Monday, November 22, 2004

Day 21

You've probably noticed that these comments have got shorter lately. That's because I'm posting later and later so I'm knackered by the time I post so I'm not up to waffling. So there!

The atmosphere in the house over the next week was tense to say the least. Mum went back to the home on Monday without saying much at all. I’d tried to explain but it seemed that she wasn’t really interested. She knew about Marlene and Maarten, but I had to explain about Astrid, something I didn’t really want to do at this stage in the relationship. I thought that might pique her interest, me meeting a girl at last, but she didn’t pass any comment apart from asking where I’d met her, which seemed insignificant in the great scheme of things. I didn’t even broach the subject of my ‘breakdown’, mum’s health was fragile enough without trying to introduce the nightmares, let alone attempting to explain what the hell the Dream Police were.

I barely saw Marlene for the rest of the week and didn’t bother asking what she was up to when I did. In all we probably exchanged less than a dozen words on the brief occasions we did meet, I really wanted to talk now but it appeared that she didn’t. To cap it all, it was Shuggsy’s court appearance on Friday and he was fretting. On the Thursday night, I came home from the Book Exchange, knackered and hungry and found him slumped in front of the TV, nursing what looked like a large measure of scotch, an open can of lager on the go by his side as well. I threw my jacket over a chair and wandered into the kitchen to see if there was anything edible left in the fridge. The room was in a tip, the sink full of pans floating in scummy water, half empty foil trays littering the table and next to no cutlery in the drawer. I walked back into the living room and had a go.
“Would it kill you to wash a pan or tidy up a bit in there?”
“I’ll get round to it,” Shuggsy waved a vague hand at me and took a large slug from his glass.
“Bloody hell, Shuggs, I’m sick of doing everything round here.” Might as well get hung for a sheep as a lamb, “and aren’t you in court tomorrow, don’t think it’ll look good if you look like a sack of shit, stinking of booze.”
“Ach, get off my case, you’re not me mam.” He switched off the TV and picked up the can of lager, knocking back the rest of the contents of the glass simultaneously. “I’m goin’ for a bath, I’ll do the pots when I come back.” With that he stomped off upstairs.
“Don’t worry yourself, I’ll do it myself,” I called after him. Bollocks, I thought and put my jacket back on and decided to go down to the Beehive and get Amanda to rustle us up a pint and a toastie. When Shuggsy was in a stressed mood, it was often best to leave him to his own devices, he usually came round by himself.

So it was a sorry looking trio who breakfasted together the next day. Marlene had been out with Maarten to God knows where till God knows what time, Shuggsy had hardly slept a wink by the look of it and I’d stayed in the Beehive until closing time and stopped many pints of bitter going off. None of us looked capable of breaking the silence, never mind saying anything constructive. We’d all taken the day off work, myself and Marlene to support Shuggs, who had taken leave and not told his boss what for, reasoning that it probably would be misconstrued, even though his boss was a bit of a jack-the-lad who had doubtless been in similar situations himself in the past. At least Shuggs looked the part, dressed in a shirt and tie for the first time that I could remember. He wasn’t eating, just sipping morosely at a mug of coffee, he must have been feeling bad if his appetite had gone. I was still in boxers and a t-shirt and Marlene was in a dressing gown, although at least she had showered already. Shuggsy’s appearance was scheduled for eleven thirty but we needed to be at court at least an hour before to see which room we were in, and for Shuggs to meet Pardew or whoever he’d delegated to represent the big man.

I finished my bowl of cereal then announced I was going for a shower myself, I couldn’t stand this, not knowing what to say, it was like we were three strangers thrown together by circumstance, not friends who had shared everything for the best part of twenty years. After I’d come out of the bathroom and was crossing the landing to my room, I could hear the other two chatting in low voices downstairs, I could have strained to hear what they were saying but I didn’t feel like hearing negative stuff about me, I felt bad enough as it was. God knows what Shuggsy was feeling.

What I didn’t expect when I eventually came down was Marlene standing in the hallway with two loaded suitcases and the front door open. She turned as I came down the stairs, looking a little sheepish and a lot like a vulnerable teenage girl suddenly.
“What’s happening?” I asked, not unreasonably.
“I, um, didn’t want a fuss, but I’m…” Marlene looked away, blinking back tears.
“You’re what?”
“I’m moving out for a while George.” She produced a tissue and blew her nose.
“But, where are you going, why now?”
“I’m moving in with Maarten for a bit, I just can’t stand being here, I’m sorry,” I stood there uselessly, too numb to speak. “Please don’t be cross, I just need to get away for a while.” At least she didn’t say anything about finding herself or me setting her free. Then she threw her arms round me and held me, pressing her face into my shoulder. But this time we were both crying. In the circumstances, it probably wasn’t the best time for Maarten to pull up outside the house in his twatmobile and honk the horn to announce his arrival. Marlene disengaged herself and kissed me on the cheek. Then she dried her eyes, picked up her suitcases and walked towards the door.
“I’ll ring you later, wish Shuggsy good luck from me. I’m sorry George.” Then she was gone, the door closing with an apologetic click. And all I could think of was that the lazy Dutch bastard couldn’t be arsed helping Marlene with her cases.

“Well, cheer up you bar-stards, we won didn’t we?”
Shuggs and me were sitting in the Beehive with a brace of pints in front of us. My cockney approximation of an impression of one of the characters in The Italian Job after they’ve pulled off the bullion raid was as a result of Shuggsy walking from court a free man. I’d been surprised at how quick it was all over, there was more waiting round than actual time in court. Pardew had told Shuggs that the prosecution weren’t going to contest because of the guilty plea. From where I sat in the public gallery there was more procedure than anything else. By the time I’d realised it, the judge had heard all the facts in the case and was ready to deliver his verdict.
“Mr Burns, it appears that you have admitted to being in possession of a stolen vehicle and have offered little, if any mitigating evidence for your actions on the night in question,” he said. How anyone could take his words seriously with that ridiculous syrup on his head was beyond me, but Shuggsy was listening to him like he was delivering the gospels. “However, in view of the fact that you have no previous record of transgression and are in permanent employ, then I believe that there is a vastly reduced chance of you committing a similar offence in future, and therefore handing down a custodial sentence would appear churlish. However, the law must still be seen to act as a deterrent, therefore I sentence you to three months imprisonment, suspended for twelve months, subject to your future good behaviour. You may stand down.”

“I bet your arse went when his Honour said three months imprisonment though big man, I know mine did.” I said, toasting Shuggs with my pint.
“Aye, I even thought they were going to take me away, until I realised that the guards were standing off me. I’d have smacked that lawyer if I had gone down. What were he about fifteen?”
“Yeah, we must be getting’ old, he didn’t look old enough to shave, never mind represent someone in court. He didn’t a fancy a pint though, maybe he weren’t old enough.”
“Nice of you to ask him though, maybe he had a hot date with a schoolgirl or summat.” We sank a few more pints, departing the pub before the karaoke started this time, I didn’t want to celebrate by making an arse of myself on stage again. Besides, mum was due home any time soon, and I needed to prepare myself to tell her that Marlene had left.

Mum didn’t seem that surprised by the news as it turned out, just disappointed. She seemed more weary than ever, and made some comment about me and Shuggsy being drunk when she came in. We had a ready meal each from M&S for supper, then me and Shuggs tackled the washing up whilst mum sat in the living room with a brew. When we’d done, I decided to ring Marlene, as she hadn’t rung yet to check on the result. It might seem like cheap point scoring to say that I wanted to ring before she did and highlight the fact that she hadn’t called, but I was feeling in that kind of mood at the time. At least she answered her mobile this time.
“Hello, it’s me,” there was a time when I would’ve sung that to her, but this didn’t seem like the right time. “Just thought you’d like to know that Shuggsy got off with a suspended sentence today.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry I haven’t rung, didn’t get a chance.” Too busy, eh? “How is he?”
“He’s fine, we went for a few pints to celebrate in the Beehive.” I almost said something about it not being the same without her being there but stopped myself. We made some awkward small talk about the trial and Shuggsy’s state of mind for a couple of minutes, then I asked her the question that I’d formulated whilst in the pub after pint number three.
“Look, do you fancy coming round tomorrow night, I’m making Mexican. Thought we’d have a few bottles of wine or whatever and have a chat, you can bring Maarten, seeing as we haven’t really met properly.” I paused, “Astrid’s coming round, thought I’d introduce her to mum.” Now it was Marlene’s turn to pause.
“Yeah, that’d be nice, I’ll see what he’s doing, but it should be OK, what time?”
“About seven thirty, obviously you can stay, I haven’t touched your room.”
“OK, I’ll ring you tomorrow to confirm, I’d better go now.”
“Alright, see you tomorrow hopefully.”
“Bye, Marlene.” I never thought that talking to her would be hard work. I know that nothing ever lasts forever, but I didn’t think this day would come.

Word Count: 1,903


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October 27, 2005 at 7:16 PM  

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