Payback Time


(850 words)

Meltdown in thirty minutes’ time, that’s what his mother would do if she didn’t get her ‘anti-anxiety meds.’ The traffic lights turned red. Damn! Joshua waited, his foot slipping forward on the clutch. To his right, he noticed a small pub with a thatched roof. Why had he never been in there? The Coach and Tiger. Hmm, unusual name!
Put it in neutral, get your foot comfortable, he thought. He applied the handbrake. Sooner than expected, the light turned green and the one solitary car in front, a dirty white Honda Civic with a nodding dog on the back shelf, sped off. Maybe he or she was a racing driver in their spare time? In Joshua’s haste to get going, he forgot to take the handbrake off and the engine stalled. The car behind hooted. Fuck it!
He looked in the mirror to see the driver, a bulky thirty-something male, looking belligerent. Joshua felt himself sweating. He tried the engine again. Thank God! The car started forward and he turned left, glad to see that the individual behind carried straight over the junction, doubtless cursing him as he did so.
That was the story of his life, he thought. So many false starts. Every time things were looking up – job, girlfriend, health, money – something would go wrong and it would all come crashing down. Now, having moved to rural Shropshire, hoping for a new beginning, he’d become a servant to his nagging old mother.
He pulled out of town, accelerating, so that he sailed past the signs indicating the end of the speed restriction at sixty miles an hour. The stretch of road was clear so he kept his foot down until he was doing eighty, guiltily noticing a red sign on the left with the number of people killed on Shropshire’s dangerous single carriage roads so far that year – 79. Well, if they would drive like maniacs. Then he supposed that a good number of those killed were by the maniacs. You could never account for that. You’d be driving along, minding your own business when a car coming the other way decides to overtake a tractor on a bend, and bang, that was the end.
He signalled left, changed into second gear and took the turn, imagining his driving instructor, Natalie’s, sexy voice. “Engine braking, nicely done.” He smiled at the recollection.
Twenty minutes to go. He’d be back in under ten. No need for the old bag to blow a fuse! The road became rural, narrow and winding. Now he turned a bend to find a horse box stopped ahead. There was no visibility past it at all. Unbelievable!
He sat fuming. Suddenly his mobile phone rang. He looked at the number. Mother! Let her leave a message!
It was her fault for mixing up the dates. “Those idiots at the doctors don’t know what they’re doing, losing my prescription. I posted it through the letter box on Sunday. Two working days, they say. It should have been ready by Tuesday!”
He’d pointed out it was two clear working days, therefore Wednesday, but had been given short shrift. Her medications had been out of stock at the doctor’s dispensary, so he’d been dispatched post-haste to the branch in town to get them. She was bad enough with them, Heaven help him if she ran out!
Fifteen minutes to go. He got out and walked past the horse box to a white Subaru Forester SUV. A woman was seated in it, staring blankly through the windscreen. Joshua recognised her. Helen. Helen Robinson. He played pool with her husband Trevor.
He rapped on the window and she sat up, as if waking from a trance. She wound the window down. A song was playing quietly on the radio – Evergreen. “Josh, I’m so sorry. I had one of my … er, turns. I’m not really fit to drive. Trev’s away at a conference and I didn’t know what to do.” She sounded tearful.
“Look, show me how to drive this thing. I’ll pull my car off the road, run you home and walk back, it’s not far.”
Helen’s smile lit up her face. She put a hand on his arm. “Josh, that’s so kind of you.”
Joshua remembered a time, not too long ago, when he’d had no money for his asthma prescriptions. The days had gone past and the wheezing and coughing had grown worse. His mother had doubtless noticed, but having no compassion for either human or animal alike hadn’t offered to help. Finally, as she was about to go on holiday, he’d ‘given in,’ and asked, almost pleaded with her to get his medicine for him.
Reluctantly, she’d agreed but had dillied and dallied until it was the doctors’ lunchtime, then had deliberately taken as long as possible once they’d reopened, before finally going in the late afternoon, appearing to enjoy seeing him suffer in the meantime. ‘Punishing’ him for being short of funds, he’d surmised.
Well, ‘payback time!’ thought Joshua. ‘Let her melt down.’ Hopefully, she’d melt right through the floor and come out in China!

Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories

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5 thoughts on “Payback Time

    1. Thank you and an interesting observation!
      I think he’s frustrated that things hadn’t worked out for him as expected. Let’s hope there’s a happy ending 🙂

    1. He’s ‘caught between a rock and a hard place,’ in trying to help his mother and Helen at the same time. Maybe a bit spiteful, true, sometimes hard to forget ‘injustice,’ as he sees it, although one can forgive it.

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