Thursday 15 January 2008
Her big blue eyes sparkled, opened wide like a pair of saucers; her smile stretched across her face. She had waited for what seemed liked forever. Her mum had kept telling her ‘not long, it won’t be long’ and Lauren had waited patiently. She’d been kneeling on the sofa that backed up to the window in the living room at the front of the house looking out onto the road, waiting for her dad’s car to pull up. How much longer? Please hurry. Her elbows rested on the back of the sofa and her hands cupped her face. She couldn’t help but smile, she knew because her mum had told her, it won’t be long. There was a faint sound of an engine of a car in the distance. It increased in volume as it moved down the road closer. Louder and louder as the car came into view, Lauren saw it now, it was blue; her dad’s car was blue. Disappointment. As it came closer she realised it was not her dad and the car drove passed. Her heart sank, when will her dad be home?
Her mum came out of the kitchen into the dining room and covered the table with a paper cloth that was full of colour, and prominently displayed letters across the middle spelling ‘Happy Birthday’. The wait was painful. When you’re a child and it’s your seventh birthday, and you’re waiting for your dad to come home so you can open your presents, every minute can seem like an hour, and every hour can seem like a day. There was still no sign of him.
Her mum, Sally, who everybody called Sal, went back into the kitchen. She looked at the clock it was just gone five p.m. She opened the fridge and pulled open the tray at the bottom and took a can of Stella, which was now nicely chilled. She opened the can and took a swig before taking a tall glass from the cupboard above the fridge and pouring the beer. She leaned back against the counter and took the glass in her hand and swallowed drinking half the glass.
They had got through Christmas. Just.
Joe, Lauren’s dad, had picked up some work a few weeks before that had brought in enough money to pay all the outstanding bills. The lecky, telephone and Sky TV, sports and movie channels a must. And, buy presents for Lauren. He had even bought Sal a necklace that was quality. She was no expert on these things, but she knew it was not the normal cheap stuff from some guy down the pub where he traditionally bought her presents. It made her smile; it made her feel good for a brief moment in their relationship.
Ten years this coming April they would have been together. The first few years were a bit of an on-again, off-again type of relationship but when Sal got pregnant and Lauren was born things settled down for a bit. They lived as a family and married in July on the year Lauren was born, it was a hot summer day, and they had just moved into their new house. A few friends from the pub came round following the registry office service and they ended up partying until close on four a.m until they could drink no more. It was a good day, but since then there had been few. Joe would disappear for a night or two and even sometimes a whole week and not let her know where he was. She knew he was screwing around with any tart that would have him. For the first three years she lived in denial, in some kind of fairy tale that she had married some handsome prince who would be forever loyal to her. At least she tried, she’ tell herself that, she remained loyal and faithful to him. She did, for three years she held out, and she wanted to believe that it could work between them. She didn’t want to make the same mistakes her mum had in breaking up her family home.
She remembered the arguments when she was ten years old, she didn’t understand why or what they were arguing about, she just remembered how loud they were. Him, her dad, shouting and screaming at her mum like a madman. And then one day he slapped her, she remembered the sound, how loud it was as his hand made contact with her mum’s face, and how she fell to the floor with blood streaming from her nose, weeping and snivelling as all hope was drained from her body. He walked out slamming the door behind him. Sal hated her dad for that. But, a few years later she realised that her mum had been sleeping with his best friend. She hated her dad, and now she hated her mum for what she had done to her dad. It was a mess, a bloody mess, which she did not want to repeat in her relationship.
She had tried so hard, but he had worn her down and taken any light, any hope out of their relationship. Joe was no longer interested in her and she was no longer interested in him. He had killed it, he was to blame; it was not her fault and two could play at that game.
For the last four years Sal had started going to the pub more and more often. She used to go only with Joe but after he spent more and more time away from home she had started to go there alone. She got bored and she needed some company other than Lauren’s. At first, it was just a Friday night and then Friday and Saturday and now it was most nights. At seven p.m. Lauren would go to bed. She would have another drink and wait to make sure she was asleep and then leave the house and make her way to the pub.
It was only a short walk down Smith Street and it took just a few minutes from her house to The Crown. Lauren didn’t know, so what was the harm, and Sal got her much needed respite. There was always the normal crowd, mainly guys; she enjoyed their company the most. The girls just wanted to bitch. She liked the attention she got from the guys and encouraged it by flirting back. The girls liked this less and she knew when she was not there she would be the centre of their bitching. Why should she care, all she wanted was to have a good time and when she was at The Crown she could forget about her boring life where she had been left alone to look after Lauren whilst he went off enjoying himself.
‘He’s here – dad’s home,’ Lauren had run to the entrance of the kitchen to tell her mum.
‘Alright calm down. Go and let your dad in,’ her mum said. Lauren opened the door and let her dad in. She was like an excited dog that had been left in the house all day waiting for her owner to return. The fact he was late, now forgotten.
‘Daddy, can I have my presents now?’ They had agreed yesterday they would wait until he was home before she opened her presents.
‘Yeah, of course you can’ he said and then raised his voice and shouted through to the kitchen where Sal was checking the dinner she was preparing for Lauren’s birthday meal was not burning. ‘Can you get her presents. I need a beer,’ he walked into the kitchen with Lauren tailing him.
Sal with her lip curled replied, ‘Yeah sure, what’d your last slave die of,’ and left the kitchen as Joe went to the fridge and took out a can of Stella, opened it and had a drink. Lauren looked up at her dad still with the largest of smiles. His large frame towered above Lauren and with his right hand swooshed her long brown curly hair around on the top of her head messing it up so it fell over her eyes.
‘Happy birthday darling, have you had a good birthday’ he said as he walked passed her out of the kitchen to the front room not waiting or caring for the reply. He slumped himself into the armchair clicking the remote control on button for the television. And waited impatiently for the picture to appear on the screen, whilst taking his boots off and throwing them down by the side of the armchair.
‘I’ve been waiting for you to come home’ she said. He ignored her as the screen lit up. He changed the channel to Sky sports. ‘I can’t wait to open my presents’ she said.
‘Out the way of the tv. I can’t see.’ He said as Lauren had moved in between him and the television trying to get his attention. At that point Lauren was distracted with her mum walking through the door that led back into the living room from the hallway. She was carrying a number boxes wrapped in colourful birthday paper. Sal put them in the middle of room on the floor where Lauren joined her and started to open each one in turn.
Lauren had never had so many presents. She tore into the paper with uncontrollable excitement. First a Barbie doll gleaming in its new box. Then a really large box, almost the size of Lauren herself, she pulled the paper back and soon realised it was a dolls house for Barbie to live in. It was so big she wondered how she would get it up the stairs and how it would fit in her bedroom. And in the final package a collection of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton books. She picked up Barbie and hugged her. Joe looked on occasionally diverting his stare from the television. It made him feel good knowing he paid for all those presents from the money he had made recently. This year Lauren could boast to her friends at school about the presents she got for her birthday and what her dad had bought. That would show them, he knew the parents of the other kids looked down on him. A scumbag, a lowlife always out of work, that couldn’t look after his daughter. He didn’t care what people thought, well that is what he would tell people, but he liked to show off all the same.
‘What a lucky girl you are?’ He called over to Lauren.
‘Thank you daddy, I love them, I love all my presents,’ she replied as she danced round the room with her new Barbie doll.
‘Dinner will be in five,’ Sal announced.
‘Can you bring mine here; I’ll have it with the football.’
‘No you won’t, you’ll have it at the table. It’s Lauren’s birthday for Christ’s sake.’ Joe mumbled something inaudible as Sal went off to the kitchen to dish out the birthday meal.
Sal laid the birthday meal on the table, fish fingers and chips, they sat down and Lauren could not stop talking about all the presents she had, and how it was the best birthday ever in the whole wide world. After the fish fingers and chips Sal cleared the plates and then brought in a Barbie birthday cake she had bought from the supermarket. Seven candles on the top all alight as they sung Happy Birthday to her. For Lauren it was the greatest feeling she could ever remember, she could not think of when she had been so happy and when they as a family had been so together. A tear fell from her eye spawned by the excitement and emotion of the day. Barbie sat beside her at the table and she fed her a helping of birthday cake. Joe didn’t stay at the table to eat the cake but instead took it with him to watch two German football teams, from the Bundesliga he had vaguely heard of, and drank another can of Stella Artois. Lauren went into the living room and continued playing with her new toys and Sal cleared the table and washed up in kitchen.
Sal wiped the last of the plates and reached up to the cupboard above the sink to place it with the others when Joe appeared at the kitchen.
‘I’m off to the pub, see ya later’ he said.
‘See ya’ Sal replied without looking, as if it mattered as he had gone anyway. She heard the front door bang close and then she went into the living room where Lauren was still playing with her presents. She sat in the armchair opposite to where Joe had been sitting and lit a cigarette and had a drink from a can of beer whilst flicking through the channels to find something decent on other than football. She settled for some b-rated horror movie.
The movie was a bore; she looked at the clock and saw it had passed ten.
‘Lauren, it’s time for bed,’ she called to Lauren who was still lost in her own little world.
‘Can I stay up longer?’ She begged.
‘No now, it’s late enough and you’ve got to go to school tomorrow.’ Lauren gathered her Barbie and her books and made her way upstairs.
‘’night.’ Sal listened. She heard Lauren go into the bathroom, the toilet flush; the water running from the tap, she heard it stop. And then a silent pause followed by the bathroom door open and close; Lauren’s bedroom door open and close. Lauren was in bed. Sal waited for a moment to check there was no movement from upstairs and then opened her handbag and pulled out her tin of hash. Black Moroccan and rolled a joint and smoked.
The room expanded, the world calmed, it didn’t matter; nothing mattered now. It didn’t matter that life was shit, because now there was a tranquil buzz penetrating her body and easing her mind that provided comfort. Now was her moment to escape from it all. From Joe, who she no longer cared for, or may have never cared for, from every worry that life fired upon her and from Lauren, the millstone around her neck that she had been lumbered with. Why had she fallen into the trap not so far removed from her own mum and dad’s life, it should have been different, but sometimes you can’t fight it. That is the way it is. That is what we are given and the cards are dealt from a loaded deck. But now things were calm and good. She looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. A cheap small plastic clock with gold hands shinning out from its ornate black background, the ticking of the clock making a sound that dominated the room. There was a scream from the b-rate movie, that was still playing, it had moved into the distance and only the sound of the clock was in Sal’s focus. Time drifted away, another wasted life. She brought her focus to the hands of the clock that showed nearly midnight. She pulled herself out of the armchair and turned the television off and stumbled up the stairs, opened the door to her bedroom and rested her back against the wall whilst she navigated her way to the bed. She lay on top of the bed and removed her clothes dropping them on the floor beside her before rolling over and pulling the sheet over her and closing her eyes. Sleep.
It was gone one in the morning before Joe got home. He banged the bedroom door that disturbed Sal’s sleep. She rolled over and groaned and then fell back to sleep. Joe climbed into bed, Sal with her back to him as he spooned up against her. She pushed him away complaining she was tired, he mumbled but was himself too tired and pissed to really care so turned his back on hers and closed his eyes. Within five minutes he was asleep.
Lauren’s eyes opened wide, her excitement still high from her birthday and made her dream and wake early. It was still dark so she turned on the light on her bedside cabinet and looked at the clock. It had a yellow face with Winnie the Pooh sitting eating honey and two big blue bells on the top. The numbers were large and Lauren could see it was quarter passed four. Her mum would not be up for at least three hours but Lauren wanted to get up and play with her new Barbie. She sat Barbie up in bed next to her.
Next to the clock piled up were the collection of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton.
‘Barbie, would you like a story?’ Lauren leaned over and picked the book on the top of the pile, The BFG, and opened to the first page and started to read aloud to Barbie.
‘Chapter one, The Witching Hour,’ Lauren loved to read. It was a great feeling and easy for her to escape into another world. She continued to read to Barbie. She finished reading chapter two and turned the page about to start chapter three when she heard a sound outside. She sat there quietly holding her breath. Again she heard what sounded like someone whispering outside the front of the house. She turned out the bedside light and climbed out of the bed and walked slowly to the window. She pulled the curtain a little to one side so she could look through the gap. Below she saw two men near the gate that led up the path to their front door. They were crouched down and looked like they were trying to hide. Her gaze left the men and followed the path up towards the house. It was hard to work out in the darkness but she could see two further figures. She tried to focus her eyes trying to adjust to the light to get a better view. She saw more joining the ones at the front nearest the door, a large gang, the exact numbers she could not tell, but a surge of fear started to fill her body. Then one of the men on the path turned sideways and looked up at the window she was standing out. She saw clearly now, the gun he was holding, the man saw her and shouted something to one of the other men. Lauren backed away quickly from the window in shock. She tried to regain her thoughts fast but fear was overtaking her. She was about to scream to her dad when there was a loud bang that had again thrown her back in a state of shock. She ran to her bed and jumped in and pulled the sheets over her head and hid. Beneath the covers she was shaking and crying quietly, so not to be heard.
Barbie fell to the floor. They both laid there alone, in fear and confusion.