Compliments, Cutlets and Candy

Compliments and Candy

a love story by Michael John Kelly

Chapter One

 Will you walk into my parlour

He had long since abandoned his pursuit of perfection. The cruel vagaries of life had taught John Joseph Ryan that perfection was merely an illusion. Like a rainbow,  a reflection in a stream, or a fluttering butterfly, it was tantalisingly there, right before your eyes, but somehow always  just out of reach. The harsh reality was that  there was always a flaw; there was invariably some tiny thing that was not quite right. He had slowly come to accept that near perfect was as good as it ever got.

That fateful morning in Bristol was a prime example. It was April 11th, 1992, and all the ingredients were there for the making of a perfect day. The weather was fine and set fair; it was spring, and spring was his favourite time of the year; it was also Saturday, and Saturday was his favourite day of the week. But there was, of course, the imperfection. The blemish on that particular day  was the time. It was 6-05 am, and early mornings, dawns and daybreaks had never been John Joseph Ryan's favourite part of the day. He was, by nature, a night owl; a party animal with considerable stamina and staying power.

 He sat at the wheel of his car, mumbling and grumbling under his breath as he attempted  to finalise his plans for what was threatening to become a long day. Time had once been his best friend, but with each passing year was fast becoming his greatest enemy. There was always so much to do and so little time in which to do it. He sighed , stretched, yawned and then lit his second cigarette of the day, turned the ignition key and set off on his journey.

He quickly discovered that an early start was not without its benefits. Traffic was extremely light and he made steady progress through the leafy suburb of Redland. As he turned into Coldharbour Road, the voices on his radio were beginning to bore and annoy him as they droned on and on. A succession of so called experts paraded their egos and opinions as to how and why Neil Kinnock had somehow contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the previous Thursday's General Election. The majority of them were expressing surprise at the result, but Mr. Rupert Murdoch had correctly predicted the outcome, and he was making the most of the situation. He was boasting loudly about his flagship newspaper, The Sun. He was bragging about its banner headline, which screamed to the world that ‘It was the Sun wot won it’. Ryan smiled ruefully as he listened to the discussion. Unlike his late father, he was not a political animal, and he felt a distinct sense of relief as the talking finally ended and the music started.

If this world is wearing thin
 And you're thinking of escape
 I'll go anywhere with you
Just wrap me up in chains
But if you try to go out alone
 Don't think I'll understand
 Stay with me
 Stay with me

He attempted to join in and sing along with Shakespears Sister, but despite the song being number one in the charts, his effort was muted, hesitant and slightly off key. It wasn’t long before he gave up as he realised he was wholly unfamiliar with both the lyrics and the melody.

He perked up as The Waterboys followed with The Whole of the Moon.

I pictured a rainbow
 You held it in your hands
 I had flashes
 But you saw the plan
 I wandered out in the world for years
 While you just stayed in your room
 I saw the crescent
 You saw the whole of the moon
 The whole of the moon

This time he was able to sing loudly and confidently. This time he was both word and pitch perfect. Coldharbour Road had now seamlessly become Kellaway Avenue, and the Golden Hill playing fields of Bristol Grammar School loomed large to his left. Those fields were heavy with history and tradition, and the news that they were about to become the site of a new Tesco supermarket had fuelled massive protests.
Was nothing sacred anymore?  Ryan frowned at the prospect of those famous old pitches, the scenes of so many dramatic last minute tries and match saving tackles disappearing under a sea of concrete, but he was also well aware of the power of profit, and was already certain of what the eventual outcome would be. He gave a token honk and a wave to the handful of weary looking protestors who were guarding the entrance, and then turned right and set off down the narrow track which led to the Ardagh Bowls and Tennis Club. As he pulled into the deserted car park, The Waterboys were approaching the final lines of the song.
Yes, you climbed on the ladder

 With the wind in your sails
 You came like a comet
 Blazing your trail
 Too high
Too far
 Too soon
 You saw the whole of the moon

He held the long, lingering final note, and then he sat back and lit his third cigarette of the day. He felt a sense of relief that both the car park and Horfield Common were empty. He wasn’t in the mood for idle conversations or false bonhomie with strangers. He inhaled deeply, blew several smoke rings and placed the gold coloured Benson and Hedges packet on to his passenger seat along with several empty packs and a week’s supply of Sporting Life newspapers. Craning his neck, he glanced into his rear view mirror and studied the reason for his being up at this ungodly hour. The shiny black Labrador puppy calmly returned his gaze, tilted her head to one side and then he heard her tail thumping furiously against the upholstery. His spirits rose, his heart melted and he smiled for the first time that day.

The puppy tumbled clumsily and somewhat inelegantly from the rear seat and was soon rolling in the damp, recently mown grass. He left her to her own devices and headed for the heart of the Common where he stood and watched the sun creeping into view over the Purdown hills. It truly was one of those near perfect early spring mornings. The breeze was soft and so gentle that it barely disturbed the newly formed blossom, which was hanging proudly from the boughs. The sky was a faultless blue for as far as the eye could see, and the sound of birdsong was everywhere. From time to time he caught a glimpse of a single bird on the wing, but it was the invisible chorus that commanded his attention; the wall of sound that was pouring from the trees and the bushes. He closed his eyes and marvelled at the variety of cheeps, chirps, warbles, trills and whistles he could hear. There were so many different sounds and so many different species. He felt just a little bit inadequate that he was unable to identify a single one of them. Annie would have known them all. He pictured her standing there with the palm of her hand raised, demanding silence. Five feet four inches of red headed, Irish stubbornness and determination. Her head was on one side; her eyes closed, lost in deep concentration. Then she would have smiled that smile; that triumphant smile; the one that always followed a victorious moment following an argument. Yes, she would have known them all.  ‘Blackbird… Bullfinch… Chaffinch… Thrush… Dunnock… Wren… Robin.’ Annie was a walking, talking human encyclopaedia with regard to birds. But she wasn’t there, and he felt a pang of frustration and irritation. He and Annie were never together these days. Right now she was at home, tucked up in their bed; either sleeping or dozing fitfully as she waited for his return.
Once upon a time they had  been the golden couple; the envy of the neighbourhood; the first names on every party invitation list; the paragon of a happy marriage, but then, they had drifted apart. The drift had been gradual, but was now almost complete.  ‘When the sex stops, love flies out of the window’. He recalled his mother’s cautionary advice prior to his wedding. Dear old Mum! Her advice had always been rather basic, but full of wisdom derived, no doubt, from bitter experience.

She had risen early and was standing naked, fresh from the shower. With the large yellow bath towel draped over her shoulders like a cape, she studied her reflection in the full length, ornate, gold framed mirror. From time to time she turned, almost imperceptibly, which enabled her to study her naked body from a wide variety of angles. Finally, clearly satisfied, she smiled and nodded self approvingly. All those long, lonely hours in the gymnasium had paid dividends. She looked good and felt good. More importantly, she felt strong again. After eight long, painful months, Jack Maxwell was now out of her bed, out of her house, out of her heart and out of her life.

 “Onwards and upwards”, she whispered and skipped, almost childlike across the room to her walk in wardrobe in the far corner of the bedroom. Her chosen outfit for the morning was neatly folded at the foot of her bed and was ready for wear. She studied the range of colour co-ordinated accessories of which there were six. "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", she jabbed her way along the line, pointing with her left index finger and after some thought,  decided to ignore the winning colour, which was yellow, and instead settled on the red. “A woman’s prerogative”, she whispered, and then changed the colour of choice to blue.

Returning to the mirror, she brushed her shoulder length hair back and knotted it into a single plait. She dressed quickly and confidently, deciding against underwear, and then took another look in the mirror before turning round and patting her bottom three times. "Ready for action," she whispered.


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