Short Story Preview: On Track – Sue Hampton
Frances couldn’t keep up with him, which was disconcerting. And watching his woven, Peruvian-style rucksack, which bumped softly against his back, made her shopping feel heavier. With his thick white beard he reminded her of Captain Birdseye, but there was nothing rosy or rounded about him. Ahead of her – and further ahead with every
stride – his loose, wildly patterned shirt swelled as wind sneaked inside. Frances imagined hip bones underneath it, jutting like rock-climbing holds above his narrow waist. But no one would think him frail. In his tight drainpipe trousers he had an elastic step, flashing scarlet socks between his hems and denim sneakers. How old could he be?
As he glanced in her direction, checking for traffic, she saw a nose that novelists used to call aquiline. His face was tight, tanned and angular – and his gaze focused. No daydreaming, no autopilot. He had what the Strictly judges called intent.
A roadie, she guessed, for a punk band breaking at the end of the Seventies. Fit enough to lug the equipment but sharp enough to drive the van. It reminded Frances of her gigging days, before Cynthia got pregnant and Julia starting drinking for three. But as The Mirabelles, theirs were gentle tunes. Music fronted by this guy, now crossing the road as if cops were tailing him, would be fast, staccato, rebellious.
Maybe he was the drummer! Frances had loved a drummer once, but he wasn’t impressed by melodies – or lyrics either. And rhythm soon lost its charge without them. She pictured herself in his bed, tears on silent, skin left to dry and burn a little. Was this guy hard too? She supposed she only associated softness with plenty of flesh because of the weight she’d gathered around her own bones since she was on the road with the girls. It was so long ago, it must be time for a reunion. She must get in touch. Where was Whitebeard going in such a hurry – to an old wife watching daytime TV? Would he be minding grandchildren after school or was he more of a Ronnie Wood sort of oldie, with a young girlfriend waiting in bed? Whatever he was up to, it was brisk and it made her lethargic, as if her life force leaked away as his charged.