The theme for this story was meant to be “turkey”. It divided its audience, but that reflects the fact one might take one or the other character’s side this time.
Laden with bags, I exit Eltham station and walk north along the High Street. A cold gust of wind cuts into my face like an icy knife. The strings of lights cut dazzling trails along my retina they dance wildly on the lampposts.
I sigh. Only 363 days to Christmas.
Turning up my collar, I swing right by Well Hall Pleasance. Ten minutes later, I’m home. The house isn’t a cheerful sight on a winter’s evening. It’s only one storey, and the only lights in the front come from the pathetic little Christmas tree in the lounge, scarcely a metre tall and flopping like a limp chip.
“You back, Roland?” Mum calls as I walk in.
“Yeah Mum,” I call back.
“You get my handbag?”
“Okay. Just pop it down in the hall. Dinner’s nearly ready.”
I sigh again as I close the door. She’ll probably complain it’s not a Louis Vuitton after she only gave me £50 to spend on it.
At the dining table, Mum serves out two plates of sticky rice covered in a weird yellow sauce that looks suspiciously like vomit.
“Don’t sneer at it like that,” Mum chides me. “I’ve made a korma out of the leftover turkey. Unlike your father, I economise. Now eat up.”
Dad! Who’d have thought she’d bring him up? How long has it been? Five minutes?
“Your father’s forgotten Christmas, hasn’t he? Typical!”
She was wrong. Dad ordered me a t-shirt on Amazon slightly too late, so it arrived this morning.
“Don’t wait ‘til after Christmas, Roland, get searching for jobs! Honestly, you’re as shiftless as your father was.”
That was when my contract job with a local car dealership expired.
“Never mind, Roland. You can apply for a different university next year. Your Dad did much worse in his day.”
She even slags Dad off when she comforts me. I wish she’d get over him leaving. It’s been more than five years now.
I clean my plate in silence. The rice is tasty, but turkey’s not succulent enough to make a decent curry and it sticks to my teeth. Luckily, dessert is a much more appetising chocolate mousse with whipped cream.
“We should go and check out Connie’s new flat soon,” Mum remarks as we eat. (She means my big sister, who moved out this year.) “She’s had nothing but good things to say about it so far.”
“Yeah, good for her,” I mumble to the tuft of whipped cream on top of my mousse.
“Oh, Roland!” Mum snorts. “Your ambition’s been in the toilet since your A-Levels came back. Stop moping about your low grades and take the initiative. Your father wouldn’t have done that in your shoes, would he?”
That makes me more interested in the whipped cream than ever.
“I’m going to be doing some reading in my room after dinner,” I say flatly.
But not the sort of reading she thinks. Clothes weren’t all I picked up today.
Later on, I peer through the gap in my curtains. My bedroom window faces north and through it, I can see the lights of London’s skyscrapers; the Shard, St Mary Axe, that HSBC building and Canary Wharf, its summit flashing in the darkness. It’s like a beacon, guiding me away.
I look down at the leaflets strewn across the bed. My mind is made up. A plan starts to form.
Over the next four days I’ll hand in my application form, take out some of my savings and buy a train ticket. I’ll throw a sickie on New Year’s Eve, pack a bag, set my alarm and sneak out before breakfast next morning.
I can’t imagine Mum’s face when she opens the note I’m going to leave on the bed.
As you requested, I’ve taken the initiative. That is, I’ve signed up for 3 years in the Navy. By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to Plymouth to start basic training. Don’t worry; I’ll contact you when I’m settled so you know I’m still alive and, hopefully, doing well. But don’t try and stop me, or try and find me. I need to give you, this house and all the guilt and shame you pile upon me up if I am to have any sanity left 3 years from now. I hope once I return, you’ll be ready to let go of the past.
Thanks for the turkey korma. It helped me make my mind up.