By Mark Burrow
The outsourced HR lady had a mole on her cheek and I swear it expanded as the videocall went on. “We appreciate all the hard work you’ve done for us and we’ve really considered every option available. This hasn’t been an easy decision.”
Lies – the directors gave themselves pay rises and bonuses. They’re promoting a younger person. Someone better versed in new media. I had experience and knowledge but that also made me old and expensive.
My mouth was bone dry. It felt like that time I stood and watched Siobhan, my ex, take the last of her stuff out of the flat in bags we’d bought for going on holiday together.
“It’s been such a tough decision.”
No. It. Hasn’t.
“Thank you,” I said to a giant, screen-sized mole, “that’s perfectly understandable.”
The videocall ended. I removed my headset and shut down my computer. I drank a glass of water that had sat on my desk for two whole days.
I walked out of the room, down the short hallway and into the kitchen. I stripped off my clothes and lay down on the tiled floor.
“We’ll send a courier to collect your pass, locker key, laptop and any other items.”
The cold tiles felt nice against my skin.
It was my turn to pick Julian up from school.
Francine waved at me from the main gate. “This weather,” she said, pointing at the swarm of grey clouds above. “You’d never think it was summer.”
“It’s supposed to be clearing,” I replied, looking upwards.
“Do you fancy,” she said, “going for a coffee in the café in the park?”
“Can’t I’m afraid, I need to get back home with Julian.”
“Not one coffee? The boys can play on the swings.”
I shrug. “I don’t have time.”
My phone started ringing. It had a stupid ringtone from the cartoon, Danger Mouse.
Julian came bounding out so I didn’t answer. He’s seven years’ old. He’s carrying a painting of a dinosaur. I get him to hold it up. “Is that a stegosaurus?”
He laughed. “It’s T-Rex, dad.” He passes me the painting to hold. Francine bends over to talk to her son, Liam, and I look at how her skirt lifts to show the backs of her milky white thighs. At the base of her spine, I see the green outline of a sun tattoo. I tell her that I’ll see her later. She’s too busy tying shoelaces to hear me.
The Lollypop Lady ushers Julian and I across the road. We leave the other kids and parents, walking down an alleyway that runs parallel to the railway line. Julian leapfrogs over bollards. The amount of money his existence costs me is staggering. It was never the same with Siobhan after he was born. He became the only topic of conversation. He slept in our bed.
“Did you know,” I shout out, “that the T-Rex was a vegetarian?”
Julian turns his mop-top head and misjudges his jump over a bollard. He snags his testicles, flipping over and smashing face-first into the concrete. A second passes and then he’s screaming, dark red blood spilling from his nose and chin. I walk over and use my jacket to stop the bleeding. I look at ridged, pink flesh inside a deep gash below his bottom lip.
“You’re okay, son.”
He’s taken to the hospital for stitches. The doctor keeps him in overnight for suspected concussion. I stay until eight in the evening and then kiss Julian goodbye.
“Don't go, dad,” he said.
“I have to son; they won’t let me stay.”
They probably would if I asked. I walk down the stairs, carrying a blood-stained painting of a T-Rex.
My phone started ringing. It’s Siobhan. She’s gone for a long weekend at a spa in Devon with her fiancée. Probably using those same holiday bags to pack her lingerie and sex toys. We argue in the stairwell.
I wish I’d never met her.
I pull on a pair of dry-cleaned trousers and an ironed Paul Smith shirt. I splash on aftershave and put gel in my hair.
I call the ward and ask how the boy’s doing.
The nurse said, “We’ve given him more painkillers. He’s sleeping.”
I wonder if she knows what causes a mole to expand on an outsourced HR Director’s face during a videocall. It’s a serious condition.
“I’ll tell him you called,” the nurse said.
I drink a glass of water from the tap. My mouth’s so dry these days. I leave the flat and cut through the park. I walk under the railway bridge. Francine will be going to the bathroom soon. I walk up a sideroad and pass low-rise flats. Each block has its own gardens and parking for residents. Francine lives in a two-bed on the ground floor of Halkett House. Her husband works nights, Mondays to Thursdays. I cross a section of mowed grass and sneak round the rear of the building, squeezing behind a bush and then standing beneath her bathroom window. I pull out the milk crate I keep hidden on the ground. I sit and wait.
Liam will have brushed his teeth and gone to bed. I unpeel the wrapper on a bar of chocolate. Time passes. Suddenly I hear Francine pull the light cord in the bathroom and turn the taps for her nightly ablutions. I stand on the crate and peer over the windowsill. She doesn’t pull the blind as she thinks the bushes give her privacy. I look at her as she sits on the toilet, hearing the sweet sound of her piss hitting the water. She flushes and then steps straight into the bath with the shower running. The tattoo of the sun covers her entire back.
It’s sad when the window fills with steam. Sadder still when she pulls the shower curtain. I unbutton my coat and trousers, knowing I’ll catch a glimpse of her large breasts when she yanks that curtain and steps over the bath, dripping wet.
Pity I forgot to put my phone on silent.
The theme tune to Danger Mouse blares out.
I lose balance on the crate and fall backwards into the bushes, hearing Francine shout out, “Who’s there?”
I scramble in the dirt and darkness to find my phone and press end call. Francine keeps shouting. I scrunch up my trousers and half waddle, half run from the bushes, darting across the lawn and along the street. The phone rings again as I do my belt up. It’s Siobhan. I know she’ll go berserk when I tell her about losing my job. She’ll want to know where the maintenance money will come from. It’s a very good question. I wonder if she’ll pay me back for the holiday bags. I’m pretty sure I paid for them, not her.
When I get indoors, I strip off in complete darkness and lay down on the kitchen floor. The tiles are cold and pure against my skin.
I squeeze my eyes shut. If I don’t move a single muscle, everything will be alright.