The Hopeless Contender

  • 14 Aug - 20 Aug, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

"Did you give Miss Rand my message?”

“Of course. Miss Rand is a very busy lady. She may not be able to answer your message straight away.”

“But she’s only in town for three nights.”

“I appreciate that, Sir. Miss Rand is very conscientious and always responds to communications from her fans…”

“I’m not just a fan.

I told you that…”

“I’m sorry, Sir. There’s really no more that I can do.”

Charlie made his way back to the huge double sink and continued to clean the bean-pan. “What do you know? Nothing. You don’t know a thing. It isn’t Holly, it’s her minders. They think I’m a crank or a stalker or something and they won’t pass on my messages.”

“Charlie, you need to relax. It's not good at your age to get all stressed-out. You’re letting this thing get to you. Want me to finish that?”

“I’m fine, Moss. I’m good. What do you mean, at my age? You get those peeled for the morning.” For a while the two men worked in silence. “You know,” Charlie said quietly, I think I’ve got to find a way to fix it so that she sees me – out there in the crowd maybe. Maybe if I stood in the crowd after the show – shouted or something...”

“You’re going to make a fool of yourself, Charlie. Why don’t you face it, she doesn’t remember you. She doesn’t care. Get on with your life, man!”

“You don’t know a thing, Moss, don’t know a thing.” Charlie’s hands became still. The suds ran down the side of the pot into the frothy water. He lowered it gently under the foam.

“Last two customers have just gone,” Vera barked through the hatch, “I'm going to lock up while I have the chance."

"Yeah, that's fine. The rain's pouring down out there. We won't get any more business tonight." Charlie absent-mindedly wiped his hands and made his unsteady way to the stained industrial dishwasher which he started to unload. "Forget the potatoes, Moss. Make us all a coffee."

Charlie limped through the swing doors and sat down at Table 10, opposite Moss and three tall transparent beakers of white-topped coffee. Vera was still standing at the locked door watching the rainstorm through the glass. She turned and wearily joined them. “Vera. You’re a woman," Charlie said thoughtfully as she sat down.

“Aw! Gee! That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me since I came to work here, Charlie.”

Outside, the rain was blasting the pavement. The street lights lit up the puddles in a firework display of shimmering colours. The hiss was almost as loud as his voice.

She gave him a sympathetic look. “Charlie baby, you’re in love, and that’s a terrible thing in somebody of our kind of age. Love stories never end happily, except in the movies. No matter what I say, you’re going to torture yourself over this singer woman, and you don’t really want to hear what I think

about it.”

“No, I do, Vera.

That’s why I asked.”

She took a sip of her coffee before she answered. “Well, it’s an impossible question.

It depends on all kinds of circumstances. But if you want my best guess, I don’t think she wants to be reminded about the part of her life that she shared with you. I mean, look at her. She’s successful, beautiful, famous, wealthy… men are falling at her feet. They think that’s how it’s always been for her. She’s a goddess to thousands of people. Why should she want to be reminded of…”

she made a wide gesture with her hand, “this?”

Charlie nodded gravely.

“I’m a fool,” he said. A powerful gust of wind flung a sheet of rain against the window, lifting the hiss to a sudden crescendo.

“You’re not a fool, Charlie,” Moss insisted. “You’re a good man. Too good for that Rand woman. She didn’t appreciate you when she had the chance.”

“What do you know?” Charlie mumbled his automatic response. “What do you know?”

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud “rat-tat-tat” on the glass panel of the front door. As one, the three seated figures looked up. "Are you expecting someone, Charlie?"

Moss asked.

Charlie shook his head and pulled himself to his feet. Mentally cursing the stiffness in his left leg he made his way to the door and admitted a dripping female figure, hooded in a dark plastic cagoule.

“Come in, Miss…”

As she introduced herself she pulled the hood clear of her face. “Rand. Holly Rand. How do you do? I know you’re not open, and I won’t take up more than a minute of your time.”

Her smile almost stopped Charlie’s heart.

Staring in wide-eyed amazement he stepped to one side and motioned towards Table 1 where she sat down, unbuttoning her cagoule to reveal an expensive white suede jacket, glowing locks of straight black hair and a figure that would have brought envy to the heart of an angel. The two at the far end of the room stared also, but more discreetly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Vera give him the “thumbs up” sign. Charlie slumped into the chair opposite, his face drained of all colour. “I’m looking for someone who used to work here,” she explained. “It was a long time ago. His name was Charlie Symmonds.”

Charlie didn't reply, just continued to stare, his lips quivvering very slightly.

"Charlie Symmonds. Does the name mean anything to you? This would have been twenty years ago - maybe more."

Charlie tried to speak, croaked like an adolescent whose voice was breaking, then tried again. “I… I don’t think I knew him. What was he like?”

“He was about two or three inches taller than you, shining sandy-blond hair, broad shoulders… he used to run a lot. He came second in the London Marathon, about 1982 or 1983 I think. And he was selected for the Los Angeles Olympic team in '84. I think he was a runner-up in that too, in one of the middle distance events. He just worked here temporarily, while he was waiting to get into a university. He was very ambitious. He wanted to be a scientist, or a surgeon. Something like that. Do you know what happened to him?”

Charlie remained motionless for another moment. "I wish I did," he said quietly.

“No, I thought he wouldn’t have been here very long. Can I give you this…” she produced a card from her jacket pocket, “and if you ever hear anything about him just give me a call. It’s my private number so please don’t give it to anybody else.”

He held it in his outstretched hand and nodded. She sprang to her feet, quickly circled the table, and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thanks for your time. Sorry, if I’ve kept you back.” Then she pulled her raincoat together and was gone.

He remained frozen in position, hand outstretched and holding the card, while the other two joined him. Vera put her hand on his shoulder. “God, you must feel terrible,” she whispered. His body came back to life and he screwed up the card and placed it in the empty ashtray. “No,” he said with quiet composure. “I think it’s fantastic that she wants to see Charlie Symmonds again. It’s just such a pity that he isn’t here.”

- Anonymous