Writing by John

The Bet

I think I hear the key in the lock. Will the door be closed quietly, all mouse-like or …?
The front door is banged shut and steps hurry to the kitchen.
“I’ve won! Shaz, where are you? I’ve won! Look at it. Six thousand, five hundred smackers. Sharon, come and see.”
He’s back, is he? The conquering hero. And me in the bath. Oh dear! Another time I might have shouted back or grabbed a towel and dripped onto the landing to peer down the stairs at him. Not today. Today is my day for dreaming what was and what might have been. I don’t think there’s a tomorrow … tomorrows aren’t for people like me.
Dave has placed a small rucksack in the middle of the kitchen table. He shakes the contents onto the cracked surface. Bundles of used bank notes tumble out, most held together with thick elastic bands. A few high-denomination notes and some seemingly straight out of a bank machine, others crumpled and dog-eared. All have been thrown down in disgust by his fellow gamblers, the moment he turned over his cards.
He laughs. “They thought I was bluffing. They were gutted.”
He knows exactly how they felt; he’s been there himself. But he’s top dog today and he deserves a drink.
“Shaz, it’s sorted.”
Dave has a plastic bag at his feet and he picks it up. He pulls out a bottle of Irish and sets it among the cash. There’s more money in this bag too, and he tips it onto the expanding pile.
“You don’t need to ask Mum for another loan. I’ll sort the landlord first thing. Was it two or three months we owe? He won’t be leering at you tomorrow either – I’ll have a word with him about that. And you can go get your rings back. The ticket’s in my old suit jacket.”
Dave pours two glasses of whisky and thinks about his rollercoaster of a day. Where the hell is Sharon?
I’m upstairs Dave, in the bathroom. Why don’t you go up while we take a look at you? People will need to understand what I saw in you at the beginning. Before all this.
Okay, this is Dave, we’ve been together for ten years. He was once a car salesman. He had all the patter. I suppose he could have used the same qualities to sell double glazing, solar panels or mobile phones. He would sell snow to Eskimos as long as he got commission. I even bought one of his crappy second-hand cars – that’s how we met. We were both in our twenties then.
He lost that job of course and several more since. Well, in the end the hours of any job were always incompatible with his more important activity – playing cards.
“Sharon, you upstairs? Say something, then. Let’s call a truce, shall we? I know you were upset this morning, but I really hate it when you give me the silent treatment.” Dave stands at the bottom of the stairs.
“Look, I’m sorry. There, I’ve said it. I know I’ve been a bastard to you.” His voice trails off. “Shaz, come and see all this lovely money.”
Dave’s shaved his hair right off. Not a fashion statement. It was some kind of penance he imposed on himself after last year’s holiday cash went missing. He also sports the “nearly-a-beard” look, out of convenience. You don’t waste time on what you look like when you’re needed at the card table.
His slim build is looking a little gaunt these days as he’s inclined to miss meals here and there, and he only manages a few hours’ sleep most nights. The bloody internet! Sites which welcome the likes of Dave into the small hours. Lots of ways for a gambling man to find a home for his cash.
Dave is good at that – losing, that is. My money, money he’s borrowed, money he’s stolen. Dave has no control over the monster that lies beneath his skin. Sometimes it sleeps for a few days; it even went away for a month last year. Then it came back and dug in so deep, I think it simply uses Dave to take it from place to place. Dave’s stuck with it now.
“I’m coming to get you!”
Can you hear him? Dave’s using his playful voice, reserved for days when he’s “ahead”. I call it our “in-between” time. Doesn’t he sound nice? Mr Gentleman, thoughtful, always apologetic, generous, funny, loving and often very randy. Oh yeah, and he’ll be full of plans for a new start somewhere else. It won’t last.
Dave climbs the narrow stairs, holding the whisky glasses. The house is a bit short on space, but it was always temporary. Perhaps they should just clear out – maybe start afresh down south. Yeah, he’ll talk to Sharon about that. He stops at the top of the stairs. A bathroom has been squeezed into a small bedroom and that door is shut.
“Come out, come out wherever you are!”
I’m certainly in no state to go anywhere, Dave. What are you going to do about that?
Dave eyes the closed bathroom door before walking into the bedroom. Sharon has been wearing the jumper and jeans which are now folded neatly on the bed. Sharon is in her bathroom. The door with a good solid lock. It was Sharon’s idea to get the door fixed. He won a couple of thousand last year and suggested they went to Brighton. She said no. She wanted the taps fixing in the bathroom and a lock put on the door. Her way of escaping him whenever she fancied. She grabbed the money and got someone in the next day.
He’ll have downed his whisky and be contemplating drinking the one intended for me. I’ve had more than a couple myself while Dave was out. Oh yes, I kept money hidden from him. Emergency funds. Used it more than once to put food on the table.
My mum gave me £500 last year. Supposed to use it to get as far away from Dave as possible. Yeah, easier said than done. I ‘ve got a box under the bath amongst the spiders’ webs. Don’t matter, it’s all gone now. Last few quid bought me a big bottle of Jameson’s which is looking down at me now. Thirty quid from the corner shop. There’s a drink or two still left in it.
“How long are you going to keep this up, Sharon? Giving me the cold shoulder? I said I was sorry. I’ve got a drink for you. We should be celebrating. Do you hear me? My best day ever.”
Dave has been talking to the bathroom door. He’s decided he’s just going to wait for Sharon to come out. He hasn’t seen her naked for a while and he realises they haven’t … done it for what? Three months? Can’t be that long, can it? She’ll come around.
Hope springs eternal. Perhaps that’s the gambler in him. He’s certainly had a lot of practice in handling failure. We both have. And what was my best day? Today? Don’t think I’ve ever had a best day with Dave. When I was at school perhaps – before meeting him. All a lifetime away from here – us in this little terraced house. The dramas it must have seen over the years. Now, Dave and I are papering a further layer of desperation and disappointment onto its walls.
Dave’s mobile rings. He digs it out from his jacket pocket. It’s a cheap one, so he’s no clue who’s calling.
“Yup, Dave speaking, who wants me?” He listens and chuckles down the phone. One of his card-playing fraternity has heard about the big win. Wants to congratulate him. How did he pull off the big one?
“Had that lucky feelin’ this morning. Knew I had to go with it. I’d have been screwed if I’d lost!”
More laughter from the other end and Dave savours the moment of his win. Why can’t Sharon be happy for him? The caller presses him about a game happening later.
“Look mate, I’ve gotta go.” Then a moment of inspiration and loud enough to carry to the bathroom. “I’m taking the wife out tonight. Bit of a celebration. No! No way! Maybe tomorrow. Yeah, bye. Ring me in the morning.”
Oh, he’s so determined. Really?
“Sharon did you hear me? We’re out tonight. Come on, get out of that bath and get your glad rags on.” He pauses. Then, “Well, not straight away …”
So, Dave sits and waits and finishes both glasses of whisky. That fact no doubt contributes, together with the lack of response from Sharon, to his decline in enthusiasm for getting his wife into bed.
He’ll want more alcohol now. Best get downstairs, Dave. Nothing up here for you, is there?
Dave rolls from the bed but resists the temptation to rattle the handle to the bathroom. She is in one of her moods so what’s the point?
“I’m going down, give us a shout when you …” He’s not sure what to say, and leaves it at that.
The money is still there. Some of the excitement has worn off though. He reaches for the bottle and fetches a fresh glass. The alcohol is fiery and it’s doing its job – taking the edge off. He begins to put the money back into the rucksack, squeezing in as much as he can but leaving a pile of notes on the table. A little something for Sharon. It occurs to him that he doesn’t know if she has any ‘glad rags’.
How are you feeling, Dave? Coming down from that high? You’ve never really been a gambler for the money, have you? I realise that but I don’t know if you do.
Dave’s phone rings.
Here we go …
“Hello … yeah … luck is like that. Nah, I’ve had a drink.” Laughter and cajoling from the same caller who rang earlier. “I’d have to get back by nine. I said …”
More muffled persuasion down the phone line.
“For a couple of hours then, I’ll just let Shaz know and see you outside.”
Dave has grabbed his rucksack and scribbles a note on the back of a receipt he’s found on the worktop. He glances at it. Sharon buying whisky? Bloody hell, that’s a first. Razors? Ah … shaving her legs in the bath or whatever it is that women do!
Then he’s gone, just as noisily as he came in earlier.
Bye, Dave. You should have tried the bathroom door. I left it unlocked so you could come in. You might have saved me. I wanted to save you. We both lost. I’ll think about …
The front door bursts open and Dave runs up the stairs, his rucksack still over his shoulder and a trail of money falling from it.
“Sharon! Don’t you dare have done something stupid!”
The bathroom door is open and Dave sees Sharon, her face half- submerged in the frothy pink of the bath water. Dave kneels beside her and slides an arm around her shoulders, supporting her head. He hears the footsteps on the stairs.
“Get a bloody ambulance! Tell them to hurry.”
That sounds like the Dave I fell in love with. Not certain though – can only just hear his voice.
Dave has lifted Sharon from the bath and now sits with her cradled in his arms. He has grabbed towels and tries to stem the blood from the cuts on her wrists. The floor is littered with banknotes. Some are pink-tinged and others slashed with angry red. Water and blood. Dave moans and pulls Sharon closer.
Will this turn out to be my best day ever? We’ll see. Wouldn’t bet on it, though.

 

A Nice Cup of Tea

“Now June, I want you to make damn sure that David’s friends all have invites. It’s a big day for him, and you need to be on your best game.”
June looked at her husband and knew there was no point in arguing. Ted always assumed he was right and said so loudly. She watched him prise out his silver hipflask and pour some of his favourite scotch into his third tea of the morning. He would have to watch that habit.
They had met at the surgery where she’d worked as a receptionist. He was the six feet tall Northern Rep for a pharmaceutical company doing the schmooze with all the medics, with his eye on her as well as the next commission.
They had had sex on their first date. It was good too. So later, when sex became love-making she did her bit to ensure he’d never play away from home. He was a good-looking bloke then and still was with his bushy thatch of fair hair. Most of today’s colour though came out of a bottle – old age peering around a corner – not something Ted found easy to accept.
They’d married fifteen years ago; she at the less-than-tender age of forty-five, on the rebound from her two-timing ex. Of course Ted had come with a bit of baggage; it’s the way of these things. His son David was twenty at the time and just finishing Uni. It had seemed special then that David and his father were so close. June’s first marriage had been childless and she and Ted had decided a baby at their age would involve far too many sleepless nights. Step-mum to the older David suited her at the time.
“They were posted yesterday – first class and with all the details, as per instructions.” June continued clearing away the breakfast. Aged sixty, she still looked trim, she thought. Ted had persuaded her to retire early and suggested she join his gym. He liked that she kept fit. She fancied he also preferred having her where he could see her. Well, the attention had been welcomed at first, after the coldness of her first marriage, but later she recognised it for what it was. With Ted, everything was about control – and he no longer bothered to hide it. Nothing could be done about that now – she’d made her bed and she’d just have to lie in it.
“So, you’re sure you’ve written to them all?” June absorbed Ted’s questioning stare, and nodded back at him.
Ted had collected the addresses on his recent trip to see David at Nottingham prison. Just one more visit to be made before David’s release next Friday – two and a half years completed of a five-year sentence for the rape of his ex-girlfriend. David had pleaded not guilty but a jury had not believed him. The minimum sentence was considered by many, including June, as being unduly lenient.
‘David’s name really ought not to be on the Sex Offenders Register,’ Ted had informed her, believing that the judge had also shared his view that the jury had messed up. June had not been surprised when the judge had been discreetly retired a few months later.
“Ted, I’ve done all you asked and sorted the caterer, just as you wanted. People have busy lives and some may well…not feel able…” She hesitated – not wanting to risk Ted’s temper.
“Look, June, we both know David did nothing wrong. It was that bloody girl, spinning a tale – changing her mind afterwards. Everyone one could see what sort of person she was – dressed like a tart. Poor David happened to be the one trapped by her. For goodness sake she went home willingly enough with him. I think she was probably after money.”
June knew Ted’s take on events. She was ashamed she no longer dare challenge him. Ted had insisted she give his son the benefit of any doubt she might have. June found that hard to do when she knew Di as a pleasant young woman who had initially fallen for David’s fake charm. She’d been the one to finish with him, although David claimed to have – ‘dumped her’. It said something about David that he used that term.
In court, Di recounted she had been separated from girlfriends that Friday night. David had approached her in the city bar with a ‘just one drink for old times’ sake’ and one had become two, maybe three. She had blacked out and awoken, on a settee in David’s flat. Her blouse had had all its buttons ripped off and hung open. Tights and panties were in a tangled heap at her feet, beside several torn condom foils. David was naked and asleep next to her.
She had crept to the bathroom and in the mirror, had been shocked to see her badly bruised face and neck. She’d slipped out, phoned a taxi and had initially returned home. Di’s mother drove her straight to the police station and David was woken by detectives less than an hour later. June found David’s account of Di, as the initiating and willing partner, frankly unbelievable.
“Now, Ted, don’t put yourself through that all again. David will want to get on with his life now and you need to get yourself off to his flat and get the heating sorted. The phone needs reconnecting too.” June had discovered that changing subject and feigning concerns for the beloved David was sometimes required, however distasteful it felt.
“Right…sort David’s place out…” Ted’s voice had lost some of its edge. “Okay, just finishing this cuppa. Be a pet and top up my flask for me – seems not to hold as much as it used to.” His eyes flashed the old Ted come-on. “Got to go – need to pick up bits from the workshop first.”
“Hold on Ted; you need you to get me another bottle of scotch.” Ted didn’t hear that last bit, he was already on his way – the flask left on the table. He wouldn’t be back ‘til late. In fact, he had been known to stay the night when he and David had a decorating project on. Why it took him so long to do these jobs she never could quite understand. Probably all part of his need for perfection in everything.
The workshop was really their former built-in garage which he had re-plastered and equipped with fancy bits of woodworking machinery. Along the far wall Ted had built wooden storage cabinets each beautifully labelled in his unique cursive script. Those containing blades, oils, et cetera he kept locked for safety reasons.
She didn’t often venture in there, sensing Ted saw this as his space. He’d proudly shown it her when first she’d visited before the house had become her home. Their spare bedroom was now her sewing room. A sanctuary of her own.
She heard Ted’s estate car pulling off the drive. He was home most nights now that he too was retired. He’d kept the company car saying a big boot had its uses and who knows perhaps they might take up camping again. June shuddered at the idea. She might be still up for Zumba twice a week but a comfy bed was her preferred option for sleeping.
‘Let me sort out his lordship’s booze before I forget. Don’t want to wander down that road,’ June had learnt not doing what he asked was to be avoided.
Ted’s supply of single malt was kept in the workshop so she would have to get a fresh bottle herself. She knew Ted kept a set of spare keys in his winter coat pocket and after a couple of tries she found the ones to the workshop. The light switch revealed the usual perfect order of Ted’s world.
The bottles she remembered were stored to the right of the cabinets. ‘Only three left…he is getting through them quickly.’ And no point in telling him.
Ted had obviously dashed in and out and one of his cupboards had not been shut. He’d be most upset at that. So, June pushed it closed, reading the label, as she walked by.
What on earth were ‘Assorted Favourites’ anyway and why were they needed at David’s?
‘I’ll just take a peek,’ she thought, ‘Ted isn’t here to mind.’
DVDs – comedy classics from the sixties – June didn’t know they were his sort of thing. A handful of recordables each of which Ted had labelled with a date.
‘Probably the accounts – trust Ted to back everything up. Mr Bloody Perfect,’ June concluded.
She flicked through them already feeling she had pried too much when one date caught her eye. Just over two and a half years previously. Ted away at his conference – the night of the rape.
Just a coincidence? Then why this feeling of dread? June’s hand went to her mouth and she looked about the room, as if seeing it for the first time. Answers were needed and she hurried to the DVD player in the lounge.
Two hours later, June was back in the workshop – now wearing some disposable latex gloves – traces of dried vomit around her mouth. She was finished with crying and feeling sorry for herself.
“Let’s start with the ones the bastard keeps locked.”
She needed a step ladder to reach the one labelled ‘Engine Additives’. Behind other innocuous bottles stood a small bottle she’d seen in the DVD. Its shape was distinctive.
Thinking about what she’d recently viewed nearly made her throw up again – David doing terrible things to an unconscious Di. And a second figure, tall with bushy hair, joining in. June had recognised the mole on his buttocks.
Towards the end David had held the bottle up to the camera and gave it the thumbs up. What was in the bottle? June had listened to enough radio talks about date rape – it had to be Rohypnol in some form or another. But how to be sure?

“Be in the workshop awhile – eat later, I think.” Ted had returned, in the evening, sounding pleased with himself.
“Poor darling, you have been busy. Take this nice hot cuppa with you. You deserve a little treat”
Ted sipped the tea and nodded. “You’re right, I do.”
Then the waiting flask caught his eye and he scooped it up before striding off to unlock his workshop.
Twenty minutes later June eased the door open. Ted was on the floor, slouched forward with legs splayed in front of him. His gaze appeared fixed on his flask which lay among the DVDs scattered about him.
“You alright, Ted?”
Ted wanted to answer but he was beyond speech. He was no longer in control of anything and as June observed, not even his bladder.
“Like what I put in your flask, darling?”
She had never thought she could contemplate deliberately harming anyone. Anything was possible now. She wanted to hurt Ted for what he had done to Di, and to the other women. Evil crimes going back years – catalogued on the discs.
“Ted, in an hour or so we’ll get the police – that’s the plan anyway. They’ll want to talk about all this. Fortunately, they’ll re-arrest David so you’ll have company. No point now in a welcome home party either.”
June was back up the step ladder, opening the cabinet door which Ted had thoughtfully labelled “Sharps”. That was indeed what was inside. She picked out scissors and a Stanley knife. One of these should do the trick.
A determined-looking June grabbed Ted’s hair, lifted his head and slapped him hard across his face.
“Eyes open.” June’s voice had an authority she had thought lost. Ted surfaced from his dark void and gave a low moan.
“Well, you wanted my best game,” she smiled and selected scissors, “shall we see then, what I can really do.”