Christmas Village Stories | Ben

The ringing of his doorbell startled Ben Crosley from his afternoon nap.  As he passed a gnarled hand over his face he wondered if he’d imagined the sound, but when it rang again he stirred his old bones from his easy chair shouting, “I’m coming, I’m coming”.  Nothing worse, he muttered to himself, than finding the caller halfway down the street just because they hadn’t the patience to wait for a soul to get to the door.  He glanced lovingly at the photo on the mantle, “Who do you reckon this is, love?”  But the person in the frame had no more idea than Ben.

As he walked up the hallway he did wonder if it was the Rev Jenkin come to call, although he doubted it as Arthur hadn’t visited again at this time of day after the kindly minister realised he’d woken Ben from his daily nap.

Ben opened the front door, and stared enquiringly at the person on the step, “Yes?”

“Hello, Ben,” said the stranger.

********************

In his youth Ben Crosley was considered quite a catch; tall, dark and handsome with a steady job as a fitter and turner at the Town’s Engineering Plant.  He was great mates with George Jones.  Ben and George had met at school, done the same apprenticeship and had both been indentured to the same firm.  Every day as they walked home the lads passed by Chipper’s Motors and they both gazed longingly at the twin 500cc Royal Enfield motor bikes.  “Three more pays, mate,” sighed George.  “Three more pays,” agreed Ben.  The lads had been diligently saving their wages, with a small portion going to their families for board and keep, over several years and their goal was in sight.  But they did splurge once every month or two in going to one of the local dances where they could kick up their heels, catch up with their mates, and meet and dance with a girl or two.  If one of their mates who owned a car was going further afield then they cadged a lift and went to one of the other towns or villages for the dance, but if it was Shank’s Pony they were restricted to the dance in their Town.  Soon they would be riding.  They’d both learnt to ride on borrowed bikes and their licences were burning holes in their pockets in anticipation.

The very next Thursday, with one more day to work for the week, the lads walked their usual trek home discussing the possibility of getting to the dance scheduled for Saturday night.  As they passed by Chipper’s Motors they stopped short, George in mid-sentence.  The bikes, both bikes, were no longer on the premises.  Yes, over the years bikes had come and gone, they couldn’t expect Daryl Chipper to keep bikes while they saved their money, but the lads thought they had an understanding with Daryl when the Enfield’s had appeared as they were so close to having the asking price saved.

“Hey Daryl,“ George called as he spied the owner walking towards them, “Where have the two Enfield’s gone?”

“Afternoon lads,” Daryl replied nonchalantly, “Sorry boys, but” Daryl shrugged , “got a better offer.” 

“But…..?   Why……?  How…..?” sputtered George, trying and failing to get a coherent sentence together.

“But they were ours,” Ben said forlornly.  George could only nod in agreement.

“I’ve ordered another couple.”  Daryl was quite sanguine about the situation.

“But that will take months!” cried Ben.

“Mmm, probably six months.”  Daryl studied his nails.

“I….you….” George was sputtering again.

Ben tugged on his arm.  “C’mon mate, nothing we can do.”

The lads dejectedly continued their way home, with the occasional incoherent repeating of, “But he knew……” or “Why did he…..?” from George.  Ben, so deflated, couldn’t be bothered replying.

At their meeting corner, each went their own way home without a word, Ben turning to the right, George going straight ahead.

“That you Ben?” called Mrs Crosley as she heard the back door open.

“Yes Mum.”

“That doesn’t sound too cheerful, love.  Everything all right?” Mrs Crosley walked towards her son wiping her hands on her apron.

“No, it’s not.” Ben felt like crying, but took a deep breath instead.  “Daryl Chipper’s only gone and sold the two bikes that George and I were so close to buying.  So close, Mum!”

“Oh, love, that’s such a shame,” Mrs Crosley sympathised.  “I’m sure he can order more in.”

“Yeah, but that will take six months or more.”

“Oh love,” Mrs Crosley reached up to give her son a hug.  “Can you go and get your Dad?  He’s out in the shed.  Dinner’s almost ready.”

Ben headed back out the door and up the garden path to the shed at the back of the garden, head bowed and feet shuffling.

“Dad?” he sang out as he neared the shed door.

“In here, son.” Mr Crosley replied.

Ben poked his head in the shed door and started to tell his Dad that dinner was ready, but stopped, open mouthed as he saw Mr Crosley leaning nonchalantly against………. Could it be?  Yes, it was one of the Royal Enfield motor bikes!

Eyes shining with delight but unable to speak, Mr Crosley replied to Ben’s unspoken question.  “We know you’ve been saving hard, son and that you only had a few payments to go, so your Mother and I decided we’d make the last couple for you.  The bike’s yours!”  Still unable to get words of thanks out, Ben gave his Dad a big hug, then gently ran is hand over the bike, his motorbike. 

“Think you’ll find George has his too.”  Ben looked up from the bike. “We colluded,” said Mr Crosley, a twinkle in his eye.   “You and George need to see Daryl tomorrow and pay the balance, and before you can ride you need to get leathers and a helmet.”  Mr Crosley firmly laid down the law.

“Oh Dad!” sighed Ben happily. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“Just be careful out there and always come back in one piece – that will be thanks enough, Ben.” Mr Crosley patted the bike too.  “Nice machine, son, nice machine.  Well, best get inside before dinner gets cold.”

After bolting down his dinner (“George’s Mum is making him eat his too,” replied Mrs Crosley to Ben’s pleas to be allowed to meet George), Ben raced to their meeting corner getting there just second before George.  Both lads hollered and hooted and when they’d calmed down a little made plans for their riding debut.

 

Bikes paid off, leathers and helmets purchased and donned over their Saturday-night-out clobber, Ben and George set off to a nearby town and the dance hall.  They arrived safely and were soon espousing the joys of their first ride to their mates.  Out of the corner of his eye Ben noticed a striking, tall, dark haired girl standing with her friends.  Buoyed by the thrill of the ride Ben sauntered over to ask for a dance.  As he got closer he could see this girl was not just striking but really beautiful.  He hesitated slightly thinking she just might be out of his league, but one of the other girls had seen Ben heading their way and nudged her friend.  The friend spotted Ben and found him to not be wanting.

As casually as he could Ben asked for a dance and was accepted.  He found out this goddess’s name was Davina Cole (“My mum is smitten by Hollywood!”) and that she’d not long moved to the town with her family and had a job at the local department store.  As the music finished for that number they were still chatting and getting on famously.  Davina was very pleased to be seen dancing with this handsome young man, not just a good dance either, entertaining too.  By the end of the evening Ben and Davina had danced almost exclusively and spent the supper time together.  With promises to see each other soon, Ben caught up with George, suffered a bit of ragging from his mates, and the two lads set off for home, Ben’s heart as light as a bird.

Over the next few months Ben and Davina saw a lot of each other.  Although Davina pouted prettily and seemed to be offended if Ben danced with another girl, she then smiled radiantly and gave an “all forgiven” shrug when he came back to claim the next dance with her.   Gradually they became an item, spending more and more time together and Ben wondering how he’d landed a girl so beautiful and worldly and enchanting and……he was running out of superlatives.  He knew he was smitten and it seemed that Davina was too, she was very happy to be seen on Ben’s arm, and they made a striking couple.

After saying fond goodbyes at a dance one Saturday evening Ben set off for home on his bike only to skid on a greasy section of road not far out of his town.  Luckily a passing motorist saw the accident and was able to get help.  With a broken leg, Ben wasn’t going to be riding, or dancing, very much in the short term.

Laid up in hospital for the first couple of weeks, Ben looked hopefully at the door every visiting time; his mum and dad came regularly of course, as did George and a couple of his other mates, but of Davina there was no sign.  He told himself that she probably couldn’t get the time off work, or it was too difficult to get to him (his other half knowing that  it would only take two buses and she’d be at the hospital, either from work or her home).  Even when he was allowed home, still Davina paid no visits, sent no messages, nothing.

Davina’s absence niggled at him but he was too proud to ask George if she’d been asking after him.  In his mind he made excuses for her.  Finally the day came when he could go to a dance.  Strangely, George tried to dissuade him, but Ben was determined to get to the dance, even on crutches, to see his girl.

George made his way to the dance on his bike and Ben was offered a lift from a mate.  Breathless with the exertion of getting up the hall steps on his crutches, Ben stopped for a moment inside the hall door.  While recovering his breath he saw Davina and experienced the familiar sudden intake of air and quickening of his pulse at her beauty.  Then he saw she was dancing with a very tall, very haughty looking man who was looking at Davina with proprietorial eyes.

As quickly as he could on crutches, Ben made his way over to the couple and greeted Davina warmly.

“Oh,” Davina looked at Ben as if she barely knew him, “yes…..Ben,” she’d finally remembered his name.  “You’re on the mend?” she asked belatedly looking at the crutches.  Without waiting for Ben’s reply, she looked at her companion, “This is one of my favourites, Jeremy.  Shall we?”  And without so much as a backward glance, Davina and Jeremy were on the dance floor.

Totally flummoxed by Davina’s actions, all Ben wanted to do was leave.  As he turned on his crutches a familiar voice said, “I’m so sorry, mate.  Didn’t quite know how to tell you.” George looked so forlorn Ben didn’t have the heart or energy to be cross with him.  “I only saw her with that git a couple of weeks ago, but some of the others said she didn’t take long at all to find someone new after your accident.” Ben felt the knife twist deep in his heart. “C’mon mate, Larry said he’ll take you home.”

For weeks Ben tried to work out how he’d been so misled; running over their conversations in his mind he couldn’t understand how he’d not seen that Davina hadn’t felt the same way.  He thought they were well on their way to an “understanding” and was sure that Davina would have accepted his proposal instantly.  They’d been so close, sharing so many ideas and passions, so much in common.

Just when Ben thought he’d settled his heart George showed him an article in the local newspaper announcing the betrothal of Davina Cole to Jeremy St John-Smythe.  To George Ben just shrugged, to himself he decided enough was enough.

Time passed, his leg mended along with his heart, the fad for a motor bike waned and a car was the next purchase for Ben, and when he’d been assured that Davina and Jeremy no longer attended dances, Ben went back to dancing and evenings out with his friends.  Not long after he met Millie at the dance in Christmas Village, one they hadn’t been to before.  Wary of getting entangled again, he was nevertheless drawn to this lovely girl with the heart shaped face and vivid blue eyes.  After several months Ben knew he could trust Millie with his heart – she was his and he was hers.

Ben and Millie had a joyous wedding and a blessed life together bringing up two children, Stella and Tom.  They had moved into a house in Christmas Village not long after their wedding and Ben had taken a job in the industrial estate just outside the Village.  Their home was always alive with laughter and filled with love.  Both Stella and Tom married, Tom moving with his wife to Another Country and Stella moving with her husband to the Town.

Ben retired and he and Millie spent time in their garden and still loved attending dances, though not going as often or going too far.  After 52 years of marriage Millie became ill and shortly after died leaving a desperately devastated Ben.  Stella and Tom came home for the funeral and Stella stayed on to try and help Ben settle into a different routine.  Assuring Stella he would be fine, his daughter reluctantly left her father on the understanding that she could come back at any time should he need her.

The days formed themselves into a different shape without his beloved Millie.  He set the alarm each day as a means of getting himself out of bed.  After breakfast and some household chores or shopping he often went to the Village pond and fed the ducks or watched the passing parade.  Lunch was followed by a nap, which he seemed to need more and more these days, then it was sometimes a pint with the “lads”, in particular George, before dinner, reading or the radio, then bed.  But always alone, always without his Millie.

*********************

Ben opened the front door, and stared enquiringly at the person on the step, “Yes?”

“Hello, Ben,” said the stranger. 

 

“You don’t remember me?”  The pout on the woman’s face rang a distant chord in Ben’s memory.  He looked more closely at her and realisation slowly dawned.  Still a very striking woman in her twilight years, Davina had worn well, money obviously helped in keeping age at bay.   Seeing that he did indeed remember, Davina smiled satisfied that she remained, in her mind at least, a strong memory for Ben.

“May I come in?” she asked.  Unsure, but not wanting to be impolite, or have the neighbours asking awkward questions, Ben ushered Davina into the lounge room, then went to the kitchen to make them both tea.

“You have a lovely home, Ben,” Davina waved a hand dismissively at the room as Ben put down the tea tray.  She continued quickly, “I kept an eye on you, you know, over the years.  Your marriage, your children, your long service in your job; they all made the newspaper and I read about you.” Where, Ben wondered as he poured out their teas, was this leading?  Davina, in fact, had realised very soon into her marriage how silly and vapid she’d been in ditching Ben so quickly and pursuing Jeremy St John-Smythe instead.  But to the young shallow Davina, Davina St John-Smythe had sounded so much better than Davina Crosley, and Jeremy’s prospects as a solicitor were much better too.  But Jeremy had been a faithless husband, although as long as she had money to spend as she wished Davina could pretend to ignore the philandering and as long as Jeremy wasn’t blatant with his affairs, Davina could keep up the illusion of a perfect marriage and wonderful life to her society friends.

On hearing of Millie’s death, however, Davina had impatiently waited for what she thought might be a suitably appropriate time before approaching her erstwhile dance partner.  Her life needed to change and she saw Ben as her means to do that.

Ben watched on as Davina chatted inconsequentially and even, he was aghast to realise, flirted with him!  Where, he wondered again, was this leading?

“Well, it’s been just lovely to catch up, Ben,” Davina rose elegantly to her feet and as Ben ushered her to the front door she added, “I do hope we can meet again soon.” Again, that radiant smile and with a wave of her fingers Davina sashayed down the path to the gate.  She stopped and turned to make sure Ben had been watching and was pleased to see him leaning against the doorframe exactly as she hoped he’d be.  Little did she know what Ben was actually thinking.

“That was a shock and a half, eh Millie?” Ben smiled at the photo of his beloved.  “Wonder what she’s after, love?  I know, I know, I’ll be careful,” he grinned ruefully.  Ben had told Millie all about his disastrous encounter with Davina and they’d both agreed it had been worth his heartache as it meant they’d met each other.

Over the next few weeks Davina made several calls on Ben, always buoyant, bright and optimistic with a little flirtation thrown in for good measure.  When she was sure she had him where she wanted, she played her hand.  Ben was genuinely dismayed to hear about Jeremy St John-Smythe’s boorish, uncouth behavior and although he sympathised with Davina’s plight he was totally unprepared for her coup de gras.

“But why can’t I move in here?” she cried again after trying for some time to make Ben see that it would be the answer to her problems and, she’d added cunningly, he wouldn’t be so lonely with her delightful company.

Because I don’t want you to, thought Ben.  Up to this stage he’d just been saying no, but clearly Davina needed a different answer.  Aloud he said, ”It’s not appropriate, Davina.”

“Appropriate?” Davina by this time was clearly losing her temper.  “What’s inappropriate about this arrangement?”

“I can’t have a strange woman moving in – what would the children think?”

“Strange woman?” Davina was not impressed and in her temper forgot to guard her tongue, “and blast what your children think!”

That, for Ben, was the last straw.  White with anger, he disregarding chivalry and bundled Davina out of the door, warning her to never return.

Trembling with the effect of the wild emotions on display, Ben poured himself a rare stiff drink.

“That, my love,” he said toasting Millie’s photo, “was a close call.”

Later that evening the doorbell rang.  Dreading that it would be Davina with another round of pleading Ben, with some trepidation, opened the door.

“Evening, Ben,” said Ben’s minister, “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Not at all, Arthur, “ Ben was delighted to see Rev Jenkin on the doorstep and immediately invited him in.

The two men chatted for some time and Arthur ventured a comment, hoping it would be taken in the vein it was meant.

“You seem….” Arthur sought the appropriate wording, “more contented?” He finished it as a question, giving Ben the chance to agree or refute the comment.

“Life’s a funny thing,” said Ben after some contemplation, “and while I’ll always miss Millie, I know and value what we had together.  And,“ he added with a smile, ”you sometimes realise in the twists and turns of life, there can be some lucky escapes.”

©Pomegranate and Chintz 2018

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4 Responses to Christmas Village Stories | Ben

  1. There’s more than one sort of narrow escape, isn’t there!

  2. Jill says:

    Phew!! Great decision!!
    Love all 3 stories, Meredith.

  3. Linda Tiernan says:

    You had me enthralled….thank you!! Obviously you found the inspiration that you were lacking for a while……it is SO beautiful, and your characters are “alive”. Merry Christmas!

  4. frayedattheedge says:

    Wonderful!!!

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