touch, but she had been the one who, not at all in a nasty way, had gradually reduced it to birthday and Christmas cards and the odd holiday postcard.

Vi came round and explained a few practical things – not that I really needed them explaining, but it was good to have a face to face chat with her. She was telling me about the local amenities, and where things were, but then she broke off, “Of course, you told me you’re lived here before. A long time ago, though, so you might still need to re-orient yourself.” I didn’t contradict her, but it wasn’t true. Things had slotted back into place the minute I stepped into Bower Close. At least, as long as they were still the same …..

I was both impatient and nervous about getting out and having a look. Well, of course the canal still ran past one end of the Close, they couldn’t have changed that. But the little newsagent was still there on the corner, okay, it had changed hands, or at any rate, displayed the logo of a national franchise of convenience shops, and of course there weren’t the cigarette adverts any more (which was a good thing, I told myself, determinedly). But when I went in, the sweets, and the magazines, and the little groceries section, and the few medications they sold, were still in the same place. The bus timetables were still in the same place on the counter, and even though in the first place I could look them up online now, and in the second place I doubt I’ll even be using them much as I’m within walking distance of work and now I have a car, I picked a few up. And oh, how good it was to see that though I think maybe some services have been reduced, the Number 33 still runs to the University Campus, and the Number 36 still runs to the seaside town, just the way they used to.

I asked, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, when the shop had changed hands, adding that I used to live round here, though not saying how long ago. The pleasant young man behind the counter smiled and said, “Oh, it hasn’t! I work here, I don’t own it. That’s still Sonia – Mrs Beach.”

My heart swelled, and I could have kissed him, though I didn’t!

Tonight I tuned into the local radio station, even though I don’t much like their choice of music. There were some new presenters, of course, but the jingle was the same, and the schedule seemed pretty similar.

I organised things so I moved in at the weekend, which is probably always a good idea. Though I was keen to start my new job – except it isn’t really my new job, it’s my old job, just somewhere else, where I’ve always wanted to return – a couple of free days after a move is never a bad thing. But I admit that apart from making my flat more comfortable and familiar, I haven’t done that much today. It has been a lazy Saturday. There is even a Sainsbury’s just where it used to be, and I stocked up on a few bits and pieces there, put them in the cupboards and the fridge, and went for a walk along the towpath. That’s what’s so specially lovely about Limecaster. Though it is a city, it is also a backwater and in the best sense of the world. You can be within walking distance of modern office buildings, and a shopping centre, and still be in a semi-rural idyll with barges drifting along as well as the chug of motorboats and the oar-swirling of kayaks. There were, as there were before, a couple of fishermen with portable stools and patient dogs, and that puzzled me, just as it did before, as I didn’t think there were fish in canals, but I was so glad it hadn’t changed. Intermittently, as the clouds shifted and lightened and darkened, seagulls swooped in from the Irish Sea. But they were visitors to Limecaster, and so they were tolerated, and did not scavenge and squawk incessantly as they did in the seaside town. The thought of birds made me decide that I must attach a feeder to my window, the way I had before. It took a while to attract the birds, but at last I had my own little flock of blue tits and chaffinches, and didn’t mind the starlings. I wondered if they sold them at the newsagents. I was already feeling guilty about doing my main shop in the supermarket, though I assuaged my conscience with the thought that I had done that sometimes before, as well.

There were so many things to do, or to re-do. I would rejoin the library. I had already established from Vi that it was still in the same building, a rather stern looking Victorian one, but one I loved. Even the thought of the prosaic stuff like registering for council tax, and to vote, the stuff I had sighed about and put off, seemed an entirely different matter because they were in Limecaster. Because that would be my address and my postcode again. I supposed I ought to phone or email some of my friends back in the other town, and I did, but they were perfunctory, and though I wasn’t exactly proud of the fact, I couldn’t have denied that it was just done out of a sense of duty and I wouldn’t really have been bothered if they didn’t keep in touch.

I was surprised when Vi came round, though it sounds big-headed I’m a pretty good judge of character, and had already established her as friendly but not intrusive. As it turned out, though, she had good reason to. “Sorry about this, Lizzie,” she said, “Brain like a sieve at the moment, don’t know if it’s the time of life! I didn’t tell you how to set the central heating, and it’s turning chilly. It’s not that complicated – couldn’t be if I could use it!” she laughed a self-deprecating laugh, “But, well let’s just say it has its little ways.” Even that pleased me in an odd kind of way. The central heating at my old flat had “had its little ways” too, and I wondered if it might even be the same system. But Vi was right – once you got the knack, it was a reliable and economic system. After she had explained it to me, and I wasn’t too proud to jot down a few details, I asked her if she wanted to stay for a tea or coffee. “Shouldn’t, but I will,” she said.

After I had brought her a tea and me a coffee in the blue and white mugs that were almost like the ones I had had before, and put some posh biscuits from Sainsbury’s (glad I had decided that it was fine to treat yourself once in a while) I made conversation and said, “I was surprised that Sonia – Mrs Beach – still runs the store!”

She looked puzzled, and then her expression changed from puzzlement to slight concern. “Was she actually in when you went in, Lizzie?”

“No,” I shook my head, “The nice young man – Darren, isn’t it?”

“Yes – and he is a lovely young man, he was at school with my daughter. But Lizzie – I mean, sorry if I’ve misunderstood you and you know this but – well, Old Mrs Beach died ten years ago. Sonia is her only granddaughter. They called her after her, and she was determined she was going to run the shop, even though she has all kinds of qualifications. Are you okay, my dear?”

“Yes, yes I’ll be fine,” I half-lied. The thing is, though I’d liked Mrs Beach, and always enjoyed a chat with her, we hadn’t been exactly close, and learning she had passed away was sad, but not devastating. But the realisation rushed over me like cold, merciless rain, not the gentle kind, and not an air-clearing storm either, that of course things wouldn’t be exactly the same. Stones and streets could stand still, and canals run their familiar course, and buses their familiar route, and radio shows an at least half-familiar schedule. But time did not stand still.

Limecaster only seems to be the same, and only in some ways.

I was chasing a fantasy.

No, I am not sorry I moved here, and still think I will be happy. But the next few days give me at least as much to fret about as to look forward to. Perhaps it’s time that, belatedly, I grew up a little!

March 19, 2021 06:57

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Sylvia Luna
04:30 Mar 29, 2021

It was a quaint story. I had to read the first paragraph a few times because it seemed a little jumbled, but other than that I liked the flow of the story. I got an eerie feeling when we found out about the passing of Ms. Beach which I did not see coming. The story made me picture a small, charming village and I found it very peaceful. Nice writing.


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Nina Chyll
23:23 Mar 22, 2021

I felt like the story really could have done with a little more dialogue, because without it, the narrative felt a little claustrophobic at times being stuck in the protagonist’s mind. It also resulted in a rambling effect. The first paragraph was really quite difficult to understand, the-first-draft kind of difficult. But the writing itself was pretty clear and skilful otherwise to me.


Deborah Mercer
07:16 Mar 23, 2021

Fair comment. I like to use the internal monologue at times, and sometimes it works (sort of!) and sometimes it doesn't.


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