With such a busy year, I haven’t had the time to flesh out this short story I have been working on, so see it as a first draft being publicly presented. It is more of a sketch, a scene rather than a short story. It is darker than last year’s more comedic tale, a family drama in miniature. It was inspired by ‘Jim: The James Foley Story’.
Christmas Day. He was reluctantly smoking a cigarette with his cast-covered arm. He swore he wasn’t going to have one until the end of the holidays, blowing white smoke into the air, equal parts formed by smoke and the cold. He looked out onto the garden that winter had made ruffled and muddy, with a lone swingball from last summer standing like a rusted monument. It reminded him how alien he felt every time he came back to the UK; how Kate’s kids looked and acted differently every time he saw them; the endless questions about his future, like, when he was going to get a girlfriend or if he’d move back into the area. His sister Kate hated his dependence on cigarettes, not just because she didn’t want her patio covered in ash and cigarette butts, but that her baby brother would be giving himself a death sentence. He brought his own ashtray, which he set beside him on the floor.
‘You’re going to miss the Queen’s Speech,’ Kate said as she slid the patio door open. He turned and they looked at each other, one bemused and the other in resigned acceptance he is in trouble. Kate’s eyes rolled as she saw the cigarette in Arthur’s hand as she slid the door closed. ‘I’ll forgive you, just this once’
‘I brought an ash tray’
‘I saw, it looks like a love heart’
‘Would you believe me if I told you the others were sold out?’
She kept silent.
Kate folded her arms and she kept moving around in the same spot. She was just wearing a Christmas jumper with a picture of a deer jumping over a log on to keep her warm, and she wasn’t planning to stay out there long. It looked like it was going to snow. ‘So, been enjoying today? I know it’s not like mum’s-’
‘It’s been good, it’s been good.’ Arthur put out his cigarette in his ashtray, and looked out to the sky, a grey canvas. Kate looked at Arthur and wondered what was really going on, as he had been rather quiet throughout Christmas morning, particularly when her kids started to excitedly rip open his presents to them. They were always enamoured with Uncle Arthur’s presence every time he came to visit. He didn’t visit much. When Arthur was silent, it meant something.
Arthur knew he had to tell her what was on his mind. He could see that she wasn’t going back in, and he needed her to go back inside and watch The Queen’s Speech, and could catch something if she stayed out for too long . ‘Kate, go back inside, I’m about to finish up.’
‘Arthur, I need to ask you if you’re…’
‘Yes, I’m going back Kate.’ Kate pretended that she was shocked, but she couldn’t pull it off, there was a reluctance in her to give up, even though it was a losing battle. ‘What do you mean-?’
‘You’re pretending, don’t pretend.’
‘I’m not pretending.’
‘You want me to say it out loud, like it will change it.’
‘Why can’t you ever say it? Anyway, you’re freelance, you’re don’t need to go anywhere or do anything’
‘Kate, I have to go. I’ve already got the flights booked and my equipment packed.’
‘I will refund you the costs.’
‘You can’t afford-’
‘I will pay-’
‘I have to go.’
‘No, you don’t. You never ‘have’ to go Arthur.’
‘Have you talked to Paul about this?’
Kate stood her ground, but they both knew she hadn’t told Paul. Paul would explode in anger if he were to find out about Arthur’s next move. The destructive effect it had on Kate’s temperament, and the continuing days or moments that she would think of her little brother made Paul somewhat hesitant to accept Arthur as his brother rather than brother-in-law. ‘I can’t tell Paul.’
‘Maybe I will be the one to tell him this time.’ Kate went up to Arthur and knelt down on her haunches, she looked at Arthur, ‘Please don’t go,’ Arthur started to tear up but remained calm. He looked at Kate, and just shook his head. Kate held Arthur’s cold face with her palm, feeling his beard, ‘please don’t go.’
Kate stood up as Arthur sat frozen. Arthur couldn’t articulate why he was going, or why this time, but he had to. He didn’t want to say it was the only thing he was looking forward to in the new year. He loved his sister and her family, as they’ve been his ballast, but he had to go back for the others who didn’t have them. Kate saw just her little brother in his mind, but while Kate knew what he had to, but she knew it would end him.
‘Don’t tell him today, leave it ‘til tomorrow. Promise?’
Kate moved the sliding door as the Queen was just finishing up her speech. ‘Kate,’ Arthur said. Kate turned back, and looked over, ‘Is the Turkey ready yet?’
Kate reluctantly smiled and chuckled. She shouted over to the kitchen, ‘Is it ready yet?’
‘What’s ready?’ Paul shouted from the kitchen,
‘Oh you numpty, you know what I meant’
Kate looked back to Arthur, ‘Soon, he says.’
Kate took a step inside and left the door open. Arthur got up, went back into the house and closed the door behind him.
It was their last one together.