Janette walked in the kitchen. She walked and walked. She walked around the kitchen looking for beer. Her kitchen as was. Changes had been made, she had to admit that they were all good changes too. That admission and those changes did not help her mood. She found a cold beer and went into the garden where she sat waiting for them to come home.
They came out saying, ”Sorry to keep you waiting, Jan. We had a lot of preparation to do.” It felt like they were both saying it in unison. But it was her husband Bob who was the voice.
She studied them closely as they walked towards her. They looked much the same as they did last time they’d all met, perhaps a bit weathered but it had been ten years.
The beer she’d helped herself to took the edge off her anxiety. The kitchen had offered no clues. It was cold and oddly impersonal, without food or utensils but the same in layout. A temporary crash-pad, not the home it had once been.
“Why have you asked me here? It was made clear to me I had no choice. What do you want?”, she asked feeling for the door key in her skirt pocket.
Bob put the plates on the table in front of her, gave her the “Are you really okay being here?”, look?
Paul sat down in front of her in the slatted, battered summer chair and smiled. He had a wooden bowl of salad on his hands. He reached out for Bob’s hand and Bob looked happy.
Paul said, “We’re so happy together”.
“What?”, she held her own hands, “Good. Great. Well done.” She wanted to sound so very angry. She stood up and she walked into he kitchen. She took some water, grabbed another beer and she walked back out. She sat down in front of Paul in the chair she had vacated and she smiled. Then she actually said, “So happy or just happy?”
His reply didn’t matter. She drank some more beer and wondered idly what the best way of hurting Bob might be: a bullet in the back of Paul’s head maybe. Or perhaps she could blast them both off into space so she’d never have to see either of their happy faces ever again.
“Very happy. Janette? Are you listening?”
She felt weary all of a sudden. Old memories still close to the surface like stinging jelly fish, nearly invisible, horribly long tentacles, stinging to tears.
Bloody Bob and Paul. Bloody happiness.
“Have some salad Jan.” Paul gestured towards the bowl he’d placed on the table.
“I’d rather not,” she replied. “I’m feeling sick.”
Bob shrugged and smiled.
“Look Jan, this isn’t easy for us either. I know you probably still hate us,” Paul’s already pathetic voice tailed off as he looked to Bob for help.
“You said it”, Jan sighed.
Bob piped up, ”But we have to come to some sort of arrangement regarding ”
“You’ve got the bloody house Bob what more do you want?”
Bob drummed his fingers on the table. The empty glass rattled alongside them. She felt her throat tighten; her heart speed up. She’d tried to be nice but playtime was over.
She’d ended up in jail because she was stupid. That’s the word she used. White collar, fall for it, protect your man, stupid… jail.
Jail. Don’t fuck with the fine language. Stupid. Jail. That’s what she had learnt.
She breathed in. She took some salad. She hit Paul full in the face, she hit him with her fist balled. She wanted to cave his head in and make him sit back down.
Bob – as usual – did not know where to look or who to side with.
The meat smoked on the heat of the barbecue. Jan waited for the boys to do something other than to run around.
“You fucking whore!”
Paul was up, spoon in hand, ready for action. Bob was in tears.
Jan, turned on her heels, went upstairs, looked around to Bob for some help mustering their child Charlie from his room to her crappy old, fifth-hand, pre-hated, failure signalling station wagon.
As usual, no help came. He was no help. Never had been.
Leeland coughed. He’d been coughing all day. Too many fags, too much booze, and interminable time on his hands.
The phone rang. It never rang.
His hands shook as he pushed away the bird feed, bottles and pornography to locate the receiver.
“Dad, it’s Jannette.”
He was only mildly surprised.
“I hoped you wouldn’t need to call me.”
“I know,” her voice sounded shaky, “I need to call in that favour.”
Five years out of prison it was a cold and shitty world. He coughed and laughed. Then realised what she wanted from him. What he’d promised to do but only if she asked.
“Consider it done.”
“Tomorrow. My house. Our house. His house.” She hung up.
Leeland drank deeply from the bottle and turned his thoughts to the task ahead. He picked up the bird feed and opened the cage. He’d leave as soon as his hands were steady enough to drive.
“Can’t leave you to starve,” he muttered and reached for the bird; shaking fingers snapping its neck like an autumn twig.
He’d probably be gone a while.
The death of the bird was easier than he’d imagined. He’d picked it up by the war memorial in the park. He’d taken it from a fallen nest to replace the one he’d bought the day after his daughter’s conviction. He’d called it Lucy-Boosty, and once he’d got it back to the house, he’d never let it out of its cage.
There was, of course, only one way to steady the old hands: a shower, then some noodles and a mug of half-and-half. He sorted the first, quick and cold, scraping a week’s worth of permanent night sweats and smoke off himself with a rough cloth and Fairy Liquid.
He waddled to his bedroom where he packed an old, off white Adidas sports bag with two shirts, a pair of khaki shorts, a passport (the first one that came to hand) and a block of cash. He’d use credit cards most of the time and would buy a mobile phone along the way to the airport.
Throwing the main fuse and unplugging the phones, standing on the top step outside the front door, he looked back into the hall, sniffed and pulled the door to, locked it and turned away.
He’d eat noodle soup in Pasteur Restaurant around the corner, up the stairs, seated at the table at the back where they made the broth. Lots of basil. He sped up, going nearly as fast as his chubby legs and smoker’s lungs would allow. Lots of chilli, lots of chicken, some lung, some tripe and lots of fat noddles.
A mug of rum and tea, maybe even a glass of that salty lemon/sour plum drink to freshen up with. He’d be fine after that, not only would his hands stop shaking, so would he view of what he’d agreed to do.
The noodles would slip down and fill his stomach, taking away the bile and maybe the humiliation he felt at being in debt to his own daughter. Something to look forward to indeed. Finally being free of a debt that he shouldn’t have owed. Whichever way he looked at it – and as a man of zero honour, he had plenty of viewpoints – he should just have moved on.
He opened the door and stepped in there, into Pasteur Restaurant salivating and ready. Once he’d consumed his breakfast he’d about getting a gun. Then maybe book flights.
Where the fuck was he? Again!? Janette was in the kitchen. Bob was, as usual, looking for God to descend and make it all better.
Paul was looking so pissed off. She had to laugh.
“Paul, stop it, really, you look absurdly fucked up.”
“I will kill you, girl. I will – Jesus this hurts.” He felt his face and grimaced.
Janette thought of her child as she looked at the men. Then she thought about the hell-strike she’d just called in, she almost fainted, at least she imagined that’s how almost fainting probably felt. It was quite pleasurable. In prison if you fainted, well, the cycle of gaining your self-respect started again. She’d only seen two women and one thousand girls faint.
This reminded her of prison, and her sacrifice and she smiled and said, “Goodbye boys. See you at seven with Charlie.”