The End of the Road
Before Edith Tomlinson left her house that morning she glanced in the hall mirror as always to check her nose was powdered properly. Brushing a solitary strand of hair away from her lapel, she reached for her umbrella from the hall stand and wondered how many more times she would be permitted to continue this ritual - an unfaltering routine of more years than she cared to remember.
It was only a two-bed roomed terrace but it was her world. A wave of nostalgia swept over her as she recalled the house as it was when she was a child. She remembered the old wash house and the butler sink where now there was a modern kitchen and utility. How times have changed, she sighed... sometimes for the better and sometimes not.
Stepping out into the street she noticed how worn down the doorstep had become, remembering with fondness the people who had trodden over this, her threshold.
Her next-door neighbour Mr Rayner was leaving his house at the same time. He raised his hat as he spoke in his broad Yorkshire accent. 'Na then lass, I know where tha's going today.'
'Aye it's where we're all going, Fred,' Edith replied, pointing to several other pensioners further along the street who were also just emerging from their homes. There were younger residents making their way to the church hall too but perhaps the news - assuming it was bad news - wouldn't be so final for them. They were so adaptable these days, the young ones. 'Better go and see what they can do for us then.'
Linking arms, they began to walk along the pavement towards the church. Both over eighty, they were indisputably the street's oldest residents; Edith and Fred, expecting little more at their time of life than to die in the same bed they were conceived in.
'They shouldn't be putting us through this at our age,' Fred said, shaking his head as if he couldn't quite comprehend what was happening to their community.
The couple paused to look around them. The street looked bleaker than ever today under overcast skies. Even in wartime, it had appeared brighter. Now there were more boarded up and burnt-out houses than ever there was back then. And the most pitiful thing about it, Edith thought, was that every few houses or so there would be one which had been lovingly restored. A fresh coat of paint, new windows, new roof - the lot; but that wouldn't make any difference now if Fred and Edith's worst fears were realised.
'Aye Fred, but we've had some good times haven't we?' Edith replied, attempting to dispel her neighbour's pessimistic mood. 'Remember alt street parties we had for Jubilees and coronations? Think of alt bunting and trestle tables we had down centre of street!'
Fred did brighten somewhat at the thought. 'Aye, lass they want to uproot us lock stock and barrel but they can't tek our memories away now can they?'
They were almost outside St. Cuthbert's now; the old church was boarded up too.
'Baptised in that church, I was.'
'Me too, Edith.'
They gave each other a solemn look, both correctly assessing the other’s thoughts.
'I reckoned next place we'd be going would be into orbit but looks like developers have got other plans.' Fred said with a wry smile.
They had reached the church hall now. At the door was a suave-looking gent in a well-cut suit. Fred recognised him from previous meetings.
'Hello, Mr Rayner, and how are you feeling today?' the man asked, his tone of voice patronising and not in keeping with the matter in hand.
'Fine, just fine,' Fred replied politely as he entered the hall but his thoughts hardly mirrored his words:
How would you bloody feel it your house was just about to be demolished almost around your ears? That was the question he really wanted to ask.
And not only your house but all the other houses on the street and on the next two streets? And how would you feel if you were the one getting considerably less than the full market value for your home and all the new developments in the area were way beyond your price range?
The atmosphere in the hall was nothing short of chaotic. The housing corporation had set up impressive and detailed plans and models of their proposed award-winning development which were displayed on various tables dotted around the hall. There was even an expensive buffet provided which several residents defiantly but politely declined.
The meeting commenced. 'After much deliberation...' the chairman began '...cabinet has now approved the proposed development and work will begin on site when all local residents have been relocated.'
'They'd never do it to Coronation St!' shouted one irate young woman, her equally irate baby screaming in its pram. 'If it were Corrie, then alt country would be up in arms, but no-one cares about us!'
Edith sighed, realising the hopelessness of the situation. 'Come on, Fred let's go home - it's out of our hands now.'
Fred nodded. The two neighbours linked arms again and walked home together reliving memories of happier times.
'Shall I put kettle on then?' Edith offered as they approached her house.
'Aye, go on then, lass.'
There was talk of their families; Edith's in South Africa and Fred's in New Zealand with flights too long-haul and unaffordable even if they waited for the compulsory purchase money to come through. And what would they do at their age in a strange new country when neither of them had ever travelled any further afield than Leeds?
'I wouldn't last the journey, not with my angina,' Edith said with resignation.
'Me, neither,' Fred replied, his voice becoming solemn again. 'What's to become of us then, lass? Have you been saving them up like we planned?'
Edith answered in an almost matter of fact manner, surprising herself with her courage. 'I've put in several repeat prescriptions and the receptionist never even batted an eyelid. I've got about a hundred and sixty altogether. - that'll be enough for both of us by my reckoning.'
'Aye,' said Fred, ‘one for every year of our lives.'
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