Andrew Maunder

The Traffic Warden

It happened years ago and over time I have come to doubt the validity of the facts, preferring to believe my memory has become muddied, that it had all been a dream.

I worked for an estate agency in those days, a branch in Reading town centre around the corner from the Forbury Gardens. I would have been around eighteen at the time and my most prized possession was my nearly new company car that helped open the doors to many women at the time - with my vinyl music collection a close second. The company supplied us with season tickets for the NCP car park that used to be opposite the prison but my office had space around the back which we would use rather than walk the extra 300yrds. Even then, on some occasions, if I had a series of appointments which would mean a lot of coming and going, I would simply block the traffic and stop on the yellow lines right outside the branch. How I ever evaded a slap from the many angry motorists I held up I'll never know!

My story started on one such occasion when my car was attracting all number of toots and gestures while I sat nonchalantly at my desk.

I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye, a yellow peril - officialdom at its worst and I cursed my luck at the prospect of a ticket. She saw me through the large plate glass window but instead of taking my vehicle's number, she came on over to the office door and strode right in.
"Is that your car?" she demanded of me, waving her notebook in the direction of the chaos outside.
"Eh, yes, I'm sorry. I'll move it immediately," I said quickly. During my time in the town centre I'd learnt to treat the wardens with the utmost respect and I was already on my feet with keys at the ready.
She stood in front of me, blocking my path.
"I wasn't going to ask you to move it," she said bluntly, "I'd like to know if you would come to dinner with me!"
The words hit me like a brick between the eyes. I was stunned and stopped dead in my tracks. My colleague, who until then had taken no interest in proceedings, looked up in utter amazement. The manager gulped his coffee and choked as it went down the wrong way and the secretary, Pam, actually burst out laughing, half expecting (she admitted later), to discover the 'warden' was some strip-a-gram wind-up.

Without batting an eyelid and always being one to seize the moment I replied that I would love to. She was in her early twenties, slightly overweight but not unattractive and I figured that if she had the guts to ask I couldn't really refuse. Besides, I thought it could be a handy way to gain extra parking concessions! We arranged that I would pick her up at her flat behind Reading Station the following Wednesday and by the time the day came round I had become the butt of a thousand jokes within the company - word had spread quickly. I consoled myself that much of it was pure jealousy and I was, in fact, looking forward to the promise of the evening. They were mainly terraced properties where she lived with warehousing on the southern side of the road. She'd told me she rented a room on the top floor of one of the terraces and as I had checked out the address earlier in the week I knew exactly where to go.

I'm not totally stupid. When she answered the door in fishnets, a black mini and white blouse I guessed we weren't going out to eat. Instead she led me through to a large kitchen at the rear of the house and we were immediately engulfed in a cloud of billowing steam which was pouring out of what looked the largest cooker I had ever seen. It was an amazing thing and it reminded me of something a busy restaurant might have. As if to baffle my senses further, a stereo was thumping out a tuneless rhythm I didn't recognise at such a ridiculous volume the sound distorted as the speakers struggled to cope.

Kate (I discovered eventually), disappeared into the smog and re-appeared seconds later dragging a man by his sleeve. Upon seeing me he hugged her around the waist and planted a series of sloppy kisses on her cheek.
"This is Dougy," she announced. "I met him two days ago." I nodded at Dougy who glared back at me. He was fifty at least, I reckoned, with long straggly hair, matching beard and in extremely filthy attire, his tattered jeans were supported with a length of string. I wondered which doorway Kate had found him in and blow me if the next thing she said was;
"I found Dougy in a doorway, didn't I darling!" She looked at him lovingly.

 

 I can only say that I was intrigued and curious enough not to make immediately for the front door.
"You will stay for dinner, won't you?" said Kate. "All the other tenants are out and I don't want to disappoint you." I nodded dumbly, already disappointed. "Dougy will take you up to my room."

I was led up a broad flight of stairs before dog-legging and climbing another, though far narrower one that once again turned in mid-flight. Eventually we entered Kate's room. It was a space around eight feet by ten and consisted of no more than a bed, a rickety wardrobe and set of drawers. The window had almost fallen out of its rotten frame and old wallpaper hung damply off the walls. In the middle of the floor sat a small round table, no more than six inches high, which had been carefully arranged with three place settings, napkins and glasses. If the effect had been to create an oriental atmosphere then the Beef and roast potatoes that duly arrived shattered the illusion entirely. In order to reach the table, I had to remove my shoes and sit cross-legged on the torn, matted carpet. Dougy did the same and I was treated to the visual splendour of his grubby toes poking through a pair of almost non existent socks, not to mention the smell! I wondered what Kate would do given her choice of clothing but she merely hitched the skirt up around her waist and sat down with a thump. The food was surprisingly good, as was the wine and the conversation was never boring, if strange.

I had come to the obvious conclusion that Kate was a little crazy. She told me, as Dougy scowled moodily, that she had been in love with me since spotting me behind my desk in my glass fronted office. She said she had planned the evening for just the two of us but had then met Dougy just days later and realised she had finally found a soul mate with whom she wished to spend the rest of her life! Hummph!

Though the meal had been fine, I suddenly felt extremely tired. A brief sense of nausea swept over me and I shook my head to clear the feeling but the dizziness only increased and I struggled to stand. I collapsed abruptly on the floor again, my legs refusing to hold me and from there on in and ever since I am not entirely sure that the events that followed were real or simply a dream! The memories are such a blur, so uncoordinated and strange. Sensations of warmth, cold, pleasure and pain swept over me, each leaving an indelible stain upon my sub-conscience that, to this day, leave me shaking and afraid at the recollection.

What happened and for how long I'll never really know, I awoke in the small hours, in total darkness and utter silence, confused and still light-headed. The room was not familiar and the object on which I was lying was not a bed for it felt cold and hard against me. In my dream state I had imagined I was naked but now, with relief, I could feel my clothes around me. The soft caress of 'foreign' hands felt no more. I shivered, a long, spine tingling flutter that crept the length of my body and for the first time I noticed the absolute cold. With renewed senses I felt my way on to the floor, tap-tapping the air with my feet until they made contact. I had been placed on a table, of that I was sure and, still in the pitch black, I stood upright and fumbled for the exit. After what seemed an eternity I found the door and twisted the knob. A small beam of light from the street lamps penetrated under the solid front door and in the dim light I could see I was in the reception hall where I'd entered hours ago. The house now possessed a chill that drilled me to the core and I simply wanted to escape, to get as far away as possible. There was a part of me that wanted to go marching right back upstairs and demand to know what the hell they had done to me but the dreadful silence and sense of foreboding was too great and I cannot explain the relief I felt once safely ensconced in my car. I sat and gulped the night air hungrily, feeling better with each breath. When I felt I could, I drove the short distance across town to my office and parked at the back. I didn’t feel able to make it home as my head was thumping and light. I collapsed in the back room and was still there, out cold, hours later in the morning when my colleagues arrived for work. I was a state! My hair was matted, there were dark smudges on my face that continued onto my shirt collar and I later discovered one of my socks was inside out; a cardinal sin for someone whose whole persona revolved around dressing the part. Apart from that, there were no outward signs I had suffered any personal injury whatsoever, just the most excruciating headache.

By the time I'd been home, freshened up and changed my suit, an indignant fury had replaced confusion and fear. I decided to call at the house before going back to work and I thumped on the door, frustrated that no one came to answer. I went back to my office and rang the traffic wardens' office (in those days they were part of Thames Valley Police), in the hope that Kate was on duty, to be told she had left their employment some months previous! I was stunned and not a little worried and I again went round to the house. It looked considerably more derelict than I remembered the night before. I banged the door again and again, refusing to believe what I was seeing with my own eyes. I opened the letterbox and yelled through to the hallway. Eventually, an elderly man from the next door property stuck his head out of a window to enquire at the row I was making. I made an excuse saying I'd left my jacket there the night before during a party but he looked puzzled.
"Couldn't have," he said. A shiver ran down the back of my neck. "Nobody been in there since they evicted those weirdo's," he shook his head slowly, "Nasty lot them," he said. "Up to no good they was, killin' chickens an' chantin' all night long. Been gone more 'n six months now," he added, with a note of relief.

I walked slowly back to my car. I never have discovered what happened to me that night, perhaps I don't want to know. Whatever it was, I've never parked on a double yellow line since!