The short story you are about to read was awarded a High Recommendation in my Huddersfield Authors Circle group competition - so although I didn't win a main prize I still got a nice bar of Thornton's chocolate yum yum :) Anyway, this story originated from my inspirational mother and this tale gives her the fairy tale ending she deserves in life but I fear she will never achieve. Names have been changed and this story is based on real events. Enjoy.
Janet drove back from work, the gravel crunched under the tyres and parked. She sighed. Her eyes rediscovering the bin bags full of rubbish for the tip and recycle units. She had forgotten to take them again. She walked up the garden path trying her best not to linger on the sight of the uncut grass, weed infested flowerbeds and the ivy that was steadily consuming the front of the semi-detached house brick by brick. Her home was the only house in the entire street that had ivy, deliberately marking it against the rest. She gave a gentle nudge to the kitchen door and it swung open. The useless bolt lock was added to her unconscious to do list. She left her work bag and handbag on the kitchen table and let out a gasp. The kitchen side was once again littered with the remains of her adult son’s eating habits which can occur at any time in a twenty four hour period. “No rest for the wicked.” She muttered as she walked across the aged, worn through and stained carpet into the neater surroundings of the lounge.
The TV was on BBC News twenty four, her husband of twenty five years was slumped in his chair. She gave a little cough as his pipe smoke swirled up her nostrils and drifted into her mouth. Her insides twisted at the bitterness. He didn’t look up, he didn’t say hello, or ask how was her day? Janet was used to this after fifteen years.
“What do you fancy for tea?”
“Fine.” Janet turned away from him, feeling a hot burn of anger when she noticed the top of another bottle hiding between his chair and the wall. A wall that had grubby finger marks from where he used it to support his decaying body. The once milk pale wallpaper had turned gradually yellow from the nicotine smoke which caressed its surface for more than a decade.
She returned to the kitchen and set the kettle to boil. Feeling the need for more than a mug of coffee to calm her frustration. Looking around whilst she waited she felt a small sense of pride return. Over many weekends, by herself, she had managed to at least conquer a formerly cluttered kitchen. Throwing out many boxes full of useless utensils and the like that she had bought and finally accepted she would never use. Her cupboards were all reorganised and arranged to her standards. She didn’t give a damn if the old fool didn’t like it. It was a blue moon if he ever cooked anything in there.
Her small smile faded when she found herself looking at the poor excuse of a carpet. Janet really liked the palm green in the kitchen against the amber wood cupboards and units, but how she hated the carpet. It was the one thing she couldn’t afford to replace. There was only one thing she hated more. Maybe next year, Janet told herself, if I put a few pennies away.
When the coffee was made she held it carefully in one hand, her handbag in the other, and went up stairs to her bedroom. She wouldn’t sit in the same room as him if she could help it. All along the staircase were photographs of her three children, taken from nursery, primary and secondary school. Their faces giggling, smiling or looking slightly worried. All of them but her only son had left the family home. She missed those years of innocence, when her life didn’t feel so shackled.
She reached the first floor with the regular creak and groan of the top stair. From that spot Janet could hear the loud voice of her son from his attic bedroom. He was speaking some strange words that sounded English but did not exist in her mental dictionary and so she found no meaning for them. Janet knew from experience now that no one was actually in the room with him, he was simply talking to people maybe a hundred miles away or perhaps across the Atlantic in America. The sad beauty of online gaming made him solitary in his own home yet extremely sociable in a virtual realm.
She pushed her way into her own little part of the house which was shameful compared to her recent organisation in the kitchen. All around the doorway, along the wall underneath the window and either side of the bed were piles of clothes, magazines, handbags, treasured bits stacked dangerously in boxes and more.
It used to be her son’s bedroom when he was very young, Janet had moved in there when Tom moved upstairs to spend all his time either asleep, at work or playing games on his PC. Despite the cramped space she preferred it to the cold and unfriendly bed of her so called husband. After ten years in separate beds he had still yet to make a complaint.
Adding her handbag to one pile she scrambled around trying to find a free space for her coffee mug. She managed to squeeze it onto the edge of the windowsill also filled with delicate things and photo frames of close friends and relatives. Janet then retrieved her usual women’s weekly magazine from her handbag.
Her small pleasure on an evening was filling in the crossword, quiz, Sudoku and any other puzzle to keep her thoughts focused and sharp. That week’s grand prize was a four bedroom house on a pleasant looking estate outside of York with a bonus fifty thousand pounds if the winner could answer the Mind Breaker question.
The winner’s house had a mock Victorian frontage with two white columns supporting a little overhang over the front door which was set in the middle. There were two enclave windows either side and three windows on the first floor that were as broad as lorry doors. A couple of photographs revealed the luxuriously spacious rooms on both floor with ‘suggested’ furnishings.
Janet released her third weary sigh of the evening as her eyes danced over the typical family of four. Children, smiling and playing in the decent sized garden full of flowers. There was a small patio to one side, at the front of the prize property where the parents were sat drinking champagne.
With her favourite pen in hand she set herself to complete that evening’s challenge. She managed to complete it within half an hour; she only had to correct herself twice. Now she had reached the famous Mind Breaker question.
What does MMORPG mean?
At that moment a blonde haired head popped round the edge of bedroom door.
“I’m off to work now Mum. Anything you need from Morries?” Tom asked.
“Humm?” She looked up half way through trying to solve the riddle.
“What’s the problem this week?” He stepped inside the piles of clutter and perched on her bed. Janet showed him the magazine. Tom grinned then burst into loud laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Janet snapped, hoping he wasn’t laughing at her.
“Oh Mum, that acronym, is the very reason why I’m in my room all the time.”
“You know the answer then?” His mum asked sitting up with excitement at this elusive bit of knowledge.
Tom nodded, took the pen from her hand and filled it in with a flourish. He gave her a quick kiss and then went to work.
*** *** ***
Three days later Janet managed to finally haul the bags full of cardboard, plastic, and paper to the tip. She lugged the bag of newspapers and women’s magazines over to the suitable unit and began shoving them in one handful after another. It was half way through the bagful that she stopped and lifted one particular issue out, her eyes focused on the image. One strange thought of hope fluttered delicately across her mind. She bit her lip, not sure whether to follow this strange instinct which had arisen inside her. The small voice of her conscience whispered “Got nothing to lose”. So without further hesitation she ripped out the important pages and resumed emptying the bag. Janet knew exactly where to send the remains of the magazine.
*** *** ***
Janet’s hands trembled as the key connected with lock, hand to door handle, one small movement and the front door opened. Space. Peace. Quiet. All of my own, her heart sung internally. Janet took a deep breath of the cold, clean air and the scent of fresh paint. She slowly meandered from room to room, letting her hand drift across the soft wallpaper, smooth banisters and pressing her toes into the thick carpet. When she reached the kitchen with its granite surface and white units her restraint finally broke. With a wail of joy and sadness she crumpled to the ground and wept, her tears washing the tiled floor of her new kitchen, her new home. Freedom.