The winner of the first ever Prescot Festival Short Story Competition was announced last month. We are delighted to award the £100 prize to Maureen McEvoy, of Haydock, for her story Last Train From Lime Street.
The judges enjoyed the sense of setting, the well-drawn characters and the overall concept of the story, with its surprising twists and turns. Read the full story below, published here for the first time.
Pictured: Maureen receives her prize from the Prescot Festival Artistic Director Dr Robert Howard.
Last Train From Lime Street
By Maureen McEvoy
They always met in the lounge bar at the Philharmonic pub in Hope Street, the famous road running between Paddy’s Wigwam, the Catholic Cathedral, and the Anglican Cathedral. Although the group sometimes argued about the relevance of religion, it was only ever discussed on an abstract level. Such is often the way of university students, or ex-students, particularly in Liverpool where religious divisions had once played such a prominent role. At the post-graduation party, a meeting once a year had been proposed and seconded, agreement reached that it should mirror their favourite night out, finances allowing. The last Friday in September at 7.30pm selected, as easily remembered, thus avoiding summer holidays and Christmas festivities. Meeting at the Phil, progression through the town pubs, stopping at Chinatown for a meal, and finishing at The Crown, near Lime Street Station. This was for those with responsibilities, to catch the last train home.
Rules had been agreed: There should be no “if onlys” and a limited amount of “Do you remember when?” Not that this was adhered to after the first years reunion, time passing having increased the amount of “Do you remember when?” The only safe topic when attitudes change and lives diverge, a shared history becoming the only common denominator. The group dwindled as years passed, with only the stalwarts remaining, though occasionally joined by others.
The night starts like many others. Anne arrives first, looking around to choose a table, sitting to sip orange juice, hoping someone else will arrive soon. Mark, when he appears, immediately asks if she would like a vodka to add to that, and she smilingly agrees. Jo, blonde hair tumbling around her shoulders, is next, pausing to flirt with the barman and request a large glass of red wine.
“I’d have got that,” Mark complains when she reaches the table.
At first, the small group doesn’t notice the man at the bar with his back to them. It’s Jo, gazing about, that spots him first.
“Doesn’t that look like Derek?” she asks.
“Can’t be,” replies Anne, “he’d be too ashamed to show his face.”
“I’ve forgiven him long ago,” Mark says, “it was only a few quid. Shall I get another round in, to see if it’s really him?”
Without waiting for a reply, he rises as the man turns.
“Degsy,” Mark exclaims, hurrying over. “Welcome back,” stepping forward to give a hug that Derek sidesteps. “Come and join us.”
Carefully carrying a pint, Derek sits down at the table.
“So, how are you doing, stranger?” Jo asks.
“Looking good, feeling great,” Derek responds, “and yourself?”
“Much the same, with bells on,” she retorts, and Anne rolls her eyes.
When Mark rejoins them, the “Do you remember whens” come thick and fast, and everyone is eager to add their story or embellish someone else’s. There’s a suggestion to move to another pub. “Too noisy,” someone says, and they move on again. Now that inhibitions are forgotten, questions become more personal.
“Why are you still here in Liverpool, Mark?” Derek asks. “I thought your plans entailed emigrating to warmer climes.”
“Dad persuaded me to stay and help run the business.”
“With a flash car and an apartment on the Albert Dock as an incentive,” Jo adds. “Not that I’ve room to criticise. I married money, it beats working,” but a twist of her mouth belies her words.
“And what about Anne?”
“Housewife and mother, with a part-time job in the library. Do you remember Colin?”
“Gangly lad with glasses?”
“Well, I married him,” and Jo sniggers.
“I suppose somebody had to,” she remarks.
“Time for you, Degsy,” Mark says.
“Not much to tell, made a bit of money, lost some, usual stuff.”
“And what’s brought you back?”
“The train,” Derek grins, but then adds, “Obligations to meet, family ties.”
“Not staying for long, then?” and he shakes his head.
“I’m starving,” Jo puts in. “Let’s find somewhere to eat.”
By mutual consent, the four head to Chinatown, where each selects a dish from the menu, Derek opting for Chicken Fried Rice. When its brought, Derek winks at the others, waiting a while before calling the waiter over.
“There’s no chicken in this,” he complains.
“Plenty when it was served,” the man argues, “you must have eaten it.” Around the table, glances are exchanges.
“Don’t think you’ll get a free meal the time, mate,” Mark says as the waiter snorts and walks away.
“Lord, look at the time,” Derek suddenly says. “I’ll never catch the train if I don’t leave now,” and as Anne starts to rise: “You all stay and finish your meals,” and he leaves. The evening falls flat after Derek’s gone, and Mark suggests going back to his place for a few late-night drinks.
“Can I stay?” Jo asks, knowing there’s been an agreement with Anne. “I can act as a chaperone.”
“That’s unnecessary,” Anne retorts. “Colin knows where I am. Actually, it was his idea.”
At the apartment, Mark excuses himself to change, whilst the girls prepare drinks, only to return soon after, holding a bundle of notes.
“I just found this in my pocket,” he says. “The exact amount Derek took.”
“How odd,” comments Jo.
“Not the only strange thing about him,” Anne remarks. “Did either of you two notice that he never ate or drank anything?”
“He must have,” Mark states. “Remember the chicken?”
“He hid it under a napkin.”
“And you’re right about him not drinking,” Jo says, “but there’s not mystery. The man simply wanted to pay his debts and was probably on a special diet.”
The following morning, Anne wakes first, wanting to ring home to check on her daughter, then, replacing the receiver, with a puzzled frown:
“A young man leapt under a train last night,” she states.
“So?” questions Jo, yawning.
“His name was Derek Grimes. It happened at eight o’clock, the same time we met him in the Phil.”