Unwelcome Homecoming

Submitted into Contest #164 in response to: Write a story in which someone returns to their hometown.... view prompt

3 comments

Speculative

Unwelcome Homecoming

Jack Jones stood at the small service window of the police department’s Staff Office. He had come to hand in his police identity badge. After a thirty-year career in which he had achieved the rank of a commissioned officer, they had designated a cadet to receive him.

A cadet, for f**** sake!

“Where’s your boss? Tell him I wish to speak with him.” Jack needed to call on his willpower not to take out his frustration on the teenager.

“He’s busy and not seeing anyone.”

“I’m here to surrender my I.D. You can inform Superintendent Cooper that if he wants my card, he will find it in the rubbish bin on the other side of the road, the one outside the McDonald’s restaurant.”

*

Jack had opted to take a voluntary redundancy package offered by the government to thin the number of senior officers in the force.

He saw little of his two adult children. Daughter Raelene enlisted in the navy at an early age. She spent most of her time at sea or stationed on the other side of the country.

His son, Paul, joined the Customs Services and gallivanted around so much that Jack had dubbed him Marco Polo. Now based at a centre 3,000 kilometres away, he had become a stranger to Jack.

To complete the trifecta, Mandy, Jack’s spouse, had left him and returned to England, the land of her birth. Before she fled, she ensured she had wrung every possible cent out of him. To conform with a Family Law Courts directive, Jack sold the family home. His wife was awarded the lion’s share of the sale.

Jack weighed up his lot. A son and a daughter who didn’t care what he did, where he worked or how he did whatever he decided—a wife, or to be exact, an ex-wife, who wished him the worst when leaving.

Now, he has no job, no house, no family and, in his current mindset, no hope.

*

Before the breakup and during Jack’s absence on a work assignment, Mandy had flogged off his golf clubs, fishing rods, sporting trophies, wall plaques, framed certificates, and associated memorabilia.

That low act had hurt him to the quick. Yes, fair enough; she wanted to leave him and return to England, but to dispose of his prized possessions could only have arisen in spite.

Jack had always thought of himself as a strong-willed person. But his children abandoning him and now his missus taking off had left him vulnerable. He’d sacrificed much to put his son and daughter through university. Plus, his wife had not been backward in hopping on the plane each year for a six-week holiday in the United Kingdom.

*

Jack was determined not to sink into self-pity, but when he lapsed into drawn-out periods of self-pity, he realised he’d need to snap out of the doldrums.

Sensing Jack’s plight, a close friend had afforded him the loan of a caravan. The van, parked behind a large shed in an industrial area, housed the box and dice for Jack; ‘To lay your head until you sort yourself out.’

One might ask how he was to do that.

His hometown!

Yes, Pembroke. Why hadn't he considered going there earlier? Jack had left his small timber mill/farming township, nestled in the lower-southwest of the state thirty-odd years ago as an unpolished twenty-one-year-old.

He’d thank his friend, Theo, for using his caravan and head south to Pembroke, a place of fewer than 800 residents. The town, his birthplace and where he did his schooling (leaving on his fourteenth birthday). Where he carried out a home-delivery paper round between the ages of nine and fourteen. Where he’d played football, basketball, and cricket in the local competitions.

Why had he taken so long? The mere thought of returning to his hometown was the remedy he needed. He didn’t expect a red carpet welcome but expected to be greeted with open arms by his mates of yesteryear,

*

Jack packed his few possessions on his 1998 model Ford Courier 4x4 ute tray and drove to his old stamping ground, a distance of 350 kilometres.

A deep nostalgia overwhelmed him as soon as he reached the town’s limits. The main street had altered little. He booked a room at the Shamrock Boarding House, as he could secure his vehicle in the backyard.

After an uneventful night, Jack drove along Main Street, he found the town’s sole real estate office. To his surprise, the proprietor, Arthur Hope, was an old schoolmate.

Following a catch-up chat, the pair discussed properties that might suit Jack’s needs. An unoccupied five-acre rural bush block, ten kilometres from the town’s centre, caught Jack’s eye. To make the sale cost-effective, Jack could take possession of his new acquisition at once.

 The timbered property boasted a sizeable colourbond shed; converted to living quarters. A carport to offer cover for his vehicle, an ablution block and a wood storage lean-to added to the building made for a comfortable existence.

The shed, hooked up to electricity and a television antenna, came with basic furniture after the earlier occupant had done a moonlight flit.

After completing the paperwork, Jack took possession of the keys and drove to Mandogalup, the region's business centre, to buy bedding and necessities for his new home.

*

Jack stood in the half-acre building envelope, weighing his future. Several large trees, now dead, lay where they’d fallen during the clearing. They’d end up as firewood for his wood-burning heater. Plus, he could collect as many mill-ends as he wanted from the sawmill.

He earmarked a few spots for vegetable plots and marvelled at the bird life; splendid blue wrens flitted to and from in the undergrowth, and red-breasted robins perched on top of the water tank.

The nearest neighbouring house stood half a kilometre away, and access to his property was by an unsealed track leading into a cul-de-sac.

Jack felt indescribable freedom of mind. No more self-pity or thinking about what others thought of him. He had returned home.

Yes, home, home, home!

*

During his visit to Mandogalup to buy necessities for the shed, Jack had called at Woolworth’s supermarket and did a grocery shop.

Housekeeping tasks, dusting, sweeping and so forth behind him had Jack eager to call in at the mill’s workers’ club for a few beers and catch up with old identities of yesteryear.

He’d sighted the club when he spent the night at the boarding house. So, the knowledge that the establishment still existed excited him. He appreciated it hadn’t suffered the fate of many and vanished for the sake of progress.

*

Four o'clock in the afternoon was the club’s go-to hour. On Jack’s first visit, he pulled into a parking bay at the front of the premises and, wasting no time, jumped out of his utility’s cab. But what he saw stopped him dead. The ‘Workers’ Club’ still stood in all its splendour, but instead of serving beer, it traded in meat pies, pastries and loaves of bread.

“What’s the go here, mate?” Jack propositioned a man leaving the bakery. “What happened to the Workers’ Club?”

“Haha, you must have been asleep for the past ten years, mate. They transferred the liquor licence to the rec.” The man pointed to a large brick pavilion on the nearby recreation grounds as he spoke.

*

While thinking, They may as well hang me for a sheep as a lamb, Jack returned to his vehicle and headed for the new clubrooms.

As he entered the door, his eardrums received a hammering from a blaring jukebox. No one paid attention to him as he looked around for a visitor sign-in book. Though completing such a record was a Liquor Licencing Act requirement, the Pembroke sporting club appeared not to abide by the ruling.

Although the music, belted out at full strength, was enough to drive him up the wall, Jack persisted and fronted the bar counter. He was aware of many eyes upon him, but whenever he caught someone’s eye, their speed in breaking contact smacked with rudeness.

Most of the bar’s clientele were youngsters, hence the volume of the jukebox. Jack spotted two familiar faces at one end of the bar. After buying a beer, he approached the pair to start a conversation.

He’d correctly identified the two men as mill workers he’d once associated with, played sport with, and with whom he’d spent weekend fishing trips on the south coast. So, he felt affronted when they treated him in an unwelcoming manner.

After bidding the service attendant goodbye, the two drinkers finished their beers and left the barroom together. They directed no parting words toward Jack.

*

Jack learnt that on opening the recreation grounds pavilion, most of the town’s sporting bodies now used the premises. Thus, along with the youthful members, came the loud noise. Most of the old stalwarts who cherished a quiet setting when enjoying a beer no longer frequented the multi-purpose centre.

Okay, decided Jack. If that’s the case, he’d visit the pub. It’s been a while, but the mill workers seldom pack up and leave town. Therefore, there’ll still be plenty of the oldies known to him.

*

Jack remembered the old part of the hotel despite the recent extensions.

On his first call, Jack checked out the lay of the land before attempting to exchange yarns with anyone. He noted that the two female bar staff on duty were foreign backpackers with a poor grasp of the English language. Gone was the friendly banter of days gone by involving long-time locals.

While scanning his surroundings, Jack spotted a chalk-scrawled message on the dart scoreboard seeking players for the new season.

Ah-ha. That shall suit me to the ground. I’m a good player, and it will give me the chance to meet others. Jack received an adrenalin boost from the idea of becoming involved in a sporting pastime.

The person responsible for the notice, the publican, answered Jack’s call and met him at the bar. “So, what did you say your name was, friend?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Jack Jones. I’m a Pemby bloke from way back.”

“Jack Jones? So, you’re the cop new to town.”

“A retired cop, not a cop.”

“Same thing.”

“No, far from it. I see you are chasing dart players. I throw a mean arrow and am eager to join the party.”

“No. Sorry, pal. Those in the team don't like having a cop on the side. You’d restrict their movements too much. That’s it, goodbye.”

*

The next day, Jack called at the Shell roadhouse. The service station had been the hub of the region’s angling club during his early days in the town. He rejoiced to see that the group was using the same centre.

George Alexakis, the proprietor, greeted Jack as a prospective new member until Jack supplied his name. “Jack Jones? Sorry, we don’t savvy having cops as members.”

“What is with this bullshit? I am a retired police officer, not a serving ‘cop.’ What have you heard? Has someone been spreading rumours likening me to Satan?”

“There is no need to do that. Nobody in town has time for cops. On a weekend trip away, the boys might smoke a joint of funny weed. And you’d be there to lumber them. Nope, you’re not welcome.”

*

Jack could sense himself descending into the dark moods he’d suffered earlier. To counter his disappointment, he tossed his angling gear into the tray of his utility, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed south out of town.

With the small fishing settlement of Windamere as his destination, he first passed through the hamlet of Westcliffe. On the way, he pulled into the pub’s parking lot and entered the front barroom.

He did so to fathom whether he was as persona non gratis in Westcliffe as he was in Pembroke. That he never learnt as the toom, except for a backpacker bar worker, lacked clientele in entirety.

He grabbed a six-pack of Carlsberg stubbies and continued to Windamere. He drank two beers before reaching the fishing hamlet. Once there, he saw few signs of movement in the fishermen’s huts.

*

It had been many years since Jack had frequented the seaside location, something he’d done much of in his earlier days.

A gravel-based road had replaced a sandy walk path to the lighthouse atop of ‘The Cliffs.’ Jack drove as far as possible to a clearing near the lighthouse. From there, he went by foot along a walking track to the cliff’s edge.

From a height of two hundred feet (Jack still used the old Imperial measure), he looked downwards at the waves crashing against the cliff’s base. There he saw jagged sections of rock that had broken away from the sheer face and presented a mesmerising sight.

The elevation brought on a sense of dizziness, causing Jack to retreat from the cliff's edge. The sea breeze on his face and the sight of the bay’s islands, reefs, and breakers cleared Jack’s head.

I should have ended up in Windamere. Why did I act in haste? Because I thought my hometown was the answer to my prayers; that’s why!

Jack returned home without wetting a line. On the way, he finished the four remaining beers, and if he’d bought more, he’d have drunk them as well.

Six beers? Might that many beers put me above the limit for driving? I’m lucky no cops are patrolling the roads. Those facetious thoughts entered his mind as he gave thought to the anti-police sentiments he’d encountered in his homecoming.

*

Jack drove into town to buy a newspaper each morning. With no services provided at his remote location, he discovered he needed to dispose of his household rubbish.

Expecting it to be a simple task, Jack drove to the shire-controlled waste disposal site several kilometres on the other side of Pembroke. When the attendant tried to charge him to dump his rubbish (a single medium-sized plastic bag), Jack rebelled. After exchanging heated words, he tossed the bag into a bin at a roadside tourist information bay.

A local council worker saw him disposing of his litter this way, and, as a result, he received an infringement notice for the illegal dumping of rubbish.

Why did he pay shire rates? The council didn’t collect his rubbish, nor did they maintain the road (dirt track!) leading to his property.

*

Jack was falling out of love with his hometown, but attempted to join charitable bodies within the town. The St John’s Ambulance Centre was his next port of call, but he copped short notice they could manage without him.

The town’s historical society, the local football club, the Lion’s Club and the Parents’ and Citizens’ Association wished nothing to do with him. Jack even volunteered to act as a bingo caller for the local kindergarten. The kindergarten mob was rude and wanted nothing to do with him. No, they didn’t want him, need him, or know of him.

*

This joint is full of bloody bogans and rednecks. Why, for the love of me, did I return home? I should have made Windamere my final resting place, not Pembroke.

*

Jack failed to find anyone who’d accept him or even talk to him unless they were tourists en route to somewhere else.

His nights became restless affairs of broken sleep, bad dreams, and headaches. He regretted his decision to buy his current dwelling and drove to town to speak with Arthur Hope; to re-list the property with the agent.

“No one wants to live in that neck of the woods. That’s why it was vacant possession. It had been on my books for ages, and I thought it’d never sell.”

With a resigned sigh, Jack turned, walked to his vehicle, and returned to his shed. He took a bottle of whisky from his food cupboard and, on returning to his utility, headed for Windamere.

When leaving, he neglected to lock the doors of his dwelling, the same as the padlock on the driveway’s farm gates.

On his arrival at the fishing village, Jack parked near the lighthouse and opened the whisky bottle. As he savoured the Glenmorangie single-malt Scotch, he nodded to himself. This is where I'll rest my head.

After a few more swigs of the fiery liquor, Jack climbed from the vehicle and began walking along the pathway toward the cliff edge. On leaving, he did as he’d done when driving from his Pembroke dwelling; he left the keys in the ignition and the door wide open.

Yes, Windamere is where I shall rest my head.

ooOoo

September 20, 2022 04:19

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3 comments

02:05 Sep 29, 2022

I may have missed something because I don't see why he would get such a cold shoulder from the entire town just for being an ex cop. I felt bad for Jack but it didn't feel lonely or intense enough for the ending you've hinted at.

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Trebor Mack
12:41 Sep 29, 2022

Yep, you obviously missed something .......... or maybe you're not the man of the world you think you are.

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13:23 Sep 29, 2022

Well enlighten me rather than insult me dude. If you want to get defensive about feedback that’s fine, but back up your defense with examples instead of just putting someone down. I wasn’t being petty about things like spelling out numbers or your writing preferences. I simply said I MAY have missed something. I read it again and still question why a seemingly nice guy is such a pariah.

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