Have you ever had a moment when you see someone of the opposite sex, know they’re the right one for you, but nothing comes of it? And you regret it for ever.
It happened to me in 1973. I was young and carefree, enjoying an evening out at a folk music club, when my eyes locked onto those of the girl across the room. I knew then. And I’m sure she knew too, that we should be a couple. It was as if I already knew her, do you know what I mean? As if I knew she was destined to be my soulmate.
I remember though that she had been there with a boyfriend, and I couldn’t think of how to talk to her, and like all those monumental moments in your life, there are only a few seconds when you should do something, and then they’re gone, and it’s too late, and you regret it for ever. A bit like that James Blunt song, You’re Beautiful.
I remember that night there was a great singer on stage, Don Shepherd, a disabled man with a voice like an angel, and he was doing his version of Elton John’s, Your Song.
That song has always been special to me, because it brings back such a special memory.
And who would have thought that all these years later I, as the foreman of a demolition company, was tackling the demolition of that very same pub, the Golden Hand, where the folk club had met in those dim and distant 1970s? That wonderful old Victorian pub, where the pub sign of the palm of an outstretched hand, painted gold, still swung in the breeze.
I paused a moment, trying to remember Don sitting on his wheelchair onstage, playing the guitar and singing, the crowd in the room, the lights, the music, the badinage. And most of all the girl, with the face I somehow knew before I’d ever seen her, and whom I had only set eyes on once but never saw again. . .
Funnily enough, not long ago, I met a mate from the old days, and when I described her, he thought he knew her from my description. And he told me he had heard that she had not moved from the area, had got married, but that she had died a year or two ago, from some horrible illness.
For most of my adult life I’ve had a pretty troubled time and there hasn’t been a lot of happiness. I’ve tried lots of jobs, but was always hesitant to go for promotion, scared to take on business ventures, or accept promotion, because in my heart of hearts I was afraid that anything I did would go wrong. As I’ve got older it’s got worse. Lots of things scare me, I have these phobias, and now I take pills for depression. Getting divorced and living alone doesn’t help. And there are no pills on earth that can stop you feeling lonely. I try to see the bright side, to make the best of things.
But sometimes I find that with all my fears and phobias, life is a real struggle, and I wonder, what’s it all for?
Oh well, life goes on, I thought sadly, as we prepared the site for the guys operating those huge machines with mechanical jaws to make a start by toppling the roof and upper walls, so that they could crunch the masonry to the ground. We’d gone through all the health and safety procedures, and now I was the last man on site, doing the final checks inside the old building.
As I looked for the last time I was overwhelmed by a surge of sadness, thinking about the man I had once been at the start of my life, feeling as if I could take on the world and win. Contrasted with the man I was now, and all the things I had never achieved in my life. But that was it, I had to face facts. In a few moments The Golden Hand, the pub where I’d spent all those happy times in my youth, would be no more.
I got out of the building and called up Simon and John, the heavy machine operators, on my mobile, for them to make a start, by smashing down the roof.
Then, as I was walking away, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye.
And there, at the upper window, was a woman, large as life, in what had been the main bar, the folk club venue where I had just been. I desperately dialled Simon, but, at that crucial moment, there was something wrong with my phone and it wouldn’t work.
There was nothing for it but to run inside and rescue her before tons of masonry collapsed on her head!
I ran up the stairs, calling out “Run! Run for your life!” Then when I got there, I saw her properly for the first time.
My heart stopped. It was the same girl I’d seen all those years ago, the girl I’d never forgotten. So my mate had been wrong. She hadn’t died, she was here now. She was my age, now, of course, in her sixties, but I could tell beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the same girl I had fallen in love with in 1973. And now I was falling in love with her all over again.
She looked at me. She smiled. She held her arms out.
Then the ceiling splintered and the walls caved in.
I woke up in hospital. There were tubes and wires and pipes everywhere and it was semi-darkness.
“Dad!” I recognised the voice of my son, David. Now that his mum and I are divorced, David and his wife and children are the only family that I have.
“You’re in hospital, in intensive care, but you’re going to be okay,” he told me.
“Will you record what I’m telling you?” I asked him.
“Course. My phone’s recording now. What do you want to say, Dad?”
That’s when I dictated all that I’ve just told you, all about seeing the girl I fell in love with, and why I had dashed back into the building and had the accident. Simon and John, the crane operators, were nice guys – I didn’t want my injuries to be on their consciences, I had to make it clear that the accident was all down to me.
David’s a good boy. He listened without interrupting, and I could see him tearing up now and again, because, between you and me, I think he was afraid I wasn’t going to make it.
“Where is she?” I asked David. “The woman who was in the building with me? Is she okay?”
“I don’t know, Dad. They told me no one else was in there. . .”
And then I saw her again. She was in the room with me.
“There she is. Can’t you see her?” I asked David.
“Who, Dad? There’s no one here. Only the nurses.”
And then I had this incredible feeling of lightness. Suddenly I rose up somehow, and looked back down at myself, there in the bed. There were doctors and nurses gathering round, frantically doing things to me. . . David was in tears.
The woman took my hand. And we walked towards this incredible, unbelievable, wall of light in the distance.
And, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t afraid. . .