That Time Again

‘Well, Meg. It’s that time again.’

Fred stands on the door step, puffing on the last of cigarette. Meg holds the door open, waiting for him to finish. The sky is bloctchy, black and brown. The streetlights make Fred’s shadow look like a heaving black blob.

‘You’re letting all the warmth out.’ She shivers. Fred tosses his stub into the bush and crosses the threshold. He wipes his feet slowly and deliberately on the doormat. Meg cannot watch him any longer and heads into the kitchen, exasperated.

The remnants of the pasta bake, which she had just warmed up before he arrived, are now cold. She picks at the pasta shapes with her fork. When he comes in, he pulls out the chair, scraping it along the tiled floor, and starts to take his coat off.

‘No.’ Meg says, ‘You’re not going to be here for that long.’

‘Well, I gotta count the money, don’t I?’ He asks, leaning heavily on the chair.

He’d put on weight. No, muscle. He had always flourished as a bachelor. Underneath his coat he wore a nice suit. Zara Men maybe. TM Lewin?

Fred produces a money clip from the breast pocket of his suit. It  barely contains the thick wad of cash between its teeth. Fred waves it with a smile. Meg barely blink.

‘900 for rent.’ She rattles off,  ‘160 for school dinners. Lex needs a new PE Kit. That’ll be 50. Rowan’s going on holiday with Godmother and he’s going to need spending money.’

‘How much?’

‘Another 50.’

‘Let’s call it 100.’

He counts out the notes, licking his fingers, desperately trying to not to cackle with glee. Meg doesn’t watch the money the way he watches the money. She watches him. How different his very features seems. His soft smiling eyes are mean. Greedy. Lost.

‘What about you?’ He says, sliding the pile of money towards her. ‘You wanna do something? Your hair looks like it needs some love.’

‘I can look after myself, thanks.’

‘Doesn’t look like it.’

‘Well, whatever it looks like, I don’t need anything from you.’

She stands up and chucks the pasta bake in the bin.

‘Maybe not money…’ He says, quietly. When Meg doesn’t turn around, he gets up, joins her at the sink.

‘When was the last time you-‘

He places a hand gently on her shoulder, moves it slowly down her back. Meg suddenly turns around, the fork from the pasta bake hovers dangerously close to Fred’s Adam’s Apple.

‘Take your hands off me.’

He backs away.

‘Relax-‘

‘You think you can come in here, waving your blood money at me and what? Get back in this house?’

‘Megan-‘

‘Do you even care about your kids? Because you never ask about them. You’ve been here for half an hour and you haven’t mentioned them once.’

‘Of course-‘

‘Go home, Freddy. You’ve done your song and dance and now I’d like you to leave.’

‘Megan-‘

‘Now.’

Fred picks up his coat, defeated.

‘I really-‘

‘Out.’

He throws his coat on and leaves. The money on the table flies about in the gust.

 

Advertisements

The Regime: Pause

I slide out from under Partner in the middle of the night. Drag feet as I walk into the bathroom. Sit down to pee, and then realise I don’t need to. Go over to the sink, look at myself in the mirror.

Not Verity anymore. To my astonishment.

Just little old me. Jet black eyes, stern mouth. Special.

I think I’m hungry. Or thirsty.

I think I need to get out of this flat.

Pull hoodie on over T-Shirt and slip out into the night. Walk along the street searching for a light. I think about running away. But where would I go? I don’t know where-

I can’t go home, so what’s the point?

I decide I am hungry when I see a petrol station up ahead. Bright light flashing snacks.

Two cars parked, but apart from that, empty. Quiet. Door chimes as I enter. Boy (Man?) looks up from phone. Nods at me. I nod back.

I peruse the aisles. Chocolate. Wrenches. Crisps. Plasters. I pick the colours that I like and head to the counter. He rings me up.

Fourteen pounds.

I blink at him. Startled, like I’ve never heard of currency.

I don’t have any money.

What?

I look down, hands in pockets. I don’t have any money. I didn’t think-

How much did you say it was?

Fourteen pounds.

I feel about in my pockets still, knowing that I have nothing in them. I could put the snacks back…

But I don’t want to.

I want the snacks. And I used to only do things that I wanted. So, I decide to try that again.

I look up at BoyMan. Smile. He doesn’t smile back but he does watch me long enough for me to form a connection. I reflect his eyes back at him. It’s a weak line; I haven’t practiced in a while. But he’s not a challenge. He works in a petrol station after all.

Let me off this time.

He blinks.

I’ll let you off this time.

Really?

I…think so, yeah.

That’s so nice of you.

I smile.

So, so nice.

He nods, a little dazed. I pick up my treats and begin to leave.

But I can’t. I’m wide awake now. I want to play.

Hey.

Yeah?

It’s easier this time to connect. He waits, slack jawed, for my command.

Empty out the till.

He reaches into the till.I act surprised for the CCTV.

What are you doing?

What does it look like I’m doing?

Put it in a bag and give-

Wrong move.

Put it in a bag and leave the bag in the wheelie bin outside 23 Burns Avenue.

He continues to fill the bag. I head out.

I run, actually. All the way home. I dump all my snacks on the kitchen counter and stare at them.

What have I done?

What a stupid-

What if he can’t find my address?

I stay up the rest of the night, sitting at the living room window, overlooking the drive. I brace every time a car goes past. An hour later, maybe four, I see a figure in a hoodie walking up. He opens the wheelie bin, my wheelie bin, and drops something in it. He looks up at the house and I duck. I don’t know if he sees me. But when I next look out, he’s gone.

I go back to bed like nothing has happened.  Five minutes later Partner’s alarm goes off.

We get up, start our morning routine. I take my pills and the night before fades like a dream. Like with every day, I take the rubbish out to the bins. But when I look inside: There is the bag, full of cash, and what looks like a hand gun.

The Supervisor toots the horn of the car. I drop the rubbish in surprise and go towards him.

I should tell him about the cash, but I don’t.

For the first time in a long time, I lie.

For the first time in a long time, I can see the exit sign.

Not in this timeline

When I finally got out, the world was…It wasn’t the same. Everything was painfully dull. After you watch so many people die, it’s hard to be focused on washing dishes, or brushing your hair. The world is flat and heavy but I feel lighter. Like something otherworldly, floating through it. I have no roots any more, nothing grounding me. Everything I was before, everything I became has been erased. And the weirdest part is, I have no desire to start again. I’m spent. I’ve had enough of trying. I just exist now. Living my life on mute. So when it finally comes time to take me out, I’ll have nothing to miss.

When I meet people their mouths move but I can’t hear anything. When I’m working, I turn the keys and I stack the shelves and I walk up and down with my clipboard, but my mind is elsewhere. I just do what I’m told and live in my head.

I can’t really describe it. This french guy who fixes the vans told me about the idea of multiple timelines. I think that’s close to it. In my head, there are many timelines and I can tune into whichever one I want. There’s this one, where I’m siting in a four by four room with no furniture, smoking cigarette after cigarette until I fall asleep. And there’s another one, where I’m living in a log cabin. Or another, where I have a dog.

My favourite is the one where V and I- I suppose actually we have normal names in that timeline, names like Ben and Rebecca – but we make it. We meet for the first time somewhere normal, at work or at church maybe. We fall in love in a romantic way. Candlelit dinners and picnics and holidays and smiles. We get married, we buy a house. We have arguments, sure, but they’re about such inconsequential things, like what colour to paint the hall or where to host the wedding reception, that they’re more fun than destructive. We get pregnant. Have a child. Have four. We’ve got photos on the walls. Family videos. Tricycles are lined up next to bicycles int he garden. Little clothes hand on the washing line. When we go out we walk hand in hand, kids running ahead.

It is the best part of my day, visiting that timeline. It’s always warm in the house. It smells like pastry. There’s always chatter, always giggling and excited exclamations. As I walk into the living room, someone runs up to me. The youngest, maybe. She has my eyes, and V’s smile. When I hold her, she smells like baby powder and biscuits. She clings to me and I choke up. She’s lost her first tooth, she tells me. Asks me if I’ll stay up and make sure the tooth fairy knows where to find it. Eventually she falls asleep on my lap, and V is beside me on the couch, and we’re just watching TV. It’s getting quiet now. Calm. I carry her up to bed. Swap her tooth for a two pound coin.

Then we’re finally alone. I play those scenes out slowly. They’re part foreign, part memory. I tell I love her over and over. Sometimes she says something back, sometimes she just looks at me. It doesn’t matter. She’s here. She’s here with me. We are wrapped around each other. She’s so soft and warm and mine. Mine, mine, all these things are mine. And no one can get to them. Not even me.

I would never be sick there. I would never be high. Never think about my adopted father, or my dead brother, or all the shit and piss and pain and blood I’ve seen. I’d never wake up in the night screaming. Never hurt anyone. Never leave V.

I’d just enjoy it.

Really, finally, enjoy being alive.

Lost Clause I

In moments of high drama, some things will inevitably fall by the wayside. One might forget to wash their hair, for instance, or to iron their clothes. One might forget their wallet at home, or put on two different socks. Sometimes, one might forget a child they had brought into the world. Such is life.

We find Caldwell, our hapless protagonist, in that very situation. After 12 years of uncomfortable family holidays, and gatherings and photos, his parents decided to loudly and publicly uncouple. Many depositions were recorded, many articles were written and many gold bars were hidden in almost cartoonish fashion. Yet, somehow, when the final list of assets had been drawn up, Caldwell had not been included.

It wasn’t the first time that someone had forgotten about Caldwell. For the first three years of his life, he did not have a name because his parents ‘never got round to it’. The name Caldwell had been made up on the spot, on his first day of school and since no one could be bothered to protest it, it had stuck.

But having a name did not improve Caldwell’s luck. He just had, it seemed, nothing much about him. His eyes were very eye like and his nose could only be described as ‘on his face’. In fact, Caldwell’s invisibility had become lore. Locals would swap stories of how, one minute, he had been in the sweet shop and the next, right before there eyes, he’d still been there but it was ‘kind of like he wasn’t.’

The divorce only served to strengthen the myth of Caldwell. His two filthy rich and petty parents squabbled over door frames and window panes, while their son, if he indeed existed, continued with his day with only a set of earplugs to keep him company. That’s why he wasn’t at all surprised by being left out of the settlement. What did surprise him, though, was how reluctant his parents had been, once the mistake had been noticed, to  to fix it.

Well, they each said.

Well.

Seeing as you’ve already packed up-

Perhaps it’s time you stood on your own two feet.

But I am standing on my own two feet, he reminded them. And also, I’m twelve.

If this was the Sudan, and you were a girl, you would be married by now.

Caldwell could only agree.

So you see, this is entirely possible.

You’ve got to start out sometime. Why not start immediately?

Then they both got into their respective sport cars and drove away.

Surprisingly, Caldwell did not make it very far. Twelve year olds do not possess things like money or life skills. At least, this one didn’t.  He could just about drag his Goyard trunk to the summerhouse at the end of his parents’, now mother’s, home before he collapsed in a  pile of gilets on the floor out of boredom and frustration.

There he remained. For 12 years. Scavenging for whatever food his mother left in the fridge while she was abroad. He foraged for whatever he needed: water, warmth, all the episodes of Game of Thrones available on Sky Catch Up. He was a warrior, a survivor. A ghost even, depending on what the locals continued to say.

Until of course, our inciting incident takes place: Caldwell’s Mother decides to sell the house.

Come Home, Aiden

The past seems like a dream now. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. Before, my memories were so vivid that I could touch them. Now, everything seems out of focus and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get close enough. I can’t go back.

I try every night. I lie there and start from the beginning. Meeting you. Marrying you. I watch the brick fall away, hear the babble of the brook and the bending of the trees. I can see her approaching the alter. But I’m not her.

I can see her touching you. She’s scared, her lip quivers. You take her hand firmly. You look into her eyes and put her at ease.

I’m jealous, if I’m being honest. I know she’s me, but I really am jealous of her. She gets to touch you the way I can’t anymore. She has a future with you, the way I don’t anymore. I watch her getting to know you, exploring the world with you. Holding your hand, seeing your face in the morning.  It’s like a film or something. Someone else’s memories.

When morning comes, I have more questions. Was that really us? Were we really that happy? Did we become two halves of a whole?

Because I can’t see it anymore. I can’t feel it. I haven’t felt anything in…centuries. Except this growing…displacement? I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but here in our business and our home, I feel false. Like this isn’t really my body. Like I stole someone else’s life and now I’m just wandering around doing nothing with it.

How did I get here? How did we, despite how we started, how we suffered, still manage to love each other so deeply, to trust each other completely, to build something so miraculous that noone else could rival us?  And then, after all of that, how have we ended up here, now, arguing over a dinner invitation? It’s not right. It can’t be how our story ends. We should be somewhere else. We should be doing something else.

We should be together.