Here comes trouble, Kennard Ross thought, looking out of the window and seeing his son, Michael, coming down the garden path. He busied himself with shuffling papers on his desk.
The door opened and Michael came in, looking around his father’s office-cum-shed, wondering at all the bookcases along one wall. What was the point of buying all those books and never reading them? “Morning, Dad,” he said.
Kennard opened a drawer and took out a packet of cigarettes.
Michael looked surprised, “I thought you’d given up?”
Kennard extracted a cigarette and tapped it on the desk. Then he tapped it some more.
“Is there anywhere I can sit?” Michael asked, looking over to a mound of mowers, cutters, and tools of various kinds. He supposed his father had a use for them, though he could barely remember him mowing the lawn, let alone cutting the hedges.
Kennard put a cigarette to his lips. “Sit on the floor if you like.”
Michael found an old wooden stool under a pile of empty sacks, pulled it out and sat, facing his father. “Mum’s OK about it.”
“Well, maybe your mother’s a bit soft in the head.”
“Come on, Dad.”
Kennard fished around for a box of Swan Vestas. “Look, Michael, let’s talk facts.”
Michael experienced a sick feeling in his stomach. “OK.”
“One, how long do plan on staying here?”
Michael looked at the floor. “I’m not sure. Trudy and me, well ….”
Kennard rubbed a match gently along the striking surface. Backwards and forwards, lightly, backwards and forwards, as if he were painting a delicate watercolour. “Well, what about Trudy? You left your wife for her. Has she said you can move in, then?”
Michael felt his face reddening. “Well, not exactly ….”
“Your mother tells me Mary thinks you’re going back.” He struck the match and it burst into flame with a small explosion that made Michael flinch. The air was suddenly full of smoke and sulphur.
Michael turned around on the stool. “I don’t know where she got that from.”
Kennard put the match to a cigarette and inhaled. The tip glowed red, like a burning ember. He exhaled, blowing the smoke toward his son. “Your mother was speaking to Mary on the phone. Says she’s willing to ‘forgive and forget.’”
Michael stood up, moving away from the smoke. He opened a window. “Look, Dad, I don’t want to go back. I’m not going to go into it, but there were a lot of problems.”
Kennard took another lungful of smoke and exhaled it towards the ceiling. “Do you think your mother and I never had any problems? Our lives have been full of them, not to mention the one you’ve just presented us with. But we’re still together.”
“Look, Dad, can’t you just give me a bit of space to get my head together? It is what it is. I don’t need any more lectures.”
Kennard opened a drawer and took out a chequebook. He began to scribble in it.
Michael watched in astonishment. He crossed his fingers.
Michael’s father sighed and handed the cheque over. Michael took it and his eyes widened. He wanted to laugh and cry at the same time but kept his features relaxed. “Thanks ….”
His father made a motion as if swatting a fly. “Look, you can stay here till the end of the month. Use that to get yourself somewhere else to live, even if it’s a hotel. You can’t stay here forever.”
“Thanks. Dad, that’s great, thanks very much.”
Kennard tapped a long finger of ash into a metal ashtray. “Look, son, just promise me to think long and hard about the future. And Mary’s future, too. OK?” He rested his cigarette in the ashtray and turned back to shuffling his papers.
Michael glanced at his phone, seeing a text from Trudy. He read the first line, “Dear Michael, I’m sorry, I know this isn’t what you want to hear ….” His elation vanished like the golden trails of a glorious firework. He put the phone away without reading further and went out of the small building, closing the door.
Michael likened himself to a piece of flotsam, alone and bobbing in the sea, being carried wherever the ocean decided to carry it. He looked at the cheque again. Well, at the end of the day, there were plenty more fish in the sea.
Taken from the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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