“You’ve done what?” Mike said.
Gemma looked at him in that blank, unblinking way that she had when dealing with his opposition. It rarely failed to work. The lack of visible emotion gave him nothing to work with and turned him in on himself. He would often come out like a small boy in the playground, wildly swinging his puny fists against the wrong target.
“I’ve invited Pearl over. At four. About Dipsy.”
Mike pressed his forehead against the kitchen window pane. A misty March sky pressed back against the glass and, for about two seconds, cleared his troubled mind. Then he straightened and the horror film returned – the problems in their relationship; the miscarriage two months before; the hideous debt nightmare with Fat Tom and his horrible silent friend he’d met in the pub that awful night three weeks ago.
Why had he felt that had been the solution to anything? He hadn’t understood multiple compound interest then but did now. Like a virus in a pandemic, the debt seemed to be, in fact was, increasing exponentially. The fact that five grand had been turned to nothing in one crazy afternoon at Newbury racecourse made the whole thing even more pointless. The debt, he had recently been told, stood at eight grand. He didn’t have eight grand.
There was another day of reckoning approaching because he hadn’t told Gemma. He pressed his forehead on the window pane again but this time obtained no relief: just the blurred reflection a middle-class, middle-aged man in a whole heap of shit staring out across what little he could see of his tangled garden and the world that lay beyond it.
Gemma had mentioned this animal whisperer, who was going to tell them why their cat Dipsy had suddenly decided to crap in the hall rather than in the litter tray. He looked down at Dipsy now, stretched on the kitchen bench, and stroked her back. The cat stiffened and gazed up at him, as if expecting a rebuke.
Mike felt a stranger in his own home. He couldn’t face Pearl, doubtless festooned in kaftans and reeking of patchouli, dropping new-age slogans around while she sucked up the aura and gushed Californian platitudes about Gaia and animal sentience. He had just got Gemma’s permission, willingly given, to absent himself from the séance when the doorbell rang.
• The rest of this story is now available in a paperback book (as are 25 others) – Unaccustomed as I Am (RRP £9.95).
It is stocked by the Hungerford Bookshop and you can place your order here.
Copies are also available at the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, the Mad Hatter Bookshop in Wantage and through an increasing number of other retailers.
You can order it from any bookshop: they will need to know that the ISBN is 978-1-8382580-0-9 and that it can be ordered from Gardners or Central Books.