…began jotting stuff down on July 12th 2012, according to his notebook. On July 13th he realised writing wasn’t as easy as he’d expected. On the 14th he began a distance writing course with the Open College of the Arts. After almost a year of word doodling Roger felt he needed a more immediate forum in which to discuss and discover the art of writing; not only via emails to his tutor. And so he found himself joining HWW. After two years of reading his pieces to the group and taking their advice on board Roger’s writing has reached the level of the piece below. He hopes you enjoy it but if you don’t he’d prefer you blame the group members for giving him duff advice.
“I don’t want to go,” I say.
She looks at me blankly. “We're going, so get your shoes on.”
I do as I’m told.
She locks the front door and we walk to the car.
“I really don’t want to go,” I say, as I slope into the passenger seat.
She uses the rear-view mirror to check the lipstick she’d applied ten minutes earlier, and she’ll do the same before getting out of the car. After twenty-eight years of marriage I still find her neatly painted, deep red lips a turn on. With dark hair and light skin her delicate face reminds me of a hand-tinted photograph.
She starts the engine and we head off.
At roundabouts she has the annoying habit of jarring to a halt before looking to see if it’s clear to continue. I think it wise to keep my mouth zipped.
“What?” she snaps.
“You gave one of those shoulder shrugging sighs.”
I answer defensively. “No I didn’t,” then decide I don't want an argument. “Did I? No reason.”
We file onto the motorway, behind a lorry. She always slows down when overtaking an HGV.
She catches me looking at the speedo. “What now?”
Both of us are caught out by my high pitched response. “Nothing.”
Eventually we crawl past the lorry and she slides in front of it, so tightly the driver loses sight of our Volvo. She mistakes the irate flashing of his headlights as some sort of friendly greeting. Louise winds down the window and waves at the lorry driver.
The next five, ten, minutes pass in uneventful silence. I have the heating at the correct temperature and I’m happily sitting without a thought in my head.
Suddenly she spurts out a sentence. It’s caught me off guard and I don’t catch a word. She’s looking at me. I’d better say something in order to get her to return her attention to where we’re going, though at fifty miles an hour we’re not going to get there anytime soon. Suits me.
“Pardon,” I say.
“Why are you sulking?”
She decides to push my button, she must be bored. “It’s your mum and dad we’re visiting, don't be such a misery.”
“She’s not my mum.”
“Oh grow up. Ann’s been married to your dad over forty years. She brought you up.”
“She’s not my mum. My mum is.”
“Your mum has done bugger all for you. A mum is someone who raises a child, loves it, nutures it. Ann has been more of a mum to you and your sister than your mother ever has.”
“Look, just don’t start.” I manage to keep the bubbling rage under control. “You know what happened, I’ve told you enough times, so has my sister. Anyway you don’t even like the sharp-faced cow yourself.”
“I don’t like her because you don't want me to like her. She’s always been alright towards me. And anyone that’s managed to put up with your dad for so long is a saint in my book.”
“Don’t have a pop at my dad. Yours isn’t a hero either. After what he did to...”
I stop, sensing I’d better change the direction of the conversation before words reopen wounds.
I bring us back to the present. “Let’s just give him his card, watch him open his present, have lunch, then come straight home. Before Mr. Kipling appears.”
“I’m driving because Ann said your dad would love to go out with his son for a beer on his birthday.”
“No, don't make me do that,” I plead.
“One beer. Two at the most. What harm can it do? C’mon Michael you know it’s probably going to be his last.”
“He says that every bloody year.”
“This time it’s the doctors saying it.”
“Why don’t you come too love? You have the patience. You're better at talking to him than I am.”
“While you're both out Ann and I are going to discuss what arrangements need to be made.” Louise takes a sidewards glance at me. “She’s thinking of giving us the house.”
I feel the rage rising again. “It’s not her sodding house. Mum and dad bought that house. She’s got no say in the matter.”
She lowers her voice, I have to concentrate to catch her words. “Everything will go to her. Ann’s his wife, his next of kin. It’ll be her house Michael, and she’s willing to give it to us. She doesn't have to. That’s decent of her.”
I automatically try to think of a way to contradict her. To turn Ann’s decency into a fault. I fail.
Louise places her left hand in the nape of my neck, her slim fingers draw small circles. I close my eyes and listen to the rhythmical sound of the tyres rolling on the tarmac. My shoulders relax. The anger dissipates.
The next few hours will pass painfully slowly but tonight we shall be back home, holding hands, enjoying each others company. We’ll relive the unbearable afternoon, picking out the amusing bits. The conversation we just had and the cloying silence of the return trip will be forgotten.
I know this because it is a ritual repeated over the years.
However this may be the last time. If the doctors are right.