JOHN I. CLARKE
Footsore and weary, the Historic Tour of the City group completed their trip as Ed made his final pitch for big juicy tips. “Well here you are folks, back to the Minster. Keep safe and enjoy the rest of your visit.”
During warm applause an old guy discreetly passed on a five pound note. “Well done, young fella; very entertaining.”
“Thank you very much, especially for the young fella.”
“Have a drink on me.”
Ed smiled gratefully, “A drink? I don’t drink…”
“…Only to excess!” He was beaten to the punch-line by a woman who had held back for most of the tour but who, having removed her wide-brimmed straw hat, now stood in front of him smiling leaving Ed momentarily lost for words. That smile, those eyes.
The nearest café was the starting point.
“No sugar and just a touch of milk. In fact, you can just wave the milk jug over the tea.”
“My God!” She laughed. “You haven’t forgotten a thing, have you?”
“Sharing tea with Liz Jackson? Unforgettable.”
“Okay,” more serious now, “You’ve got two minutes on the last thirty years of Ed Bracewell.”
“Easy. Finished my degree, moved away, climbed up the slippery pole of ambition, fell with a bump; decided to return here where I once felt happy.”
“Yes, and plenty of bruises from them too. At the moment? No ties, just a few loose connections.”
He stirred his tea. “Now your turn Miss Jackson who became Mrs Popplewell.”
“Yes, and who returned to Jackson after two kids arrived on the scene and the blonde poppet in the office had more appeal to Mr Popplewell.”
“Who? Me or him?”
“You, him, both of you. You for marrying him, him for ever letting you go.”
“Ah, Ed. Always bold in words…”
“And timid in action.”
* * * *
Simon Popplewell was in full flow. “Ed, you’re a mate, Mate.” He flourished two tickets in the air. “Summoned home by parents but filial duty and a beady eye on my allowance insist I should comply. And you, my dear Ed, will be a mate and escort the beautiful Liz. Cinderella, you shall go to the Ball.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“My dear boy, I never drink…only to excess! Sign here and the belle of the Christmas Ball, 1981 will be in your honourable charge.” He flattened out a piece of paper.
“I agree to act at all times as a gentle, perfect knight! You’re an idiot, but if it makes you happy, pass me that pen.”
He told Liz about it on the night in question, not expecting her response, “Promise me one thing: tonight we eat, drink, dance and you walk me home without once ever mentioning the name of Simon Popplewell.”
You’re the one who’s agreed to marry him thought Ed, but he’d caught a trace of her scent, he was entranced by her low-cut ball gown and of course there was the eyes and the smile. Don’t mention Simon? Yes, that was a promise he could keep.
They spent the evening clinking glasses, laughing, dancing, fully aware of the glances they were attracting. Let them look. She held him close, resting her head on his shoulder, and in the early hours of the morning they remained just as close as he walked her home through the quiet streets past the imposing Minster as thick flakes of snow fell.
“Beautiful, so indescribably beautiful.”
“Absolutely, and I’m not talking about the snow.”
She laughed then she reached her arms around his neck and gave him a long, slow kiss of intent at the front door to her student flat.
“Ed, come in with me.”
“You know what I’m talking about. Come in with me.”
Ed hesitated, “I know we are not supposed to be talking about him tonight, but he is my friend.”
She tightened in his arms. “There’s always been something between us, hasn’t there? One night Ed. He’s with Mummy and Daddy, he needn’t ever know.”
“I can’t, Liz.” He tried to make a joke which only made things worse, “I’ve signed his bit of paper, it’s in my pocket.”
* * * * *
Timid in action? Now they were walking through those same streets almost on the same route they’d taken after the Christmas Ball. The low sun caught her almost side on highlighting wrinkles and creases. Her hair, he saw, had not defied time. So what? He too carried thirty years of lines and grey.
“You’re heading back to London tonight? Do you think you’ll come back? Make another visit sometime? I mean, we’ve still got a lot of catching up to do.”
“Oh Ed, I’d love to, but I can’t just come bouncing back into your life like this. It would just complicate things. You’ve got your ‘loose connections’ and you haven’t changed at all. It may be thirty years on but you’re still the gentle, perfect knight. You’re an honourable man.”
Half way across the Lendal Bridge he stopped her.
“You think I’m still governed by that stupid pledge?” He reached inside his jacket pocket for a wallet then pulled out a folded sheet as she looked at him astonished.
“Oh my God! You’ve kept it!”
“Goodbye gentle knight.” He tore the paper into fragments and tossed them over the wall to flutter down towards the swirling depths of the Ouse. “We were halfway through a conversation at Christmas 1981. You should come back and we’ll finish it off.”
She leaned her head towards his chest and wrapped her arms around him. “I’ll do that. I’ll come back to York.”
As the crowds flowed over the bridge, the open top buses plied their trade and cyclists wove in and out of traffic, they stood holding each other determined this time not to let anything slip. And the meaningless restaurant bill which he’d kept in his wallet for no good reason, met its end in tiny, soggy pieces.
Cover picture by Bruna Bonino
John Irving Clarke has previously been published in Raven, Smiths Knoll, Retort, Poetry Monthly and Cutting Teeth magazines. He has also had poems placed in several competitions including the BBC Nature Poet of the Year, Words on Water and the Yorkshire Open Poetry competition.
John has resigned his full-time teaching post but he continues to visit schools to give readings and to run workshops and enrichment sessions. Currently, he is chair of the Black Horse Poets in Wakefield, co-organiser of the Red Shed Readings and tutor to the Agbrigg Writers group.
Some poems of his new collection will be published in Margutte soon.
An Honourable Man was first published by Yorkshire Ridings Magazine. It features in “I Was Ready to Fall in Love” http://www.currockpress.com/i-was-ready-to-fall-in-love.html