Story: The Advice Slip

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Gary’s fingers were almost numb with crossing as well as cold by the time he reached the front of the queue at the cash machine.

Please let there be a tenner left. Please let there be a tenner left, please…

He stamped his feet to bring some feeling back into them as the machine asked him to be patient while reading his pin.

AVAILABLE BALANCE: £12.95

Yes!

This was the first stroke of luck Gary had experienced all week, after three failed interviews and a nightmare appointment at the job centre with someone young and cocky enough to be his son. “We really need to get you into work Mr Maybury, are you sure there aren’t any more jobs you could apply for?”

Gary had applied for everything, including telesales. His two week trial had been a disaster as he’d slipped and stumbled over the script. He was not a well spoken man. He hadn’t needed to be when he was working at the old Brewery, so long as he was reliable, strong and not afraid of hard graft. But those days were gone now and the job market wasn’t good for a middle aged working class man who had failed his 11+.

Gary carried this disappointment around in his stomach more heavily these days, as he queued up for his benefit appointments alongside bright young things who were far better qualified than he was. Perhaps he should have worked harder in school. Then he’d have been running his own business in America like his older brother, Norman, who had gone to the local grammar school and on to great success.

The cash machine beeped at him, interrupting his well worn reflections.

DO YOU WANT AN ADVICE SLIP?

Without really thinking about it, Gary pushed the ‘YES’ button. A few years ago, this machine had given out chances to win Football World Cup tickets on the back of the slips and Gary had gotten into the habit of requesting them with every drinking tenner he took out. He didn’t really like football, but someone might pay £100 for the tickets if he did win, and that would buy a fair few pints. Gary knew himself to be a heavy drinker, but considered himself a responsible one. He had no car, so he never drank and drove. He never got violent, just sat at his regular spot at the bar in The Red Lion, getting quieter and a little morose with each sip until going home time. He never drank after midnight, not before midday. Gary observed the old fashioned licensing hours even if the pubs didn’t, and no man with self respect should indulge before midday. Gary still had a small slither of that left.

The machine spat his card out with a beeping noise, followed by a crumpled tenner and the advice slip. Which caught Gary’s eye as it was yellow, instead of the usual shiny white.

Rather than the usual depressing bank balance, there were three words printed on the back.

ANSWER THE PHONE

Gary blinked. He hadn’t had his first pint yet, so this couldn’t be a drunken fantasy. Perhaps one of the young ones at the bank was having a joke, or they were trying to get people to take their marketing calls. Not that any offers of mortgages or credit cards came his way any more. His mobile phone didn’t ring that often. His son had given him one to try and drag him into the twentieth century, ten years too late. It was old and solidly built, a bit like Gary. His son had mocked him for it a mere twelve months later, asking when he was going to update it. Gary had shrugged and smiled, quietly thinking there were a good ten years more use in the contraption yet.

He pulled it out to check it was still working and was startled when the screen lit up with a loud shrieking bell. The screen didn’t display a number, just the word ‘UNKNOWN’ in large black capitals.

The advice slip was still in Gary’s other hand.

ANSWER THE PHONE.

“‘Ullo?”

“Is that Gary?” A female voice with an American twang piped down the phone.

“Yeah, this is Gary, ooo’s this?”

“Oh Gary, it’s Margie, I’m so glad I found you.”

Margie. His brother’s wife, from Connecticut.

“Gary, I called Colin, he gave me your cell number. Gary… I’m so sorry, but Norman passed away.”

Gary stopped and sat down on a bench, an overwhelming sadness flowing over his cold bones. He had known his brother was in failing health for a few years. They’d exchanged a few letters. Norman had told him about the emphysema, hinting that Gary should come visit them. But Gary had no passport, and too much pride to ask for a loan to pay for one.

“I’m right sorry to hear that Margie. I… I hope he went easy, like.”

“He just fell asleep one night and never woke up. He was so tired at the end.”

“Well, let me know where I should send a card for the funeral Margie. On account of ‘aving no passport I won’t be there, like.”

“Gary… I’m coming to England. Norman wanted his ashes scattered in the park where you and he played as boys. I need to talk to you about Norman’s will…”

Time slipped away as Gary sat and listened to his sister-in-law telling him how his life was about to change…

*

Some time later, Gary made it to the Red Lion and sat up on his usual seat, still feeling rather dazed from the long call. The usual bar maid, Anne, ambled cheerfully down the bar towards him. The staff liked Gary. He spent plenty, never got rowdy or pinched their bottoms and always had a friendly word.

“‘Allo Gary, usual pint love?”

“No, not today Anne. Today… Today I’d like a Bells lovey, if you’d a splash left.”

Anne was shocked. “Whiskey at this time of day? Gary Maybury, what has gotten into you!”

“Well,” Gary smiled, “a bit of sad news mixed with some good. Me brother passed on last night.”

“Oh Gary,” Anne’s face drooped in sympathy. “What a shame, here’s to his memory,” she sat the tumbler of golden liquid down in front of him.

“Aye lass, here’s to Norman,” Gary agreed, taking a sip, “But here’s to him double again for the good turn he’s done me.” He grinned at the bar maid, eeking out his first bit of good news in a long time. “Y’see, Norm went out and founded his own business in America, and now he’s left it to his wife Margie and to me. So Margie wants me to go out there and run it with her.”

“Gary! Good God lad, are you really upping sticks to go? What are you going to do out there?”

Gary sipped a little more whiskey and hugged himself. This was the best bit.

“He had his own bar. I’m gonna be a landlord of me own boozer! It’s a gift from Norman and from God.”

Anne snorted, hardly believing her ears. “Don’t tell me you’ve found God after all those Sunday School sessions you skipped out on mister.”

Gary pulled out his tenner to pay for the Whiskey, along with the little yellow note, all ready to relay the story of the note that told him to answer the phone.

“God works in mysterious ways, Annie girl. And sometimes, he uses cash machines…”

 

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