A GRIMM TALE – Short Story

5 Aug

 

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“Good writing should be like looking through clear glass.”  George Orwell

Once upon a time…

               George sat at the breakfast table surrounded by the detritus left by two boiled eggs, a round of burnt, buttered toast and several cups of coffee. The ashtray was full: the bills lay unmolested beside the empty cigarette packet. Days had turned to years, hours to weeks and minutes to days, an eternity of unvanquished time had elapsed since he’d been laid off from the steel plant. Einstein – whoever he was – had been right! Twenty two years he’d worked at that damn place, man and boy and for what?

               His was not a life of dotage, fulfilled hobbies and a cozy game of darts every Wednesday night with fellow generational survivors, but a purgatory of redundant sloth. The Chinese merger had meant that the old were out and the computers in. No point trying to fight it. With the dissolution of the union by an overzealous caring government, who’d cashed out and buggered off, there’d been nobody left to fend for the workers. Instead, something called human resources had taken the place of the “brotherhood.” An oxymoron, given that the lady in the steel rimmed glasses was anything but and the resources…well you get the picture.

               George wasn’t old, but he was tired. Not of life, but of trying to live it at fifty five. There was still so much left to do and not having completed the requisite four score and twenty, George felt that he still had something to offer. But with what?

               His fortunes had melted like icebergs under the sustained assault of global warming, his stocks and shares, shared and scrapped, his house worth less than he’d paid for it and the car outside in the driveway desperately in need of a universal cure for rust. He was on the edge, the brink, his rope, the tether and therefore, because too much of anything isn’t necessarily a good thing, the outlook was less than peachy. If bad luck was bankable then even now he would drowning his sorrows in the Cayman Islands. In the Anglo Saxon sense of the vernacular George was well and truly fucked, shafted, screwed, roggered, buggered, raped and, to add insult to injury, had probably been fiddled with as well. Even God wasn’t on his side, as being a lapsed Catholic only added to the burgeoning sexual innuendo he was feeling.

               But what to do, how to make the money he needed to pay the bills he couldn’t? The bills were emboldened in blood red and without speedy remuneration he’d lose the water, the electric and the three piece suite. If things could possibly be any worse he’d be surrounded by Zulus with nothing but a Martini-Henry rifle and six shots between himself and oblivion. George quickly rethought this and concluded that the Zulus would be better than a life without electric. Payments had to be made no later than Thursday week, seven days to acquire what he didn’t have, to furnish those he didn’t know, with what he couldn’t provide for those whom he loved. He was flat broke with nothing in his pockets but holes. Even the moths had left the house for lack of a sustainable lifestyle, closely followed by the mice that’d starved on fresh air and gone to eat some other poor sod out of house and home. He was a zero; worse than that he was a negative zero. George was bereft, had nothing left of any value: but wait perhaps he did.

               “What about a garage sale,” suggested Constance, his wife of twenty years? George stopped toying with his egg shells and considered what she’d just said. He looked at his wife through the serving hatch that linked the dining room to the kitchen. She stood with her back to him, a good looking woman who’d been with him through a little of the thick and a lot of the thin and yet there she still stood. George just assumed that she had nowhere better to go. There again, a woman who went to Yoga five times a week, watched what she ate, and ran what was left of the budget with a clenched iron fist could do a lot better, or at least he thought so.

               She walked through to the dining room and tossled his hair. “Put some of those old tools you don’t use anymore out on the drive way. You might just make some money.”

               Old car tools, that he’d use to maintain the family jalopy and even help some of the friends, who’d long since moved away to some of those new nicer neighborhoods they were building where the green belt used to be. He should have moved with them when he had the chance. Recriminations were one thing he wasn’t short of. But who’d want that old rusted pile of crap. Who’d want to buy his old reliable tools when they could by brand new shiny foreign imports from the big box store in the high-street? He shook his head. His wife shrugged and kissed him before walking out the door. She blew him a final kiss, “Don’t be so hard on yourself George. Something will turn, up you’ll see.”

               George grinned his yellowing smile and watched as the door closed behind her. What was the point, there wasn’t a single thing of value in his house that anybody could possibly want? He stirred himself, went into the kitchen and plugged in the kettle. Life was always better with a cuppa and a fag. He looked in the tea caddy and noticed his diminishing supply of Darjeeling. Things had to turn around soon or there wouldn’t be any of that left either. What would’ve been the point of empire, if an Englishman went without tea? All the energy that’d gone into blood and genocide for the pointless inking of red nations in countless geography books wasted. The kettle boiled. George poured his tea and went back to the table, picked up the newspaper and began to read from where he’d left off.

               The front door crashed open and in came his daughter. A girl of twenty one who’d just started at the local college. Bright girl, who played the trumpet and got straight b’s. Always dressed nice and always with a smile on her face. His mates, or rather former colleagues, had told him he was a lucky man but he’d always figured it was them who were trying to get lucky.

               “Hi dad. What you up today,” she asked?

               “Same old same old,” he said taking in the boobs of the lass on page three.

               “I just saw mum in the yard. She says you’re going to have a garage sale. That’s a great idea isn’t it?”

               George nodded ambivalence in the general direction of the ray of sunshine attempting to illuminate his shadowy part of the world. “What about those old medals of yours and those old military prints you used to collect? Surely somebody would want those?”

               George had never served, but had a penchant for anything in a red jacket carrying a musket and had collected cigarette cards and old military prints since he’d been a lad. There were some old tarnished medals as well somewhere, probably in the loft along with the prints covered in dust, spider webs and asbestos fibers. But who’d want that old stuff? These days everything was bright and shiny and made of plastic fantastic. Why would he waste his time going into the attic just to retrieve something that somebody would probably only give a pittance for. George shrugged noncommittally as his daughter came across the room. She knelt down, hugged him from behind and kissed his ear.

               “Love you dad,” she said. “Things will pick up, you just see if they don’t.” She smelt of soap and perfume. “Anyway, got to go. See you later dad.”

               George muttered something under his breath. He was derelict, had nothing and the outlook wasn’t any brighter than the B.B.C shipping forecast. Even now fisherman were staring out of salt-streaked wheel houses watching the clouds gather above George’s house, thanking God they were in safer waters. He was a financial shipwreck and worse than that he owed money, which ironically meant he had less than nothing. It was a Shakespearian tragedy so tragic, that the Bard himself would’ve ruled out writing it for fear of perpetually suspending disbelief in his audience.

               Even though he hadn’t bought a ticket, George turned to the back of the paper to check the football results and peruse the lottery numbers he would’ve chosen. With the desperation of a drowning man clinging to a punctured inner-tube, George prayed that divine providence would, as the catechism said it would, eventually intervene and very soon, he hoped to inherit the earth. The local team had lost and the numbers on the pools weren’t the right ones. He always chose birthdays when he played. Always the same ones and of course always the number sixty six, as although he wasn’t exactly winning himself, it’d been a long time since the England football team had won either.

               “What’s up dad?” A young man walked into the kitchen via the back door. “Barbara tells me you’re having a garage sale. Sounds like a plan.”

               His son was a good kid who’d recently left the Army and joined one of the new accounting companies in the city. The boy had a good head on his shoulders and never been any trouble. Always good to his old mum and dad and helped our where he could. A son who respected both his upbringing and those who’d raised him. Every one George met down the pub told him what a fine young man he was, how fortunate he was to have such an ambitious, handsome, son.

              “What about those old paintings you used to have. They’ve got to be worth something? Haven’t seen them for a while. You used to be right proud of those.”

               George had always had a talent for painting and used to disappear up to the moors or to the coast on the weekends. He’d a way of capturing the light on the fells and a knack of incorporating the bustle in the crowd with his horse-hair bristles. His oceans had churned and his sails puffed. There was a talent in his old hands that his school masters had recognized in his youth but which, through lack of practice, he’d undoubtedly lost. His artwork had featured at an exhibition once and he’d even won a couple of prizes. There’d been a piece about him in the Press which he’d cut out and stuck in a drawer somewhere for safe-keeping. Where it was now, God only knew! The paintings though were at the back of the shed, behind the creosote and half used paint cans that had accumulated as they hardened and became useless. The damp had crept through the untreated wood of the shed walls and destroyed some of the canvasses. Occasionally, when he was down the bottom of the garden potting plants, some of the old familiars would catch his eye and remind of the love he’d troweled into them.

               “Got to go. Big meeting at work today. Could mean a promotion.” His son smiled and slapped him on the back. “Cheer up Dad. It’ll work out, it always does.”

               George grimaced, waved and watched his son walk out the front door.

               “Bleeding garage sale!” How was he going to swing that?

               George had nothing.

               George was a bloody idiot!

 

 

 

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