Driving through Paignton

Been fifteen years since I was last here, here with Lois and a different self. I’m looking at the views, the scenery that makes this part of ‘The English Riviera’ and yes, the sea and sky are blue today. Every scene is wide and open, this I don’t remember from before. To be truthful there’s very little I remember at all, the odd tilted snapshot seems vaguely familiar as though I’ve seen the pictures in a friends slide show, a jerky super 8 seventies flick projected on contoured walls. The roads are quiet in this out of season time apart from the old dodderers who feel need to stop at every approaching car; this is fine right now as I try to orient myself after all these years.
Lois apparently lives here again, though thankfully I have no idea where as I’d be tempted to drive by, in the English rather than L.A. style, gawking awkwardly to just see how she is, without wanting to be seen. If I did see her, I surely wouldn’t know if it was she, my memories are of glasses and hair, cold early mornings and not much else. This is happening here too, here today in Paignton, we spent time here together, doing what escapes, for nothing is familiar as landmarks. Then realisation strikes me, of course there are/were no landmarks for us, we split through gross incompatibility and sleepy inertia. I can’t tell of romance or passion, of interesting conversations or friends to hold us together, for none of those existed then. And now, this car sweeps along roads we once journeyed together. Slowly the car meanders, as my eye sweeps for something to remind of earlier existence here, but only space and newer landscapes filter through stunted Torbay palms.
The one friend she had and I disliked is dead now, he wouldn’t have tried to pull us together, his move into drug dependence came first, last and everything. Lois too is dead now. Maybe she lives, breathes here somewhere, maybe she has created life(s) to replace the overweight white long haired slow cat she overindulged when with me. That Lois is dead, as too the cat no doubt, that child woman who wanted to be in love with me but couldn’t maintain grip on loving when honeymoon glow wears thin and winter of long haul seeps in.
I have a photograph, edges curled and creased of her standing in a room we once lived in, coffee cup in hand, smile or is it smirk? Questioning why I would want to take the photo. The why of then has gone but now it carries reminder of how she and I were: her incomprehension of me and my steady long lens observing of her. As then, my eyes sweep to find some memory for commonality, a way to create sense of now, place and time here. Paignton is escaping me as did/does Lois and the me of then, the road leads out of there.
Soon I am above Torbay, I can see all below, open and wide, though fine detail escapes.
To find her would be easy, checking ‘phone books, the asking of newer friends in the same line of work as she, a trawl that would gather nothing edible, only bones of what was once nibbled, gone before. I cannot think of a single good reason to do this but the fantasy swarms my head for a second or two of how she would be now; fatter no doubt, slower, older and possibly wiser. Selfishly I would want her to refresh my memories, but no doubt she may also have memories of her own I will not need to hear, stories of my selfishness and blind driving then, of how I held her back in ways no longer bearing meaning or sense for me. I was a little different then I think, wanting a fairy tale romance of lovers who could make wishes, life fantasies come true. Wanting a life of interest and not knowing just how dangerous that could be for clutter memories. I would want her to tell me of the boy/man then and his dreams, for I believe them shattered now by times wrecking ball and rock steady drip of need to earn money. Would she see a different me, or one whose edges have become blurred like so many contemporaries? I hear them tell of middle age spread but secretly they/we know it is but the mould slowly wearing out as year on year they attempt to complete whatever sentence self assigned in youth.
I am out of Torbay now, was I ever there seems good question, maybe Lois is still there, having found a softer place to sleep, featherbedded now against pains I experienced in growing up and foolishly thought to share with her as an aid to understanding them. Our parting I remember as softened by the absence she created in presence though tempered in jealousy of her taking up with an old friend of pretty quickly, to piss me off, show me the error of my dumping, whatever, hindsight clears the stunt and as then no harm done. Paignton may be a place that I will pass through again, then with no memory of Lois, as now, but then with no need to ever think of these things again. As insubstantial as second hand ghost stories these non memories have been laid to rest.

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