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A Tramcar Named Desire

by scriever 

Posted: 16 October 2016
Word Count: 996
Summary: A love story set in Manchester, mostly aboard a tram. This is the first short story I wrote, about four years ago, and remains one of my favourites.

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A Tramcar Named Desire

We met in The Matchstick Man, cos it’s close to all of us and right by the tram. Being a Saturday, there were the usual gangs of lads there, we knew most of them, and there were some groups of lasses, some on the prowl, some out in big gangs. A group of lasses at the next table were noisy – they all had pink sashes on with someone’s name on it, and they were done up to the nines. 

‘Where we going then?’ 

We decided in the usual way, all of us chipping in and then Tommy deciding. So the Baa, then Gorilla’s, it was. In the tram, we spread ourselves out, a double seat each, but just as the doors were closing, in charged the hen party. 

‘Budge up, lads’ ordered one of them, a hefty sort who looked as if she could handle herself in a bare knuckle contest. We moved into two seats. There were four of us and about a dozen of them. One that came in last sat across the aisle from me – the nicest looking one, certainly the quietest, dressed quite simply compared to the purple and gold excesses of her mates. She caught my eye, gave me a small, quick smile, as if she was apologising for the rest of them, or maybe I just thought that. 

The tram trundled on, with the mandatory five minute wait by the canal. The canal’s pretty scummy, with all sorts of stuff on top of the water, but a narrowboat was gliding along, and seeing it underneath the green canopy of the trees, in the slanting evening sun, it was almost magical. It could have been anywhere, France even, and the old chap standing on the deck at the back, steering, was smoking a pipe, which completed the picture. The tram lurched into life and we were on our way again. I followed the narrowboat until it was out of sight, craning my neck, and caught the eye of the quiet one sitting near me. She had been watching it too. I smiled, but she didn’t respond. 

The pubs and clubs were full of the usual nutters, mingling without meeting, like Lowry’s crowds of matchstick people, only occasionally coming into contact. Our contact that night was with a group of prats from Oldham, spoiling for a fight, and naturally Eddie obliged, leaving him with a split lip and a bruise under his eye that would be a source of pride when he got back to work on Monday. He’d make up his usual exaggerated tale of being jumped by five City supporters, leaving two on the ground while the other three ran away. Nobody but his mum believed him of course.  

We ran for the last tram home, just got it, fell laughing into the seats by the door. A couple of old guys sitting in the next seats gave us a bit of a look and went back to their argument. Tommy and Nick started one of their own arguments, the usual one, was Tupac better than Biggie Smalls? It would never end, could never end. They were  both crap as far as I was concerned. The old guys got into it too, and it became one of these late night tram arguments, old music versus new, who was better, Tom Jones or Robbie Williams. My eye wandered along the tram, looking at the faces – and stopped when I came to a pair of eyes looking right back at me – it was the quiet one, still with her mates, still looking pretty good, better than most of her mates anyway. She was sat beside a particularly overweight one in a purple dress, way too short, fast asleep, head bobbing with the motion of the tram. 
The argument beside me was getting louder – who sang Downtown? The old guys said Petula Clark, Nick was sure it was Sandie Shaw. Tommy called me to settle it: ‘Barry’ll know – who was it sang Downtown, Barry, Sandie Shaw or Pet Clark?’ I told them it was Petula Clark. ‘Who was Sandie Shaw, then, what did she sing?’ So I got dragged into the drunken argument, and by the time it was finished, she was gone; must have got off at the last stop. I was suddenly sad, felt as if I’d lost something I’d never really had in the first place. We all got off at the Quays, went our separate ways, the volume of our goodbyes dependent on our particular stage of drunkenness. 

When I got home I went straight to my bed, dropping my clothes where I took them off. Next morning, my mum clucked around picking them up, making as much noise as she could manage. ‘What’s this in your shirt pocket, that’s not your handwriting?’ She was squinting at a slip of paper that had been in the breast pocket of last night’s shirt. She laid it down on my bedside table, and later, when I surfaced for a second time, I had a look at it. 

A mobile number, and a name, Tracy. It must have been her! She must have dropped it in my pocket when she left the tram! A thrill ran through me and I was instantly awake. I had a shower, some breakfast, came back to the room, the piece of paper looking me right in the eye. Eventually, later on that day, I plucked up my courage, and called the number. 

I looked at the small person sitting on my knee. ‘And that, Louise, is how I met your Gran. Our eyes met across a crowded tram. Long time ago now, when Sir Alex was still in charge at United.’ Louise’s mum laid a cup of tea down for me. ‘Not that old story again, Dad’ she said. ‘You should write it down so you don’t forget it.’ 

Perhaps I will, one day. 


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Comments by other Members

michwo at 16:46 on 17 October 2016  Report this post
Welcome to WW though I haven't been on it long myself, only since late August.
Thank you for your comment on "The Squirrel and the Crow".  I've just posted the first story I wrote come to think of it entitled "Supper at Emmaus" and you'll be doing well if you can get through all the foreign names!  I was heavily into Art documentaries on BBC4 and Andrew Graham-Dixon did one about one of the artists in Vasari's Lives, Pontormo.  He seemed a bit of an eccentric so I bought a copy of his diary, which was quite a rare book and mused over it till I came up with the basic ideas for the story.  It is what it is.  Sorry.  Nothing like the Metrolink in Manchester.  I used to live in Oldham.  Perhaps I'm a nutter too, but not in the same way as the gang you met up with in the night club.  There used to be a nightclub next to Oldham Sainsbury's off Union Street, Henry Africa's.  I think they pulled it down to build a new improved Sainsbury's which used to be off Manchester Street.  Your story is upbeat and has a happy ending.  It's nice when women like you even for me and I'm a shy 67-year-old singleton!  Tracy wouldn't be my type I don't suppose. P.S. If you look in the archive you should find a translation I did called "The Novel on the Tram" about an off-the-wall tram journey through Madrid circa 1900.  Ecstasy hadn't been invented then, but there's quite a psychedelic passage in it even so.  Actually it was probably horse-drawn but I replaced the word 'coachman' with 'driver' to make it seem more modern.  Strangely enough there's a Tennessee Williams play on at the moment at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester - "A Streetcar Named Desire"!!!

AlanRain at 17:45 on 17 October 2016  Report this post

We met in The Matchstick Man, cos it’s close to all of us and right by the tram.

I like how the voice is established at the outset.

Being a Saturday, there were the usual gangs of lads there, we knew most of them, and there were some groups of lasses, some on the prowl, some out in big gangs.

The sentence could do with a prune, I think. I would put a full stop, or maybe semi-colon, after lads (omit there.) At present you have a comma splice, which is a bit jarring. 'Some' before groups says nothing. Groups of lasses is enough. Prowl and big gangs could do with clarification or a better description.
Okay, I'm not going to be so picky all the way through, but I feel this sentence, coming so soon, indicates a tendency towards unnecessary words, but a lack of vivid description.
Instead of saying the lasses were noisy, show this by describing them. Noisy can be anything, and might be down to shouting, or some other non-human sounds (eg. furniture scraping, radios).
Who's speaking?
I assume the names apply to bars? or nightclubs?
What was going on in the tram? A bit of sensory info here to place the time and period? I don't know Manchester, so any info would help.
My interest perks up with the girl across the aisle, but I want to know more about how the narrator sees her. Could you use a simile to show the effect of her smile? What exactly is she wearing? Her colour? Hair? Figure? Some interesting detail would be useful.

The canal’s pretty scummy, with all sorts of stuff

Again, I feel there is a copping out of giving detail.
In what way magical? Demonstrate it.
Two x contact when a different word could set the scene. I like the reference to Lowry. Nicely visual, but 'nutters' depends on the period, and I still don't know what the year is. In my youth, nutters were the hard boys looking for a fight, but now they're just as likely to be drug addicts or religious fanatics. Okay, so the rest of the para confirms the thuggish types, and makes me believe this is about the 70s or 80s, maybe a bit later.

The last tram - so, nothing much about the evening, which sets up the meeting with the girl. Haven't a clue about the Tupac argument. Yes, the girl is back - but 'pretty good' says very little. Again, I'm disappointed by lack of specifics about her, compared to the detail about the bars and the music.
Getting involved in the drunken argument about 60's (?) music sets the narrator as a bit of a gump when the girl is there and he's attracted to her. Perhaps he deserved to feel sad?
I'm thrown right off track by the mobile phone. I thought we were in the latter part of the previous century.

It must have been her! She must have dropped it in my pocket when she left the tram! A thrill ran through me and I was instantly awake.

Underplayed? I think something more is needed here, something to convey his excitement. 'A thrill' doesn't do it for me.
Aha - a jump forward. So, I was right about the period - Ferguson was manager in the late 80s I think.
So, Louise must be two or three? If Tracy is her gran, that is some considerable jump ahead. 50 years? So, now we're in 2040 or thereabouts?

The thing I like most is the voice, which is consistent throughout. As a short story, it's also satisfying with a credible, if simple, outcome, so I can believe and buy into what is presented. I do think there are deficiencies and I've tried to explain these as I went along. My main issue is with the character of Tracy, who is very underdeveloped. She could be anybody, and I have no idea what he sees in her.
You are free to ignore anything and everything I've written, of course.

Catkin at 00:56 on 18 October 2016  Report this post
This is a sweet, enjoyable and at times amusing story with a nice period feel, and it’s well and cleanly written.

I was suddenly sad, felt as if I’d lost something I’d never really had in the first place

I love this - it perfectly describes that particular feeling.

I can only see one thing to criticise - in a word, time: both the way that the fairly distant past of the story twice slides too close to the present, and a number of anachronisms.

To take the time slips first, when you say, “cos it’s close to all of us and right by the tram”, that makes it seem that it is still ‘close to us’, but these events were fifty years or so ago. You need a ‘was’ in there: it was close to us. The same applies to “The canal’s pretty scummy”, even if the canal still is scummy after all these years.

The anachronisms I noticed are these:

Hen nights didn’t really take off in the UK until after the 60s. I don’t remember girls in those matching sashes, etc, in the 80s; I think that was a fashion that started around the 1990s. Couldn’t you make the girls just a big group on a big night out? This is the 60s, isn’t it? You could have them all in mini dresses and beehives.

They certainly wouldn’t have been arguing about Robbie Williams. Tom Jones, yes; but not Robbie, who was not even a gleam in his father’s eye at the time.

And then there’s the mobile number, about twenty years before the first mobile phones.

But apart from those few time-slips, lovely stuff. It’s quite rare that my critiques are as short as this, but I honestly can’t find any other nitpicks. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Edited to add: Ah, I have now read Alan's critique, and this is the 80s, not the 60s? All my time-slip points still stand, though - hardly anyone had a mobile in the 80s. It seemed to have a very 60s feel to me; especially the man steering the tram from the back and smoking a pipe.

scriever at 13:07 on 18 October 2016  Report this post
Thanks for your comments, Catkin. I should clear up the timing issue: the story was written about 2010, shortly after a weekend break in Manchester, and was inspired by tram rides into and out of the city centre from the Quays - the hen night, the four lads being squashed into two seats, the drunken conversations on the tram back, the longboat on the canal, were all there. Alex Ferguson was the Man Utd manager. The meeting between the two protagonists is supposed to have happened then. The final para, when the narrator speaks to his grandaughter, is some time in the future. Allowing for the potential ages of Louise and her mum, I would guess the story's being told to Louise around 2030. Louise's mum could be about 4, maybe 5 at this moment, depending on how quickly the realtionship between her mum and dad developed!



(By 'this moment' in the final sentence I mean 2016!)

Catkin at 10:43 on 21 October 2016  Report this post
Ah - it ends in the distant future. I see.

Alan and I both thought this was the fairly distant past, and I think there are reasons for our thinking that. For one thing, I know there are still some cities with trams, but they were much more common in the past. I think just the idea of trams immediately biases one towards thinking of the first half of the last century. Then there is the use of the words 'lads' and 'lasses' - which, fair enough, people still say now, but those words do have a period feel, especially for readers who aren't northern. Then there are the references to 60s music, and the canal-boat man smoking that now almost extinct item, a pipe. And then there's the name Tracy, which is a name from an earlier era, and wasn't a popular baby name at the time Tracy would have been born. There are so many things that make one think of the past, not the present.

And then, when we do move to the future, it's not immediately obvious that we are in the future (it might be obvious to someone who knows about football, but as I don't, I'm afraid I didn't take Alex F. on board).

I think if you put something into it early on to make it clear that this is the modern day, make all the music references current and change Tracy's name, then it would be fine. Also, the fact that this story ends in the future could work as a twist ending - just as long as we know, when we get there, that it is the future.

AlanRain at 11:39 on 21 October 2016  Report this post

make all the music references current

I think this is a logical solution, but it would mean (possibly?) losing readers who have zero interest in contemporary pop music, like myself. (But at the time adored Sandie Shaw. I admit it - cheeky). So, if Scriever had used more up-to-date references I wouldn't have read to the end.


Jennifer1976 at 19:57 on 22 October 2016  Report this post
Hi Ross,

I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this story. I felt at ease with the narrator from the start and I could hear his voice all the way through. I also liked the music references. Oh, and the title, great title, which echoes the Manchester references throughout. Great stuff.

The only suggestion I would give is that I'd have liked to have been given more of a taste of Tracy -- some little detail about the way she looked, the way she spoke, or her character so that I could have really got how the MC felt about her.

Apart from that though, I thought this was a cracking story and I'm sure you can find a home for it somewhere. What are you planning to do with it?

All the best,


Catkin at 23:10 on 22 October 2016  Report this post

I felt at ease with the narrator from the start and I could hear his voice all the way through

Yes, I second that. Sometimes, one needs to remember to say what's good, as well as picking up on what needs work. This piece has an excellent and consistent voice.

Chestersmummy at 18:00 on 02 November 2016  Report this post
Hi Ross,

Seemed I've joined the party late but I, too, would like to say how much I enjoyed this story.   It was sweet, nostalgic and had a happy ending that wasn't mawkish.

Well done


TassieDevil at 11:41 on 05 November 2016  Report this post
Hi Ross,
Been meaning to comment for awhile so apologies for lateness.
Like some of the others I'm pretty familiar with Manchester and the trams. I lived in Saddleworth in the eighties and nineties near the dreaded Oldham where I worked for ten years. Used to visit Manchester a lot shopping and Mrs Devils family. These day i spend a month or more there each year and you capture the essence of the city and people very well. The icing on the cake is the undercurrent of the romance that lifts the story to a new level.. 
I loved the pictures that you painted and with a few changes I could picture this happening back in the sixties too (not sure if trams were around then). A universal quality.Nevertheless it had a great contemporary feel to it. The ending jarred me though, especially in light of other comments. To take us from a real nostalgic past to some imaginary future didn't seem satisfying. I felt cheated in fact.  
I wondered if shifting the original story back in time with the ending in the present might be more consistent. In any case it was a great read with lots of personal identification for me. So thanks for that.

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