George and Spider Part Four cont'd
By Jane Hyphen
There followed a long awkward pause. George put his arm around Maxene then rubbed his hand up and down her shoulder as if to soothe her.
'Ahem,' Francis released several affected coughs. 'Did the two of you go out anywhere last night?' he said, without taking his eyes off the newspaper.
'No,' said George, 'we got a take-away, then took Crystal for a long walk. What about you?'
'No, no. Stayed here, read a book.'
George leaned into Maxene's ear and whispered, 'He should have been a monk.'
The four of them continued to sit together in the lounge but the atmosphere had thickened the air; their limbs were stiff under the weight of it and their lungs could only take in small amounts, causing them to feel dizzy and stifled. Kathleen was seated in her wing chair, facing the window. The top of her head was just visible and it appeared to be moving from side to side in a soft regular motion, rather like a lonely horse weaving in a stable. Maxene stared at the head for several seconds then turned to George and pulled a face of dismay, she shook her head and looked instead at the ornamental plasterwork on the ceiling.
George was listening carefully now for noises around the house, for he was very anxious to know whether his twin brother was at home. He was loathed to ask Francis for fear of being given unwanted information, perhaps regarding some new job that Tony had aquired or some stunning girlfriend or lottery win, indeed anything at the extreme end of good fortune.
Tony was one of those people who floated gently upon life's surface, bouyed on by a number of fluky, genetic blessings, the sum total of which made him "lucky". His soft good looks, unthreatening confidence and the sort of consistent brain chemistry which made him forever cheerful, drew people to him; things fell into Tony's lap, good things.
George felt strongly that his twin had selfishly taken every ounce of their joint quota of luck, leaving him with nothing, and one day he would win this back. He had early memories etched upon his brain of strangers approaching their double pushchair, their attention briefly skimming over George then fixing upon Anthony who cooed at them with big shiny eyes. As a child George regularly felt himself shrink into invisibility. But all that early attention meant that the fine transmitters in Tony's brain had never formed proper connections and consequently its surface was largely as smooth as a pickled egg, although being a simpleton did nothing to hold him back. He didn't dwell on things, his mouth was fused into a permanent smile, doors opened for him, people were attracted to him. And if all that wasn't enough he'd managed to grow a good six inches taller than George.
The twins shared a few similarities but they were not obvious. They fell into the category of secondary characteristics and therefore were hidden, even from themselves and each other. Both men were neat in appearance and both had a certain amount of charisma but everything about George was somehow contracted; his height, his talents, his spirits were rarely forthcoming. He was rather like a flower which had become sick in bud and had never quite opened properly. He had an unfortunate habit of dwelling on things, thinking things through to their ultimate conclusion which was almost always death. He saw the big picture and it held him back. No good could come of this perennial long-sightedness and no good did come of it. He felt as if he were somehow always on borrowed time and that there was too little time in the world to do all the things he was capable of so what was the point of trying? George's reluctance to share himself with the world meant that all his talents went unnoticed and all his dreams were constipated.
George felt strongly that his twin WAS at home, although he hadn't heard him, it was more that he could simply detect Tony's presence. It made him feel like there wasn't enough space for the two of them, the walls of the house seemed to be closing in on him, he felt breathless, it was as if Tony was breathing all his oxygen. He gestured to Maxene, cocking his head towards the hall. They got up together, walked through the kitchen, ignoring Arthur who was peeling potatoes at the sink, and went out through the back door.
The back garden was long and narrow. Arthur was no gardener and it was very overgrown with long damp grass, bracken and mounds of prickly brambles. Right at the bottom was a bench next to an old, rotten rabbit hutch. Here George and Maxene regularly huddled together and smoked. The rabbit hutch serving as a large, somewhat unsuitable ashtray. They'd been together long enough to argue but short enough to still find genuine sanctuary in each others company.
'Oaaaaah!' sighed Maxene, leaning back on the bench and looking as if she'd just been through an ordeal.
George lit up a cigarette for them to share. 'Do you like my family?' he said innocently.
'Depends what you mean, by like.'
'I mean, can you bear them Max?'
'Can I bear them? Well I don't think your nan's right in the head so I'm prepared to forgive her, but the others- . I'm not sure George. Ask me at four o'clock.'
'We're not staying that long!'
'You decide when we should go. I don't mind.'
George leaned up close to her and kissed her cheek. 'You never complain do you?' he said, twirling her hair extension.
'Never complain, never explain, try to - erm, refrain.'
'Mmmmm, it takes a strong person to live by those rules,' said George rubbing his chin. 'So what if er, say my old man knocked on the door of out flat, and there he was, all pale and sweaty like, clutching his chest-.' George did a brief impression of somebody having a cardiac arrest. 'What would you do Max?'
Maxene laughed, covering her face and showing her black nail varnish. She took a drag of the cigarette and thought for a moment, then said, 'Well I'd make a cup of tea, file my nails, erm brush the dogs teeth-'
'Brush the dogs teeth? You never do that!'
'Then I'd have a bath - with scented candles, then, if my phone was close by, I might call an ambulance - but I might not be able to remember the post code George.'
They both burst into laughter and hugged each other. Somehow it seemed unbearable to go back into the house so they continued to hide at the bottom of the garden, whispering unsweet comments about George's family and exchanging foul, toxic kisses until Arthur shouted out that lunch was ready.
The dining table was set with six chairs, five with cutlery and one simply holding a glass of sherry in the centre of a cork mat. George and Maxene sat down and were quickly joined by Francis and Kathleen. Arthur began putting dishes of food onto the table, plonking them heavily and making little huffing and puffing sounds as if to show that he'd gone to a certain amount of trouble.
'This looks good Dad,' said Francis, looking across to George to back up his compliment.
Maxene dived into the food, piling copious portions of everything onto her plate. 'I haven't eaten since yesterday,' she said, 'and this looks fantastic Arthur.'
Arthur raised his eyebrows and said, 'For a slim girl you certainly-'
Kathleen's eyes flashed. 'She's a size fourteen if she's a day!' she squeaked.
Arthur lifted his fork and pointed it towards his mother-in-law. 'Cut that out Kathleen. We're having a civilised meal togeth-'His attention was caught by a towering figure in the doorway. 'Oh you're up son!'
Tony entered the room grinning from ear to ear. He kissed his grandmother gently on the cheek and the tension visibly melted away from her face. As he sat down next to her the whole table moved slightly as his knees wobbled the table top.
From the edge of his field of vision George could see that his twin hadn't bothered to dress properly. There was a smell too, not a bad smell but nevertheless a smell, the odour of the unwashed man, of modern debauchery masked with various artificial scents. Tony sat quite brazen in the white vest he'd slept in, placing whole roast potatoes into his mouth with one hand and twiddling his gold chain with the other. The chain looked exactly like the one his grandmother was wearing.
'Did I hear the front door go just now?' said Francis.
Tony's grin grew wider, his big white teeth shone. 'Yeah that was me, just saying goodbye to someone - a friend, you know. The smell woke us up. I asked her if she wanted to stay but she still had her clubbing gear on, it wouldn't have been appropriate.'
'Smell, what smell?'
'The cooking Nan, the food.'
'Oh - I can't smell a thing. You got in ever so late Anthony! I waited and waited at the window but when I start to see things crawling across the carpet then I know, time for bed!'
George choked on his beef a little, he raised his hand up to his mouth and said, 'Things on the carpet, what kind of things?'
Kathleen frowned impatiently. 'Creatures - on the carpet. They only come at night.'
'How big - about?'
'Er, I don't know George, you always want details! Say, the size of a hedgehog. They're like shadows, and they creep along, creep, creep, catching my eye.' She screwed up her wrinkled face for a few seconds then said, 'But when I turn to get a proper look at them, the bastards sort of melt away, they vanish out of sight. I've even tried turning very fast - like this,' She spun in her chair causing Arthur to jump and clutch his chest.
'Christ almighty Kathleen, don't do that.'
'It's just patterns on the carpet Nan,' said Francis dismissively.
'It might be rats,' said Maxene calmly.
Arthur stared at her. 'There's no rats in this house,' he said, 'And there's certainly no need for you Kathleen to be waiting up for Tony, he's twenty six years old!'
It's better you don't see some of the things he brings home with him Nan,' said Francis, 'a dog wouldn't lick them.'
Kathleen nodded her head slowly, took a sip of sherry and said, 'Yes indeed. I've talked about this with Anthony, he says he takes the precautions, you know, covers his ding up. I've seen the posters at the surgery about the OCD's. One in four of us have got it now.' She made a play of looking at each person in turn, lingering on Maxene.
Arthur held up his knife. 'That's STD's Kathleen and it's not a subject for the table. It's alright for you with your dry sherry, some of us have got horseradish.'
'Horseradish won't cure it!'
Maxene covered her mouth since it was full of food and said. 'It's rife among pensioners actually. I read it in the paper.'
'Has Tony told you about his audition?' said Francis, quickly changing the subject.
George felt an electrical pulse of jealousy charge through his body, even causing him to jolt a little. In an attempt to dispense this physiological disturbance he sighed and then coughed a little but his jaw had become locked with tension. A sort of dark fuzz filled his head with chaotic sparks of anger which had nowhere to go but bounce around the inside of head like angry, jolting bumper cars.
Maxene's head popped up from her plate and she said, 'Oh, an audition, what for?'
This genuine interest only served to increase George's rage. He felt it travel from his head, down his arms and into his hands and fingers. It was the sort of blind rage which, at its worst, could consume the physical body of a man and cause him to do absolutely anything to anyone.
'It's for an advert,' said Tony still grinning, 'a television advert.'
'The lead part?' said Arthur, 'Is it the lead part?'
'I stir vegetables Dad. There's only me and vegetables. I stir them and smile.'
'Oh you'll be good at that.'
George moved his mouth to release it from its mask of tension, then said, 'Don't drop the spoon,'
'Won't be long now,' said Kathleen, 'until he's on the shopping channel.'
'I doubt that,' said Arthur, 'he'd fluff his lines he would. He couldn't speak until he was three remember? He just smiled and everybody waited on him.'
'Nothing's changed?' said Francis.
George shook his head and said, 'I don't watch TV, it rots the brain.'
'It's about time George got a proper job,' said Kathleen, as if he was absent from the room.
'George is fine,' said Arthur, 'he sold a fish yesterday.'
'It's not the real world. sitting in that shed all day long. You protect him too much Arthur. You want to push him out of the nest and into the real world.'
'He's not in the nest. He's the only one out of it Kathleen!'
Kathleen tutted. 'He's left the nest - but he's still in the tree Arthur is what I mean. The other's have showed willing, but George, he just hides away-'
George banged his cutlery down on the table. 'Stuff the real world, ' he said, 'I get up when I want, go to the toilet when I want, kiss my dog when I want, I do what I want to do. I'm not somebody's tool!'
'Okay, okay son, keep yourself in.'
Kathleen appeared pleased with this little result of making George angry. 'Tony's putting himself out there,' she said quietly, 'And I want a tour of that shopping channel when you're he's on it. Those presenters are more like a family to me than some of you are.'
'Careful now Kathleen, we're all friends here aren't we,' said Arthur.
There followed a few moments silence. Arthur saw Tony's persual of fame mostly as an annoying means of delaying getting a proper job and tried to show as little interest as possible in it. Tony had been offered several good jobs in sales but he never stuck at them and, with his grandmother's support, he continued to seek a flimsical path of fame and fortune.
The fan above the cooker, which had been gently whirring away, suddenly fell silent. George became acutely aware of the cutlery banging and scraping on the china plates, and of the sounds of people's mouths devouring food. It disturbed him. He longed for the sanctuary of his flat and the freshness a change of underwear brings.
'Oh the music's gone off!' said Kathleen.
Arthur shook his head firmly. 'No music Kathleen,' he said, chewing vigorously. 'It was just the oven, doing its thing. How's your sherry?'
Kathleen sighed and let her little curly head drop slightly. 'Well it's not a cure,' she said sadly, 'but it helps I suppose.'
Her comment hung in the air a while. The others had their own theories about what exactly the sherry helped her with. Arthur assumed she was referring to her grief over losing Cynthia and felt his own shard of sadness. Francis thought it eased her ongoing bowel problems. It was only George who correctly gleaned that Kathleen was speaking of life itself, and how a touch of alcohol can soften its jagged edges and put a welcome blur upon painful memories. The comment didn't pierce Tony's thoughts, he was reliving some of what he got up to the previous night, and grinning.
'Oh - I've just remembered something,' said Arthur, 'Winky's popping in this week lads, probably be Wednesday. There's something he wants to discuss with us, a business opportunity he called it.'
Tony raised his eyebrows and said, 'Winky Glowacki?'
'He's as crooked as they come,'
'He's in the loop Kathleen.'
'He IS the loop,' said Francis.
'And we're not where we are today without the loop, are we lads?'
Maxene looked confused. 'What's the loop?'
'Tell you later Max,' said George.
Tony shook his head and said, 'Well don't get me involved coz if this audition doesn't pan out I'm joining the police force.'
George's head shot up, he stared at his twin in disbelief.
'God help us,' said Arthur, 'you're surely not serious?'
Francis laughed, 'He's got all the right credentials Dad, tall and simple.'
'It's dirty work, 'said Arthur, turning the corners of his mouth down. 'I know a few of them, very well actually, and I can tell you it's dirty work, there's nothing filthier.'
'I can see him in the uniform,' said Kathleen.
George nudged Maxene but she was still eating so he got up rather awkwardly since there was little space to get out of his seat. 'We'd better be off now,' he said, 'Crystal's not used to being left alone.'
'I've made a steam pudding!' Arthur said turning to Maxene. 'Maxene, steam pudding?'
Maxene shook her head. 'I don't like sweet things,' she said.
George had left the table now and was picking at the carcass on the kitchen surface. 'I'll take some of this if you don't mind, for Crystal.' He opened a drawer and chucked what was left of the meat into a plastic bag.
Arthur rolled his eyes. 'That's prime meat you're taking!'
'She's a prime dog Dad,' George turned to Maxene and said, 'What d'you give her for breakfast Max?'
'Erm, she just had a scotch egg, I think.'
Kathleen shook her head. 'I hate waste!' she hissed.
'I ain't wasting it Nan. Anyway you don't eat it so you can't say nothing.'
'Well - when you get to my age George, you -'
'You know what you like!' said Francis and Arthur, laughing in unison.
'No!' said Kathleen firmly, she looked at them, smiled and announced, 'You eat less and live longer!'
Arthur placed his sweaty head in his hands. 'God help us!' he said.