Bittersweet Seasons Excerpt



In accordance with the laws of his social class, Paul Coates left school at the age of fifteen to work in the same meat-processing factory as his father, who had put in a word for him. He was supposed to be grateful for this assisted passage into the world of employment, but he wasn’t. He hated the stench of carcasses, blood and bones and the feeling his life was labelled and packaged, much like the meat that left the factory. Only Rob Bowen, eighteen, friendly and funny made the long days bearable. He showed him the ropes and told him how to go on, helping him feel less awkward with his gently teasing jokes and ready smile.

In the November that Paul turned sixteen one of the girls in their section invited everyone to her twenty-first birthday party. It was to be held downtown in the old White Rose Pub, which nestled under an arch of Jubilee Bridge. Paul’s parents granted him permission to go, after all he was earning now and a working lad was entitled to some leisure.

Rob bought Paul a pint of Guinness, he would have preferred sweet cider but was too shy to say so. He soon got used to the heavy beer’s bitter taste, enjoying the way it made the world move into soft focus. Julie, the birthday girl, finally claimed a dance with Rob, taking his hands and pulling him onto the floor where she put her arms around his neck and he put his around her waist. They slow danced to Danny Williams singing ‘Moon River’ with Julie never taking her eyes from Rob’s face. Watching them through soft focus, Paul suddenly felt like crying.

Stepping outside into the damp air he wandered onto the bridge, leaning against its cold iron ribs. It was November Fifth and there were fireworks in the night sky, their passion and sparkle briefly reflected in the dirty flow of The Tees below. Closing his eyes, Paul pictured Rob and Julie dancing to Moon River, hearing the melody echo in his mind along with the distant thunder of fireworks. Tears squeezed past his closed lids, running down his face, chilling on his skin.

The years passed. Paul rose to a managerial position in the factory, got married and had children.
‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,’ Paul murmured the words of the ancient rhyme to himself, as he stood by a dark window watching the sky blaze in commemoration of a conspiracy foiled. He sipped whisky and allowed his mind to backtrack three decades to a November Fifth when he was just sixteen and kissed for the very first time. He closed his eyes in honour of the memory. It had been good, sweet and warm. He could taste it still and feel the excitement that soared through his body and mind. Rob had followed him outside, asked what was wrong, put an arm around his shoulders. They had looked at each other and then it happened, a tender kiss that should have led to a flowering of passion and a finding of self. It didn’t. 


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