A face to a name at Boston Spa
Laura’s thoughts were interrupted by her phone ringing, it was an overseas call.
“Hello darling,” the line crackled but the voice was unmistakeable.
“Are you at work, are you busy?”
“No Mum, it’s fine,” Laura spoke softly – it wasn’t a Quiet Carriage but even so, she didn’t want the other passengers to hate her all the way to Leeds.
“I just wanted to speak to you, to let you know that we’re having the most marvellous time, and that your father and I, we really, really love you…” Laura’s mother’s voice faded away and she sniffed theatrically.
“Mum where are you? Are you drunk?”
“Don’t be so cheeky,” her mother giggled before continuing in a voice that even down a rather crackly line was decidedly slurred, “I may have had one or two drinks. Lance and Doreen have been making the most wonderful cocktails with local herbs.”
“Oh dear,” Laura sighed.
It was almost a year since her recently retired parents had decided it was now or never, sold up and gone travelling. They had just posted photos of themselves on Facebook wearing tie-dye and ‘hanging out’ in Arizona with a group of silver haired hippies. After forty uneventful years in Guildford her mother and father appeared to have finally gone completely mad. No, not mad, they were just doing things in reverse. They were the generation who’d gone straight from school to a job and responsibility. Married and mortgaged at twenty one they’d had no real fun when they were young so who could blame them for throwing caution to the wind and taking a belated gap-year.
Laura was almost jealous, she’d love to be running round the Wild West in a Winnebago. Not necessarily in tie-dye with a load of pot-smoking seventy year olds though.
“Is Dad there?”
There was a rustling and then she heard her father’s voice, smooth and reassuring.
“Hi Dad. Are you two alright? Mum sounded a bit, well, odd. You haven’t been doing, you know…” she tailed off, embarrassed to be questioning her parents as if they were naughty teenagers.
“Everything’s fine Laura. Your mother has just gone a bit overboard with all the new age stuff, you know what she’s like when she gets going on a craze. We’re having a lovely time, the scenery’s amazing, sunshine every day, bit too hot for me actually, but it’s very nice. There’s nothing for you to worry about I promise. And how are you, are you doing anything exciting?”
“No not really. I’m just going up to Boston Spa for the day for work – I’m on the train now. It’s sunny here today too.” Why do we always talk about the weather? “Look I’d better go, people are looking and I think there’s a tunnel-” and sure enough the line went dead.
Laura put her phone away and smiled to herself. She could just imagine her dad trailing devotedly after her mum and pretending to like the Grateful Dead. Oh well, they say the whole point of travel is to broaden the mind.
There was just time to skim through the rest of 1953 in the almanac before the train pulled in to Leeds station. Someone was supposed to be collecting her from the station and she looked around as she went through the barriers. A skinny young man approached her hesitantly and Laura smiled to herself, this must be him.
“Are you Laura?”
“Hello, I’m Tom. When I saw it was you coming I volunteered to be taxi.”
“Oh thanks for coming Tom, I didn’t know it would be you. It’s nice to put a face to a voice.” They shook hands awkwardly. How did her parents’ generation make shaking hands look so natural? She always felt slightly fraudulent.
They crossed the road and got into Tom’s car, Laura sitting in the passenger seat with the precious cargo of books balanced on her knee. As they drove out of the city towards Boston Spa, she could sense that he wanted to speak – he was drumming his fingers against the steering wheel, and why else would he have come to the station to pick her up? Part of her didn’t want to say anything at all, but the whole reason she’d couriered the books was to try and see the empty shelves for herself, and Tom might just be able to help. When he finally plucked up the courage to ask her about the missing files she decided to be as vague as possible.
“I was just doing some research for a customer, but they didn’t go into much detail so I’m not really sure what it’s all about. That’s one of the reasons I offered to bring up the fine volumes, so I could take a look for myself.”
“Okay…” Tom didn’t sound that keen, he was recalling his encounter with Mr Angry. “I suppose it will still be lunchtime when we get there, so it should be fairly quiet down in the stacks. I remember where it was so we can go straight there.”
Once they arrived at the main building Laura deposited the library bag with the security guard at the front desk. He was expecting the books and gave her a receipt.
“What about that one?” he nodded at the almanac poking out from the top of her bag.
“No no, there’s only three, it’s on the docket.” The guard looked suspicious but checked his copy of the docket and grunted. She took that as her cue to go, and she and Tom headed for the lifts.