Happy New Year, Brian Meadon! [part 5]

Brian swallows. His lips have become dry and numb, his voice a timorous squeak.

“The party. The New Year’s do.”

“Party?” Rob’s eyes widen as he stares at him. The moment is interrupted by a woman’s voice.

“What’s going on? Who is it Rob?” and Shelley appears, swathed in a white toweling bathrobe and a bewildered expression. Rob half turns to speak over his shoulder.

“It’s Brian. From skiing. He’s come for a party, apparently.”

It is Shelley’s turn to squint at him, looking closely from behind Rob’s shoulder. Brian dangles the wine bottle, nervous snicker hovering on his lips. Shelley appears to rally, declaring,

“Well we can’t all stand here letting cold into the house. You’d better come in, er, Brian.”

He steps over the threshold, still clutching the wine bottle and continuing to sport what he hopes is his most affable and charming smile despite the ambiguous welcome.

“I seem to have got you up, don’t I? Was the party cancelled at the last minute? Only I’ve got a slight problem with my car. The recovery vehicle has had to leave it at the end of your driveway. I can probably get it moved tomorrow. Do you think there’ll be any taxis tonight?”

Their confused frowns lead him to pause as he glances from one to the other.

Fifteen minutes later he is plumping up a cushion on the sofa in their lounge and unzipping the side of a threadbare sleeping bag that is most likely a relic of Rob’s past travels. At last the dog has lapsed into merciful silence. He takes a sip of the tea he’s been given and moves stealthily to the living room door, the better to hear what is being shouted in the kitchen.

“What the Hell were you playing at, inviting that bloke here?” Rob’s anger has broken out now that he is no longer in the room with Brian.

“We were all pissed, Rob, if you recall and we came up with the idea of getting together at New Year. He wasn’t asked specifically. He was just there. He was always hanging around. Don’t you remember? We couldn’t shake him off; odious little man! We must have overlooked him when we decided to cancel.”

Brian listens in for a few more minutes until the recriminations and accusations begin to be repeated, then he pads quietly back to the sofa to insinuate himself into the moth-eaten sleeping bag. He lifts the remnants of the wine to his lips, whispering ‘Happy New Year’ before knocking it back in two mouthfuls. In the morning he will have to phone up and get his car taken home and with luck, scrounge a lift for himself. Once he is home he will ring Jackie. If she is feeling magnanimous he might get invited round there, especially if he says he’d like to see the kids on New Year’s Day. She might ask about the party. He will tell her all the details. How the champagne flowed like water, the house was a mansion lavishly decked out, the women gorgeous. He will name drop a few minor celebrities and hints about not sleeping alone. Yes. She will be impressed. The bickering voices seem further away now. Brian sighs. The bottle slips from his hand on to the carpet where it leaves a blood red dribble. A gentle snore escapes him. ‘Happy New Year’. Well it didn’t turn out so bad.

A Matter of Time [part 2]

…For anyone who has stumbled here, this is the second part of a short story, part one of which can be read in the previous post…see ‘A Month of Stories’ for an explanation!-

There is a diminutive, amber globe attached to one of the plants, glowing like warm, evening sunlight. She bends to peer at its parent plant. There are two more ripening fruits clinging to the foliage, shining with impudent optimism. Frith stares then throws her head back, an almost hysterical laugh erupting from her lips and her eyes wet with tears.

The sound of footsteps crunching on the path causes her to turn and see the tall, bulky figure of Cal approaching then he is there filling the doorway, his woolly hat jammed tight over his dreadlocks and long scarf wound around his face and neck.

“A brace of coneys,” he tells her. “Not much meat on them but they don’t look to be in too bad a state. We’ll get some broth out of them anyway.”

Her eyes, turned to him are radiant. She shows him the tiny tomatoes illuminating their corner of the greenhouse. “Should we move the plant, do you think, Cal? We could take it inside the house. It might be special, have some immunity. And if we kept the seeds maybe they’d grow into stronger plants still!”

Cal reaches out to pull her to him, enclosing her in his arms, her cheek against the rough tweed of his overcoat. He looks over the top of her head towards the little plant with its defiant tomato warriors and thinks of the children he and Frith might have had. Her face, when it turns up to his, still damp from tears is itself reminiscent of a child’s.

“We’ll leave it be, love. If it is going to resist the blight it’ll do it here. Moving it will make no difference. Come back to the house now and help me skin the rabbits.”

He watches her later, staring at the flames flickering blue around the remnants of decaying logs in the fireplace and knows she is allowing herself to dream of a future.

“Frith love,” he murmurs. “Don’t get your hopes up. I know it was good to see, but not enough to signal any kind of recovery.”

She looks up, frowning, irritated; the extinction of possibility is hard to bear. He takes her hand. “We’ll keep watching it. It could be resistant. Only time will tell.” And he turns back to where the flames are ebbing in the fireplace, reducing the logs to glowing, flaky ash.