Once upon a time on the 678 bus from Gloucester to Newent via Taynton. It's 1315 and the day threatens rain.
"He's fifty-one next month. I saw him at my father-in-law's funeral four months ago. I certainly wouldn't fancy him NOW."
This isn't the beginning of the story, of course it isn't, but it sets the scene, giving us a taste of what is to come, a detail, and an intimation that not all is well. Stories must have a touch of this. Too happy, and who cares? Other people's happiness is of little consequence, though we wish them well. Too sad - and we are left bereft. Come on people! Life can't be all bad!
Our chief protagonist holds centre-stage - the front left-hand seat on the Community Bus, that can take fourteen, according to the sign, but holds just eight of us, including me and Brian. (See'Life of Brian')
She is looking good for sixty- seven. "He was," She says, "Sixteen years younger than me." I did the maths. White hair neatly styled and shoulder length, casually but smartly dressed.
I am going to call him John, and that might even have been his name. His father owned the pub at Apperly where our lady, whose name I do not know, served behind the bar.
"He was twenty-one. I told him to get lost at first, but after a year we got together. He was drunk all the time. A right clown."
A divorcee with her own home and the attributes of a good barmaid. Not a total idiot then ...
Why, we wonder, not unreasonably, would she take up with a drunk? We get the feeling that our friend is not going to make good decisions. It turns out that we are right.
So they married, and he was good to her boys, and then one day he crashed the car drunk, and he never drank again. At this point we had high hopes of a swift and happy ending, but it was not to be.
"I left him, and it was MY house. Never got a penny, I was too upset to get a lawyer." The empathymonitor is now in the red, and we all cluck in horror, except Brian. Who, has, I think, an entirely different take take on the story. The bus driver concentrates on the winding road.
"How long were you married?" Asks Dot, anxious to get some closure before she has to alight in Tibberton.
"Twenty-three years." Gasps. My calculating mind puts the hapless rogue in his forties and things begin to fall into place.
"His new wife is only twenty-three, the daughter of one of his father's customers. She's been after him since she was fourteen!"
We had all been fourteen once, and know the score.
"His sister won't have anything to do with him because of the way he treated me!" Justice, it seems, has been served.
"I had his youth though! And I wouldn't have him now. You should see how fat he is."
We won't, of course, but can imagine him. Balding, overweight, with builder's bum and shirt agape over a tight belly. We are all consoled by the fact that she had his youth, and sigh with relief.
Not the happiest of endings, perhaps, but it'll do.