Red Bicycle 13-14
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The following day the family drove to the cul-de-sac. While Alexander and Lukas planted rose bushes and shrubs and began to put right the damage to Mr Molloch’s garden, Natalya walked over to an empty bungalow three houses away from the elderly man’s. A ‘To Rent’ sign hung in the window. She stood against the bay window and looked in. Natalya immediately saw that it was a most desirable property. The lounge, with its polished wooden floor, was twice as big as the lounge of their existing apartment. The front garden of the bungalow was neatly landscaped, and, walking around the perimeter, she saw a spacious rear garden with its own furniture and barbeque area. Natalya turned the handle of the back door; it was unlocked. She went inside and surveyed each room: a large, open kitchen; a master bedroom with a king-sized bed; a bathroom trimmed with onyx; a bedroom for Lukas that looked out onto the rear garden. The more Natalya saw, the more excited she became. It was the kind of home she had secretly yearned for.
When the re-planting was almost complete, Lukas searched out his mom. Together they began making plans for each of the rooms, discussing colour shades and carpet designs and where Lukas would hoard his toys. And when Alexander entered, his fingernails caked with soil, the knees of his trousers damp from crawling around on Molloch’s grass, it was clear that Natalya and Lukas had made their decision.
‘It’s so beautiful, Alexander’ said Natalya. ‘And it won’t cost us anymore than the apartment.’
Alexander scanned the lounge. ‘I don’t trust him’ he said. ‘Who’s to say he won’t increase the rent ? Who’s to say he won’t make certain demands of us that we can’t fulfil ?’
Natalya shook her head. ‘Please, Alexander. Try not to be so negative. When will we ever be afforded a chance like this again ? Think of Lukas. His prospects will increase dramatically if we live here. There’s no shame in trying to better ourselves.’
Alexander felt wounded by his wife’s unexpected attack. ‘I thought you were happy with what we already have’ he said.
‘I am. I was. It’s just that, sometimes I feel that the apartment is your home, and not mine. It’s the place where you’ve lived all your life, Alexander. This could be our home. The opportunity for a new start.’
He looked at Natalya and began to sense that a certain point had been reached, a point in their marriage in which uncomfortable truths were beginning to emerge. He did not realise that she felt this way - dissatisfied with the fifth-floor apartment. And yet, deep down, perhaps he knew that, increasingly, the signs had been there. Natalya had recently been promoted at the school and had a heavy workload. Their lives were filled with work and looking after their son. At night they were often too exhausted for the intimate moments they once enjoyed. Perhaps Natalya was correct: a new start was required.
After considering the situation, Alexander laid down a single condition if he was to agree to the move. The apartment in which his mother and father and sister had lived would remain. ‘It will be difficult to finance two properties, I know’ he said. ‘But I cannot lose it, I cannot give it up. It is an important part of my life.’
Natalya was immediately aware that the financial burden would prove too great. But, such was her desire to secure the bungalow, that she agreed to Alexander’s demand, promising him that if needs be she would take on a second job to cover the extra costs. And so, while Alexander and Lukas placed the gardening tools in the boot of the car, she went to see Mr Molloch to confirm they would take up his offer.
She returned after only a few minutes. Alexander was sitting in the drivers’ seat thrumming the steering wheel with the tips of his fingers.
‘Well ?’ he said.
‘Everything is settled’ said Natalya excitedly. ‘And Mr Molloch has come up with a solution regarding the extra burden on our finances. He has made us a new offer, an offer so generous that we will easily be able to keep the apartment.’
Alexander, suspicious, said: ‘What new offer ?’
‘He wants to offer you a job, Alexander, at his garden centre. And he is willing to pay you double your existing salary.’
Despite his suspicions, and despite his apprehension at leaving the food factory where he’d worked for the past twelve years, Alexander handed in his notice and accepted Molloch’s offer of employment. Natalya hugged her husband and told him she was grateful for the concessions he had made. ‘You will not regret it, Alexander’ she said. ‘I promise.’ And so, Alexander said farewell to his work colleagues and began boxing up the family’s possessions. The decorators painted each room of the bungalow as Natalya had instructed; Lukas chose a new bed shaped like a racing car. All that remained in their old home was the red bicycle, locked in the cellar’s storage area, deep below the apartment block.
The family quickly adjusted to their new life, enjoying the bungalow’s space and the novelty of a large garden. Lukas was able to continue at his school and it was decided that Natalya should use the car to travel to and from work instead of travelling by bus. This was possible because Alexander’s new job included the free use of a company van.
His main duties were delivering flowers, shrubs and pot plants to workplaces, private houses, hospitals, and government institutions in and around the city. It was a lonely occupation, unlike the busy factory he was used to. And yet he was earning more money than he had ever earned, a fact he reminded himself of when the loneliness became hard to bear.
The assistants at the garden centre seemed indifferent when he arrived on his first day. Perhaps they didn’t recognise him as the angry customer who had scolded them for staring at him. Over the course of the first few weeks he learned that Mr Molloch had owned the business for many years. There were no other garden centres or florists in the city because no one could compete with the quality of his flowers and shrubs. ‘He feeds them a special solution’ said the woman who operated the till. ‘It makes the plants strong and gives them a distinctive, rich colour. He’s never told us what his solution consists of’ she said. ‘It’s a secret. Whatever dark potion he brews’ she giggled ‘it seems to do the trick.’
Alexander was surprised by his varied customers. Each morning he was obliged to deliver bouquets to a number of government buildings, including the law courts. The judges especially enjoyed the scent of Mr Molloch’s blooms. He also made a delivery to the police building, where a small spray sat on the reception desk. ‘Ah’ the duty sergeant would say when Alexander appeared ‘the flowers have arrived’ before pressing them to his nose, inhaling deeply. ‘They make our police work so much more bearable!’ he told Alexander. And the city’s cathedral required special deliveries throughout the week to accommodate the christenings, weddings and funerals that took place there. Even the bishop, the man who had shaken hands with Alexander, had his own small garland prepared to set on his desk, so that the sweet scents might bring him closer to the holy spirit.
As the weeks went by, Alexander worked longer and longer hours. He would leave home early in the morning and not return until late at night. He began to wonder if quitting his job and moving from the apartment had been a mistake after all. His family might have more money and a nicer home, but he was seeing less of Natalya and Lukas than when he worked at the food factory. And an increase in orders meant that Alexander found himself working at weekends too. It was all proving to be too much. He decided he would have to speak with his employer.
One evening he parked the van in the cul-de-sac and knocked on Molloch’s door. He was surprised when Lukas opened it. ‘What are you doing here ?’ said Alexander. His son shouted: ‘Mama! It’s Daddy!’ and ran inside.
Alexander entered. The scent of flowers in the house was overwhelming, the clawing atmosphere heavy and dark. Natalya and Molloch were sitting in the living room - a room furnished with two ox-blood leather sofas and a deep red carpet. Natalya was wearing a mink coat; Molloch was wearing a burgundy velvet dressing gown over red satin pyjamas. Lukas, lying on the floor, was turning the pages of a picture book.
‘Look Alexander’ Natalya said. ‘Isn’t this coat beautiful ? Mr Molloch has given it to me.’
She pulled it snugly around herself, the silver fur shimmering in the candlelight. But Alexander was drawn to something else - a large oil painting depicting a strange, winged creature with horns and the head of a goat hanging above the fireplace.
‘I…I didn’t realise you were here’ Alexander said to Natalya. ‘I thought you were at home.’
‘Your beautiful wife is always welcome here’ said Molloch. ‘She occasionally calls by when you are working. I hope you’re not jealous, Alexander ? Jealousy is such a futile emotion.’
‘No’ said Alexander. ‘No, of course not.’
Alexander now saw that Molloch was smoking a thick cigar, the strong tobacco mixing with the intense perfume of the flowers.
‘Now tell me, Alexander’ said Molloch, ‘what can I do for you ?’
Alexander began to feel unwell. The dark furniture and stifling atmosphere had induced a heavy-headed confusion. And Natalya and Lukas’s presence only added to his anxieties as he struggled to make sense of the situation. ‘Nothing’ he said. ‘I just came here to…I came here to…’
‘You’re mumbling, Alexander. Speak up!’ said Natalya.
Alexander paused. The oil painting above the fireplace seemed to have come alive. The strange goat-like creature was moving its wings, its eyes burning red. ‘I think…I think…’
Natalya sighed. ‘What do you think, Alexander ?’
‘I think…I think I’ll take Lukas home’ he said.
Lukas, now sitting beneath a heavy wooden dining table, said: ‘I don’t want to go home with you! I want to stay here!’
Natalya and Molloch laughed. Molloch said: ‘Oh poor Alexander. It looks like you’ve been outvoted. Perhaps you should let them stay for another half hour since they’re enjoying themselves. Why don’t you go home and fix yourself something to eat, hmm ? You must be hungry after your hard day’s work.’
Alexander nodded in agreement. Yes, he said, he was hungry. And what’s more, he needed to be up early next morning to make his first deliveries.
Mr Molloch nodded. ‘You’re doing well, Alexander. Orders have almost doubled since you started. The more we sell the more we all benefit. Isn’t that right, Natalya ?’
Natalya nodded in agreement. She looked at her husband and said: ‘Goodbye Alexander.’
Alexander walked to the front door. He could hear Molloch and Natalya giggling, and, in his tired, clouded mind, a distant memory began to nag at him – an unfulfilled memory regarding the excessive number of hours he was obliged to work.
Once he was outside, Alexander breathed in the fresh evening air. His senses returned and a flash of anger coursed through him. Why had Lukas refused to follow him home ? And why had Molloch bought Natalya such an expensive coat ? He looked around the cul-de-sac. The other bungalows were in darkness. He realised then that all the cars had disappeared from the driveways. What’s more, he hadn’t seen any of his neighbours since moving in. In fact, he began to wonder if the other bungalows in the cul-de-sac were inhabited at all. What an odd neighbourhood it was. And what a strange house Molloch lived in, with its dark furniture and moving pictures.
He staggered towards the van. He had no desire to return to his new home. It too looked cold and dark. And was there even any food for him to eat ? He got in the van and began to drive in the direction of his old apartment. He sensed that Natalya and Lukas were slipping from his grasp, that the cul-de-sac was a strange country of which he had no part. He needed to go somewhere where he belonged.
Next instalment: Red Bicycle 15-16 | ABCtales
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Forbidding is the word that
Forbidding is the word that springs to mind when I think of Molloch. Poor Alexander was so right to be cautious. This part gave me goosebumps at what's emerging.
Can't wait to read more.
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it's like a frog being boiled
it's like a frog being boiled slowly...
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Have I already nudged you
Have I already nudged you about the reading event we're having on April 1st Kilb (apologies if I have) - it would be lovely if you could read!
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