HARD SHOULDER

Alvin Salience, being in the position he was at the moment, accepted a severe pay-cut from his job up in Oxford Street, Central London, following the five months of furlough that had been on the cards since April. He may have shelved it there and then and never returned to the incessant chaos of newly revived, yet bewildering, social freedom and commerce, if it hadn’t been the September after the pandemic and the company weren’t going into administration, dishing out redundancies like ice-lollies in Regent’s Park. Back in mid-February that year, he had made an ardent pledge to himself that, no matter how dire the situation became, he wouldn’t be prepared to take his thumb off the ball and jeopardise his key managerial role at “the city’s number one high street branch”, not for a second.

            Meanwhile, however, the current situation at home, his personal situation, was getting bigger, always bigger. It would end soon, one way or the other – that was for sure. Guaranteed. But the longer he waited for it to be over, pined about whatifs, whatnots, and maybes (all the while constantly sacrificing his own livelihood), the more uncertain his world would become, the more guilty he’d be, and the more impatient he would grow. That was because, by the hour, he was trapezing on a final lifeline that was running thinner and thinner…

            When his BMW slithered up the driveway after a nine-to-five one Friday afternoon in that late summer, Alvin tiredly clambered out and dragged his feet up across the front lawn to the door of his detached family home on Castelnau Road, which, when he knocked, was answered by his wife, Gabby. With the undying midsummer glare craning over his forehead like the second sun of some other world, she opened the door to him as confused as an astronaut who had not yet disembarked her spacecraft, moments after landing on an uncharted planet.

            She saw it was him and huffed, lightly shaking her head. ‘Don’t have keys on you?’ she asked, before reluctantly pushing herself aside to the foyer wall, forcing him to bump bosoms with her as he slid inside like Indiana Jones into the Temple of Doom. She had become every morsel the poster girl for insomnia. Her plaster-coloured cranium housed pupils that were almost spastically awry and whites that were bloodshot and sore with throbbing veins, which beat her concentration one thought closer to oblivion every second it seemed. No longer as attractive as the woman he’d asked to marry him in 2006. At least, not as attractive as those other younger women who were aware that he was of a certain age – the twenty-two-year-old apprenticeship sort whom social distancing had forbidden him from brushing shoulders with at work. Still, he and Gabby were somehow married on paper, sharing only a child and a mortgage. It wouldn’t be much longer now, he thought, as the dark chocolate doughnuts around her eyes reminded him that he’d just driven past the Burger King drive-thru on the A4 and how hungry he was now because of that silly little negligence.

            ‘Forgot them, didn’t I,’ he replied. ‘You saw I had to rush out to get my laptop and hard drive from the offi—’

            ‘Where is your laptop?’ She stared him down with demeaning eyes.

            He sighed, the pitch of his voice lowered. ‘…In the car.’

            Gabby looked at him distastefully and scrunched her nose in discomfort, then said, ‘I thought you would have left it at the office, seeing as you’re going to be away for a while.’

            ‘The weekend,’ Alvin eagerly corrected her. ‘Two days. That’s it. All the time it will take.’

            ‘You promised to leave your work stuff behind.’

            Alvin’s foot began to tap nervously. Before she heard it, he stopped and replied, ‘I wish I could, honey.’ There was a duplicitous trill in his voice. ‘But this isn’t exactly a holiday, is it.’

            He said this so matter-of-factly that his wife didn’t impose any further inquiries; it was not as though she agreed with him, but because there was no point bartering with a Taurus and their grumbling tummy. She just looked him up and down from his always-flashing Bluetooth earpiece to his white Ralph Lauren collars and Tom Ford slacks, merciless in her sanctimonious judgement.

‘Well, then?’ Alvin shrugged impatiently. ‘Where is he?’

            ‘Um—here are you taking him first?’ Gabby snapped.

            ‘On a short trip,’ Alvin replied, finally evading Miss Marple on the doorstep and starting down the hallway. He glanced in each room as he went. ‘It may be the only opportunity I get before things go…south again.’

            ‘South again?’ She hounded him from behind like a spirit haunting the halls of an Edwardian mansion. ‘For you, or for him?’

            ‘I’ll let you decide, shall I, my sweet?’ he responded irritably.

            The house was massive, unabashedly the ostentatious pride and joy of any Richmond upon Thames resident. The hallway was immaculately tidy and spacious, with warm, gold-textured wallpaper and smooth, sparklingly clean mahogany floors like the lobby at the Marriot. At the back of the hall, a widening staircase ascended to another spacious first floor. There was a higher floor above that, but it obviously couldn’t have been as large, and a further loft-extension beyond even that. However, there were more than enough rooms on the ground alone to accommodate the small family of three who actually lived there. Each room – the kitchen, the dining room, the bathrooms, the conservatory, the home gym, the living rooms (back and front) – was a suite in itself, which required Alvin to generously prowl inside for a good seven or eight seconds, in order to check it off the list properly.

            He eventually spotted Christian on the garden patio, sitting in one of the leather armchairs just outside the open glass doors of the conservatory. Protected from the peaked sun by his faithful football cap, he was watching a Netflix show on his iPad with his legs elevated on the chair’s retractable footrest and his arm outlaid on the wing, exposing an injection plaster under his elbow crease. Christian was his scrawny seventeen-year-old son, emaciated from having lost a considerable amount of weight over the past couple of months, to the point that his skin tightly covered his bones the way an uncooked crosshatch pastry stretched over the top of a huge pie. Even in a house of this size, there was very little chance he hadn’t overheard the arrival of his father. Especially due to the latest dose of steroids he was on, Christian seldom missed an off note in any tune these days, whether that was an expiring battery in the doorbell, the distant sirens coming again for Mr. Forester living four doors away, or the absence of first birdsong at 03:49 in the morning, and the same went for renditions of Brahms, Liszt, Mozart and, of course, his favourite, Chopin. Although he was wise enough to switch-off when his mother and father were both in the same room and religiously quarrelling, a preference setting which his parents were constantly aware of and they mindfully took heed.

Alvin entered the room under the swell of the Spring Waltz playing from the conservatory’s sound system, and stood next to his son, placing a firm hand on the boy’s pointy shoulder. ‘Are you ready?’ he asked Christian.

            ‘Not as ready as you for once,’ the boy jovially bantered, running a forefinger up the screen of the iPad with a shaking desire to switch the device off. He had a massive Cheshire Cat grin on his face. Orange is the New Black didn’t prove to be quite as captivating as the arrival of his father showing up in the garden without a buzzing Samsung or an open laptop erected on his palm. Instead, his father’s hand was an overbearing clamp weighing down over his weak scaffold and, when he removed it, Christian had to slowly recover both his muscular and respiratory composure like an inflatable figurine that now needed to compromise for the air it had just lost.

            ‘Hold on! Hold on!’ Gabby barged into the room, nearly shoving Alvin into the antique cabinet as she came through the doorway; it came off so immaturely, like the foreseeable finale to a Laurel and Hardy sketch. And then she stood there between the two of them with her arms crossed, ‘Alv, have you checked with his GP whether this is okay—?’

            ‘I phoned Dr. Xing on my lunch break,’ her husband interrupted stressfully. ‘He emailed me the prescription. I picked the meds up from the chemist on my way here. He’s ready to go.’

            ‘But that doesn’t give you the all-clear to head off someplace that could jeopardise his therapy. It might throw everything off-course. It can’t be okay to just jet-off without—’

            ‘My judgement is always okay, Gabby,’ Alvin proclaimed. ‘Has to be. Couldn’t be the Head Customer Consultant for the number one branch in the country without some merit now, could I?’

            ‘Where are you taking him? That’s what I need to know. How far, how long…?’ his wife persisted. ‘Figured that out yet? It has got to be somewhere reachable.’

            ‘Wherever. He. Wants.’ Alvin playfully plucked the lobe of Christian’s ear. ‘The prerogative has always been his. I’m only making the effort that I always have.’

            ‘You’ve always juggled!’ she barked. ‘You take far too may gambles for my liking!’

            ‘Finding loopholes and compromising profits and investments where I can is what I do for a living, Gabby. I don’t regard that as juggling, I see it as being multifaceted and rather clever. How many times must I tell you not to undermine my faculties? And certainly never underestimate my judgement.’

            ‘Well,’ Gabby huffed, ‘you’re not exactly planning on taking him to the cinema, judging by the fact you took the car for petrol this morning, when I already had it topped up on Wednesday,’ Gabby probed. ‘Where is that investment going? I hope you haven’t over-compromised.’

            ‘I’m taking him out to the country. A little bit of Father and Son Time in the fresh air has always done better than harm,’ Alvin dissected his “evil plan” for Gabriella The Holy Angel And Redeemer Of Christ to comprehend in all her sanctimony. ‘Like those old camping trips we did in the Peak District and extreme sporting in Hillingdon. Nowhere too far, I imagine. We’ll see where the road takes us. But keep it sensible for mummy, won’t we, Chris? No pre-drinks before we get to the brothel.’

            Christian nodded with a smirk and sniggered. As if. He’d been smothered by his controlling, all-powerful matriarch inside this quarantine-prison for seven months now and this rather unprecedented opportunity was his first taste of freedom since roughly the turn of the New Year.

‘Besides, we’ll be back in time for your classic roast on Sunday afternoon,’ Alvin proclaimed, ‘because, like I said, it’ll only be for the weekend. That’s my promise. I’ve got paperwork to deliver to the office on Monday.’

‘Yeah,’ Christian said, sporting a smile that almost matched his father’s. ‘It’s only the weekend.’

            ‘Yes, I’m aware of. Profiling data, I understand,’ Gabby.

            ‘Statistical data,’ Alvin corrected her anxiously, ‘for the company.’

 ‘What I mean to inquire is, if you have said important documents to deliver on Monday, what is it that’s suddenly compelled you to take our son on a Full Weekender?’

            ‘As I have told you just now, it is the only opportunity I am going to get—’

            ‘Before things go south again! Yes, I heard you the first time, Alvin! But suppose travel restrictions tighten again over the weekend and you might get held up or delayed at wherever you decide to go—’

            ‘It will be fine. Everything is packed in the boot—’

            ‘Medicine, vitamins, his hats, sick bags…?’

            ‘Yes, yes.’

            ‘Pyjamas, wash-bag, masks…?’

            ‘Yes, all that stuff too!’

            Christian grunted comically. ‘Some of it,’ he confessed childishly.

‘Get that sorted, Chris,’ she urged. ‘Properly.’

‘He isn’t coming home at Christmas, Gabs,’ Alvin said.

‘Says the man who gallivants to Munich for “three days” without as little as a text,’ Gabby complained. ‘And what about the GP’s number and address, yes?’

            ‘What about it?’ Alvin sighed.

‘You have that on your phone? Just in case?’

            ‘Just in case of what?’ he stammered, oblivious.

            ‘In the case of…I took him to Dr. Xing last week for his bloods and they came back quite high today, his levels. They’ve been up and down since he caught that tummy bug in May. I mean, imagine the kind of relapse he’d have if he was exposed to—’

            ‘Oww—not that nonsense again!’ Alvin denounced loudly, wincing like he had just stubbed a toe. ‘He hasn’t had one of them for a good four or five weeks!’

‘I’m just warning you,’ Gabby said. ‘If that were to happen, you might have to turn things around faster than you hope to. Things would go to pot. And we can’t have that, can we?’

            ‘No, I don’t have Dr. Xing’s number on my phone and I will never call him, because it won’t ever get to that!’ Alvin rejected. ‘I vow to you I have prepared comprehensively for this—however, if it makes you feel any better—for two days—I will do more than suffice his requirements! We will keep our distances from the wider world, and he will avoid stress, and then I will feed him Aptamil with a spoon like a baby, and then I will check his temperature via the rectum, and yadi-yadi-yadi-yaaa—!’

            Christian giggled at his father’s carrousel of arrogance; it had no brakes, no rhyme, no reason, just an influx of rip-roaring confidence.

‘Can I now rent out my child, Mrs. Whitehouse?’ He nudged Christian in the arm with a light punch.

            ‘I don’t understand. You’ve had all summer to take advantage of him – remember those two months of isolation and the furlough you were given until now? What a waste! Why today?’

            ‘Because—you know me—I always pounce when there’s a valuable opportunity, as any half-decent sales representative must,’ Alvin proposed. ‘On this occasion, I am representing my son. He is the customer, my client. Whether you, or Dr. Xing, like it or not.’

            ‘Happy to be your client today, dad,’ Christian approved excitedly, bouncing up from the chair, though having to steady his dizziness by keeling over the wing of the couch for a few seconds.

            ‘Is that so?’ Gabby questioned sardonically. ‘I’m not stupid. I can see why you’re both so keen.’ She was specifically looking at Alvin with those cutting eyes. ‘You may be back on your high horse, not flapping about a Monopoly board in a docile state anymore, now with your money coming in again. Perfect timing for you, perhaps. But not for him! You might be alright, but Chris—your son—he’s in that percentage! That zero-point-zero-two-percent out of ninety-nine-point-whatever—that’s him, that’s our Chris! What if something were to happen to him? Going out there, in public, so soon, poses a major risk to his health. And I hope you, through all your razzle and dazzle, can see that he needs you to take responsibility and not just be winging it on a whim.’

            ‘Like I said, if I need to turn things around, then I will,’ Alvin answered resolutely. But he was failing to receive her severity, while struggling to bargain any genuine contact with her tiresome eyes. Her pupils were rocking like gongs on two grandfather clocks, inversely alternating to his dwindling patience. And there went his brogues again, nervously rubbing together like hairs on the feet of a bluebottle fly. As with most salesmen, he had a response (and then some) for almost everything. ‘He is safe with me, Gabs. He always has been and will remain to be, until his dying day.’

            ‘Don’t you talk down to him like that!’ she bit back hard. ‘His “dying day”? What is wrong with you? How sick of you! You can be so despicable sometimes, Alvin! Grow up, why don’t you, and find some bloody decency!’

            ‘I follow the guidelines as good as anyone else!’ Alvin roared, giving as good as he got. ‘I don’t need some university graduate with a PhD telling me how to live my life! If I want to take my son out of town for two days, then I fucking will!’

            ‘The hospital know his illness better than you, Alvin,’ she warned. ‘What you’re doing could be dealing a greater harm to his recovery than you can bargain for.’

            ‘This isn’t a game, Gabs!’ Alvin exploded. ‘I’m not gambling with words! I know what the hospital said! They tell everyone that! They say that to everyone! Just to cover their arses! Like the glass screens and the PPE we have to install at the checkouts now! Health and safety precautions are a liability in business, but they can’t get in the way! They’ll switch off the ventilators before they even go near the typesetters. I, of all people, would know that. So, don’t even try and patronise me.’

            ‘When was the last time you took him to an appointment?’ Gabby challenged him. He gave no response, just rolled his eyes and licked his thirsty lips. ‘Hmm—not to the hospital? How would you know then?’

            ‘Look—I can handle a little TLC, Gabs,’ Alvin goaded immaturely. ‘I’ll get him there in one piece, even if I have to get there in two.’

            ‘You ought to,’ she warned. ‘Otherwise, you may as well be driving a hearse into Hell the next time you pull up on that driveway.’

 

As the war waged on downstairs, each insult escalating a decibel higher than the last, Christian quietly scurried up the stairwell and retired to his bedroom to pack for the trip. He shovelled two spare outfits, a washbag containing a flannel, a new toothbrush and paste, a tub containing his pills, including a spare, and several pairs of underwear into a rucksack before kissing his trembling mother goodbye on the front doorstep and getting into his father’s car. She slipped a credit card under his hand. He recognised it as her own. ‘If you get lost,’ were the words she partnered to this move, ‘and I don’t mean in the arcades,’ she added with a tinge of charisma. He received it respectfully with a nod, tickled by a sense of grief, although still feeling rewarded with such freedom and responsibility, knowing it was the first time she had ever been this open to set him off. It was like watching a child releasing their first pet goldfish into the wilderness of the ocean at the end of its life.

‘Save me some giblets,’ he said to her cheerfully, before he got into the front-passenger seat. She just smiled at him, quietly letting off a heavy breath of surrender and letting her wearied eyes fall upon the back of the BMW dejectedly. She couldn’t bring herself to watch him walk away. Christian noticed this disharmony and instantly felt a streak of guilt nip at his throat. But he didn’t gulp back his gag until he was privately concealed inside the sedan and sitting side by side with his dad.

            ‘Right! Ideas? Where d’you want to visit this time?’ Alvin asked hastily, sounding evermore like one of those acne-ridden toll collectors fogging up the windows at the Burger King drive-thru – the same hypothetical entities that had caused his tummy to growl a mere forty minutes ago. His stomach was pleading in self-pity, “Never mind forty minutes ago…I’m still ravenous from the A4 this morning, you selfish cunt!”, and kicking his gut like an agitated foetus, forcing him to burp up the dialogue with his son quicker than he would have otherwise wanted to. ‘C’mon! Your choice. Wherever you want.’

            ‘Hrrrmmm…I’ve been thinking on this awhile, and you know, I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland. You know, see the Castle at Balmoral, Loch Ness, and the Highlands…’

            Alvin gulped louder than he should have.

            ‘Well, they’re in different cities, dotted all over the country. It would take longer than a weekend to get around to all of them. To be honest, we can only really do either/or, for time’s sake,’ Alvin said realistically. Longer than your mother might like, he secretly thought, but the sooner I get off this drive and back onto the A4, the better. He quietly let out another supressed belch.

            ‘We could just do a whistle-stop tour,’ Christian suggested.

            ‘A whistle-stop tour?’

            ‘Yes—on and off! We don’t have to lose track of our course, or book into a hotel, and only hop out at the main attractions.’

            ‘Oh, I’m going to—we’re going to have to check-in to a hotel at some point, kiddo—really. I have a late-night phone call to make—sometime around half-ten or eleven on the Saturday—’

            ‘Tomorrow?’

‘Yes, tomorrow. It won’t be long, just a check-up on online activities. The new website is getting developed by a research team in Singapore and, the thing is, 11PM here will be 7AM there, and I need to be awake to answer the—’

            ‘Singapore?’ Christian reacted disappointedly.

            ‘Uh—Singapore, I think,’ Alvin rapidly indulged. ‘They’ll let me know eventually. I’ll be getting an email about it sooner or later today, regarding the surveys I sent out to our gold-card customers. I’ll get it in about an hour or so. Seven o’clock is, I think, the time they said they were going to be sending out the results—I’ve also got research to do on the developer, schedules, all that jazz. Wouldn’t want to bore you, but it is imperative that I—’

            ‘I didn’t know you had work connections in Singapore—?’

            ‘Oh, yes, yes! I am very close with Singapore and many other places,’ Alvin boasted. ‘Anyway, I don’t want to be on the road all that time—with petrol, you know…would hate to be stuck somewhere on the road and be too late to get to the hotel in time to make the call. I have to answer that call—understand, son?’

            ‘Hmmm…I think, you’ll live to see the day, dad,’ Christian muttered ironically, frowning out of the window.

            ‘Yeah, you’re right, it’ll be fine, I guess,’ Alvin bluntly agreed with a cocksure grin, as he turned the ignition key and throttled the gearstick into Reverse, almost simultaneously.

Christian glanced back at his mother, who stood in the doorway, quivering feebly in the near-non-existent wind. He manufactured a half-smile and mouthed the word ‘bye’ as the car engine growled to life. She was crying, chewing her lip as she waved.

            Alvin smiled too. He lifted his hand off the gearstick and rubbed his son’s head. Christian’s head wasn’t full of hair anymore like it used to be and he didn’t have that Elvis quiff that he used to show-off in his Instagram photos. Instead, there was only the sound of a paint brush sweeping against the skin of a blank canvas when Alvin’s hand swiped his son’s entirely hairless head. Alvin reached behind into the backseat to collect Christian’s favourite black and white Fulham F.C. baseball cap from his rucksack and fixed it over his son’s scalp, concealing the glaring baldness. He sighed with personal relief. Then, he punched the destination into the Satnav and set off for the A4 for the third time that day.

 

Alvin’s BMW exited Castelnau via Lonsdale Road, which took them along the riverbank until they crossed over to Chiswick, since Hammersmith Bridge was still under construction and only letting bicycles across. ‘Bastards,’ Alvin thought aloud. ‘Cyclists come before common sense in this city.’

            The father and son hadn’t necessarily dodged a bullet by delaying their descension upon King Street from Chiswick High Road, for the first breadth of city traffic soon came to bully their optimism. Hammersmith rush hour in the morning and in the evening were like two unsolicited versions of the same drab monochromatic film, one was in colour and the other in black and white. Much with the case of The Wizard of Oz, they essentially took place in the same street with the same characters, but the first act was on metoprolol and the second had taken ecstasy.

Once they finally made it out of Hammersmith, after half an hour plagued with six o’clock traffic, and reached Kensington High Street, Alvin jacked up at Wilko, so that Christian could run to the toilet while he stocked up on packets of Walkers, a six pack of Sprites, and a 500ml cup full-to-the-brim with Pick n’ Mix that was  selected for him by gloved-up staff member. At what time they reunited with the car, Alvin scrunched up the parking ticket he’d accumulated in the sly space of twenty minutes for shadowing three inches over a double-yellow line – but not before very audibly decreeing the traffic warden a ‘Tosser!’ – and then took off down Olympia with The Bee Gees belting “haa—haa—haa—haa—staying alive, staying alive—!” at full-vol, while trying to singalong with a mouthful of strawberry laces dangling from out of his lips. He aggressively made a right turn off Kensington High Street following Holland Park, then bypassed the London Marriot like a comet to join the A4 road at last, heading north of the city after Knightsbridge.

 

When the call app on the dashboard monitor caught Christian off-guard between Marble Arch and Hyde Park, he watched his father answer it instinctively. His finger descended to the touchscreen monitor like a twitch, as if he had been expecting it since they had set off and now was the moment. He flicked the ANSWER button without a moment of hesitation, which bled a breath of momentary silence, before…

            ‘Alvin? Hello?’

            ‘Speaking,’ Alvin responded, not taking his eyes off the road, but furrowing his eyebrows, nonetheless.

            Nothing yet. Silence still.

            ‘Speaking?’ Alvin repeated with a fraction of the patience he had privileged three seconds before.

            ‘It’s Phil. From the office.’

Alvin’s face went bright red. He could not suppress the grin on it.

Christian, on the other hand, was squinting at the disfigurement of the noise, which was excruciating. The voice was jilted and tinny, squealing at painfully high-pitches, due to the poor reception on the dialler’s end. It hardly sounded like a person at all, but the sort of transmission you’d hear from a submarine radio some two-thousand feet below sea-level.

            ‘How about we talk later, Phil?’ Alvin taxingly negotiated. He was fighting back a good, hard laugh, Christian could tell. ‘My son is in the car right now.’

            ‘You still on the A4 now?’ the androgynous voice responded.

            ‘Yes,’ Alvin hummed. ‘On my way back, though.’

            ‘Where are you going?’ the voice sounded concerned. ‘Back in to work?’

            ‘No—God, no,’ Alvin chuckled. ‘I have everything I need. No. Now, I’m heading to Scotland, via the M1.’

            ‘Scotland? Whatever for?’ the voice scoffed incredulously.

            ‘I—’ Alvin tried.

            ‘Are you hungry?’ the dialler inquired before Alvin could answer.

            ‘Wuh—why, yes—I missed lunch, and breakfast—’ Alvin tried again.

            ‘Want to grab something to eat at the Bondswift Cafe before Elstree? It’s the one just off the M1, near Edgware Way. I can catch you before you go. I’m heading there now also. I’m close,’ the anonymity offered with a shrill, hopeful rasp. ‘Quickly?’

            Alvin licked another smile for Christian in the passenger seat next to him, as though he had just done him a very generous favour. Christian wasn’t bothered anymore. He was just vexed, staring out of the window and avoiding all the superimposed attention his father was trading in return for his compliancy.

            ‘I want to run something by you—just briefly,’ the speaker pressed. ‘Is that okay with you? Can you make it?’

            ‘Sure,’ Alvin easily decided. ‘I’ll spin by.’

            He was now sporting the shivering half-grin of someone who had just got away with a grievous crime.

            ‘Nice one! Excellent!’ the speakerphone on the dashboard rejoiced. ‘Are you able to get here in twenty? I’ll order ahead, if you like, to save you some time.’

            ‘Okay, good idea, I’ll take a Quatre-Pounder and a strawberry milkshake,’ Alvin said, soaking his chafed lips with a slippery tongue, and then he found his son once more. Something resembling guilt overcame him shortly, but it wasn’t enough to change his mind. ‘Make it a small meal,’ he compromised. ‘I don’t have too long.’

            He noticed Christian was ignoring him. Properly, this time, with his ring finger plunged into one ear – on the side of his head his father could see, conveniently.

‘Chris, want anything?’ he proposed to the disconnected teenager in the passenger seat. Disengaged from his father, disengaged from the voice stabbing his ears from the dash, disengaged from Coldplay singing quietly beneath the speakerphone’s crackle, and disengaged even from his smartphone (which was an astonishing first by Alvin’s accounts), for he was more engrossed by the trees lining the dual carriageway. He hadn’t touched his mobile once before or after the speakerphone had interrupted their trip; the former was a good sign, the latter wasn’t.

            Alvin accepted no response and went, ‘Get him a pie or a Pounder, whichever’s cheaper. If he doesn’t eat it, I will. And then I’ll eat him too,’ he humoured tastelessly. ‘I’m starving.’

            That comment didn’t tickle a smile out of his son, not like he thought it would. Christian didn’t even attempt to lift his head from the headrest. He refused to listen, let alone look at his father at all.

Then the call abruptly ended without warning over the cold silence, allowing Viva La Vida to conquer the dashboard.

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©2020 by Monica Prints