Together At Last
Together At Last
The country lane Alan was walking down was going nowhere, fast. There was nothing but hedgerow on both sides and Alan half expected the doctor he’d escaped from to jump out at any moment with glowing red eyes. His hand kept reaching for the compass like device in his pocket, almost as if to make sure he wasn’t dreaming its existence and as if he could use it for some form of defence should the doctor suddenly appear. A tractor trundled down the road and Alan stepped closer to the hedgerow, sticking out a thumb in hope of a lift. Instead the tractor sped up slightly as it passed Alan, through a puddle and sprayed his trouser legs with brown muddy water. Alan continued walking, slightly damper than before. Minutes ticked by and the urge to look at the compass overwhelmed him; so he finally took it out of his jacket pocket and flipped open the golden lid. The arrow marked with L was pointing behind him, with its associated number now up to three. The M was still pointing towards the north west and its number was now a ten. As he stared at the intricate patterns on the face of the compass a car horn suddenly caught his attention and he realised he was walking in the middle of the road without watching where he was going. Behind him was a taxi with a man leaning out of the window shouting expletives. Alan was about to step out of the way when he saw no-one was sat in the back cab.
‘Are you on?’ Alan asked hopefully.
‘I’ll be on you in a fucking minute, get out of the way!’ Alan withdrew a stack of cash, what little he had left, which the driver now saw, ‘out of the way and into the back, mate. Where you wanna go?’ Alan slowly walked towards the back of the cab, trying to buy time as he racked his brain for a location. Climbing in and sitting down, he offered the direction on the compass, tentatively.
‘Head north west?' The cab drive seemed unimpressed.
‘We ain’t navigating the high seas, son. Where, north west?’ Suddenly, and taking both men by surprise, the radio roared into life. A loud rendition of Run DMC coursed through the taxi,
‘Mary, Mary, why ya buggin? Mary Mary, I need ya huggin.’
‘Would you mind turning that down, please. I’m trying to think.’ Alan shouted above the din, staring at the compass intently and trying to decipher what it meant in the hope it would tell him where to go. The driver pressed buttons and turned knobs but the Run DMC song continued to play before turning to loud static. Then as sudden as the first, another song kicked in,
‘I got a girl and her name is Mary. I like to shock her on a basis daily.’
Good song, Mary loved Supergrass. Alan momentarily thought to himself. More static filled the cab, along with swearing by the driver.
MARY! Alan screamed inside his head.
‘The M stands for MARY!’ He suddenly proclaimed aloud. Thankfully, with the car’s speakers all situated in the front, the driver didn’t hear Alan’s random outburst over the noisy static.
But where is she heading, and why is this compass tracking her? Is it made by the NSA? He thought. Flipping it over he saw “Made in Valhalla” stamped on the back as sudden silence brought relief to the cab; like urination after an hour’s wait. The relief was short lived as the radio found another song to screech into the cab.
‘I long to feel some beauty in my heart. As I go searching, right to the start. The road back to Preston.’ The last line blaring intensely loud before gaunt quiet filled the taxi. Both men sat there, enjoying the silence if not the ringing in their ears, and letting the moment pass. Alan leaned forward, leather seat squeaking beneath him.
‘The road back to Preston, if you don’t mind.’ He asked realising where it was Mary must be heading.
‘N-n-not a problem, sir. Mind if we leave the radio off, though?’
The taxi ride was slow, the driver visibly shaken by the events involving the radio. Alan used the time to investigate this seemingly magical compass further. Once opened the face was split into two sections upon which the two arrows spun about, as Alan turned the compass in his hand. The top half was made from glimmering gold, with the lower half rust coloured copper. Etched into the golden half were two white winged beings that Alan assumed were angels. In the copper half was a twisted red face which Alan fearfully recognised,
Satan. In the surrounding spaces were etchings that were periodically lit up by a light source that Alan could not determine; and these etchings were making him nervous. In the top half he saw a young couple holding hands by an outside stage, a man kneeling before a women holding up a ring, and the same couple opening up a door with a door number that was hauntingly familiar. In the lower half was just the man; tied to a rack with a giant spider talking, or running down a corridor, or weeping alone. Alan’s eyes flicked back to the top half, finding some level of comfort in those images. As the etching of the couple opening a door lit up again, a memory stirred within him.
The car ride south was tense and mostly in silence. There was an excited nervousness between Alan and his new wife, but it had been hard on them both to say goodbye to friends, family, and loved ones. Alan had already been back and forth over the past fortnight and it was only now, after they had been wed, that Mary had come with him. There were no plans to return any time soon and Alan knew Mary was finding the transition difficult,
She doesn't adapt well to change. He thought as he stole a quick glance at her peaceful sleeping face. The back seat and boot were loaded up with nearly all of Mary’s belongings, with Alan already having his in Brighton. It seemed strange to him how easy it was to fit your entire world into a small car. Alan reached over a hand and squeezed Mary’s knee. She flinched slightly before looking his way and smiling groggily.
‘How you faring there, Mrs Park?’ Her face reddened and radiated, as it had every time he’d called her by her new surname.
‘Okay, thanks. Husband.’ This time Alan blushed.
'Won't be much longer now.' Alan said, focusing his attention back on the road but leaving his hand on her knee.
‘Well here we are!’ Alan swept his hand towards the house they were parked in front of before realising, too late, that there was a window in the way; hitting his hand quite hard. Embarrassed he turned to Mary who, thankfully, was still snoring quietly. He gently shook her shoulder and whispered,
‘Wake up, dear. We’re here.’ Mary yawned, stretched, and turned her sleepy doe eyes on Alan; eyes that as they always did, made his heart flutter and knees weaken. Taking her head in his hands he kissed her gently but firm.
‘Come on, let me show you inside.’ Alan said before getting out of the car and jogging round to open Mary’s door, bowing as he did so and causing her to giggle. Arm in arm, and step in step, they walked up the few steps that led up to the front door. Mary’s head was constantly turning in every direction at once, like an owl hooked up on caffeine.
‘Is that our garage?’ She asked pointing at the metal red door they were walking past.
‘Yes,’ Alan replied, ‘but I’ve not sorted out changing the lock on it yet so we’ve no key for it.’ Taking out a bunch of keys from his pocket he unlocked the front door and let Mary step in first. As she opened the inner door there was a muffled pop and then confetti and balloons drifted down from the ceiling above her. Mary laughed aloud and grabbed one of the slowly falling balloons, reading the message printed on it. “Welcome home Mrs Park”. Mary turned to look at Alan, who was grinning.
‘Don’t worry about the mess, dear. You can tidy it up later.’ He tipped her a wink. Mary responded with feigned indignation and then threw the balloon at him. He swept her up into his arms, laughing. ‘I’ve yet to carry you over the bridal threshold, dear.’ She slipped an arm about his neck, giggling, until he stopped her laughter with a deep, long kiss.
A jolt in the taxi broke the memory and caused Alan to drop the compass, the case snapping shut. There was a light rain tapping on the windows as Alan scooped to retrieve the compass. Although the lid was now tight he managed to open the cover but was interrupted by the cabbie before he could check for any damage.
‘Won’t be long now. Another ten minutes or so.’ Alan looked up at the driver, then in horror at the meter; £62.25. He pulled out the crumpled notes from his pocket and breathed a sigh of relief when he noted a fifty amongst them.
Wait, how much was the suit again? Alan thought before deciding against questioning his good fortune. He leant back and looked again at the compass. The etching’s light had gone out and the arrow marked L swayed loose with the rocking of the cab. He counted his blessings when he saw the one for Mary was still holding true, the numbers starting to fall now as they neared Preston. The numbers associated with L were marked with two dashes. Alan slipped the compass back in his pocket and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the seat. The rain began to taper off and opening his eyes he watched as the driver took the exit for Preston.
‘Anywhere in particular in Preston, or do you want dropping in town?’ Alan pulled out the compass and looked at the direction of the arrow. Re-closing his eyes he tried to remember Preston from the last time he was here, visualising what there would be in the direction the arrow pointed. All he could remember was the cinema and the docks.
‘The docks, I guess.’
They arrived at a restaurant car park at the docks and Alan paid the extravagant fare, leaving him only a few notes and coins. As the taxi pulled away he again pulled out the compass; the number for M was teetering between 1 and 0. Looking at the direction the arrow was pointing, Alan saw it was past the restaurant - Chiquto’s - and towards the dock. The smell of Mexican food mixed with the rotting odour of the dock and Alan felt both hungry and nauseous at the same time. He walked between the restaurant and some bushes towards the dock, pace hurrying as he neared the water’s edge. As he rounded the corner of the restaurant he saw someone standing on the railings, leaning out towards the murky water below. He recognised Mary almost immediately and his heart thudded into his mouth, then sank as he realised what she was about to do. He ran towards her as she looked up, mouth moving slowly but the wind keeping the words from him.
‘Mary, don’t!’ He shouted with desperation. She looked his way in shock and lost her footing. Alan threw himself across the railings and caught a flailing arm. Her hand gripped tight around his wrist and Alan looked down into her eyes; eyes clouded with confusion and fear.
‘Hold on, I’m pulling you up.’ Alan managed to strain out. His arms screamed in pain but somehow he managed to pull her to the top of the railings. There she finished the climb herself before jumping straight into his arms, crying, laughing, and kissing him all at the same time. Alan fell to the floor under her weight, cracking his head but laughing despite the pain.
‘You’ve not gotten any lighter since we were last here.’ He said. Playfully she slapped his arm, pouting. Then her brow furrowed in confusion and concern and he wrapped her in his arms, pulling her to his chest.
‘Are you real?' She asked, fear in her voice.
'I'm real.' Alan whispered, hugging her a little tighter.
'But you’re? H-how? When?’ Mary burst into tears against him.
‘I’m just as confused as you are,’ Alan lied, ‘but all that matters is I’m here now. And I’m never leaving you again.’ They led together, by the railings, for what seemed an eternity; seen only by flocking seagulls overhead. It was only after Alan’s stomach rumbled for a second time, causing Mary to laugh, that they decide to move. Holding hands they slowly walked in contented silence towards the Mexican restaurant Alan had passed earlier.
‘A table for two, sir?’ A teenager, whose hair style suggested he’d just been forced into the waistcoat and shirt he was wearing, greeted them at the door. There were statues, which appeared to be mostly Mexican in origin, scattered across the restaurant; although Alan wasn’t quite sure why there was a Cherokee Indian holding the specials’ menu. Alan nodded and he and Mary were taken to a booth seat, laminated menus already awaiting them.
‘Can I get either of you a drink?’ Alan noticed that Mary had gone into shy mode, as she often did in public places, so he ordered for them,
'Two cokes please. One diet, no ice. One regular with no lemon. Thank you.' Drink orders taken, the pimply teenager departed. Despite the years that had painfully separated the two, conversation left with the waiter. They both buried their heads in menus in an attempt to avoid starting what was bound to be a long, painful, and teary conversation.
‘The years have been kind to you.’ Alan finally said. Mary lowered her menu to see Alan looking across at her, his eyes watering already. He clasped her hand in his and squeezed tight. ‘Dear God, Mary, I’ve missed you.’
‘I still can’t believe you’re here. We had you cremated! I scattered your ashes!’ Mary hissed quietly. A different teenager returned, or at least Alan thought it was. It was hard to tell but this one did appear to have fewer pimples. He placed down their drinks before asking,
‘Are you ready to order?’ Alan nodded,
‘Mary will have enchiladas but without the chillies, please.’ Alan turned to Mary and smiled.
‘And my husband will have the fajitas; and feel free to slip my chillies on to his plate.’ Mary smiled shyly at Alan, face flushing and unable to meet the gaze of the waiter. Nodding the teenage took their menus and left. Looking around the restaurant Alan realised they were the only dining couple. There was a drunk in a suit by the bar but otherwise the place was devoid of customers.
Should I tell her that I've been in Hell? That for the past three years I've been tortured daily by the devil? Although nothing he could do was a touch on the torture of being apart from you. Alan feared what such information might do to her; he had just caught her about to jump into Preston Dock after all.
‘All I remember is darkness,’ he began, ‘and cold. Until I saw a bright light and found myself on Brighton Beach a few days ago. I don’t know why, or how.’ This seemed to satisfy Mary who nodded, before bursting into tears. Alan gently squeezed her hand again and tried to get her to make eye contact, a sure fire way to calm her down.
‘I’ve let you down, Alan.’ She managed through the sobs.
‘Shh shh, don’t be daft. You’ve not let me down at all, Mary. What is all this?’ He asked with concern.
‘I’ve just escaped from a mental institute.’ Mary said through sobs as a waiter gently placed down complimentary breadsticks along with cutlery. He smiled weakly at Mary as they both stared up at him; Mary blushing as she did.
‘Oookaaaay. Erm, here are your knives and…’ The waiter paused and looked down at the cutlery in front of Mary. Awkward seconds, which seemed to stretch on for an eternity, passed between them. Alan used the stretched seconds to think of a possible way out.
‘Excuse me,’ he glanced at the name badge of the waiter, ‘Timmy. We’re practicing lines here.’ Mary looked at Alan, confused.
‘We are?’ She asked timidly, Timmy looking her way.
‘We are.’ He asserted back. This seemed to satisfy Timmy who nodded and wandered away, back towards the kitchen. ‘I know.’ Alan continued when he had gone.
‘You know?’ Mary asked in shock.
‘Yes, I went to find you there. It’s a long story.’
So Alan told it, from start to finish and omitting only minor details; minor details such as the doctor screaming his name in the hospital and the torture at the hands of the Catholic Church. By the time it was told they had eaten and even the bill had been paid. So they sat, holding hands across the table whilst waiting for their change and free mints. The change arrived without the mints, much to Alan’s disappointment; especially as his mouth was still burning from the extra chillies and he didn't want to pass on the taste when he next kissed Mary.
She does hate spice. He thought giving her a smile as they stood from the table. They left the restaurant, hand in hand, and walked back towards the dock.
‘There’s still one thing I don’t understand.’ Mary asked suddenly, near to where she had tried to jump.
‘What's that, Mary?’
‘How did you know where to find me?’ She asked, turning towards him. Alan smiled and squeezed her hand.
‘The compass.’ He reached inside his shirt pocket and found nothing. Patting himself down he still came up empty. Glinting metal in the fading sunlight caught his eye and he saw it nestled in the bushes near where they’d fallen into each other. He went over and picked it up.
‘This compass.' Alan said, dusting dirt off the casing, 'There are two arrows on it; one for M, one for L. The M stands for you, Mary. The L…’ Alan turned with a smile, holding the compass aloft triumphantly. His raised arm sagged when he saw a terrified Mary held against a greasy looking man who had an arm tight around her neck. A man whose face Alan recognised, causing his eyes to widen in shock and fear. A man who smiled wickedly as he said,
‘The L stands for Lucifer, Alan.’