Should I Know You? by Harry Downey

Ian loses his job, and his day is about to get even worse - but what matters is how he deals with it; by Harry Downey.

3.33pm Tuesday 23rd

"Right, you're all here then. I'll come straight to the point and it's bad news. At the end of the month this office is closing down and we'll all be unemployed. The firm's been taken over and everything is going online from a call centre up in the North East somewhere. No exceptions - everybody here is in the same boat: me included. Apparently it's going to be national - every branch office is getting the chop. The new people will give us what money we're entitled to - please don't ask me for details - I don't have them. There'll be a little bit extra on top as well, I'm told. A man from Head Office will be coming down tomorrow or Thursday. He'll have individual envelopes for each of us with all the details. So there you have it. That's all I know at present. Under the circumstances I'll stick my neck out and say that anyone who wants time off for interviews and things will be given it. Sorry folks, that's it for now. Don't ask me questions as I don't have the answers."


Two cars had had a shunt and blocked Disraeli Street near the bridge just before rush hour. It didn't look serious - no ambulance or anything obvious - but it caused a tailback. Ian had been stuck in it and couldn't turn round to go another way, so as he opened the front door he knew he was in trouble. Twenty minutes late. Good excuse or not he braced himself for a tirade.

"Sorry, dear, there was an accident that blocked the road. Nothing I could do about it. Sorry." Instead of the ear-bashing he expected there was silence. The house was in darkness, and chilly with no central heating on. With an empty table in the dining room and no signs of food preparation in the kitchen, Ian became increasingly uneasy. Relief came when he saw the envelope on the mantelpiece in the living room. The single word "Ian" in handwriting he instantly recognised. His world changed in the next few seconds.

I have left you. Peter Millbrook and I have today moved away from Sinfield. Where we are now doesn't make any difference. Our marriage has finished. It should have ended a long time ago but I felt sorry for you and stayed when I should have gone. The only regret I have is that I'm telling you in this manner rather than face to face. If you haven't seen it coming, the signs were there under your nose and you should have. Peter and I have been in love for over three years now. If you want to contact me I still have my mobile. One good thing about this is we have no children to bother about. We should have had but when I checked with a doctor he said my side of it was fine. So, like almost everything that went wrong, it was down to you.

I suppose you will be bitter but let us try to be civil and civilised about it. You won't see me again - except maybe in court at the divorce I assume you will want. I won't be greedy and asking for a lot of money - just what I feel is mine. After that Peter has enough for both of us.

What you tell other people is up to you. For my part I won't tell anyone about the bloody awful marriage I've had to a boring, unexciting, feeble, pathetic apology for a man. You're not 30 yet, but you've been middle-aged for years. You're a wimp, a loser. I shall never know why I didn't spot it before we ever married.

Convention says I should sign this 'with affection' or something, but I can't be that much of a hypocrite. What I feel for you is pity more than anything else.


Ian stood there - stunned. He felt as if he'd been hit in the stomach by Mike Tyson. As he always did at moments of stress he fingered the scar near his jaw, a reminder of infant school and a playground fall.

Earlier the same day

'I know that's your regular seat, Ian. Take it before it goes. Full for a Tuesday, aren't they? How are we then? Jane alright today?'

Ian mumbled something as he sat down, then busied himself looking at the menu as he tried to cover his confusion. Small place, with just eight tables - but Ian would swear that he'd never seen this chap before. From his regular seat in the corner, exactly where he was sitting now, he could see everyone in the room - and this guy? No, never. Shabby, more than just a bit down at heel, dirty beige mac, needed a haircut, not shaved for days by the look of it. That grey stubble on his chin looked a right old mess. Grubby: the sort of chap who if you called him a dirty old man you wouldn't be far out. No, not here in the Miramar - he'd stick out like a sore thumb. And the clientele were a youngish lot while this old chap must have been well into his sixties.

The waitress came over and Ian gave her his order. The man nodded approvingly, 'Good choice. If you find something you like - why not stick with it? Beans on toast is your thing - so as they say everywhere these days, 'Enjoy'.' Ian knew full well he was a man of fixed habits, but finding that a complete stranger knew he had the same meal two or three times in the week was a bit unnerving.

The man started eating, so for a while he spoke little. Looking at him again, Ian became increasingly sure he didn't know him: should I ask him who he is, how he knows me, or just leave it and expect never to see him again? Yeah, that's it. Do nothing and chalk it up as a weird happening.

Then the man spoke again. 'Jack Cunliffe. Do you see him about much these days? You remember Jack down at Fareham's? Must be getting on a bit now, old Jack. He had that back problem for years, of course. Still, no point in me telling you that, seeing as you've worked at Fareham's for what - ten years now, isn't it? I know it was a January you started but I can't remember whether it was ninety-two or ninety-three.'

He'd finished his meal and topped up his teacup - no milk and no sugar, Ian noted approvingly - at least they had one thing in common. Then he stood up. 'Just before I go lad, a word of advice from someone who knows. Been there, and round the block a few times. No matter how bad things get for you, try and fight back. I didn't and look at me. You still have time and the chance to get it all together again. Don't do what I did.' Just before he finally went he came out with a remark that puzzled Ian as much as anything else he had said. 'No woman is worth that much.'

The old man went to the pay desk, then walked out without another word. From the pavement he looked back through the door - Ian was still there at the table, just sorting out some money for his bill. Wistful, sad, regretful, concerned; it would be hard to put an exact word to the look on his face as he watched the younger man. Finally, shaking his head sadly he walked off, fingering the scar under the stubble as he did so.


  1. nice story, very well written, there ´s a lesson here: don´t waste it!

    Michael McCarthy

  2. "When the past calls, let it go to voicemail. It has nothing new to say." (Unknown author) HOWEVER, when the future comes calling...