Jack and Vera, and Rose
I went to see our Rose yesterday, you know, as I always do on a Friday afternoon. I think she’s getting worse; she seemed a bit more confused than normal, and then all of a sudden, she’d jumped back years, straight back to 1960. I’ve not heard her talk about anything from back then for ages. It’s a good job our Jack decided to stay home yesterday – the only thing Rose got right was the one thing she’s not supposed to mention.
When I got back Jack was as happy as Larry – well, he always is when he’s spent all afternoon in the garage, tinkering. He was stood at the sink, up to his elbows in Swarfega, looking out at the afternoon, and he says,
‘Vee, love, it looks like it’s going to be nice tomorrow, shall we have a little run out?’
Now, I’ve not been married to him for fifty years without working out what “a little run out” means. He’s after a new motor. There’s nothing wrong with the Civic, if you ask me. It’s only three or four years old, at the most, but once he gets an idea in his head, it’s only a matter of time. I knew what it’d be – park up at some beauty spot, tea and sandwiches, and then he’ll suggest stopping off somewhere, “seeing as we’re in the vicinity” and I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon bored out of my tree while Jack talks cam shafts with some slimy salesman. Thank heavens for the Daily Mail – they’ve got a really good puzzle page.
So this morning, after breakfast, and a quick hoover round, I knock us up a bit of dinner. I’d a bit of that nice ham on the bone, so I made sandwiches and I put plenty of hot mustard on some of them for Jack. I made a flask of tea, and I’d got some of those Mr Kipling slices on a bogof from Asda. At those prices it’s not worth baking your own, not with the gas and all. Jack’s supposed to be watching his cholesterol, so I’ll take the other box for Rose on Friday. Jack gets his driving gloves out, takes it all very serious, he checks the oil, and water and fiddles with the tyres even. I keep telling him you don’t need to do all that with these modern motors, but he doesn’t listen. Well, not to me anyway.
He was spot on about the weather though, just like he said, chilly first thing and then glorious. Made you feel glad to be out and about. He drove right up onto the moors and we even got out and had a walk out to those windmill things that they’ve put up; I thought they’d be bigger somehow. There was a chap up there, with one of those ugly dogs, and him and Jack got talking about gearing and rotor shafts. I talked to the dog, but if I’m honest, it wasn’t much for conversation, so I wandered back to the Civic, let myself in and poured some tea. It was quite nice in there; I got the Mail out and cracked on with the Sudoku. I balanced my tea on the dashboard but it fogged the window up so I wiped myself a little port-hole. I should have known better, Jack was all cross, when he saw my finger-marks on his windscreen. He didn’t say anything though, just went at it quietly with his special cloth, tutting to himself.
I’ve got to confess, I got proper mad myself. Just who did he think he was? He was acting as though I was a child, and the more I thought about it, the madder I got. After all’s said and done it it’s half mine, the Civic is. But even though he must have sensed the pressure building, he started on at me…
‘Vera, I do wish you wouldn’t …, Vera, I should have thought… Vera this, Vera that…’
And I thought, I know just what’ll shut him up, and so I opened my big gob.
‘Jack, I’m not Vera, I’m Rose. I’ve been Rose for the last seventy years. You married me, Rose, not Vera. Our Vera got cold feet…she didn’t want to get wed, but it was too late, so I said I’d ‘ave you to save you from being jilted.’
And do you know what? He never said anything. He just looked at me for a moment and then got out of the car, and started wandering off. I watched him for bit, he’d gone right back to that fella with the dog, and I thought, did I Imagine that? But he turned back and climbed back into the driver’s seat. Didn’t say anything, just started the engine, and never glanced at me. We set off down the road, and I’m sat there and I just didn’t know what to do.
We’d gone a mile or two, that’s all, when he pulls over at the side of the road.
‘You’re joking, right?’
‘No Jack, I weren’t joking, but I didn’t mean to say it, I don’t know why I did. I’m sorry, Jack, if I’ve upset you…’
‘”Upset me! Up-bloody-set me”. You tell me, out of blue, that you’re not you, that you’re your sister. What did you think?’
We’re sitting in this lay-by, and all these cars and lorries are thundering past, and all I can think is that no-one knows. No-one knows about our little drama, and I want to turn the clock back, to un-say what I said, and we’ll drive off and go and look at a new car and I’ll be Vee, and he’ll be Jack, and it’ll be Jack and Vee, like it’s always been.
He’s gone quiet, and I look at him, and I think he might be going to cry.
‘Why, Vee? Why?’
And right there, in the Civic, in that lay-by, surrounded by rubbish, I tell him. Finally, tell him the truth. How no-one could tell Rose and me apart, even our Mum had trouble, especially if she’d been drinking, which most of the time she had. I don’t blame her, widowed at her age, with twin girls, can’t have been easy, and Rose and me, well we didn’t make it easy for her either. Kept mucking about, the pair of us did. We shared clothes, friends, even jobs, I’d go in one day, Vera the next. And then Jack came along, smart as anything, a college lad, with prospects, and good looking too. We both liked him. But he started seeing Vera properly, and next thing Vera’s flashing an engagement ring, and they’ve sorted a flat and the banns have been read. But right before the wedding, the day before, our Vera gets proper strange, moping about and quiet like; not like her at all. And then she says she can’t go through with it, and will I go round to Jack and tell him, and I say “no, I can’t” and besides the church is booked, Mum’s spent a fortune on the cake and the dress is the nicest one I’ve ever seen. And I say,
‘If you won’t have the lad, I will!’
And our Vera, says,
That was it really, I became Vera, and Vera became me. Nobody knew. I think Mum might have thought something odd was going on, but she never said anything. I don’t suppose she could.
It was very quiet in the car. I wanted Jack to say something, anything. Finally he did.
‘Have we got any of them sandwiches, or has a man got to starve around here?’
I’m so relieved that’s he’s talking, I start fussing, pour him some tea, pass it to him, offer him the Mr Kipling’s, anything really to get back to normality. I can’t think beyond the picnic, daren’t, just in case. He swallows the last of his cake, opens the window and flicks the dregs of his tea on to the verge. Then, he gets out of the car again, and wanders away up the lay-by, out of sight. But he’s back again in a couple of minutes, and I realise with relief that he’s just snuck off for a piddle.
‘So, why’ve you told me?’ He asks when he gets back in.
‘I don’t know really, I guess it was on my mind, our Rose was rambling a bit when I saw her yesterday. I don’t think that medication’s helping at all. But she kept calling me Rose and I thought it’s going to all come out, sooner or later.’
He seemed happy enough with that, started the engine again, and we set off into the traffic. He didn’t say anything much else, until we pulled into the car dealership. He parked the Civic next to a row of shiny Toyotas. He asked me if I was going to get out and have a look round with him. I must have looked less than keen, because he leant across and said quite deliberately,
‘…because if you’re not into motors, I know a cracking lass who is, well, used to be anyhow. Looks a lot like you as well. I might just see if she fancies a run out, sometime.’