(first published in Platform for Prose, Nov 1st, 2016)
For want of reading matter (other than the label on the sauce bottle), I was reading the story in my gran’s magazine. It seemed that Madeleine, a nurse with a mass of dark curls and a pretty retroussé nose, had been initially drawn to Jimmy, the gynaecologist, who was a lot of fun. She’d thought Andrew, the surgeon (blue eyes, strong jaw), a bit stand-offish. But eventually she’d found herself respecting his calm, commanding manner in the operating theatre. At the end of a particularly tricky, but successful, procedure, he turned to her with smiling eyes and said, ‘We seem to make a pretty good team, don’t we?’
I was impressed: ‘We seem to make a pretty good team, don’t we?’ struck me as a first-class chat-up line. I reckoned I’d try it out on Sandra at the carpet shop tomorrow. Every Saturday morning I went into Saunders’ carpet shop on St Peter’s Street to collect 750 carpet circulars that I’d deliver over the weekend for thirty shillings. Sandra Saunders, the owner’s daughter, would hand me the circulars, but first she’d get me to show her on the street map where I’d delivered the circulars last weekend. This was partly because her dad didn’t entirely trust me not to stuff ‘em down the loo, and partly because he had a theory that it was a waste of money delivering carpet circulars round the posh end of town. Sandra was a lot nicer than the old man. And prettier. Neither Sandra nor I was a particularly good map-reader and we’d sometimes have to put our heads together (blissfully, in my case) for a few minutes to work out exactly where I’d been the previous week.
Last month, I’d failed disastrously with my only previous chat-up line: ‘I’m thinking of buying a horse.’ Sandra had snorted with derision and I realised that spontaneous boasting would not suffice to bring home the bacon. Subsequent enquiries with my dad about the price of horses had deepened my shame, but hardened my resolve: I would have to plan a Sandra Saunders Campaign. I had been emboldened by my success at the youth club disco, where I’d found that in order to walk a girl home you had to first ask her to dance – a discovery that seemed quite beyond the likes of Slug Gardiner and Tank Thompson, nursing their glasses of lemonade as they palely loitered on the edge of the dancefloor. However, Sandra was a good year older than the girls at the youth club, with (seemingly) real breasts and a (seemingly) real smoker’s cough. The Sandra Saunders Campaign would need to be a step-change from youth club disco night.
I practised Andrew the Surgeon’s line in front of the wardrobe mirror in gran’s room. I liked the concept, but the execution seemed a little too cucumber-sandwiches-and-croquet-on-the-lawn. Eventually, I came up with, ‘I reckon you and me make a pretty good team, Sandra.’ Perfect.
The next Saturday morning, the campaign started well enough. Sandra seemed mildly interested when I pointed out to her that the Browning Circles and Coleridge Streets of the Normanton Estate (saturation carpet-leafleted last weekend) were all named after poets. Sandra’s long auburn hair fell over her face as she bent over the street map and carefully coloured in red the streets of the Normanton Estate; I longed to gently tuck her hair back behind her neck. I marshalled my forces and made my surprise strike: ‘I reckon you an’ me make a pretty good team, Sandra.’
‘Eh?’ She stood up straight, still holding the red crayon.
‘A good team. Y’know. Like Laurel & Hardy, Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, Roy Rogers & Trigger.’ I see now that this last comparison was a mistake.
‘Trigger?? I suppose you’re Roy Rogers and I’m the horse?’ She snorted with a new thought: ‘Or is Trigger the horse you’re thinkin’ of buyin’ with this week’s thirty shillings?’
When Sandra stood up straight, she was a couple of inches taller than me. When she laughed, she was a couple of feet taller than me. So that was the end of that.
I’d hear bits and pieces of news over the years. When I was away at Uni, I heard she’d married Nigel Butler, who’d been head boy at my school when I was in the third form. He was working in his dad’s solicitors firm. A few years later, back home for gran’s funeral, I was surprised to see Saunders’ Carpets had disappeared, correct apostrophe and all, from St Peter’s Street – a chain selling ‘Chunkie Whoppa’s’ was there in its place. Dad said Old Man Saunders had dropped dead in a bunker at the golf club. My brother and I would still make the journey to the footie once or twice a year, and one time we bumped into Tank Thompson and his wife, Sally. Sally and Sandra were old friends and she mentioned that Sandra was now divorced. Sally reckoned that Sandra had been screwed in the divorce settlement, but she didn’t know the details.
I don’t remember hearing anything else for maybe twenty years, til she found me through the wonders of the internet. Her email was headed: ‘Bought that horse yet?’ She said that she’d been going through some old papers of her father’s and she’d come across a packet of old carpet circulars: would I like one for old time’s sake? After that, we kept in touch and, when I was on a walking holiday in Derbyshire, we met up for a pub lunch in Wirksworth, where she was living. I recognised her right away, though she was no longer a couple of inches taller than me. It turned out that we had a lot more than carpet circulars in common, and the day before I headed home she walked out with me in Wolfcote Dale and we had a long and cheery meal in the pub at Hartington.
Things have just progressed from there, really.