Thursday, December 13, 2007

One themed story by Zack Wilson

by Zack Wilson

My dad, now deceased, was an expert at shifting blame. He was good at that, and making money. Once, before he’d taken over the builders’ merchants, he’d been the gaffer of a team of shop fitters. He’d sabotaged the youngest team member’s packed lunch, hiding a nail in a Scotch egg. Apparently, he’d been having to literally hold his sides with suppressed comic hysteria until the lad bit into the egg and lost two teeth and put the nail through the roof of his mouth. After helping the lad stop the blood dripping all over the new lino, he’d gathered his team together and subjected them to a robust inquisition and bollocking that had lasted hours. I think someone had got sacked, not him anyway.

He’d left my mother just after she’d given birth to his fifth child: my brother, who’s an idiot. Some years later he’d married another idiot, my step-mother Valerie. She was a bitter little woman, with wispy blonde hair and front teeth you could open bottles on, as well as the IQ of a slaughterhouse worker and the arse of a skinny boy. I was glad I was an adult by the time she’d moved in with my dad so I didn’t have to put up with her prying into everything.

A couple of years ago, when his business had started doing really well and my dad started bringing in some serious money, she decided that she needed a holiday on her own. Well, she took a sister and two female cousins with her to the Algarve for a month, but we knew what she meant.

My dad certainly noticed her absence. He started coming down the pub and trying to drink with me and the other regulars. Normally he ended seeing someone he knew eventually, and drinking with them, but he spent enough time with us to make it awkward and a relief when he’d gone.

It must’ve been here that he’d met Maureen. I definitely saw him in there with her at least once, maybe twice. Another small blonde, but this one with a big smile and diamonds in her ears, sassy hips and a wide bottom to which his hand seemed glued. He definitely took her home too, on the Friday before the last weekend of Valerie’s month away. Why he had to wait until the last weekend fuck knows. Something to do with confidence maybe. I’ve never had that problem. Not with lasses anyway.

Valerie was due to get back on the Tuesday. My dad rang me on Monday morning. I was annoyed about this in all sorts of ways.

I’d booked the day off for a start. I was in a telesales job at the time, so a day off was a sweet and much longed for relief. I’d also planned on spending it with Rebecca, a beautiful, half-French, foreign languages teacher with whom I’d begun tentative negotiations regarding my own marital future. This was a big step for me. I’d never been able to stick being with the same woman longer than a month before.

Becky was on half-term. She’d been at her mam’s in Dinnington all weekend until late Sunday night. I’d been missing her. It was February and cold in Sheffield. A whole morning in bed with her, smooth and warm and soft and fragrant was what I was expecting.

The mobile phone’s musical ringtone was what woke me. I immediately regretted leaving it switched on when I saw it was his number.

“Alright d…” I’d begun.

He wasn’t in the mood for cheery greetings. “Get over here quickly,” he said. There was genuine fear in his wheezy Nottingham growl.

“What for? I’ve got a fucking day off!”

“If you don’t want to help your old dad, then don’t come! If you’d like to me see alive again, then get your arse over here by nine!” His voice went all high-pitched and strained and as he began the word ‘arse’ which made him sound like he was crying. I tried to reply to him, but he’d put the phone down. I looked over at Becky’s sleeping perfect face in the peaceful Monday morning twilit bedroom. I leant over and kissed her on her tiny earlobe, just gently, a dry brush stroke, a promise to return. Then I got up and left.

It took fucking ages in the car to get over to his detached house in Ranmoor from our place in Hillsborough. Fucking Monday morning rush hour traffic. I didn’t get there while gone nine thirty.

He was standing in the driveway, shirtless in February, talking on his mobile phone and rubbing his bald head. I drove deliberately too fast towards him and braked hard so that I skidded and nearly hit him. I thought it was funny. He didn’t notice at all.

I got out the car just as he finished his call. He put his phone in the pocket of his orange Nike tracksuit trousers and scratched his armpit, his thick fingers lifting pectoral flab as he did so.

“You decided to come then,” he stated.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “what’s going on?”

“Valerie’s back tomorrow.”

“Well, I’ve had Maureen in all weekend.”


“Well, I’ve got to get the place sorted out. Conceal the clues. Remove the traces.” He rubbed his hands together and looked serious.

“Why do you need me here?”

“Just get inside will ya?”

We hustled into the house, down the hall with its endless stupid portraits of his children on the wall, through the living room with its massive telly and into the big combined kitchen and dining area at the back of the house. It had a ‘breakfast bar’ whatever the fuck that means. Just looked like a big worktop to me. He was talking about getting an Aga too, I recall. Thank fuck he didn’t get round to that, it might well have been the last straw.

There were dirty pots on the ‘breakfast bar’ and the dining room carpet looked slightly dirty, as though it hadn’t been hovered for a couple of weeks. It didn’t look that bad.

“Look at the state of this place,” he said, and waved his bare arms about.

“Dunt look that bad,” I replied.

“Yeah, but you know what she’s like.”

“All you have to do is run the fucking hoover round.”

“How does that solve anything?” he whined. I must have looked confused because he added, “and there’s the bedroom.” Then he hurried out the room and upstairs. He obviously expected me to follow him, so I did.

The house had four or five bedrooms, I can’t remember exactly how many. Him and Valerie slept in the largest one at the front of the house with a big bay window.

He was breathing hard as he went through the door and I followed him in. There was no other furniture in the room apart from the tousled bed with its black and pink satin sheets. Him and Valerie had moved all the chests of drawers and wardrobes into another one of the bedrooms, added two full-length mirrors and turned it into a ‘dressing room’. The only thing on the wall in here was a large oil painting of my dad and Valerie. It had been copied from a photo of them taken in a cafe whilst they were on holiday in Portugal. He had his arm across her shoulder and was wearing a vest. A vest, for fuck’s sake. I mean, who has an oil painting on the wall of them in a sodding vest?

The pink and black bed was a tumbled mess of sheets. I could see long blonde hairs showing against the black and a crusty residue of some kind was visible halfway down the bed. The room smelt strongly of, I think, Chanel Number 5. It was nice anyway, classy and elegant. It wasn’t Valerie’s. I hoped the sheets had been brought out for a special occasion, I really did.

“Look at the state of this!” my father exclaimed.

“There’s nowt wrong. All you have to do is change t’fucking sheets!”

“I don’t know how to!” he shrieked, “and I can’t work t’washing machine! I don’t know where t’hoover is either!”

I groaned loudly.

“What?” he barked.

“Nothing,” I said, and felt utter despair. I could have been in bed with the most beautiful girl in the world, a sweet chestnut brunette, and here I was, mothering my father, helping to clean up the stains and traces of some middle-aged blonde. I left the room and went and found the hoover. I knew Valerie kept it under the stairs. I went down, got it out and started with the back room. I left him upstairs, moaning on his mobile phone to someone about work.

The house didn’t take me long to clean up. Just needed a hoover and a tidy. I washed the pots too, cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom. Probably left it cleaner than Valerie did.

He didn’t thank me. He’d had a shower once I’d done the bathroom, and his bald head was dripping with a mixture of hot water and sweat as he opened that day’s vodka bottle at 10.45am.

He poured a fair measure of vodka into a half-pint glass of orange juice, took a big noisy slurp and then poured more vodka into the space he’d emptied in the glass. “Wanna stop for a drink?” he asked, “I’m not opening the yard today.”

“No thanks,” I said, “I’ve got to get going. Becky’s waiting.”

“Okay mate.” He shook my hand with genuine warmth and made as if to embrace me. I smiled, stepped back, turned and got in the car. He waved as I reversed out, he was smiling and mouthing some words at me that I couldn’t make out. I didn’t fucking care anyway.

When I got back to Hillsborough it’d gone twelve. Becky was out. She hadn’t left a note, just a stale atmosphere of disappointment and regret, tangible as fumes. I went down the pub.

Becky never came back. Well, she did, but only to fetch her stuff on the following Friday to take it to her mother’s in Dinnington. She’d texted me to tell me that I was a disgusting coward who couldn’t be trusted to keep it in his pants, and as for doing at my dad’s house, well that was the lowest thing she’d ever heard of. I wouldn’t have had a clue what she was on about if Valerie hadn’t phoned me first to say exactly the same things.

Apparently she’d returned a day early, on the Monday evening. She’d twigged why my dad was acting odd, even through his confused mumblings and vodka haze. He’d phoned me just after Valerie had done, seemingly completely unaware that she’d spoken to me. First thing he’d said was, “You’ll be glad to know I’m in the clear mate. She’s got no fucking idea that Maureen was round. Heheheeee!” His gruff chuckle played a rising scale of elation.

“Oh. Great. What happened?”

“Well, somehow she twigged that summat weren’t right.”

“But we cleaned everything up.”

“Yeah, well, you know what women are like.”

“Yeah. Much better than you do. How did she find out?”

“I don’t know…well…I, actually you really…yeah…you forgot to change the sheets.”

“Oh,” I groaned, “nice one.”

“Yeah, but your old dad’s okay mate, in the clear. I told her you’d had a tart from the pub round and used my place. Perfect excuse!” he laughed, really finding it hard to conceal his glee.


“Yeah, perfect innit?”

“Great. I’m right pleased for you.” The conversation ended there. I pressed the red button on my mobile and threw it against the wall of the empty kitchen. It broke apart in many useless pieces. I left the empty house and went down the pub.

* * *

I still go over and see Valerie. She inherited all my father’s relative wealth and bought a house in Edale, in the Peak District. Lovely. I take my current girlfriend, Denise, over. She gets on with Valerie, they talk about hair colours. She’s driven me to drinking, twelve pints of Strongbow and a half bottle of vodka a day drinking. I can’t remember what we had in common.

We were over at Valerie’s one Sunday when she told me and Denise that she was going to have my dad’s ashes turned into a diamond “because he was always such a one when he was alive.” She’s such an articulate woman.

Denise had looked over at her and I could read the unspoken addition to the sentence on their hateful faces like a tabloid headline: ‘Not like him there the useless twat’. Their hateful little eyes twinkled in their fat faces as they planned future misfortunes and inconveniences. I didn’t react. I was lying on the settee and pretended to be too drunk to say anything. I probably was.

He was still in the clear, the bastard.

Author bio:

Zack Wilson lives in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England. His work has featured in a variety of places, including Zygote In My Coffee, Winamop, Gold Dust Magazine, The Quiet Feather, Dogmatika and Savage Manners. He is currently working on a novel length cycle of stories set in Sheffield. He also writes about football (soccer) for Further information can be found at Sheffield Ram and

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