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written by Phil Shoenfelt, April 2018
I’m driving a panel van around Milton Keynes, trying to find the headquarters of Homebase so I can drop off an order of office supplies.* Suddenly, I see Marcia walking along the pavement up ahead, looking pretty much the way she did when we lived in London in the mid 1980s. I pull over to the kerb, wind down the window and say “Hi, Marcia.”

“Phil!” she says. “What the hell are you doing here? I’m on my way home from my shift at the computer packing factory. I’ve got to make Richard his lunch. It’s dinnertime you know.”

“Yes,” I reply, “it is. Can I give you a lift?”

“Nah,” she says. “Our flat’s just round the corner. And Richard might get violent if he sees me getting out of your van.”

“Suit yourself,” I say. “But do you know where Witan Gate House is? I’ve got to drop off a consignment of paper and toner. My GPS is on the blink, and I haven’t got a map of Milton Keynes.”

“Never heard of it,” she replies. “We only moved here six months ago and every street looks the same. But if you turn your van around, take the third right, cross the roundabout and drive along the road for half a mile you’ll come to a petrol station. They probably sell street maps there.”

“Thanks for the tip, Marsh. Good to see you after all these years. Look after yourself and keep out of trouble.” She smiles and walks away.

Instead of driving to the petrol station, I decide to follow her in my van. I keep well back so she doesn’t get spooked and call the cops on her mobile. I watch her enter a low rise block of flats and climb the external stairs to the second floor.

I park the van under a tree, cross the grass verge on the opposite side and follow her into the building. On the first landing three little girls are playing hopscotch. One of them says to me, “Hi dad,” but I’m sure I’ve never seen her before. I do have a daughter, but she’s thirteen years old and lives in Gateshead with her gran. As I start to climb the next flight of steps, I hear the girl whispering to her friends:

“He’s not really my dad, you know. But my mum told me she used to be married to him, so he is kind of…”

I ring the bell of flat 18 and a tall guy in a purple shell suit with a chevron on the sleeve opens the door. He’s wearing a gold chain and has a can of Special Brew in his left hand, a fag in his right. A typical chav – so far neutral, but with a hint of menace in his cold blue eyes.

Before I can say anything, Marcia appears from behind his shoulder and introduces us to each other:

“Richard, this is Phil. Phil, this is Richard. He’s my new husband.”

“Pleased to meet you, Rich,” I say, shaking his hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

He doesn’t seem pleased by this remark and fixes me with a challenging stare. His hand in mine lies limp and sweaty, and I start to feel uncomfortable.

“Are you stalking me, Phil?” asks Marcia, a mischievous look in her eye. “How did you find out where I live?”

“Uh, the phone book, I guess. It doesn’t take much to find people these days.”

Richard is squinting at me with his one good eye, and I’m starting to pick up distinctly hostile vibes. Time to return to the panel van.

“Well, I’d better be getting along,” I say. “Rich, you don’t happen to know where Witan Gate House is, do you?”

He shakes his head, takes a big hit of Special Brew, then crushes the empty can in his fist.

As I turn to go, the sun comes out from behind a cloud and lights Marcia’s face like an icon.
* I used drive a panel van in Worcester when I was 18 years old, delivering stationery for A.O. Jones & Co. I got fired when I accidentally reversed the van through a plate glass window. Failing to notice I’d cracked it from top to bottom, I drove away and got collared by the police on the northern ring road. Years later I drove another panel van for a London-based T-shirt company called Pop World. I wrote about this in my first novel Junkie Love.