Coniston Drive

Submitted into Contest #39 in response to: Write a story about a Google Street View driver.... view prompt

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It’s just a job. A job like any other. Oh, I enjoy it well enough, and it’s not arduous or unpleasant. But it doesn’t make me into Bill Gates or Tim Berners Lee, or anything like that. I can tell that people have noticed the car, and are commenting on it, and for some of them it might have been the first time they’ve seen one, and they’ll probably remark on it to their significant other(s) when they get home, but not in the way they would if they’d seen a UFO or a member of the Royal Family, or even a classic car or a Penny Farthing bicycle. Remarked on today, forgotten tomorrow. It suits me well enough.

     My geography teacher would be surprised, and there’s a certain pleasure in that thought. Well, Mr Carew, I might not ever have grasped how to do diagrams of contour lines, but now I’m helping make maps that will be seen by billions all over the world. Not that I have any delusions. I am but a small cog in one absolutely enormous mechanism.

     I’m sure I’ve done that bit already. I can be more methodical than I sometimes make out I am, but some streets do seem to have a remarkably sameish quality. There are streets like that everywhere. Streets in areas that are neither scenic nor ugly, neither rich nor poor, just streets. True, they do seem to defy the old adage about the worst part of town having streets called after places in the Lake District. I doubt Coniston Drive will ever win any architectural awards, but it’s a nice little street with nice little houses and nice little families and nice little shops.

     I was brought up on a street pretty much like that, though the name was even more pretentious. Balmoral Way, if you will!

     I never did despise it quite as much as I made out, but when you once start portraying an image, it’s hard to get out of the habit. I told myself I’d had enough of Balmoral Way and good riddance to it at about the same time I decided that I wished to be known as Alexei Ramirez rather than Alec Roberts. I’m still not sure why I decided to keep the initials. I told myself that Mum was scornful and mean, in fact, she was more genuinely bemused and said something along the lines of, “It’s not even as if you have Russian or Spanish blood, or even speak them – well, apart from a bit of holiday Spanish.” 

     I preferred not to be reminded of that. The photograph of me on a holiday beach with a large straw donkey, both of us wearing a sombrero, was something of an embarrassment. I wonder if she still has it there. I hope to God she doesn’t.

     Don’t I?

     Oh, come on, man, concentrate! Back at Coniston Drive. I do find it vaguely amusing to think that the denizens of Coniston Drive will discover that they have almost all seen me, and nobody is impressed. But I certainly don’t want to see the place again. Not that house with the pink pebbledash, and not that corner shop (except it’s not on a corner) that no doubt gets a fair part of its income from instant noodles and puzzle books. Not that I necessarily have anything against either, not as such, but it’s not the sort of shop where Alexei Ramirez would choose to be seen, even when he is earning his keep, just for a while, letting people know about boring streets just like this one. I like to refer to myself in the 3rd person occasionally. Not often enough for it to become tedious. I make a point of being unpredictable. 

     To be fair, despite what it says on Wikipedia (oh yes, I have a Wikipedia page, even if it is only a stub and dates back a couple of years and I’m certainly not in any great hurry for it to be updated until things are restored to their rightful order) my parents didn’t throw me out for wanting to be an actor or anything like that. They were almost indulgent about it, but I didn’t care for it being regarded as something I’d get out of my system, retreating to the suburban safety of amateur dramatics and a day job in a school or an office or whatever once I’d got it out of my system. With much flouncing (and women shouldn’t run away with the notion that they’re the only ones who can flounce to good effect) I agreed to study English and Theatre Studies at university rather than going to drama school. It was a university with a highly regarded drama tradition anyway, better than the Cambridge Footlights some (admittedly mainly the members of it) said. 

     But so far as I was concerned, they were still too predictable and worthy, even (or especially) when they were making out they were experimental. Trust me, an avant-garde performance of Brecht can be just as tiresome as a traditional one of Shakespeare. Both of them ludicrously over-rated in my opinion and it didn’t much bother me not getting any huge parts. If all they were capable of appreciating was “clear diction and a pleasant light baritone voice” (AND I QUOTE!) then they weren’t worth bothering with. The English side of it was even more boring. But I didn’t have any prejudices. Oh, I loved to read, but Beowulf was just as boring as On The Road

    I ended up with a 3rd, and it was one of those universities that rarely went below a 2.2. Well, that was quite an achievement, I told myself. I told Mum and Dad at first that I HAD a first, and OMG, the scene when they found out, the whole litany about though of course they’d be disappointed they wouldn’t think the worse of me for not doing well academically (though it was such a shame because if I’d only put in a bit more work …..) telling lies was another matter. As some form of atonement I was expected to act as if it was a massive privilege to be offered a very junior role in the insurance office where Dad worked with much hand-wringing about not letting him down. Well, no thank you very much, I thought. Sod that for a lark!

     I was generally pretty profligate with money, on the basis that it was there to be spent, but almost despite myself I did have a few savings from the bar work I’d been doing in the Student Union. They found me quite entertaining there, and it was the only thing I’d miss from Uni. So I slung my hook, leaving a note saying that I bore them no grudges but we moved in different worlds and may as well accept it. I headed for a seaside town thinking that though I had no time for traditional holidays (especially when straw donkeys were involved) it would be easy enough to get work entertaining there and it would tide me over and certainly be better than being sycophantic in Watkins and Wilkins

     I booked into a guest house on the sea front, and preceded to ingratiate myself with the landlady Mrs Lovell. For some reason I’ve always had a way with old ladies (though it didn’t always work on my Gran) and was soon invited to call her Lily. She liked my exotic name. More Brownie points! 

     Oh, this is getting ridiculous! And what kind of person, unless they’re the light relief in a soap, calls their house Mon Chateau? I am getting entirely too agitated about someone’s pretentiousness.

     Anyway, I suppose some would say I was a bit pretentious myself. I made a point, at the breakfast table, of reading (well, okay, seeming to read) A Doll’s House when I’d much have preferred to be reading a thriller or doing the crossword. I’ve always thought the Great British Breakfast is over-rated, though I quite like the sausages and the hash browns, but some tiny little tinge of common sense (perhaps you can never quite escape from your upbringing) told me that I might as well stock up on food. At least I’d remembered to ask Lilly to hold the baked beans.

     “Excuse me,” I looked up to see a man who was probably in his forties, looking unnervingly like a geography teacher himself (he had leather patches on the elbows of his sweater) whose combover hadn’t quite worked, but had the kind of eyes (dark blue, deep set) that means a person can never be entirely ridiculous. People have remarked on my own eyes, and I’m pretty proud of them myself. “Sorry to interrupt your breakfast, but I noticed your reading matter. Are you an actor?”

     “Yes, I have had some experience in the theatre,” I said, with an air that I hoped was touchingly modest but not too modest. 

     “Well, if that isn’t a thing!” I was to learn that was one of Benjamin Brookes’ favourite sayings and could never quite make out if it was affectation or not. But I don’t know whether quite a few of the things I say are affectation or not. He introduced himself as (surprise, surprise!) Benjamin Brookes and said that he was the head of a small repertory company called “The New Stagers” who “aimed to teach people that avant-garde theatre was nothing to be afraid of but without making any compromises or pandering to their prejudices”. One of their “players” (his word of choice, as they did not restrict themselves to mere acting) had broken his leg playing football with his nephews, “Damn fool thing to do,” Benjamin said, “Never seen the point of football.” I whole-heartedly agreed with him on that. “And as our next tour involves a fair amount of creative movement,” (dancing, for the uneducated amongst you) “That rules him out. Do you think you could manage that, too, Alexei?” I nodded vigorously thinking, I can move creatively with the best of them. “To tell you the truth,” said Benjamin. “I think we may have lost him. Pains me to say it, but Paul is something of a conformist at heart. I should have seen it coming when he refused to change his name to Pablo.” 

     Well, that was how I joined the New Stagers. It was a small company – Benjamin, his wife (surprisingly, they had tied the knot legally, though in a beauty spot, nowhere so conventional as a church or the Town Hall) Teresa, who went through life with a perpetual air of bemusement, their son Maxim (a nice lad, but let’s just say that he’d never have passed the audition for the school play, let alone anything else, so it was as well for him he was in a theatrical family) – his partner Elise (who had been to LAMDA and believed in letting us know even though officially the New Stagers had no time for such conventionality) and a very odd couple (though NOT a couple, as Hetty definitely batted for the other side, as my Gran would have said proving she had no prejudice) called Hetty Monroe (“No relation to Marilyn”) and a distant cousin of Benjamin’s called Simon Marsden. Hetty was on a driving ban as she had been caught three times over the limit, and that was a shame as Simon, though an excellent mechanic, was one of those folk who must have passed his driving test when the examiner was inebriated himself. The “family” generally travelled in the bright orange minibus with stickers, some of them rather faded, proclaiming the company’s name, and Hetty, Simon and I followed behind in an ancient Rover. I hadn’t passed my own test yet, so it meant that Simon did all the driving. We tended to stay at guest houses that made Lilly’s look like the Ritz, sometimes at Youth Hostels (in the communal dorms, not the private rooms) or even to just pull up by the roadside. I have a distinctly sybaritic side given half the chance and that didn’t suit me at all. Still, I was living the dream, I told myself! You may have thought that what we performed was pretty close to old-fashioned revue or cabaret, even with echoes of the end of the pier show, but Benjamin’s dismissive explanation for it all was, “It’s ironic, of course!” Every so often we proved that irony by deliberately singing off-key or falling over during the creative movement, or slipping in a rude word. We thought it was all very clever though sometimes Elise put on that supercilious air of hers.

     Coniston Drive. Bloody Coniston Drive. My head is starting to ache and my heart to pound. I don’t care anymore whether people have seen me once or a hundred times.

      Benjamin made much of the fact that it wasn’t amateur theatre and that we were professionals, but let’s just say that minimum wage would have been riches. Still, as he pointed out, we had bed and board, even if the former was sometimes by the roadside and the latter involved a great many shared plates of chips washed down with cider. 

     I didn’t have any kind of premonition. More like the opposite. We were, as I recall, on one of our “jaunts inland” performing at a pub, when Benjamin said, “I have an email from Paul. His cast came off yesterday and the doctors are very pleased with him. Say there’s no lasting damage and in a couple of weeks he’ll be fine.”

     “That’s good,” said Maxim, who, as I’ve said, was a nice lad. “Would be nice to see him again, no disrespect to you, Alexei.”

     “Well, my boy, you will be doing! He’s seen sense and is giving up the football, once and for all, even if his nephews beseeched him, and yes, children, that’s the word he used, beseeched. He’s coming back to join us.”

     “So the company is growing!” Maxim exclaimed haplessly. If he couldn’t interpret his father’s expression, I could. Later on that day – and he did at least have the grace to do it privately, though it was also pretty futile as it would soon be public knowledge anyway – Benjamin said, “You’ve been a godsend to us, Alexei, and don’t think we don’t know it. I can work one of the performances to accommodate both of you.”

     I could hear myself thanking him.

     We were still in that suburban inland town with the pub whose owners liked to think he could think outside the box when Paul returned and was greeted like the long lost son. I got the impression that in a way Benjamin preferred him to his own son, and felt a pang of genuine sympathy for Maxim, even if he was a bit gormless. But I had other things on my mind.

     I overheard Paul telling Benjamin that it was positively felicitous they were in that town as he had an aunt and uncle he was quite close to there, and it would give him a chance to visit them. “”Your family goes in for this uncle/nephew thing,” Benjamin said, indulgently. 

     Coniston Drive. That was where Paul’s uncle and aunt lived. And that was where a masked attacker bludgeoned him to death, not far from his uncle and aunt’s house, that had pink pebble dash, and was near a house called Mon Chateau.

     In the end it was all for nothing. Sometimes a “newsworthy tragedy” can be a positive boost to a small company, but sometimes is has the opposite effect. And this was the latter. There was something sordid about the New Stagers, folk said, or at any rate, they were a jinx.

     I know now that I am not going to get out of Coniston Drive, nor get out of this car, and nor is the man who is sitting beside me, and whose name is Paul.

May 01, 2020 05:49

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1 comment

Khadija S.
10:17 May 04, 2020

Wow! I love the twist, and narrator!


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