UKArchive ID: 5093thegeeza
Originally published on February 27, 2004 in Fiction
The things that people do, small coincidences and the effect on lives.
It's quite long; I hope you stick with it.
Ray held the broom close, kissed the handle and then spun around the floor like he was dancing around a polished ballroom. He leant over the broom and stopped, looking around at the dirty faces watching him. He kissed it and stood with one arm in the air to take the applause. The men stood or sat on their workbenches drinking coffee and eating crisps. Some shook their heads and looked away, some picked up scraps of paper and threw them, shouting “rubbish” or “get him off.” They all laughed when someone threw their paper coffee cup at him, splashing the front of his overalls. He looked down at the patch and hollered. They laughed louder. Ray lifted his arm and nodded his head as they started to clap. They said he was the best lunchtime entertainment the factory had ever seen.
‘Very good, very good. Now use the fucking broom to sweep up,’ said Steve. ‘Back to work everyone. I want to fill the quota today.’
Ray started to laugh whenever he swept near one of the men. Most ignored him, the rest told him to shut up in a variety of colourful ways.
‘Did you see my dance, Mike?’ he asked the new worker.
Mike was frowning at a piece of metal held in a vice. He nodded as he made a mark on the side of the bar and picked up a piece of paper.
‘It was funny, wasn’t it?’
‘Yeah, real funny.’
‘I do that most days.’
‘Yeah?’ said Mike, staring at the paper. He looked across to Frank, but he was busy.
‘Yeah, at lunchtime mostly.’
Ray put the broom against the workbench. Mike looked at it, then back at the paper. ‘Yeah, it gives us all a good laugh.’
‘Look, I’m a bit busy, yeah?’
‘Yeah, yeah, course you are.’
Ray picked up the broom and started sweeping around Mike. He hit Mike’s boot with the bottom of the broom.
‘Fuck sake,’ hissed Mike. Ray wasn’t sure if he meant him or the paper.
‘Is that hard?’ said Ray.
‘What?’ said Mike, looking away from the paper. ‘Is what hard?’
‘That.’ Ray tapped the paper with his finger. ‘Is that hard to do?’
Mike looked around. ‘Will you just fuck off, Ray?’
‘I was just asking.’
‘Well, fuck off.’ He pushed Ray, making him step back.
‘Alright, Mike. Calm down, eh?’
‘Calm down? Calm down?’ He pushed him again. Ray staggered backwards. ‘I’ll fucking calm you down, you fucking spastic.’ He stepped forward and punched him in the face. He crumpled and made an undignified cry as he fell. His head hit a box and his hands moved up to his head. Mike moved forwards and kicked him in the ribs.
Some of the workers ran over and held Mike.
‘Someone get that fucking spastic away from me.’
‘Alright, alright, calm down, won’t ya?’ John had his hands on Mike, but Mike wasn’t moving anyway. ‘Just leave him be. Let ‘im sweep up.’
‘Yeah, but he wouldn’t shut up and I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing.’
‘He’s like that, just tell him to piss off and he’ll get the message.’
The supervisor, Steve, walked up to the small group. He looked at Ray on the ground. Ray was sitting up and rubbing the side of his face.
‘What’s all the trouble? John?’
‘Ray was annoying Mike and it kicked off a bit. Nuffin to worry about. It’s all over.’
‘He just wouldn’t go away, boss.’
‘Look, alls ya? Get back to work. Ray, come with me.’
Ray looked up at him. Steve blew out and helped him to his feet.
‘You’re fucking retarded, Ray,’ said Mike, as he walked back to his bench.
‘Just get a coffee and go sit down somewhere for ten minutes, yeah?’ said Steve, turning to Ray.
‘I don’t like coffee.’
‘Tea then … whatever.’
‘Don’t like tea, neither.’
‘Any fucking drink. Just go away from here for a little while. Okay? You got that?’
Ray followed Steve towards the office.
‘What? What are you following me for?’
‘I’m not, I’m just getting a can from the machine.’
Steve stood for a moment, and then went in the office.
Ray got a can out of the machine and went outside. He sat on a wall and watched a lorry being loaded by the big doors. He felt the side of his face. It felt hot, like it was burning.
When he had first done the broom dance, they’d all cheered and laughed. People talked to him and he felt like he belonged. For days after, the men asked him to do it again and they all clapped. Someone had drawn numbers on pieces of card and they all held them up. They said they were going to write down how good he was every day so they could see if he was improving or not. No one ever did write it down. Ray wished they had; it made him feel important and that someone liked him.
He got back to his house at five o’clock. Same as always. His hair was covered in fine metal dust and he would have his bath before dinner, just like he did each day. The house was quiet, which was unusual. He called out and went in the kitchen. The table was clear, everything was neat and tidy, like it should be. He went in the front room and then upstairs. His wife and children were not in the house. He frowned and went back to the kitchen and looked at the fridge. The fridge was where they agreed to leave notes. All the magnets were in a neat line at the top and there was no note.
‘Strange,’ he said to himself. He looked in the fridge. Then he looked in the cooker. Then each cupboard. He looked on the coffee table in the front room and by the front door. He saw the time getting on, so he went upstairs and turned on the taps. He went into the bedroom whilst the water was running and checked the front of the wardrobe and the bedside tables. He laid his clothes out on the bed and got in the bath.
He left the door open and listened for sounds. All he could hear was the squeaking of his backside on the bath and the sound of the water as he moved his sponge around. He waited until the water was cool and the tips of his fingers had furrowed, before he stood up and reached for his towel. There was no towel; he blinked at the tiles that were normally hidden; they were brighter than the others. He looked around the floor and to the side of the toilet basin, but it was not there. He stepped out of the bath and watched the wet patch spreading on the mat. He would have to take up the mat afterwards. He reached for the purple hand-towel and rubbed it over his chest and down his legs. He would have to put it in the wash. He would have to tell Karen it was in the wash. He was still damp as he tip-toed naked to the bedroom. He opened the airing cupboard and took out a cream towel. He would have to take out all the matching cream towels and put them out. When he found the purple towel, he would have to put that in the wash with the hand-towel. The purple set had another week before they went in the wash. It was very annoying.
He dried himself and put on his clothes. He put the mat on the side of the bath and put out the cream towels, taking the purple ones downstairs. He thought they were damp, so he put them on the wash basket, and not inside – in case the colour might run.
It was gone six. He sat at the kitchen table and waited. He was supposed to have dinner at six. He always had dinner at six. He normally read the paper at seven, but today he would read the paper now, whilst he waited for Karen and the kids to come home. He went in the front room and looked in the magazine rack. There was no paper. He looked at the television. He normally watched television at eight. It was far too early. Besides, he had no idea what might be on television this early and had no newspaper to check the schedules. He took an old magazine from the rack and sat in the kitchen.
He picked out the articles he was interested in, and read them. It was half six. He re-read the entire magazine, including the articles he had already looked at. It was half seven. He saw it was getting dark outside. He opened the door and looked up and down the street. He closed the door and sat at the kitchen table. He waited until eight o’clock and went in the front room. It was dark, so he turned on the lights. He realised he’d never turned on the lights in this room: Karen had always turned them on. He turned on the kitchen lights in the morning before work, she turned on the front room ones. He played with the dimmer and drew the curtains. He watched the programme he always watched on Monday and looked at the clock when it finished. He was hungry and he couldn’t believe Karen was not here.
He went in the kitchen and decided to make some toast. It was all he could make. He made two slices and sat down with a plate to eat. He drew a glass of water from the tap and drank it all down. He made another two slices of toast and had another glass of water. It was soon past ten o’clock. Ray had no idea what to do. He pulled out the toaster and made another two slices of toast with a glass of water. At half ten he decided to call Karen’s mother.
‘Is Karen there?’
‘Ray? Is that you?’ She sounded sleepy.
‘Yes, it’s Ray. Are Karen and the kids with you?’
‘No, Ray, of course not. Why would they be here with me?’
‘I don’t know. They’re not here. I don’t know where they are.’
‘Really? But, where are they?’
‘I don’t know. I haven’t got enough bread to make my sandwich for work, for tomorrow, and I haven’t had any dinner.’
‘But, did she say where she was going? Has she gone to stay over … with a friend or something? Did she say anything?’
‘No, nothing – and there’s no note on the fridge. I don’t know where she’s gone.’
‘Have you checked her clothes? Are you sure she hasn’t gone to stay over with a friend? Have you called Sally?’
‘No. No, I haven’t done any of that.’
‘Why don’t you call Sally, Ray?’
‘I might do that.’
‘Call Sally … and, Ray?’
‘Call me back and let me know, won’t you?’
‘I will, Mum.’
Ray went upstairs and looked in Karen’s drawers. There were items in each drawer and clothes hanging in the wardrobe, but he could not tell if anything was missing. He went downstairs and looked by the phone for the little black book they kept there for telephone numbers. He couldn’t find it. He didn’t know Sally’s number or where she lived. He knew roughly where her house was, but not exactly. He called Karen’s mother and told her.
‘Have you got Sally’s number?’ he said.
‘No, Ray. Why would I have Sally’s number?’
‘I don’t know what else I can do. I’m not hungry any more as I’ve eaten lots of toast. There’s washing to do and clothes that need drying. I couldn’t find the purple towel, either. Did she mention anything about that?’
‘No, Ray. She didn’t. Ray?’
‘I’m going to call the hospitals and the police, to see if there has been an accident. Okay?’
‘Stay by the phone, now.’
Ray turned the lights off and closed the door to the front room. He sat motionless in the kitchen for ten minutes, looking at the plate on the table. Eventually, he stood and placed it in the sink. He turned the cold water tap for a couple of seconds and watched the breadcrumbs disappear down the plughole. He sat down and watched the phone on the wall. After twenty minutes, the phone cut the silence and he jumped from his chair.
‘No, it’s Claire.’
‘Mum, what did they say?’
‘Nothing. There have been no admissions under any of their names.’
‘I don’t get it. I don’t understand where she might have gone.’
‘Dave is going to drive around, just on the off-chance he might see them.’
‘Right. What should I do?’
‘Just wait there by the phone. I don’t know what else I can suggest. She’d never just go off somewhere and not tell us.’
‘I’m going to have to go to bed now. I’ve got work early in the morning.’
There was a silence, before she answered: ‘okay … right.’
‘I would hear the phone though, but I might as well get some sleep.’ He listened to the silence. ‘For work in the morning. You know?’
‘Well … Ray? You will call me if she comes home or phones you, won’t you?’
‘Yes, Mum. I’ll call you straight away.’
He bolted the front door, turned out the lights and went to bed.
The alarm woke him. He patted his hand around the bedside table, trying to turn it off. He sat up and looked at the empty space next to him. He went downstairs, opened the fridge and took out the milk. There was hardly any left. He smelled the bottle, but he didn’t know what he was checking for. He filled a bowl with cornflakes and poured what was left of the milk on top. He sat and started to spoon the contents into his mouth. It tasted a little strange, but he had no choice.
He put on his jacket and called Karen’s mother. She answered within two rings.
‘Has Karen come over to your house?’ he asked.
‘No, Ray. We haven’t heard anything. I’m going to call the hospitals and police again. I’ve already called them early this morning.’
‘I’m going to work now. If you hear anything, you can call the office there and they’ll come and find me. Okay?’
‘You’ll have to give me the office number, Ray.’
He pulled out his wallet and read the number from a scrap of paper. She promised to call the office if there was any news.
‘Don’t call the office if there’s no news, though. It’s for emergencies only,’ he said.
At lunchtime, he put on his jacket.
‘Where you going, Ray?’ said Joe. ‘You never go out at lunchtime. I’ve never, ever seen you go out. What you doing? Are you going to the bookies? Have you taken up gambling?’
Joe and Gary laughed.
‘No,’ said Ray. ‘I’m going out to buy a sandwich and some crisps.’
‘I thought your missus made your lunch for you every day? Cos you’re such a tight-arse.’
‘I’ve got to go and buy one today.’
‘Did you have a tiff, then?’
‘No. Where do you normally go?’
‘To the bookies,’ said Joe.
‘For a sandwich?’
‘To the café,’ said Gary. ‘Next to the bookies.’
‘Thanks, Gary,’ said Ray. ‘Appreciate that bit of advice.’
Ray sat on the wall with his cheese sandwich and watched the lorry unload big sheets of metal through the large doors. He thought about Sally and tried to remember the last thing Karen had said about her. He thought about Karen’s mother and took twenty pence from his pocket. He called her from a phone-box.
‘Dave went to your house and there’s no one in. We haven’t heard anything. Do you know what Sally’s surname is?’
Ray thought hard. ‘No … Anderson … is it Anderson? I’m not sure. Could be Anderton.’
‘Is her name written anywhere?’
‘Not that I know of. No, don’t think so, but it is in the black book by the telephone, but it’s not there.’
‘The black book?’
‘I couldn’t find it.’
‘Did you check on the floor, Ray?’
‘Yeah. I pulled the table out, but it wasn’t there.’
‘Call me if you hear anything. I’ll try and find Sally’s number. I’ll try Sally Anderson or Anderton.’
‘Okay,’ he paused as the phone beeped for more money. ‘It might be wrong, though.’ The line went dead.
He walked back in the factory. Some of the men were hanging around by the doors, drinking coffee and smoking. Mike threw him the broom.
‘Dance for us, Ray?’
Ray caught the broom and looked at it: it was grubby and covered in patches of dark metal dust.
‘Nah. Not today.’
‘Why not? Come on, don’t be a spastic and dance for us. Entertain us!’ said Mike. ‘That’s what you’re here for.’
‘I heard he’s here because they’ve got to give jobs to divvos like him,’ said one.
‘Equal opportunities,’ said another.
‘Dance, ya bastard,’ said a Scotsman, swallowing a mouthful of coffee. ‘Get the cunt a radio. Canna expec’ the cunt tae dance wie no music.’
‘I don’t really feel like it,’ said Ray. ‘Not today.’
Mike skipped off his workbench and came back with a small radio in his hand. He found some up-tempo dance music and put it down.
‘Now, dance! Dance, ya cunt!’ said Mike, looking around at the ripple of laughter.
Someone threw an empty plastic cup. The group started to get restless. Ray started to move with the broom.
‘To the music!’ said Mike. ‘It’s fucking dance music – move faster.’
‘I don’t dance like that.’
‘Move faster, ya cunt,’ said the Scotsman.
‘Dance to the fucking music, Spasso!’
Some of the workers laughed and shook their heads at each other.
‘Like this,’ said Mike. He moved his head quickly from one side to the other and jerked his hands in opposite directions.
Ray copied Mike and moved in small, quick movements, holding the broom. The crowd cheered and clapped as Ray danced the same moves that he always followed, but in the new, faster style. As the song finished, they threw their empty cups and cigarette ends at him.
‘Dozy cunt,’ said the Scotsman, walking away.
‘He’s a right wanker, isn’t he?’ said Mike, as he walked past. The Scotsman ignored him. ‘Everyone thinks you’re a right wanker. D’ya know that?’ Mike told Ray.
Ray watched him for a moment, before sweeping up. He pushed the pile over to the main door and left it. He saw the lorry moving slowly forwards towards the gate.
He arrived home at five and shouted up the stairs. Nothing. He took a bath and came back down to the kitchen and looked at the phone. He checked the fridge for notes and sat at the table.
He looked at the bread he had brought home. He took out two slices and made some toast and drank a glass of water. He went to the front door and looked up and down the street. The phone rang. He slammed the door and picked up the phone in the hallway.
‘It’s me,’ said Karen.
‘Karen! Where are you? What’s going on? Where have you been?’
‘I’ve been wondering where you’ve been. I’ve been eating toast for dinner. Why didn’t you put a note on the fridge? Karen-’
‘I couldn’t find the purple towel and Mum-’
‘She didn’t know where you was and I had to buy a sandwich-’
‘Ray! Be quiet for a minute, will you?’
‘Yeah, okay … Karen … where are you?’
‘Ray! Just be quiet, will you? I’ve got something to tell you.’
‘I told you, Karen. You’ve only got one chance at life – just one,’ said Sally.
‘You can’t spend the rest of your life with him. Can you? Honestly, tell me – do you think you could put up with him for the rest of your life?’
Karen sat at the table with the phone extending from the wall. ‘But the children.’
‘He can still see them, can’t he? He’ll still be their father, won’t he?’
‘Yes … yes. But it’s not the point, is it?’
‘The point is, you can’t spend the rest of your life with Ray. He’s doing your head in, you’ve got to get away from there and you’ve got the perfect opportunity.’
‘It’s such a big step, though. Isn’t it?’
‘Yes, of course it is, but you’ve got to do it, Karen. Just do it – or it’s a waste of your life. He’s wearing you down. You’ve started to look old, Karen. Just look at yourself in the mirror.’
She felt the contours of her face and looked down at the table. ‘It just doesn’t feel right.’
‘I can tell you, it is right. It is so damn right. You’ve got to do it, Karen. You’ve got to.’
She watched the twins playing with their cars on the floor.
‘But leaving …’
‘It’s so … scary.’
‘You’ve got your friends … your parents will support you in anything you do … and you love Michael, don’t you?’
Karen said nothing.
‘Don’t you? You do love him?’
‘Yes,’ she said, quickly.
‘The children? What will they think?’
‘Michael has a nice big house, he said to bring them, didn’t he? He’s met them, he likes them. I don’t see what the big deal is?’
‘Sally, it is a big deal and you know it. I’m not deciding whether to go shopping here, I’m making a life-changing decision. Not just my life, but Ray’s, the kids’ and mine.’
‘And mine, dear. You’d be a ten minute drive away!’
‘I’m being serious, Sally. I need to be sure.’
‘Well, you love him, he loves you, the kids will be happy, everyone will be happy – most of all – you will be happy.’
‘What about Ray?’ said Karen.
‘What about Ray? What about him? He drives you mad. He talks crap all day long and he’s … like a robot … you told me yourself. And do you know what?’
‘You will help him, in a way.’
‘How? How will ruining his life help him?’
‘He’ll have to do things for himself. He’ll have to learn. You’re doing him a favour. If you look inside your heart, you’ll know I’m right.’
Karen said nothing.
‘You’re thirty-five, Karen. You’re not getting any younger. Opportunities like Michael don’t come around every day, you know.’
The heavy door opened, and the man stood with his mouth open.
‘I … I don’t believe it,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe you had the guts to … come in, come in. Hello, children!’ he said. He ushered Karen and the two five-year old boys through the door. ‘Let me, let me,’ he said, trying to take the holdall from Karen’s hand. ‘Just let go, let go … that’s it.’ He looked in her eyes and smiled.
He stood by the door as they walked into the large living-area. It was a well-presented room with lots of space and pristine furniture. She turned and looked at the man: at his distinguished grey hair, round spectacles, neat white shirt and thin frame. He put his hands behind his back.
‘I’m so pleased you’re here, my dear,’ he said. ‘So pleased.’
His eyes followed Josh across the room to the glass-topped coffee table. His eyes widened as he saw the little hand reaching past the full glass of red wine, for his laptop.
‘Oh no!’ he said. ‘The child! My laptop!’
Karen span around and caught him just in time.
‘Oh, my goodness,’ he said, wiping his forehead. ‘My plans … oh! … you have no idea just how much work that would’ve been!’
His face reset. ‘Now, let me get you a coffee. Coffee?’
‘That’d be great,’ she said. ‘Boys! Come and sit with me.’
They watched Michael leave the room. Harry tried to stand, but Karen pulled him back on the deep sofa. ‘No,’ she said. She remembered the first time she had come to Michael’s home and how impressed she had been, at this and the skilful seduction on this very sofa. How wonderful it had felt as he stripped off her clothes, tantalised and teased, before making love to her for two hours, leaving her a mad dash to collect the children from Sally and to get home to make Ray’s tea. She had visited many times after and allowed Michael to pull out the details of her miserable home-life. With each visit, she just managed to get home in time – it was becoming harder and harder to pull herself away. Eventually he told her to move in, kids and all – that he would give her and the children a wonderful life. He made love to her and repeated his offer. She had promised to think it over.
He returned with two cups of coffee and placed them on the table.
‘We’ll need to be careful with hot cups on this table,’ she said. ‘It’s very low.’
‘Oh … right,’ he said, picking up his cup. ‘So … you done it … you made the move?’
He watched Josh burrow into his mother’s side. She leant over and the boy whispered. Michael watched, fascinated.
‘What did he say?’ said Michael.
‘He wants a drink,’ she said.
‘Oh … right … um … well, what do they drink? Water? OJ?’
The boy whispered.
‘Coke?’ said Karen.
‘I’m afraid that I’m fresh out. Margaret popped in last night and I treated us to some yummy cocktails. Result: no coke.’
‘I’ll need to get some stuff in for the children,’ she said.
‘Oh, right. I see. No problem. I’m sure there’s plenty of space in one of the cupboards in the kitchen.’
Karen pulled some toy cars from her holdall. ‘Can they play on the floor with these?’
‘Hmmm,’ said Michael. ‘There’s a fair amount of space behind the sofa here. I assume they need some space for their little game, don’t they?’
She gave them one car each and led them around the sofa. She knelt down and told them it would be okay. She returned to the sofa and lifted the coffee to her mouth. Michael smiled, stood up and sat next to her. He put his coffee on the table and squeezed the top of her leg.
‘I’m so pleased you’ve come here,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be absolutely splendid.’
‘Don’t forget not to leave your coffee on the table,’ she said, smiling. ‘The children would have an awful accident with that.’
He frowned and looked down. ‘Yes, I can see that. That’s a very old table.’
‘I didn’t mean that,’ she said, raising her eyebrows. She pulled his hand from the top of her leg and placed it on his own thigh. ‘And, we can’t do any of that in front of Josh and Harry.’
‘Oh … how disappointing,’ he said, reaching forward to plant a kiss on her cheek. ‘Can’t you put the little blighters to bed?’
‘At two o’clock in the afternoon? Oh, Michael!’
He laughed. She asked him why.
‘Just the way you said, “Oh, Michael”, you sounded so … posh … you sounded like my sister or someone … I like the ol’ cockney scrubber sound of your voice.’
She frowned. ‘I never thought I sounded like an old scrubber, Michael.’
He smiled, kissed her cheek and rubbed the top of her arm. ‘I’m only teasing.’
‘I should hope so!’
They drank their coffee. She batted his hands away and they giggled. The last time, she pushed his hand away and told him firmly, ‘not in front of them – you have to be patient.’
‘They can’t see, they’re happily out of sight behind the sofa.’ He put his hand up her skirt. She pushed it, but could only stop it from moving further. ‘Come on, I know you like it!’
‘Michael! The children.’
He pulled his hand away as Josh walked around the sofa.
‘I need the toilet,’ he said.
She stood and frowned down at Michael. ‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘It’s not right.’
When she returned, Michael was in the armchair with the laptop balanced on his knees.
‘Karen,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry. I’m just … excited … you know?’
She smiled and nodded. ‘It’s not going to be easy, I told you.’
He tapped on his keyboard, then looked up suddenly. ‘Let’s go to dinner tonight – to celebrate.’
‘And the children?’ she said.
‘Sally will look after them, surely. She always does.’
‘I don’t think it’s right on the first day though, do you?’
He shrugged. ‘Start as you mean to go on?’
‘And the shopping?’
He glanced over at the sofa and listened to the boys playing. ‘Surely they’ll survive until tomorrow?’
‘Michael, I’d really like to settle them down.’
‘Could you not go to the supermarket now?’
He stood up and walked to the phone. He dialled a number and made a reservation for two. ‘Go and get what you need now – call Sally – and let’s go out for dinner. We need to make some time for ourselves too, don’t we?’
‘I can’t believe you have done that,’ said Sally.
‘What?’ said Karen.
‘You can’t just leave him like that, can you? He’ll be wondering where you’ve gone.’
‘It wasn’t right for us, Sally. It wasn’t right.’
‘Yeah, but … you could’ve told him.’
‘Bollocks to him, Sally. Bollocks.’
Karen took another drink and shook her head violently.
‘A rich, single guy and you just … leave him.’
‘Yep! Left two guys in one day. Got two kids too. Some kind of record, isn’t it?’
‘Leaving Ray, I can understand, but Michael? What are you going to do? You can’t stay here for long. John’ll flip when he gets home on Friday evening.’
‘Don’t worry … Sally … I’ll be long gone by then. Longgggg gone.’
‘Hey? D’ya think I should phone the restaurant? Tell Michael that I’ve changed my mind? That he’s an arsehole? Shall I? Shall I tell him?’
Sally looked at the clock above the television: it was half ten. She laughed. ‘He might’ve guessed by now.’ Her face changed and she looked concerned. ‘Maybe you should call Ray. Patch it up? Tell him … tell him you forgot to leave a note and you’re sorry or something? What do you think?’
Karen struggled to open her eyes. ‘Hmmm.’ She walked across the room and collapsed in the armchair. She hunched her shoulders and giggled. She picked up the phone and dialled a number. She sat there listening for a while.
‘Karen?’ said Sally. ‘What is it?’
Karen slowly looked surprised and she slurred. ‘It’s engaged.’
‘Oh,’ said Sally.
‘You don’t think Ray’s having an affair, do you?’
Sally thought about it, but Karen started laughing. Sally smiled and held her finger to her lips:
‘Ssssh! You’ll wake the children.’
Karen put her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes. Sally watched Karen sit in that position for a while, before she took away her hand and moved her finger across her mouth. ‘Zipped,’ she said.
In the morning, Karen sat at the breakfast table and listened to her brain thumping around her head. Sally made breakfast and tea for all and sat down.
‘You better call Ray,’ she said, buttering some toast for Josh. ‘Before he goes to work.’
Karen rolled her eyes and put her hand on her forehead. ‘Do I have to?’
‘Yes,’ said Sally, handing Josh the toast with a smile. ‘Just call him. Tell him where you’ve been.’ Sally pushed the cordless phone across the table and took another piece of toast to butter. ‘Call him.’
Karen rang the number and looked up. ‘It’s engaged. I hope everything is okay.’
‘Course it is. He’s probably knocked the phone off the hook. Dozy idiot.’ She glanced at Karen and carried on buttering.
Karen drank her tea and had three slices of toast. She watched Sally lead the boys into the front room. Sally came back in and made another cup of tea and sat down.
‘Phone him again.’
‘He’ll be at work now.’
‘Try the house. What harm will it do?’
Karen rang through and listened to the phone ringing.
‘No answer, but it was ringing.’
‘And?’ said Sally.
‘Well, it was engaged, so he must’ve been there.’
‘There could have been a fault on the line?’
Karen shook her head. ‘No.’
‘Maybe he’s got the hump – and he took the phone off the hook because you weren’t there? He’s a bit childish like that, isn’t he? You said it yourself.’
‘No … well, yeah … well, not like that. He can be a prat, but he is … reliable.’
Sally rolled her eyes as she took a drink of tea.
‘I’d better ring Mum.’
Claire stood when she saw her daughter and burst into tears. Karen ran to her mother and they almost fell over the small table in the middle of the room. They stood sobbing, holding one another. Karen could feel her mother’s wet face against hers and the hard contractions of her stomach as she moaned and sobbed onto her shoulder. Eventually they parted and Karen looked into her mother’s bloodshot eyes.
‘Did they tell you … what happened?’ said Claire, in a barely audible high-pitched voice.
‘Yes,’ she said, feeling her own stomach churning.
‘It was head-on. He didn’t feel a thing … they said. Do you believe them?’
‘Yes, Mum … I believe them.’
The mother crashed against her daughter and they almost toppled back into the plastic chairs that had been arranged around the room.
‘I need to call Ray,’ said Karen.
Her mother moaned and nodded.
‘Can I speak to Ray Phillips, please?’ said Karen, into the telephone.
‘Who’s this? Is it important? I don’t like the men taken off the floor for nothing.’
‘It’s his wife and yes, it is important. Can you bring him to the phone?’
She heard the phone hit the desk. She could hear voices and the sound of a radio playing disco music moving away from the handset.
‘Still there?’ said a voice.
‘Yes, I’m still here.’
‘Mike said he’s gone out for lunch. He’ll get him to call you when he gets back. Okay?’
‘I need to speak with him…’
Karen heard the dial tone and the money fall inside the phone. She looked up and down the empty hospital corridor and walked back to her mother.
Archived comments for What about me?
KDR on 2004-02-27 09:56:54
Re: What about me?
First off, I noticed a typo in there. You'd missed the 'k' off 'knew'. I did make a note of where it was, but then the PC crashed and I'm buggered if I can find it now. It was around the part where Ray is trying to find Karen and Sally first gets a mention.
Apart from that, this read well, despite the length. As usual, your eye for detail - especially about Ray's working life - came to the fore, and created gritty, 'real' characters that seemed to echo people that I'm sure we've all known in one guise or another. In Ray, you created a character that made a play for the sympathy of the reader, and got it - though as I read, I found myself wondering whether I would stick up for him, or join the mocking crowd. I'd like to think the former, but I suspect it would be the latter. It's always the way.
Likewise, it was easy to see that Karen was being influenced by her friend, and Sally's character and priorities were also well-realised and crystal-clear.
The one big problem I had with this was the end. It seemed as though you'd either run out of steam, realised it was going to be a long piece and decided to cut it off, or simply got bored with the writing of it. The result is that it doesn't really do the piece justice.
Obviously, the reader can take an educated guess as to the identity of the person involved in the accident, but I think it needs to be spelt out more clearly. Also, unless the victim was Ray - who could have been lost in thought or attempting to end it all after the way he was treated by everyone - it doesn't seem to have much relevance to the rest of the story.
Basically, I liked the story a lot. If only the ending hadn't seemed so rushed...
All the best,
flash on 2004-02-27 10:05:36
Re: What about me?
'Ray went upstairs and looked in Karen’s drawers. There were items in each drawer and clothes hanging in the wardrobe, but he could not tell if anything was missing. He went downstairs and looked by the phone for the little black book they kept there for telephone numbers. He couldn’t find it. He didn’t know Sally’s number or where she lived. He *new* roughly where her house was, but not exactly. He called Karen’s mother and told her.'
The typo is in the above paragraph Steve,you didn't buy a keyboard off Kazakstan did you? Sheesh you neverwill learn will yer.
I haven't read your story yet Steve...there are cartoons on TV. I'll need a big cup of tea before i read yours and Tom Saunders latest.
TheGeeza on 2004-02-27 13:02:03
Re: What about me?
A typo ... wasn't me ... it was the ... erm ... website.
Glad you liked it. The victim couldn't have been Ray, as the last "action" with Ray was Karen eventually getting though to him on the phone.
For the end: I didn't have anything left to say, other than to show the effects of Karen's actions. I could perhaps make it more obvious - and I take your point completely - but I thought it was! And the reason for the ending...
I shall muse. Thanks for taking the (long) time to read and comment!
(and thanks too, to Flash, for pointing out the error - grrrr - now corrected.)
sirat on 2004-02-27 13:57:37
Re: What about me?
I found Ray an interesting character, but couldn't quite grasp whether he had an actual learning impairment or had just allowed himself to slip into the role of the factory baffoon. His ineptitude at cooking and and inability to cope with life generally seemed to confirm the disability theory, but he could obviously read and he had a wife and children. I wondered if he might have been brain-damaged in an earlier accident or something of the kind. His robotic devotion to his job seemed beyond the limits of normal behaviour.
I thought the story became less interesting when the action shifted to Karen and her fairly conventional doomed affair with Michael. What I wanted to know was how she and Ray ever got together in the first place and what the basis of their relationship was. I have to agree that ending the whole thing with the road accident was very unsatisfactory. A reunion scene between Ray and Karen would have been a lot more interesting and the true basis of their relationship could then have been revealed. Despite this and the rather excessive length it held my attention and I enjoyed the read.
Claire on 2004-02-27 14:09:48
Re: What about me?
This held my attention right until the end.
BUT who bloody died?
Is it Dave?
Sorry, but the ending is not that clear. It's very frustrating wondering who died. But it is obvious that it is not Ray.
I wouldn’t say the ending was rushed, more like missing a couple of sentences – explaining who died!
TheGeeza on 2004-02-27 15:14:39
Re: What about me?
Thanks for commenting, David.
In my mind, he was would have been slow on the uptake, without having specific learning difficulties as such. He was very ingrained into his routine, which was very repetitive in its nature, which left him unable to cope with a change.
Agree with the end - I need to rework that. Bringing them back together? I'm not sure what I can bring to the story, to add benefit with that. I like the effect the incident has, and how it came around; perhaps if I made it more obvious who it was - it might work ... hmmm. As for their relationship origin - hard to work in, I think - also, there are many couples where I wonder how/why they are together.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment - much appreciated - and glad you like it until near the end!
TheGeeza on 2004-02-27 15:19:12
Re: What about me?
It seems I thought I covered this - but was wrong! You are correct, but if I had to confirm, then it wasn't clear enough.
Dave was driving around, looking for his daughter ... Karen was with her distraught mother - and trying to call Ray.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
Claire on 2004-02-27 17:11:00
Re: What about me?
Maybe throwing in another line near the end about Dave driving around might help. Some readers may just dismiss him as you only mention him once.
At least I worked it out!
kenochi on 2004-02-28 12:45:54
Re: What about me?
I can only agree with the other commenters re the end. There was something pretty unsatisfactory about it.
Other than that I thought the piece worked. Well written again, which is good to see, because I thought your last one was a bit lacking in fluency, which is unusual for you.
One point, which is probably a bit of a silly one, but at the beginning when people kept saying "calm down, calm down," I kept thinking of Harry Enfield's scousers, which being a non-telly bloke you are probably unaware of, but it kind of destroyed the mood for me as instead of the serious atmosphere you were trying to create, I kept imagining shell-suited, moustachioed, hub-cap nicking Evertonians. Perhaps if you could change that bit into something that isn't an incredibly well known comedy catchphrase, it might work better. (for me anyway!)
Overall, good piece though.
TheGeeza on 2004-02-28 13:20:34
Re: What about me?
I don't watch tele all that often - but I remember "the scousers" and I take your point!
Yeah, the ending - worked when it was written (in my head) and it's something I will change (if I want to take it further).
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
KDR on 2004-02-29 05:56:36
Re: What about me?
I know it couldn't have been Ray as it stands, but maybe you could make it that way? If you did, Karen would have a lot more reason for regretting what she had done.
Maybe you could do away with the accident? Have a scene where Ray realises where his life is at, and decides he just can't go through life like that. As to whether he dies, or lives through it and emerges as a different, stronger person because of it...that - like everything in your work - is your call...
TheGeeza on 2004-02-29 06:22:49
Re: What about me?
True. I think Ray might be a little too self-centred to consider suicide though? His wife was missing and he was concerned with his lunchtime arrangements.
It's an idea though.
I may have him coming home from work - and Karen has returned - and Ray is just mildly interested in where she has been, before sitting down to his dinner at the normal time.
How would that sound?
flash on 2004-02-29 07:45:21
Re: What about me?
Portions of the story are gripping especially when Ray is involved with his workmates? The dialogue is very intense and the atmosphere builds impressively. The cruelty of Mike is sackable of course, whether he and his cohorts would get away with such immature and blatant bullying worried me as being unrealistic.
But i'm not sure you sustain this with your other characters in the piece, the dialogue between Michael and Karen was unconvincing, i didn't think their relationship believable.
The rapid switching of view point throughout the piece i think also hampers it's success, it dilutes the tension i think.
Sally appears to be a capricious character advising Karen to leave Ray withno thought for his feelings, and then in the next breath she 's telling Karen to return to him.
I thought the attitude to a daughter/mother/sister and two children going missing at the start was dealt with too casually, by the mother in particular, with Ray you can understand partially, although you never quite find out what his disability is, naturally i was eager to find out what the reason was for this. I was also eager to find out the background to how he'd built a relationship with Karen, this made me wonder if his condition has been lifelong or a fairly recent occurrence.
I'm assuming the ending deals with death of Dave, who is either the brother or Father of Karen?
A mixed piece Steve, parts were gripping, excellent others a little flawed and not quite right IMHO.
TheGeeza on 2004-02-29 08:04:15
Re: What about me?
I think the end is something I will work on - it is unsatisfying - and a case of the author giving the reader too much work to do. I like to do that - but it's too much here; I can see that now. I thought Karen's punishment was obvious - but it definitely isn't.
I know someone who works in a factory like this - and the things he's told me are tame in comparison to this! A gang of them locking a simple-minded co-worker in a locker and turning it upside-down on a hot summer's day is one thing ... maybe part of Ray came from that true story.
Sally: she was supposed to represent a fly-by-night character - changing her mind in an instant to suit herself - when she thought Karen might stay for a couple of days. Perhaps I didn't work that in enough - but was conscious of the length.
I think the mother's attitude to the disappearance might be screened a little by Ray's strange behaviour. I shall have a think.
As for the origins of Ray - he just appeared in my head like that - bound by routine, simplistic - bit of repetitive compulsive disorder thrown in. I wanted him to be "nice" though - which is maybe how he got married. He's irritating and weak, but is he harmless? I think it would have been very hard to work this in - without telling another story within the story?
Thanks for finishing that extremely large cuppa tea (lol) and taking the time to read and comment on such a long pice. Much appreciated, as always.
KDR on 2004-03-01 06:28:28
Re: What about me?
Could work, but it might seem like a bit of an anti-climax unless you got it just right, IMHO.
I don't think I ever saw Ray as self-centred, really; just thick as two short ones. To me, it seemed as though he wasn't that worried because he lacked the intellect to even consider the possibility that she had left him. Just my take on him, obviously. 😉
TheGeeza on 2004-03-01 07:11:05
Re: What about me?
True. I shall ponder.
I think your take is spot on, too.
Poor old Ray ...