The Human Touch: Chapter Ten
Shelly pulled into the drive to see that John’s car wasn’t back and the lawns hadn’t been mowed. They’d been done the week before, so they looked okay, but they didn’t look perfect. Shelly wanted them to be shorn, buzz cut, number one grade stunning for that night.
Sammy let Carthenage out of the garage and five minutes of bedlam ensued while the dog did fifty laps around the house and garden, into the garden, around the lawn, into the house, through the lounge, around the furniture, up the stairs, down the stairs and back into the garden. After letting him out and attempting to stroke the whizzing ball of movement, Sammy went to the computer and looked up the planting and care of his new plants and seeds.
Shelly took mental stock of what she had to do. Gardening first, food prep, house, lawns—maybe, and making herself presentable. John had been gone over three hours. She rang his mobile, but he didn’t answer. That was normal if he was with somebody, or busy, so she rang his work.
‘Dave, hello, may I speak to John, please.’
‘Hi Shelly, looking forward to later on, love, John’s got a lot to live up to, he reckons his barbies are better than mine, the game’s on, love.’ He finally got to the point. ‘John’s not in today, Shell. Isn’t he with you, marinating that fine beef? It’d better be good, or he won’t live it down around here. He’s off all weekend.’
‘No, he got called in this morning. He left ages ago.’ There was a long pause. Dave clearly didn’t want to drop john in it, but he’d committed himself by saying that he wasn’t there.
‘Um, no, you must be mistaken. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation, probably gone to buy you some flowers, soft sod. He hasn’t been in here all day; I went into his office earlier to get a sick form for one of the guys. Computer’s down, light’s off, office was all locked up. I bet he’s planning a surprise for you.’ She thanked him and ended the call.
She rang his mobile again, but Dave had got in first. It was engaged. She sent him a text, capital letters, shouting. She told him to ring her as soon as he got it. Five minutes later the phone rang.
‘You lied to me. Where the hell are you? I need you here, John. Now. People are coming in less than three hours. What the hell are you playing at? I suppose Dave warned you that I know you lied to me. Can you imagine how I felt ringing him like that, only to be told—,’
‘Well if you’ll let me get a word in edgeways. I didn’t lie to you. I’m not in the office but I am at work, its business related stuff.’
‘On Easter Sunday?’
‘Shelly May. Shelly May. Shelly May. Oops Shelly May’
‘Yes, a client from overseas, it could mean a lot of new business coming our way. It’s a big contract, Japanese guy.’
‘Shelly May. Shelly May. Shelly May.’
‘I’ve got to go, just get home, will you?’
Shelly was frazzled and Sammy was demanding. The barbecue was upsetting him for the fact that people were going to invade his territory and his routine. Shelly told him that he could do everything that he normally does, and that nothing needed to change.
‘Carthenage has to go for a walk now, Shelly May.’ she was turning chunks of pork in a bowl of dark marinade. ‘
Now? You’re freaking joking me, right. She calmed herself before replying.
‘Not now, Sammy. In fact, Carthenage might not get his walk today. He’s fine playing in the garden. One day doesn’t matter, Sammy, honestly it doesn’t. I promise you. We’re going to have lots of fun and so is Carthenage.’
She held her breath and waited for the fall out.
She reasoned with him, cajoled him, tried to talk him down. For his part Sammy thumped her, bit her, and tried to headbutt her. Shelly got out his writing paper and an envelope and told him to write the routine change. He calmed, he wrote—eventually. He licked the envelope and stamped it, then he put it in his outgoing mail rack before using his special mouthwash—envelopes carried germs. For the next hour he sat rocking with his gaze left and upwards. At least he was quiet and out of her hair. However, if he didn’t come down from his mood soon he would bring on a seizure.
Where the fuck was John?
Later germs became an issue again. Shelly was making salad dishes when Sammy stood behind her, his eyes flitting around in their sockets.
‘Shelly May will cook Samuel May’s meal in the oven. Samuel May will not eat outside. Samuel May will eat food cooked in the oven, sitting at the pine dining table in the green dining room.’ Shelly drew on her reserves of patience and counted to ten while her son continued talking at her. ‘Samuel May will have two pork sausages, one burger made with one hundred percent beef, one kebab that must not be on a skewer, one tablespoon of Shelly May’s homemade potato salad— just like mother used to make—three lettuce leaves, four slices of tomato, four slices—he continued to list exactly what he wanted to eat.
He wasn’t being rude. Demanding that his meal be cooked in the oven rather than asking politely was just his way. They had long since given up on trying to get Sammy to use only Christian names, but they persevered with manners. It was a slow road with limited success. ‘Get me a drink Shelly May.’
‘Get me a drink what, Sammy?’
‘Get me a drink, Shelly May.’
‘Get me a drink, please, Sammy.’
‘Get me a drink, Shelly May.’
‘Sammy you know to say please.’
‘Please has no meaning. It is a nonsense word.’
‘No Sammy, you’re wrong. Please and thank you are important in our culture. They show humility and gratitude. These are appealing character traits that make people like us.’
‘Our culture is stupid and isn’t compiled on logic. Get me a drink, Shelly May.’
Why wasn’t John here yet? Their guests would arrive in an hour. He’d been away all day. She hadn’t planted out the new trees and they stood at the back of the patio in their ugly plastic pots. Her planting had had to wait, but Sammy’s couldn’t.
He’d insisted that she watch him plant out his purchases. The three herbs, he’d gone for three exotic varieties of mint; pineapple mint. chocolate peppermint, and tangerine mint, weren’t too bad. He measured precisely, planted them, and fed them, job done. The seeds were a nightmare. Shelly wanted to rip them out of his hands and throw them into the earth. She still had so much to do, and John still hadn’t come home. Sammy used a ruler to measure where each tiny seed would go. There were hundreds of them, and Shelly looked at her watch and saw the day slipping away from her. But if Sammy was going to get through it, he had to be kept calm which required appeasement. She sat on the bench, with a coffee, resigned and watched her son plant. He looked so ordinary—until you took note of his precision and the kneeling cushion that he had to have to stop his knees coming into contact with the dirty ground, and the gardening gloves. Most boys of his age would just be in there, up to their armpits in muck. She smiled, relaxed, people understood, what the hell did it matter if everything wasn’t perfect? The guests were her family and close friends; everybody would muck in when they got here. She looked at her watch again.
Brenda from next door was the first to arrive. Shelly was in the kitchen trying to wrestle the oven gloves away from Carthenage. Sammy was yelling her name because he wanted her to do his washing. It was Saturday afternoon; Shelly always did his wash on a Saturday afternoon. He was standing in the middle of the kitchen with his washing basket in front of him. Shelly’s face was red, and tears stood in her eyes. John’s phone was off; she’d rung him repeatedly and had sent unpleasant texts, escalating in venom as the afternoon progressed.
‘Well it’s a good job that I came over early,’ Brenda said, putting a large apple pie on the counter. ‘It looks as though I got here just in time.’ She chuckled, ‘I wouldn’t like to lay bets on which of you is going to meltdown first.’
Brenda took charge. She shooed Shelly out of the kitchen to get a soak in the bath and took Sammy’s washing from him. Three minutes later, the satisfying sound of water filling the machine allowed Sammy to relax. Brenda took stock of what needed to be done.
‘Brenda Robinson, Carthenage pooped in the garden.’ She was putting two quiche in the oven.’
‘Okay, pumpkin, I’ll be there in just a second.’
Brenda Robinson. Brenda Robinson. Brenda Robinson.’
The cavalry arrived in the form of John’s parents and while Pauline set to helping in the kitchen, Brian was despatched to deal with the offending dog turd.
The barbecue was a success despite the host being missing in action. Everybody was fed and Brian, who had to step in as replacement chef, was relieved of his duties at the barbeque, though some charred sausages loitered on the griddle for anybody brave enough to attempt them. The drinking had begun in earnest and the karaoke machine had come onto the patio. The strains of a bad rendition of Dancing Queen, sung by two of the mother’s from Sammy’s school, rang out over the garden.
Shelly had played lone host, saw to it that everybody was happy and sank into fuck it, mode, with her third vodka and coke taking the place of her absent husband.
Sammy had coped with the party well. There were enough people to see to his needs.
Shelly May, Shelly May, Shelly May, was having a night off.
John appeared at turned eight thirty. He stepped out of the back door and smiled a tense hello to his guests. His mother ran to him flapping around and asking where he’d been. He kissed her on the cheek and told her not to fuss.
Shelly sat in her garden chair, in a rosy glow of vodka haze and ignored him. He bent down and kissed her on the forehead. His body was charged with a tension that echoed in his expression she could feel it through his chest. He looked sheepish, worried, but unrepentant.
‘Where’ve you been?’ she hissed through clenched teeth. She imagined what would happen if she threw her drink in his face. She stopped herself from doing it.
‘Oops, John May is late. John May is in trouble.’
If Sammy was aware of the tension it must have been palpable.
‘Not now,’ John hissed back at her. ‘Leave it. We’ll talk later.’
She smiled sweetly at him, realising that she couldn’t care less where he’d been. Raising her head, she brushed her lips softly across his cheek.
‘Fuck you,’ she whispered into his hair.