In Search of Mr Right
Once upon a time, on a High Street not so very far from here, a fresh-faced young virgin looked up from the record counter at Woolworth’s, straight into the beautiful chestnut-brown eyes of Mr Right. Flustered, colouring to the tips of her dainty little ears, she looked down again immediately and began flicking through the albums in the ‘W’ rack, and when she looked up again, he had gone.
But the image of his perfection was imprinted on her mind. She had to see him again. Over the next few days and weeks and months, she searched for him in all the likely places. But her efforts were fruitless. Roaming through the record shops, she had several sightings of shaggy Afghan coats, but none of them were on the back of Mr Right. Loitering with a raspberry milk-shake in yet another coffee-bar, she was afforded multiple glimpses of men with flowing golden curls, but none adorning the head of her prince charming.
At that point, she could have given up on life, taken to her bed in despair, but, being a practical kind of girl, she decided to cut her losses and accept an invitation to see Tommy at the flicks across the road with Mr Good-enough. A meal at the Wimpy bar followed soon after. Before she knew it, she was back on the High Street discussing wedding bouquets at the florist's. Then, after the proper interval, inquiring about remedies for colic and nappy-rash at Boot's. Later, with the kids settled at school, she had a desk at Prospect Residentials, popping out at lunchtimes to pick up some shopping from the Co-op.
She loved her husband, her children, her job, even; never mind that it placed her lower, in the eyes of the general public, than politicians and traffic wardens. A proper fairy-tale ending. I should be happy.
Why, then, thirty-odd years on, are my dreams still haunted by a man I thought the spit of Roger Daltry? Why is each waking moment filled with thoughts of how life might have been had I had the courage to engage him in a deep-and-meaningful conversation about the relative merits of Pictures of Lily over Substitute when I had the chance? I'm not eating, I'm not sleeping, and sex is just going through the motions. My fingernails are chewed down to the stumps like a thirteen-year-old’s and I've given up watching my soaps because I can no longer follow the storyline.
"Tell me what it is you want," says Husband, tears in his eyes. "I can change." He even suggests sessions at Relate.
How can I hope for him to be able to turn back the clock to a time when I was younger than Daughter is now, and twice as naive, to a time before cassettes, CD’s and iPods? How can I blame Mr Good-enough for going bald and podgy on me, for falling asleep before the end of the Six O'clock News? That's just how real life is.
"Get a divorce if you're not happy," says Best Friend. "The kids are grown up. It's time you had some excitement in your life." She's never forgiven Husband for turning down an offer to go bungee jumping with her and her new boyfriend.
"I couldn't," I say. "He'd never get over it."
But, will I get over it? What will happen to me if I can't get the thought of Mr Right out of my mind?
Like the desperate teenager I once was, I look for him everywhere. Each time I go to assess a new property, each time I take a customer for a viewing, I'm scrutinising the faces of middle-aged men, looking for some hint that, if I were to close my eyes and kiss their leathery cheeks, their hair would start growing and their trousers would flare out at the bottom and magic them into my handsome prince.
One day, I'm off to view a property on Castle Street, when the gas board is digging up the road and if I have to find a different route. An unseasonal fog has settled on the town, and I lose my bearings. That's when I come across the little record shop on the corner that I'd swear wasn't there the last time I was round this way. The Slipped Disc, it says above the window, in funky pink and yellow lettering. I just have to go in.
The tinkling of a cow-bell as I push open the door. A waft of sandalwood from the joss-sticks burning on the counter. Rank upon rank of vinyl. It's like stepping into a cheap film-set of the early Seventies.
A man looks up from one of the racks and meets my eyes. The hair, although now quite grey, hangs to his shoulders in luxuriant curls. There's no mistaking those rich brown eyes.
He smiles, as if he's been expecting me. As if he, too, has been searching all these years. "Is it …?"
"Yes?" I can hardly catch my breath.
He laughs, shakes his head. "Sorry, it's just that I've been waiting for the estate agent." He runs his hand through his wavy hair. "Every time somebody walks into the shop my heart misses a beat. I'm a bit jittery about selling up, you see."
"But I'm an estate agent." I have a weird sensation like I'm having someone else's dream.
He looks just as confused. "Okay," he says, without enthusiasm, "it's just that I was expecting a man."
My lip starts wobbling. I mustn't cry. He thinks he can only do business with a man? After all this time, Mr Right turns out to be Mr Chauvinist. Never mind the Seventies; this guy goes right back to the days before women had the vote! And I've been just as ridiculous: building my hopes around a man I've never even spoken to.
He picks up a diary from the counter and opens it up. "Mr King, I was told. But it doesn't matter. I assume he's given you all the details."
The relief makes me feel like bursting into song, but I manage to keep my voice sufficiently sober: "Oh, I see. You're dealing with King’s Commercials. I'm across the road at Prospect Residentials." They do shops, we do houses; it's a matter of specialisation, not gender. Perhaps there's hope for us yet. "I was on my way to a property on Castle Street and got a bit lost with the fog and the roadworks. And then I noticed your shop and thought it looked interesting. What a coincidence you were waiting for an estate agent as well."
"Isn't it?" He takes a step towards me. "Although I'd call it serendipity." He blushes, like a teenager plucking up the courage to propose to his girlfriend. "Do you mind if I ask you something?"
I hold my breath. Surely, this is it, the moment I've been waiting for.
"You needn't tell me if it's a trade secret. But, I don't know, there's something that's been on my mind ever since I spoke to Mr King on the phone. Is it true that estate agents sometimes give you a valuation a bit on the low side? Maybe they've got a friend who's going to snap it up on the cheap before it goes on the market?"
Once again, I feel wrong-footed. This wasn't in the script. I'm starting to feel rather light-headed. Maybe it's that sickly sandalwood getting to me.
Mr Right steps to the side, leans his belly against one of the racks of records. "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked. You must get fed up with all those stories about crooked estate agents. It's just that I'm nervous about having to sell up. I've got so attached to this place."
I look around. No sign of any customers. "Business not so good then?"
He shrugs. "Not that bad. Not bad enough to sell up, anyway. But it's my wife. Wants to go back and live in Germany to be nearer her parents now they're getting on a bit."
His wife! Things keep on coming between us, like a thorny thicket springing up on the path to the enchanted palace. Stupid not to expect it: as if I truly believed he'd keep himself for me for thirty years. It's just that I so much need him to be my knight in shining armour, galloping across continents to rescue me from my turret. Each disappointment, each obstacle along the way, makes it less likely that he'll get there before I die of a broken heart.
I've got to take charge of my own destiny. My heart is pounding in my chest. I'm going to have to act fast. I can't just let the moment pass me by like I did all those years ago. "Are you sure you're going to leave this place?" I say. "I mean, it must be a great job. Such a pity to give it up." Even princesses have to be prepared to fight for what they want.
We stare into each other's eyes with total understanding. Then he looks away quickly and starts flicking through the albums in the rack in front of him. I look down as his fingers hesitate over The Who’s Live at Leeds.
"It was okay," I say, "but I preferred Quadrophrenia myself."
"That is so gross," says Daughter. "I'll die of embarrassment! Didn't you even think of us?"
"Go for it," says Best Friend. "Life is for living."
"Why not?" says Husband. "A change of career might be just what you need."
"How dare you?" says Eric Knight. "I had my eye on that little shop for a friend."
"That’s really cool," says Son. "All that old vinyl stuff is in for a revival."
I kept the corny name, despite Daughter's protests. Business isn't great, despite Son's optimism. Nevertheless, I'm happy enough running The Slipped Disc; how could I not be when I can play my favourite music all day long? As Best Friend says, when she pops in some mornings for coffee, with Husband's promotion and the children having left home, work needn't be about money so much as it used to be.
As I say, the work's okay but that's not the whole story. The most magical time comes at the end of the working day. That's when I look up and meet the eyes of Mr Good-enough across the record counter. Still bald, still liable to fall asleep in front of the television, still too boring to go bungee jumping, but, after all these years, still the man for me. He leans across the ranks of vinyl and kisses me.
Then I get my coat, lock up the shop, and let Husband drive me off into the sunset.
© Anne Goodwin