Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely co-incidental
In The Freezer
David looked up from washing the dishes. It was pitch black outside and all he could see was his own reflection. It was not a good look. His eyes were in deep shadow and the face in the glass had all the characteristics of a skull. After this he would sort the laundry for the morning, set aside his gear and go next door to join his wife in the living room.
The television was showing some game show or other. He would have to find his book, wherever he had left it, to avoid having to simulate conversation with Jen. Green Mars was a doorstop, but it occupied the time. Really, he should try the classics, maybe tackle Moby Dick or War and Peace. However, his experiment with Pride and Prejudice had not gone well.
His wife was sitting in her chair, staring unseeingly at the screen.
He settled himself into the other chair and cast around on the carpet, feeling for the book.
This was the nightly ritual. Two hours of silence and then bed, where they would lie back-to-back until either the children cried, or dawn came.
David had no idea what to do. There had been shouting, there had been crying, there had been argument, but nothing seemed to get through. There was a wall around Jen which appeared impenetrable.
He knew parenthood was hard, everyone had said so, usually in jest. But this? This was like being in Groundhog Day, waking up every morning to I Got You, Babe.
Jen’s eyes flicked to where he sat in front of the fire, reading his damn book. How she resented that easy ability to slip into another reality, away from their troubles. Then she sighed, there was no point wishing for the moon. They were where they were and there was no way out.
David looked up at her sigh, his eyebrows raised.
“It’s nothing,” she said resignedly. “Just thinking about what I need to do tomorrow. Josh has a development check up at the GP’s and the weather forecast isn’t good.
The doctor’s surgery was in the next village and that meant a thirty-minute walk with pram, and everyone togged up to the nines. Travelling with small children was a logistical nightmare; simultaneously estimating the probability of various disasters while keeping clobber to a minimum.
“What are we going to do about presents?”
David shrugged. “We don’t need to give each other anything and the kids will be happy with anything brightly coloured.”
She frowned. “It’s going to be a pretty poor Christmas.”
“That’s because we’re poor.”
This was their fourth year living in the unmodernised cottage. It was cold and draughty, but it was all they could afford on the one salary. Beggars can’t be choosers.
There was silence for a while. Then, “I’m thinking of taking the children to Mum and Dad’s after Christmas.”
“Okay, how long for?”
“A week, ten days maybe.”
The following morning as he picked up speed dropping off the hill onto the flat, he thought about what he could do with the time they were away. Some decorating perhaps, or maybe get decently plastered without having to worry about the dread combination of a hangover and small children the following day.
In the mornings, he left early to avoid the froideur at home and the rush hour traffic on the road. The ride to work was his therapy. Even when the weather was bad, battling the elements burned off his frustrations whether they be personal, professional, or financial. The hour-long journey twice a day meant that, if not otherwise toned, he had the calf muscles of a god. It also meant that he arrived at work early and alert, town traffic guaranteeing the latter. Early always counts as better in the workplace and he didn’t have much else to offer.
Freshly showered and dressed, he collapsed into his chair in front of his PC. There were a couple of other members of staff in the office with whom he shared desultory greetings. With a sigh he loaded up the day’s order of business.
Work was the usual ghastly drudgery. How was it that his colleagues got such fulfilment out of what was ultimately a vast box ticking exercise? However, this day was different. Mid-morning Misha, the head of section, stuck her head out of her office and asked for him. He duly trotted round to see her but got an unpleasant sinking feeling when he was asked to shut the door.
“David, you’re eryaman orospu numaraları not happy in your work, are you?”
He eyed her apprehensively. Be candid or say what he thought she wanted to hear? He tried for deflection.
“What makes you say that?”
She shook her head. “Never play poker, David.”
She cut him off. “I meant that you can’t keep your emotions off your face. At the moment you look a bit guilty and a bit scared. And it’s obvious that your job bores you. Bored staff make mistakes and ours is not a profession that smiles on mistakes.”
He looked at her in panic. “Are you sacking me?”
“No! But I think you need to be looking for something that better caters to your talents. So, consider yourself tasked with finding a suitable job.”
“But I have no idea what that would be,” he said miserably, looking down at his hands.
She softened. “What do you want to do?”
“I have a family to support.”
“Mm. Did you get any careers advice in school?”
“Not as such.”
“Very well, I’m going to send you for some aptitude tests.”
Two weeks to the day after the meeting with Misha, he found himself outside a door sandwiched between a clothes shop and a dry cleaners. It was blustery and cold and not for the first time he wished he had a better winter coat at the office. He pressed the bell and waited.
Presently a middle-aged woman in skirt, blouse and cardigan let him in and showed him upstairs to an anonymous set of rooms with privacy glass in the upper part of the partitions. There didn’t seem to be anyone else there. A couple of minutes went by and then another slightly more sharply dressed woman bustled in holding a sheaf of papers.
“Good! Now there are three tests, each one will take about an hour. As you’re the only test subject today, feel free to get up and walk around or use the facilities. At the end of each hour, I’ll come in and collect the paper and give you the next one. Do you have any idea of the nature of the tests?”
“No matter. In some ways that’s even better. Would you like to start?”
She left the room and closed the door behind her leaving him alone. So, there was no way to cheat then. He turned the booklet over and opened it up and flattened it out. As he scanned the first half dozen questions, he realised these were little different from the puzzles you found in the entertainment section of the newspaper. He grinned; this was going to be a piece of cake!
Half an hour later he was not so sure. Some of the problems were fiendish, one even had him digging out his memories of simultaneous equations from school. He wasn’t sure if there was a simpler way to attack it but suspected that the test setters probably didn’t care how he solved it as long as he succeeded.
Two and a half hours later he put down his pen. He felt wrung out. He hadn’t had to think that hard in years but at the same time he felt strangely satisfied.
The test supervisor came in the room. “How are you?” she asked.
“I’m whacked!” he replied.
She smiled. “That’s not uncommon, they’re designed to stretch you. Did you complete them all?”
“No, I got the distinct impression that it was not possible to complete some questions.”
Her eyebrows rose. “That’s very perceptive, not many people realise that.”
She picked up the last paper and asked if he was okay to find his own way out.
“Results would ordinarily be in three weeks but what with Christmas and staff leave, I think we’re more likely to be looking at the first week of February. You’ll have to make a return appointment to have them interpreted for you.”
At the station on Saturday morning, David bought tickets while Jen shepherded the children on to the platform.
The railway station was exposed to the elements. Fortunately, the station building had managed to retain a real fire in the old waiting room, and they secured a seat on which to await the train. Josh and Tilly sat, quietly for a change, between their parents who looked in opposite directions, one out of the window to the grey clouds, the other into the flames in the fireplace.
There were other families in the waiting room, harassed parents trying to prevent their charges from investigating the fire too closely. Tilly watched them with what David could have sworn was childish contempt, ankara escort she knew about fires.
Distantly the station announcer said something that might have been relevant, and David went out to investigate. The wind whipped along the platform making his coat flap against his knees. Jen’s train’s arrival time was making its way down the destination board, but the monitor flicked periodically, and David wasn’t entirely sure he trusted it.
In search of a printed timetable, he encountered a station guard who informed him that the 11:03 was not coming to Platform 1 but instead to Platform 3, over the bridge. This was invaluable news as getting the family circus moving was a time-consuming business and he hurried back to the waiting room.
Jen sighed with that awful, defeated sound that David had come to dread, as if to say, of course we’re going to have to go over the bridge. It couldn’t be simple, could it? She hauled herself to her feet and set about coaxing Josh into her arms. It was a wrench to leave the relative comfort of the fire.
David wrestled the suitcase and pushchair around the door’s over-zealous sprung closure and set off to the bridge.
“Wait,” Jen called, “I can’t keep up with you.”
He stopped and waited for them to catch up, conscious that he always walked too quickly and couldn’t seem to learn when to slow down. It might have been a response to the fact that everything with small children seemed to take an age. Then again it might just be because he walked quickly. You could over-analyse these things.
Josh wanted to walk up the steps like Tilly and fought Jen when she wouldn’t put him down. Irritably she thrust him at David who struggled to manage him along with everything else he had to hand. They made their way to the other platform where the waiting room was at least shelter from the wind even if it wasn’t heated. David put Josh down and he ran with Tilly to stare through the glass of the snack machine.
The minutes dragged by until the train edged into the station. Keeping firm hold on the children they found a window seat which was a space that Jen could control if she sat next the aisle and kept Josh between her and the window. David sat next to Tilly in the seat opposite Jen, waiting for the guard’s whistle that would be his cue to leave the train. No one spoke.
The whistle came, David gave Tilly a hug and kiss and the instruction to ‘behave for Mummy’ and then rose from the seat. He kissed his fingers and then tapped Josh on the forehead with them. Lastly, he leaned down to kiss Jen on the cheek.
“Safe journey,” he murmured.
She smiled faintly and went back to looking out of the window.
David waved to the children as the train pulled away and then stood watching as it disappeared from view. From the moment that they had left the house, Jen had said no more than a handful of words.
He waited in the shelter of the bus stop outside the station, stamping his feet to keep the circulation going. The sky brightened and the clouds parted to reveal the low winter sun. Normally that would have lifted his mood but not this day.
The bus pulled into the station and David got on, taking a seat on the empty, carbolic scented, upper deck and after a minute or two, it rumbled off into the town.
Older, more substantive buildings such as the church and more prestigious houses, were often made of a cream-coloured stone and, passing one of these, the yellow light on the stone brought a powerful reminder of Sicily, where they had spent ten idyllic days on honeymoon, staying in a flat owned by one of Jen’s relatives. A sob rose from inside him and he hurriedly fumbled for a tissue.
Driving his emotions back into their box, David blinked hard and thirty blank minutes later, the bus dropped him off near the pub and he made his way back to the house. Closing the door behind him, he leant back against it and stared at nothing.
The house was cold as they hadn’t set a fire before leaving for the station. He glanced at the breakfast things and decided they could wait. The living room fire lifted his spirits a little after he kindled it. He watched the flames until he was certain it was going, and then put on some music if only to drive back the blanketing silence.
The afternoon drew on and the light beyond the windows started to fade. He found himself pacing the house, unable to settle on anything. He made a elvankent escort pot of coffee and something to eat while he watched the early evening news on the television.
As the weatherman started his report David realised that he couldn’t remember any of the news stories that he’d just seen. His mind had been elsewhere but where that was, he couldn’t say.
Abruptly he stood up and seized his coat. Closing the front door behind him, he didn’t bother to lock it. They had nothing to steal.
Down the road he paused on the corner by the pub. The brightly lit windows beckoned, and David reviewed his finances.
The waft of warm air as he entered was very welcome, tainted as it was with the early doors smell of last night’s fug; stale tobacco, sweat and beer. At the bar he nodded to the two men that were virtually part of the pub’s goods and chattels.
There was a decent guest beer on tap, and he dithered between that and the more prosaic IPA. After promising himself that he would have no more than two, he opted for the former.
Sitting at one of the tables he looked out into the gathering dusk. The pub was at the end of a short lane that put it behind the houses that lined the high street and so the beer garden sloped away down the hill giving an uninterrupted view away to the west where a sickle moon hung above the last glow of the sunset.
David was concentrating very hard on not allowing his thoughts to end up in the death spiral of work, Jen short, round mothers with short round daughters.
In due course, Mike insisted on getting him another large spirit. He was the undisputed authority on all things and after a while David just allowed the never-ending stream of advice to wash over him; merely taking an occasional pull of his pint and nodding from time to time.
He was heartily relieved when another or Mike’s acquaintances joined them. The other two fell to village affairs and David observed wryly that women weren’t the worst gossips.
Getting up to go to the gents, the room spun. He’d had little to eat of course, and the booze was hitting him like an express train. Against Mike’s protestations, David mumbled something about making sure Jen had arrived safely and fled the room.
The following weekend was the first of the holiday season and found David wondering what to do with himself.
The house was very quiet without the family. He wandered morosely from the kitchen to the tiny living room where the television blared the usual holiday programming. He turned it off and the quiet again settled over the house like a shroud.
Normally, David was happy on his own, but these evenings he found himself unable to settle to anything. He needed company.
His friends had drifted slowly away after he had married Jen and living out here meant that coming to visit took effort, and they were people that enjoyed the freedom of living in town. The freedom to casually wander out of their front door and find fun.
After the children were born a guillotine had come down. Their lifestyles were simply too different. David couldn’t linger in town after work, he needed to be home to give Jen some relief from the kids.
He had been unable to make any real friends in the village. He knew many people to say hello to, and some of those he could have a half-decent conversation with, but at some point, he would come up against the invisible barrier.
If you were a local – and you couldn’t claim to be one of those unless there were at least five generations of your forebears in the graveyard – then you would know all the background to a conversation. If you weren’t then you didn’t need to, and no-one was going to tell you.
There would be a particular look that he had come to recognise, a certain set to the eyes, and a realisation that that was as far as he was going to be allowed to go. You could be acquaintances perhaps, enough to have a drink with or maybe turn out for the cricket team.
That knowledge had started to eat away at him.
Equipped with coat and scarf, he left the house and struck out into the still, cold night. The stars were magnificent. Until he’d moved out here, he’d had no idea how many there were to see away from the glare of the street lighting.
He passed the end of the pub’s cul-de-sac and stopped. The pub was partying hard, the dull throb bleeding into the night. Quite what the owners had thought they were doing when they developed and extended this modest facility was beyond reckoning. It was at odds with the down at heel village outside. However, it did pull in a fair number of the younger age group, whose antics at closing time had led to a good deal of grumbling among the locals.