If Prince had been my father

Prince drove slowly through town, crossing into Front Street then easily finding a double space to accommodate his Red Corvette.  The top of the car was already down; Prince knew I liked to drive with the top down – even when it was cold and drizzly.  The wind would be in our hair and the sun on our backs as we drove North along the sea front – the long way – to get home.  Fortunately, today, it was bright sunshine and blue skies. Prince put the automatic car in ‘Park’ and undid his seat belt then, taking off his sunglasses, caught a glimpse of himself in the rear-view mirror and smiled.  A passer-by mistakenly thought Prince was smiling at him and smiled back broadly.

‘Hi Prince, how are you?’  the passer-by said, carrying on walking.

‘I’m good, thank you’, Prince replied, raising his hand in greeting.

Prince smiled to himself.  What a start to the day!  He placed his sunglasses in the glove box, picked up the bag of candied pecans from the passenger seat and stepped out of the car.  He adjusted his peach suit, straightening his trousers where they met his heeled boots and doing up two of his jacket buttons.  He didn’t lock the car, not in this town.

‘Hey Prince – you want me to clean that windscreen for you while you’re at the school?’  Pete had come out of the Car Body Shop across the road when he’d seen Prince pull up in the Corvette. 

‘Sure, Pete.  That’d be perfect.’  Prince replied as he started to turn away then, hesitating, turning back to face Pete.  ‘Hey Pete, how’s your Mom doing?  I know she’s been ill’.

‘Oh Prince, that’s good of you to ask, she’s really well now – she’s already back home.’  Pete replied.

Prince put his hand gently on Pete’s arm.  ‘That’s good to hear.  Hey, can I give you something, for cleaning the car?’  Prince looked directly at Pete as he said it.

‘Oh Prince, get away!’.  Pete said.

Prince smiled and gently patted Pete’s arm then, smiling, turned and walked away, raising a hand to Pete as he walked past Midland Bank towards the school.

Jack, the fishmonger, was clearing down the ice from the open front of his shop as Prince passed by on the other side of the road.

‘Hey Prince.’ Jack shouted across the road to Prince.  ‘I’ve got a pint of prawns left in the back if you’d like them.’

‘Shell-on?’ Prince shouted back, with a smile.

Jack smiled at the rhetorical question.  He wouldn’t offer Prince small brown shrimp or those tiny, shelled prawns everyone else wanted.  Prince only really liked shell-on prawns.  Jack smiled and turned quickly, heading for the back of the shop.

Prince crossed the road and, by the time he was outside Jack’s shop, his high boots crunching over the discarded ice on the path, Jack was back at the front of the shop with the prawns in a white plastic bag, tied at the top with a red plastic tag.

‘What can I give you, Jack’.  Prince already knew the answer.

‘Get away with ya.’  Jack accentuated his thick Geordie accent for Prince’s benefit.  It worked and Prince smiled broadly at him.

‘Well thank you, Jack.  You are indeed a gentleman’.  Prince said.

‘Anytime, Prince.  Anytime.’ With that, Jack turned back to cleaning down the ice display, raising his hand as Prince crossed back over the road towards the school.

Prince carried on along the road, raising a hand in greeting as he passed the Post Office, the cobbler and the small antique shop.  He dangled the keys for the Corvette in one hand, the candy in the other.  The prawns, he’d put into his pocket for later.

Approaching the school, his pace slowed and he scanned the line of parents at the gate.  Keeping himself to one end of the line, he nodded a greeting as the other parents interrupted their conversations to look up and smile or wave, then, turning, return to their conversations.

I was standing beside Prince and, as I looked up, Prince’s eyes met mine and we smiled at each other.  Unbelievably, I am an adult.  I’m wearing black dungarees and black Dr Marten boots – Bananarama rather than Madonna.

I had this dream maybe a hundred times – first when I was a child.  Over the years, the dream became more and more elaborate.  At first, Prince simply turned up at the school gates.  No parents, no children, no me.  But later, he settled in to being an easy presence in town.  He knew all the shopkeepers, he’d come in the Red Corvette, he made friends with the other parents.  Once, he gave Lisa Lisa a lift, letting her out at the church at the top of Front Street.  She was looking for guitar strings and Prince, not wanting to be late for me, dropped her at the roundabout rather than taking her all the way to the location of the guitar shop on Livingston View.  At home, being big Prince fans, we’d talk about the dream a lot.  In fact, we talked about it so often, so anecdotally, that new friends would sometimes ask if it had really happened.  My children later referring to the dream when the real Prince died, thinking I would be devastated.  Of course, I was devastated, not because my imaginary friend had died, or even because the greatest musician in my living memory had gone.  But because all the Prince dreams had filled a hole, soaked up the sadness, pushed out the loneliness.  And, quite suddenly, with him gone, I was back there, a small girl, waiting alone at the school gates.

Born in London, UK, Lotie Parker grew up in Newcastle and still lives in the North of England. She is working on a novel alongside writing flash fiction inspired by the pandemic. Her work was shortlisted for the Writers Retreat Award and has been published in Minute Magazine.

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