Stepping through the door brought back fewer memories than she expected. Charlie had been back here since her last visit only in dreams and whilst it was smaller than it ought to have been also it had been redecorated. The old sofa on which she had sat and read the NME was gone, replaced by something in pine. The smells she had forgotten she only remembered now by their absence. There had been incense, the spicy smell of a curry or a patisserie perhaps?
The landlord was also the publican, pleasant enough in jumper and corduroy. “You’re good for a week,” he said.
“That’ll be fine,”
“All new and it cost me a fortune, but you’ve got to make a show these days. You’re lucky it got finished early, bloody miracle frankly. Plumbing only went in two day ago, used to only be the fire for heating and a back boiler for water. Nasty old thing it was.”
Charlie nodded, “I remember. When it rained the coal outside would turn the puddles black.”
“Came with my Dad. Few times over the years.”
He hurried her round, unsurprised by what she said and perhaps she thought rather disinterested. Here the kitchen made smaller by modern convenience. Now the same narrow stairs but with a shower-stall upstairs big enough for four where there had been a tub on bare boards. Of the two bedrooms she took the slightly smaller, her room as had been. That too had changed, the shutters eggshell dappled and gleaming double glazing that still had tape about the edges that the publican pulled away and hid in his pocket. They both pretended she had not noticed. He said, “Whole place is yours, lass. Drop the key in Sunday, settle up then. I’ll be in the Punch, or the girl will. We do food if you’re not wanting the bother,” he did not offer to help with her bags, “right then.” And he was gone, coughing his way back down the stairs. Charlie tried to open the window but whether new or reluctant it resisted her efforts. So making sure the door was shut and the kitchen tap worked she drank from a coffee cup before returning to her room. She liked it that hers was the first shower and tired she lay on the bed but sleep would only come after a half-hearted attempt for her to do the same, the first too for that in this new bed.
She did not wake until nine. Twenty minutes later and she pushed through the second of two doors to the pub, the first held open by an iron boot scraper and one that saw use. She has not expected the fruit machine and if the juke box was literally just a box on one wall still there was music. Pink Floyd, she recognised the band if not more particularly the album. Otherwise the Punch was as it should be the public bar small with a low ceiling and still only a third full. She could tell it was not a pub for tourists, too dark and the taps were not marked by brand. You knew what to ask for or they probably did not have it. Charlie settled on vodka. Pink Floyd continued with only a slight pause, someone had put the whole album on. There were five men there other than the publican. All were looking at her. Not offensively, one half smiled indeed. She settled on a stool between two unoccupied tables and wished she had a book.
The publican laughed with one of the locals before turning to Charlie. He did not have to leave the bar to speak to her though he turned down Roger Walters. “Would you like to eat, lass?”
She would and chose. She looked at those in the pub after he pushed through a curtain. Three were older. The last and he younger sat a little apart from the others, he in jeans, walking boots and like her an outsider. But it was not he that met Charlie’s eye, nor was it he that had been the topic of conversation. Instead the smiling-man asked her name adding, “Are you Laura’s girl by any chance?”
Laura was her Mother’s name, “Funnily enough.”
“You look a lot like her, taller mind. Not seen you for what, ten year or more?”
“Longer,” she explained about holidays with her Dad and they nodded. All but the younger man who nursed his beer more excluded now than he had been when two of them hadn’t been from hereabouts.
“You won’t remember me then?” smiling man said. “Aye well, I used to work for your Granda. Good to see you again, lass,” with which he turned back to his friends.