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I regret everything.

Everything, includes the following.

  1. Eating the third slice of double chocolate gateau at your leaving party and ruining my diet that I’d been doing so well at
  2. My rendition of my heart will go on after the fifth glass of wine in front of your work mates
  3. Cycling home and walking up with the pillow stuck with crusted blood to my face
  4. Leaving out the back door like I was guilty

We were walking into the pub together and you were telling me how excited you were to be starting a fresh. I said you were talking in clichés. I got us both a glass of wine. You said that you wanted to spread your wings and see the world. I told you enough with the clichés already, but you carried on. Queen of the “already been quoted thousands of times before”.

You chinked your glass with mine and smiled. Your cheekbones were prominent and your make up made your eyes big and wide. I thought you looked stunning, but I never said.

“I’ll miss you, you know that?” you said.

“Don’t go all soppy on me now.” I swallowed the burning lump in my throat and sipped my wine. People came through the door, loudly. Cheering your name and laughing. You got up, smiling and waving at everyone. Some older guy kissed you on the cheek and asked if you wanted a drink. You said yes and swished off to the bar in your swishy dress that clinged to your tiny waist and brushed against your long legs.

I sat staring into my glass of wine for a few more minutes until you called me over. You introduced me to people I didn’t know, people I didn’t care to know. You made me shake hands and smile at everyone while you kept people laughing and spoke all your favourite clichés.

“A new challenge is just what I need.”

“You’ll be great.” Some bitch with a bob said.

“I think it’s time to see some of the world, you know, spread my wings.” – ah ha. I thought. You’ve said that one already. Bad enough using the clichés, let alone repeating them in the same evening to the same ears.

I drank the rest of my wine. I ordered another and a side of vodka. You said that I should lay off the vodka, told everyone at the bar how I once stripped on a pool table after a bottle of the cheap stuff. Some young guy with dark hair and almond eyes laughed and said, “Bar man, make hers a double.”

The night went on. Your eyes got more glazed with each glass of wine. You danced. I sat down and watched. I spoke to the guy with the brown hair and the almond eyes, he brought me more vodka and we kissed. Did you know that? I kissed him to make you notice. To make you change your tracks on the dance floor and move your way to me and say, “hey, stop kissing him. You’re mine.” Then you’d take me home, you’d stay with me. But, you didn’t even look over. You had one hand in the air and was dancing to “We Will Rock You” by Queen.

I managed to brush off the guy with the almond eyes and the brown hair. He lost interest when I didn’t take my clothes off and dance on the pool table after the copious amounts of vodka he was buying me. He moved on to someone who looked ‘office hot’. The best of a bad bunch.

The karaoke came out. I was swaying on my feet by this point and was soon enough signing myself up to sing “my heart will go on.” People got out there lighters and swayed in front of me as I sang out of tune and out of time.

I went outside for fresh air and  a cigarette. I threw up in the ash tray. I had beer to get rid of that hot sick taste. It was like lava. Why did you make me have the curry before me went out?

You saw that I was in a slumped up state in the corner so you brought me a piece of chocolate gooey gateau.

“You having a good time?” You said. I nodded and began to inhale the cake. I couldn’t get it in fast enough. I spent weeks trying to resist the urge to eat my feelings.

“You’ll be okay, won’t you?”

“Me?” I said with my mouth full. Flecks of cake fell out and onto your dress. You brushed it off. “I’ll be fine. I was fine before, I’ll be fine now.”

“You will be. I know you will be. Anyway, we’ll stay in touch. You can come over and stay with me.”

“Ha! Bit far for my bank account to take me.”

“You can save.”

“Yeah.” I said. “I’m getting more cake.” You were left on your own for about 20 seconds but for those moments you lost your smile. Your mouth turned down and you looked like tears might start. I almost ran back to tell you to stay and that my heart was broken in a way that I didn’t know it could. But just as my adrenaline got started and my palms started sweating at the thought of telling you, someone came over and made you laugh. You were fine.

I ate two more slices of cake. I eat when I’m stressed. I eat when I’m sad and I eat when I’m scared. That was why I had three slices.

I left the party without saying goodbye to you because I was bad at goodbyes. I didn’t want to show you how much you leaving was hurting me. I knew that I’d end up in an uncontrollable crying fit that couldn’t be cured by cuddles. I needed an, “I love you.”

I rode home on my bike. I didn’t wear my helmet and I found ringing my bell hilarious. I was cackling through tears like some kind of mad, misunderstood witch.

I fell off. Hit my head on someone’s garden wall. There was so much blood, I had to take my top off to bandage up my wound. Heads bleed bad, you remember we found that out when you fell over drunk after New Year ’s Eve. We spent New Year ’s Day up A and E eating the contents of the vending machine and watching crap day time TV.

In the morning I sat up in bed and the pillow followed, stuck to my head with dried blood. I took my phone out of my handbag to see that I had missed calls and text messages from you. My hazy hangover made me slow, but all I could think of was that you were trying to tell me you had changed your mind. You loved me. You needed to stay with me. You weren’t going to go.

But that wasn’t the message I got.

You were angry and shouting down the phone. “I needed a goodbye from you, you coward. You selfish bitch.” You said I was the worst friend you’d had. You said I selfish loner who’d die alone. You loathed my introverted-ness, that you always claimed you loved.

Then then there was the screeching of brakes and a scream that still chills the marrow of my bones. That scream wakes me up every night in a cold sweat of regret.

The phone went dead.

I almost didn’t go to your funeral, but your words resounded in my mind. “I needed a goodbye from you.” I said goodbye and I cried into a bunch of tulips. I left them, and a piece of my heart that was fit to explode with love for you, by your grave side.

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On the Job

On a Job

Danny said the job was in accounting. I said I’d got no experience but he said it was on the job training. Danny was a friend of a friend’s brother, I didn’t know much about him except that he was soaked in gold and wore a pinstriped suit. He was doing well for himself, he said I could be too if I took the job.

“But accounting,” Leah said when I told her. “You failed maths. Surely, you can’t just be an accountant.”

“It’s on the job training.” I said.

“I’ll keep on at Jimmy,” she said. “You know, about the job in the takeaway.”

“Didn’t you hear me? it’s on the job training, that means I learn the job on the job. No different from learning how to clean cars.”

 “But it is,” she said. “It’ll be hard.”

 “It’ll be fine. Just need to brush up my maths. Can’t you be supportive?”

“I just don’t want you to stress yourself out again.” She had no faith in me. I wanted to take the job even more.

I rang Danny. “I’ll take it,” I said.

“Brilliant news son,” he said. “Good to have you on board. Right, my office is above Andrews in town.”

“The chip shop?”

“Yeah. Just temporary, my one in the city’s getting fixed up,” he said. “I won’t move in until my mahogany desk is in there.”

          “Fair enough,” I said. Top man, classy.

“Come over half nine tomorrow morning alright,” he said. “Bring your passport.”

That night I went on the internet and revised my times tables. Mum always said you’d never get anywhere without them. Leah even helped me revise, in between sterilising bottles and ironing. 

Leah tried to make me a packed lunch. “You’ll need brain food if you’re working with numbers,” she said. I pushed it away and told her accountants send out for sandwiches and drink Americano’s.

“Lunch on the go,” I said. She looked offended but I didn’t care. I was in charge again. I was the bread winner. No more sitting on the sofa in my dressing gown watching Jeremy Kyle. I kissed her and the baby on the head.

“Good luck,” she said and made the baby wave.

Monday morning, nine o’clock and I was on my way to work. I was finally part of the rat race again, the rush hour, the weekends and evenings free. I said goodbye to factory shifts, hard hats and cleaning shit off the back of a toilet bowl. I was going to be a trainee accountant. I was a man. I was the man.

I buzzed the flat above the chip shop.

No answer. The buzzer was sticky where the label had peeled off. I pushed my thumb and finger together to feel them stick. No answer. A spider had made a web across the bit you speak into. It was a thick bodied little bastard, curled up and crispy. I brushed the web away, pushed the button again. “Hello?” I said. I tapped my legs and feet to make a beat. It was my nervous twitch.

“’ello?” said a voice down the line.

“Hi Danny,” I said. “It’s me, Neil.”

“Alright Neil son,” he said. “Come on up.” The stairs were steep and dark. I tripped up the top step. Danny opened one of the doors and let in some light.

“Watch your step,” he said. I nodded. He was wearing a pale blue high collar shirt, buttons undone at the top, sleeves rolled up.

“Nice watch,” I said. Looked expensive, gold and chunky.

He tapped the face. “Needs a new battery. Come through, come through.” The room was short and square. There was a window with a net curtain, brown with dirt. He had a desk, beech effect from Argos and two spinning chairs pushed under it.

 “It’s not much, but like I said, my one’s getting fixed up.”

 “In the city?”

 “Yeah, course,” he said. ”Here take a seat.” He pointed to the chair. “We need to have chat, about the job and that.” I sat down opposite him. I crossed my legs, rubbed my thighs, uncrossed my legs. “You need this job don’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I hope you don’t mind but asked Damon about you. He told me the shit you’ve been through with the Mrs, the nipper and the gambling debt.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I need the job.”

           “Get started then, yeah?” I nodded. “The business is big, overseas even,” he said. “You’ll learn on the job. You’ll get paid when I get paid, commission based.”

           “Oh,” I said.

“It ain’t like selling tellies or houses though. The commission you’ll get is a lot, right?”

 “Right.”

 “Probably more than you’d earn in a month.”

 “Oh, right,” I said.

           He shifted forward in his seat and rubbed his stubble. “Your first week’s a doddle. Kenny’s gunna pick you up. Kenny’s been in the business for years. Kenny’s the best of the best. He’s gunna shadow you. You won’t touch my money without him until you’ve earned my trust. Get it?”

“Yeah course,” I said.

“So you’re going to change some cash from Euros into English money for me.”

 “Okay,” I thought he must have just got back from holiday or something. I asked him where he’d been and where he got the money and he said no questions.

 “First thing to know is the rule,” he said. “You can’t go to the same bureau de change for the whole lot, right.”

 “Right, okay.” I started to feel suspicious but I didn’t want to interrupt with questions, he had a stern fat face. Wait until the end I thought.

 “Kenny knows where they are,” he said. “No more than a couple of grand at a time either, right. And not always the same amount, don’t make patterns. Right?”

 “How much do I have to change?”

 “Much as you can today without going to the same places twice,” he put a back pack on the desk. “The Euro’s are in ‘ere, right? Sort them into envelopes. You don’t want to be pulling out huge wads of cash from a back pack, am I clear?”

 “Clear.” I said.

 “Right, any questions?”

 “Is this legit?” I said.

 “I think you know the answer to that.” He was right. I knew it wasn’t legit when he started talking about changing the money. Money laundering, I’d heard about it on the news. I thought about walking out, turning down the job. I wouldn’t do well in prison. Then he said: “Does it really bother you? Didn’t bother me when I was twenty five and had grand in my pocket. That’s what you’ll get today, if you do the work. You’ve got two options right, stay here and earn a mint, or go to the factory and break your back for six pound eight.”

I started pricing it up. A grand or more every day for moving a bit of money about. I could pay the bills, clear the gambling debt. Re-join the casino, I’d have the money to lose. Roulette wheels and slot machines and poker chips and… “I’ll do it.” I said.

“Funny how moral goes up the Gary when money’s involved ain’t it,” he said. “Right go in the room on the end and sort the money out. You’ve got an hour.” I got out of the chair and picked up the backpack. I was about to walk through the door when Danny said: “Oh and don’t tell no one what you are doing or we’ll all be in the shit. Right?”

“Right.”

I went in the room at the end of the hall. It was a kitchen. There was a few cupboards on the walls and a table and chairs in the middle. I put the back pack on the table and untied the draw string. It was full of coloured notes, green and yellow and purple and orange and red. I wanted to throw the notes in the air, roll around in them, wipe my arse with them. It had been so long.

I spread the money out onto the table and started sorting them into piles. Counted and stuffed it into envelopes. It was easy, I didn’t know what Leah worried about. Shit, Leah, I thought. I told myself that all couples lied to each other. We dressed up the truth. This was no different. It wasn’t  like I was having it off with some slag on a Mahogany desk. I was just making us some money. I’ll buy her some flowers. I thought.

I stuck down the last envelope. A man came in. He was small, he had a short neck and long hair, parted in the middle. He walked stiff, like he had a plank tied to his back and to each leg. He put a hand out to shake mine. He squeezed tight, shook hard.

“I’m Kenny,” he said, whispering.

“Neil,” I said.

“So you’re the new boy then? Interns we call them. They call me Senior Management,” He laughed. “That’s what it says on my CV.”

 “Right.” I said, I wasn’t laughing.

“Shall we get going? car’s on double yellows.” I put the envelopes back into the back pack. “You’ll learn to pack quicker,” he said. “You have to in this job. It’s like when you have dinner with a fat bird, got to finish before they ask you if you’re gunna eat that.”

Kenny was parked right outside the shop. It was a Mazda. Sliver. I said how nice the car was. “Used to be green,” he said.

We drove to Northampton. I was spending the money I didn’t have yet. “Don’t look so excited, like you’ve won the lottery,” Kenny said. “You ain’t won nothing until we’re back at Danny’s place. Don’t forget you’re just a man who wants his money changed. Don’t make them suspicious.”

Kenny said he liked classical music and I said I didn’t mind, he said could he put on his CD. I was relaxed by the time we got to Northampton, soothed by the cello and the spliff that Kenny gave me.

The first bureau de change was Thomas Cook. We parked up the Mazda and stuffed the envelopes into our pockets.

“Only take a little one for now, to break you in.” He took a couple of hundred Euros out of an envelope and gave it to me. “Just remember, you’re a man who wants his money changed. Been on your holidays. Don’t say too much but don’t say nothing. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Right,” he said. “You’re on.”  He pointed me to Thomas Cook on Abington Street.

The shop wasn’t busy. Women in blue shirts and pink scarves were sitting around talking.  “Hello,” the blonde said, “can I help?”

“Just changing some holiday money up.” Say less, I thought.

“Going anywhere nice?”

“No, just got back.” Say less, say less.

“Oh where did you go?”

“Turkey.” I fiddled with the envelope and the money fell out.

“Oh,” she said and bent down to pick the notes up. ”Turkey do Lira, don’t they?”

“Oh this? no this is, is different holiday money,” I said. I took the money from her and shook it. “I went to…”

“Spain?” she said.

 “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, Spain, I went to Spain. Excuse me.” I walked over to the kiosk.

“I’d like to change this to sterling please,” I said to the fat girl behind the counter. I put the envelope of money through the slot under the glass. Her sausage fingers counted my Euros.

“For seven hundred and fifty Euros I will be able to give you, six hundred and twenty one pounds and sixty two pence.”

“That sounds fine. Yeah, please, Yeah I’ll take that.” She passed a slip through the glass.

“Just sign this please.” I signed and left the building. I’d done it and it was easy. I was ready to do it again and again. And we did. All day. We went to every town between Watford and Northampton. Changed up twenty grand by six o’clock.

We got back to Danny’s office and he was sitting on his blue chair hunched over his laptop.

“Alright Danny,” Kenny said and put the back pack on the table. “Twenty grand in there. Intern did good.” He patted me on the back.

“Knew he would, he’s got that sweet and innocent look. No one stops the good guys.” He took out a handful of the notes and counted one thousand five hundred pounds as quickly as they do in the banks. “This is yours then.” The notes were burning in my hands. I stuffed them into my trouser pockets. Mostly fifties.

“Thanks,” I said. He shook my hand.

“Good work. I take it you’re coming out tonight?” he said. “You can meet some of the others then.” Leah crossed my mind for a second but I was caught up in the excitement. I had money back in my life. I wanted to play cards, drink champagne and do lines off a hookers chest. The idea of being home with Leah, a baby and the TV bored me. I texted her and said: “drink with the guys from work, back late.” It was always too easy to lie to her. 

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