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Leaving Home

This is a short story I wrote for a competition a few years back.


Ticking away … the moments … that make up a dull day. Floyd On Food? No, I'm sure it was another Floyd. What were they called though? My memory's going. This is terrible. What am I going to be like when I'm old? Perhaps I am old already. Is fifty-six old? Depends on who's counting, I suppose. To my dad, if he were alive, I'd be young. To my son, I'm old. That must mean I'm middle-aged.

Bill Brightson straightened his tie. This was no good. He couldn't just sit here, daydreaming. Somebody was going to have to pay for this. He got up and walked over to a row of filing cabinets. Opening the drawer of one of them, he flicked through the files in it. At one file, he stopped. Glancing through the papers in it, he smiled, then closed the file, shut the drawer, and went back to his desk. Sitting down, he pressed the button on the intercom. “Cathy!” he said. There was a pause, then a woman's voice said, “Yes, Bill, I'm here.”

Bill shut his eyes, then opened them again. “Cathy, I've told you before. At work you should call me 'Mr. Brightson'.”

“Yes, Mr. Brightson.” There was a pause, then, “Shouldn't you call me 'Miss Waite' in that case, Bill?”

“Cathy,” said Bill, “it's quite normal for a solicitor to call his secretary by her first name, but it doesn't mean it's appropriate for her to call him by his first name. What if a client were to hear you?”

“Yes, Mr. Brightson, that would be terrible. I'll try not to do it again.” There was a pause, then, “Especially when I'm down on my knees in front of you.”

Bill gave a dry cough. “Cathy, can we just focus on work? You know those property developers we're representing with their negotiations to buy land off the council?”

“Candell Real Estate? Yes. Has Mr. Candell agreed to bung more money to the council?”

“I knew I had to phone him about something,” said Bill. “I'll call him now. Listen, Cathy, I want you to add another hour and fifteen minutes to his bill.”

“Yes, Bill. I mean, yes, Mr. Brightson.”

“Actually,” Bill went on, “if I've got to make a five-minute phone call, you'd better add on an hour and forty-five minutes. No, make it two hours and forty-five minutes. We don't want to give the impression we're not working hard enough for him.”

“No, Mr. Brightson. What shall I put the time down as being spent on?”

“Usual stuff. Different things. Make it up. Add on a few disbursements as well, otherwise it doesn't look convincing.”

“Yes, Mr. Brightson.” There was a pause, then, “Are we going for a drink after work, Bill? We could go to The Crown. If there's no one at the far end of the car park, we could park there and you could have me on the back seat.”

Bill thought. “Yes, Cathy, that would be nice. Let's do that.” He took his finger off the intercom. Mr. Candell - he'd suggest that the developer raise the money they were offering the council by twenty-five percent. That should seal the deal. It was legalized blackmail on the part of the council, but that was the way things worked in England these days. He picked up the phone. As he dialed Mr. Candell's number, a big grin spread across his face. Pink Floyd, he thought. He always got what he needed in the end.

Bill's wife Diana was, as usual, one step ahead of him, for she was already on the back seat of her car. The person pumping some extra-marital bliss into her was her golf-coach, Charlie.

“Go on, Charlie. You can do it. All the way. Hole in one. Ow! Not in the rough. Stay on course. Have you finished? Well done! Another point on your score-card.”

Charlie smiled. Duty done. Women really could be hard work sometimes.

“You enjoyed that,” said Diana with unerring feminine intuition. “It always makes me happy if I can make you happy.”

God help us, thought Charlie. “You're a wonderful woman, Diana,” he said. “You know I love you. I want to be with you all the time, not just like this.”

“I love you too, Charlie,” said Diana. “You're all man. Not like my miserable husband.”

“Your miserable rich husband?” asked Charlie.

“We're not rich, just comfortable,” stated Diana. “You know, when I get rid of Bill, and the kids, I'm looking forward to you and me living together.”

“That's what I want, Diana. Just you and me, living together.” In your nice, big, comfortable house, he thought. “You know, though, that I can't abandon Tom.”

“Tom?”

“You know,” said Charlie. “Chap I share a house with.”

“Oh yes,” said Diana, smoothing her disheveled clothes.

Charlie did up his trousers. “Tom would never be able to cope without me. He's rather dependent on me.” He hesitated. “I thought that he could be our house-keeper.”

“Might be an idea,” Diana said, disinterestedly. “But first I have to get rid of my husband. Can you imagine what it'll be like divorcing a solicitor? He knows all the tricks.”

“Get an even better solicitor to represent you,” said Charlie.

“That shouldn't be too difficult,” laughed Diana. “People tell me Bill is rubbish as a solicitor. But he's been around so long that the work comes to him without him even trying.” She got out of the back of the car and climbed into the driver's seat. Charlie clambered between the seats and into the front.”I'll drive you back to your house,” said Diana. She smiled at Charlie. “I'm sure Tom will be missing you.”

A short while later, in the car park of The Crown, Bill's performance wasn't quite as vigorous as Charlie's, but Cathy assured him it was entirely satisfactory.

“You're a sweet girl,” said Bill, gratefully. He liked the way she didn't make him feel small.

“I'm hardly a girl,” smiled Cathy. “In fact I shall be forty in three months' time.” Past my sell-by date, she thought. This is my last chance, my only chance, to get a man who'll give me a decent life. Bill was that man. “We could be so happy together, Bill, you and me.” She hesitated. “We could have a family. I'm not too old, you know. I've got children in me. I'm sure of it.”

“I don't know that I want any more children,” said Bill. “It's taken it out of me bringing up the two I've got with Diana.”

“I'd look after our children,” said Cathy. “I'd be a stay-at-home mum.” She paused. “A stay-at-home wife.”

Bill gazed out of the car. “I'd have to get a new secretary,” he said dreamily. He pulled himself together. “Anyway, I have to get rid of the current Mrs. Brightson before I can make you the new Mrs. Brightson.”

“You'll do it, Bill,” smiled Cathy. She leant over and adjusted the knot of Bill's tie, which he had kept on during sex. “You're a solicitor,” Cathy whispered. “You can do anything.”

“Let's pop into the pub for a quick drink,” said Bill. “Then I'll run you home. Your mum will be missing you.”

“She can wait,” laughed Cathy. She can wait forever for all I care, she thought to herself. Ideally in a nice, quiet hole in the ground.

Getting out of the car, she and Bill walked over to the pub, looking like a married couple.

Diana's impressive car pulled up outside Charlie's small, scruffy, rented house. “Give Tom my regards,” she said.

“Will do,” said Charlie, getting out.

“I must head home,” said Diana. “See what mood my two children are in.” She sighed. “I shall be so glad when they've both gone for good. I thought I'd got rid of Ben, only for him to come back again after uni.”

“Happens a lot these days,” said Charlie. “Too many graduates chasing too few jobs. The ones that don't get lucky often end up returning to the family.”

“Luck be damned!” snapped Diana. “You have to do the right degree at the right place. So what did Ben do? Media Studies at some ex-polytechnic.”

Charlie smiled, and leant across and kissed her. “He'll disappear again in due course. Just focus on getting rid of Bill. Then I'll move in with you.” With Tom, he thought.

“That's what I want,” said Diana. “Just you and me. I must get Bill out of the house now. Then divorce him. Get the house in my name. Get half his pension. And anything else he has of any value. Reminds me, I'd better go through his papers again to make sure I've got a list of everything he owns.”

“Take photocopies,” said Charlie. “That way he can't deny anything in court.”

“Good thinking,” said Diana, She paused. “I'll divorce him on the grounds of adultery. He's screwing that spinsterish secretary of his.” Smiling, she leant over and kissed Charlie. “Love you.”

“Love you too,” said Charlie. He watched as she drove off, then he walked up to the front door of his house and let himself in.

“Where have you been?” came a voice from the kitchen. Tom staggered unsteadily into the sitting room. He had a half-full glass of vodka and lemonade in his hand. He was younger than Charlie, same height, but skinnier, longer-haired - dissolute-looking, in an attractive way, and rather drunk, as usual. “I suppose you've been shagging milady?” he said.

Charlie met him in the middle of the room and gave him a kiss. “I,” he said, “have been doing what is necessary to turn milady into a meal ticket to get us out of this place and into somewhere decent - namely her home.”

“I'll be so glad to get out of this dump,” said Tom. He went into the kitchen and reappeared with a gin and tonic, which he handed to Charlie. Tom's gammy leg was playing up, and this evening his limp was more pronounced than usual. He steadied himself and swigged some of his drink. “Do you think she'll go for our idea? I mean, will she kick her husband out and let us move in? And kick the kids out as well. I don't want them around. Can't stand kids. Really I don't even want your girlfriend there. Just you and me. But of course we can't have the house without her, so I guess I'll have to put up with her.”

“You'll get to like her,” said Charlie soothingly. “Yes, she's going for our idea. As for the kids, the daughter's leaving today to go to university, and the son will get a job eventually and leave again. Diana's hubby is screwing his secretary, so Diana's filing for divorce on the grounds of adultery.”

“Pots calling kettles,” said Tom. “She'll let me move into the house with you?”

“I've suggested you be our housekeeper,” Charlie grinned.

Tom laughed. “I can't think of a worse housekeeper than me. With her money we can pay someone else to do the housework.” He took another swig of his drink. “Life,” he said, “is looking up.”

Charlie kissed Tom affectionately. “All I want is for you to be happy, Tom. Love you.”

“Love you too,” said Tom.

Bill pulled up in the middle of the road in his expensive saloon car. “There's never anywhere to park down this damn street of yours,” he grumbled. “There's a car behind me, so I'll have to drive straight off. I'll see you at work tomorrow.”

Cathy got out of the car. “Bye!” she called out, but Bill had already driven off. “Love you!”

For a few seconds she stood at the side of the road, looking at its dreary little terraced houses. She was saddened by the brusque parting, but she was also saddened by the knowledge that she lived with her mother in this ghastly, impoverished street. Bill had once taken her to his house when his wife and kids had been away, and they had made love on the bed he sometimes shared with his wife. The house was gorgeous, and it was in such a nice area. The houses there all had long driveways and were set well back from the road, with expensive cars parked on the driveways. Millionaires' Row, their road was known as locally. Dejectedly, she turned and walked to the front door of her mother's house. Opening the door, she stepped into the little sitting room.

“You're late,” came a sharp voice from the sofa. In the corner of the room, the TV was on. Cathy could see her mother's grey, greasy hair poking lolling against the back of the sofa. “You been canoodling with that boss of yours? No good will come of it, I tell you. They only play with the likes of you. They drop you when they get bored.”

Cathy walked slowly into the centre of the room. Putting her hands on her hips, she said, “For your information, he's going to marry me. We're going to live together. We're going to have babies.”

“You're daft!” snorted her mother. “Marry the likes of you? In your dreams! And what about me? Maybe I don't want to leave here and come and live you and your fancy man.”

“Who said anything about you coming to live with us?” laughed Cathy.

“You wouldn't leave me,” said her mum. “I wouldn't let you.”

“Wouldn't let me?” snorted Cathy. “You can't stop me. I'm leaving you here to rot. You can die here for all I care, and the only time I'll know about it will be when the neighbors phone me to say there's an even more unpleasant smell than usual coming from the place.”

“Your dad would give you such a good thrashing for speaking to me like that,” said her mum, “if he wasn't dead. You're a horrible, nasty, ugly woman. No wonder you can't find a man of your own and have to go pinching them off other women. It's because you're a freak. You ought to be pickled and put in a jar to warn other people about how you get to look like your thoughts.”

“You're a horrid old woman,” cried Cathy, “and I can't wait to get away from you.”

With that, she stormed off to her room, slamming the door behind her.

Diana pulled up in front of her house in her four-wheel-drive. Parking it by the triple garage, she climbed out, walked over to the front door of the house, and let herself in. “Hello kids!” she called out.

“Hi, mum!” came a young woman's voice from the depths of the house. “We're in the kitchen.”

Diana crossed the large hall and went into the kitchen. Her son Benjamin was playing some game on his mobile phone, and her daughter Arabella was looking at a list.

“Playing with yourself, Benjy?” said Diana.

“It's Ben, not Benjy,” said Ben, without looking up. “I'm not a kid anymore.”

“You'll always be my little boy,” smiled Diana, “especially as you still behave like one.”

“I'm twenty-two,” sighed Ben.

“Going on twelve,” laughed his sister Bella. “You've got no job, no money, no girlfriend, and you live with your mum and dad.”

“So do you,” said Ben.

“Yes, but I'm leaving in a few minutes, for good,” retorted Bella.

Diana poured herself a generous gin and tonic. “What have you got there, Bella darling?”

“It's a list of all the things I'm taking to uni. I'm just checking there isn't anything I've forgotten.”

Diana took a sip of her drink. “Where is all your stuff? I thought you'd have it in the hall by now, ready for when Toby comes to pick you up.”

“Toby the superhero,” sneered Ben.

“At least he's a grown-up,” Bella sneered back, “with money and a car. And you wouldn't mock him to his face because he'd beat you to a pulp.” She turned back to her mother. “Everything's up in my room. I'll go and bring it down. Toby should be here any minute now.” Pulling a face at her brother, she left the room.

Diana sipped her drink and looked thoughtfully at her unemployed, graduate son. “Ben,” she said, “you're going to have to do something a bit cleverer and more profitable than just playing games on your phone.”

“There's no jobs out there,” grunted Ben.

“You're not even looking,” said Diana.

“I did look, and there weren't any,” said Ben.

“Then look again!” commanded Diana. “I'm not having you living here any longer.”

There was the sound of a key in the front door, and someone coming into the house.

“That'll be your father,” said Diana, pulling a face.

“The walking wallet,” said Ben. “I must tap him for some money. I'm skint.”

Bill came into the kitchen. “I heard that, young man,” he said.

“See!” said Ben, looking at his mother. “I'm a young man, not a boy.”

“You're a young man with no job and no money,” said his father, “so you're a boy in all but name. What do you want cash for this time?”

“It's darts and dominoes night at the pub,” said Ben. He paused. “It'll get me out of your hair for a few hours.”

“I wish you wouldn't mix with the riff-raff down there,” sighed Bill, taking his wallet out and handing over a couple of banknotes to his son.

“Thanks, dad,” said Ben, pocketing them. He carried on playing the game on his phone.

Bill and Diana looked at each other, attempting to weigh each other up and second-guess the next move. In the hall, Bella could be heard bringing down the things she was taking to uni.

“You're late home this evening,” Diana said at last.

Bill strolled over to where there were various bottles of drink and poured himself an expensive single-malt whisky. He walked back over to the big table and sat down. “I had,” he said, “some paperwork to catch up with for a big property deal one of my clients is putting together.”

Diana raised an eyebrow. “Shame you couldn't get that mousey secretary of yours to give you a hand with it. Or perhaps she was busy giving you a hand with something else.”

“She left at five,” said Bill casually. He smiled. “I don't like to work my staff too hard.” He took a sip from his drink.

The front doorbell rang.

“That's Toby,” came Bella's voice. “We'll get all my stuff in his car, then I'll be on my way. We've got a long drive.” There was the sound of the front door opening, and Bella and Toby chatting and laughing, and then the sound of them taking Bella's things out to his car.

“I hope,” said Bill to his wife, “you've been pleasantly occupied today. Has your golf coach been helping you develop a firmer grip?”

“Strangely enough,” said Diana, “yes he has. Charlie's got a very good grip. I think some of it might be rubbing off on me.”

“I bet!” said Bill dryly.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” demanded Diana. “And you might like to know, before you say anything, that you've got a stain on the front of your trousers, and it's not your usual one from wetting yourself. It looks as though you've been rubbing yourself up against something low and greasy - a secretary, I imagine.”

“You shouldn't say things like that,” said Bill.

“I'll say what I like,” said Diana. “Remember I'm your wife, not one of your employees. You can't tell me what to do.” She took a gulp of her drink. “Not that I intend staying your wife for much longer.”

Ben stopped playing with his phone and stood up. “For God's sake, you two! Get a bloody divorce. I'm fed up of you two fighting.”

Bella came into the room. “At it again?,” she laughed. “Happy families, not! I'm so glad I'm leaving.” She walked out of the room.

Bill rose to his feet. “Bella! Say goodbye properly.”

The front door slammed, and there was the sound of a car driving off. Then there was silence.

“Now look what you've done,” snapped Diana.

“What I've done?” said Bill. “What have I done?”

“Screwed that plain-Jane whore of yours,” snarled Diana. “That's what. Just because you pay her wages, it doesn't mean you can do what you like with her.”

“But darling,” said Bill, smiling, “don't you pay that golf coach of yours?”

A bitter silence descended on the room.

“I'll put it bluntly,” said Bill. “You've been cheating on me with your golf coach.”

“And you,” retorted Diana, “have been cheating on me with your secretary. So that makes us even.”

There was another silence. Then Bill said, “Would you like to file for divorce, or shall I? I think I'll be better at it than you. More experience, don't you know.”

“I'll file for divorce,” snapped Diana. “And to show you what it's going to be like, you can get out now, and if you come back here, I'll tell the police you attacked me. See what that does for your reputation when it gets in the local rag.”

Bill calmly finished his drink. “These days the police have to take women seriously even when they know they're lying.” He put down his glass. “So, for my own sake, I'm leaving, and I won't be coming back.”

“Hope you find somewhere to stay,” snarled Diana.

“I think I know someone who'll put me up,” said Bill, moving towards the door, “although there won't be the creature-comforts I'm used to.” Without another word, he walked out of the house. Once outside, he climbed into his car and drove off from the house. He took out his mobile phone and dialed a number. It was Cathy's. She answered. Briefly he explained the situation and asked if he could stay with her for a few days. “We'll look for a house to rent so we can start a new life together.” Of course she said yes, and, after a few tender words, they put down their phones. In her mother's little house, Cathy started to cry. Then she started to laugh. At long last she was going to leave her mother.

Back in the kitchen of what was now no longer Bill's home, Diana was shouting at her son. “You, young man, have got to find somewhere else to live. You're too old to live at home. I'm giving you two days to get out. If you're not out by then, I'm throwing you out, just like I threw your dad out.”

Ben silently carried on playing his game, but he had gone pale, and his hands were shaking.

Diana took out her own phone and dialed a number. “Charlie?” she said. “Diana! Bill's gone. I've thrown him out. Bella's gone off to start her course at uni, and I've given Ben two days to find somewhere else to live. Can I come and stay with you for a couple of nights until he leaves? Yes? Good. Then you can move in here with me. What? Yes, and Tom. I'll be round your place straightaway.” She put switched the phone off and looked hard at Ben. “I'll be back the day after tomorrow,” she said, “and you'd better not be here when I get back. Charlie's moving in. And his friend. So if you're still here, I'll get them to throw you out. Understand?” She knocked back the last of her drink. “This is my house now.” She headed towards the front door. “You're gone by the day after tomorrow,” she shouted. And then the front door slammed behind her.

For a good minute, Ben sat there silently. Then he put his phone away and pulled out of his pocket the two banknotes his father had given him. He gazed at them for a while. “This calls for a long evening down the pub,” he muttered. Getting to his feet, he walked out of the house, and set off down the road on foot.

In The Queen's Arms, he plonked himself on a stool at the bar.

“The usual?” said Dave, the barman.

“The usual,” said Ben.

“You in the darts and dominoes tonight?” Dave asked.

“You bet,” said Ben. He pulled out of his pocket the two banknotes his dad had given him. “I'm flush tonight, for a change, courtesy of my old man. I'm here till the money runs out.”

“Wish I had a dad like yours,” said Dave. “I've always had to work for my money. You should try it some time.”

Ben ignored the jibe. “You don't want a dad like mine, believe me,” he said. “In fact it looks as though even I haven't got a dad like mine anymore. He and mum are getting divorced. She's kicked him out. She's gone away for a couple of days to stay with her fancy man, and then she's going to move back into our house with him. She's told me to get out. Given me two days to find somewhere else. And my sister's left home. Gone off to university.”

“So you've got your parents' house all to yourself then?” said Dave.

“Yes,” said Ben. He took a swig of his drink.

Dave beckoned across to Lindy, a barmaid. “Lindy, mind the bar for me for a few minutes, will you? I've got to pop upstairs.”

“Sure thing,” said Lindy. “No worries.”

Dave went upstairs to the pub's private quarters and shut the door behind him. Taking his mobile phone from his pocket, he dialed a number. A few seconds later he was talking to someone at the other end. He finished the call and went downstairs again. There was a strange smile on his face.

About an hour later, a scruffy looking man came into the bar. When Dave noticed him, he hurriedly ushered the man outside. “Have you got the money?” Dave hissed, looking around and checking that no one could see or hear them. The man handed over an envelope. Dave quickly looked inside it. He seemed happy with the contents. He handed the man a piece of paper with something written on it. “This is the address,” he said. “Great big house. You'll love it. It's only a few minutes down the road from here. How are you going to cope with the locks?”

“My brother, Bronislav,” said the man, “was good at getting into houses in our own country, so this isn't a problem. He'll get us in and put new locks on the doors. He only needs a little time to do that. Maybe an hour. Maybe two. Do we have that time?”

“Yes,” said Dave. “There's only the son living there at the moment, and he's here at the pub tonight. He won't be leaving till closing time.”

“Good,” said the man. “He won't be able to get in to the house once we are in. Neither will anyone else. We will be able to come and go as we please. My family is so big that there will always be some of us in the house in case they try to get back in.” The man smiled. “The house is as good as ours.”

“The guy who owns it is a lawyer,” said Dave. “You know he'll go straight to court to try to get you kicked out as soon as possible?”

“Of course,” said the man. “But it will take them weeks, maybe months. Then the council must give us somewhere to live. That's all we really want- a permanent home. This is the fastest and easiest way to get it.” He hesitated. “Are you not sorry to be hurting this family?”

Dave snorted. “They deserve it. Stuck-up bunch. Think they're better than everyone else, just because they've got money.”

The man smiled. “Alright then.” He turned to go. “My family is waiting in a van out the front. I must go.” He grinned. “We want to settle into our new home as soon as possible. Thank you for helping us.”

“Thanks for the money,” laughed Dave.

The man left.

Dave walked back into the bar. Seconds later, he was chatting pleasantly to a tipsy Ben Brightson, who was as yet unaware that he had left home for the last time.


Fiction


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