Today it’s our Saturday Short Story Feature. We have Elissa Soave here today with her story Your Money. I do hope you will enjoy, please feel free to leave some feedback back for Elissa in the comments below. Enjoy your weekend!
Elissa Soave is a Scottish writer of poetry and short stories. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans (issue 30, 2017); Gutter (issue 16, 2017); Freak Circus (issue 3, 2016); online at Burning House Press (2016); the Guardian (November 2015); New Writing Scotland (volume 8); and the Scottish school textbook, Working Words. She has had a story shortlisted for performance by Liars League London (2016) and another selected for performance at Glasgow CCA’s stage to page event (2016). She reached the semi-final of the Harpies Fechters and Quines All Woman poetry slam, organized by the Glasgow Women’s Library in June 2016. You can find Elissa at elissasoave.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @elissa_soave
He pokes at the embers with the stick Alfie had fashioned into a spear earlier on in the evening, when they were all three looking forward to the Sunday night barbecue. The boy is good with his hands, the spear is impressive – thick and comfortable at the handle end and sharp and deadly at the spike, where he’d spent ages paring back the wood and paring back the wood. Tom wonders if he’s always been talented that way, certainly he’s been creating daggers out of sticks and rifles out of driftwood the whole time he’s known him.
Alfie’s up in his room now, full of cheap sausage meat and salad potatoes smeared with mayonnaise. Jane makes those especially for him; she and Tom prefer dressed rocket leaves and chick peas in oil and garlic. Tom has taught Jane to cook the way his mother taught him and now she does all the cooking, except for the meat on the barbecue. He’s been quite clear with Jane on this – that’s his job. He always insists upon searing the meat, though she marinates it and prepares all the side dishes in the kitchen. She brings them out in a mismatch of muted grey and white bowls as he turns the chops and the chicken.
He picks up the half-empty bottle and tops up Jane’s glass. She motions to him to stop when the glass is two-thirds full. He has lost count of how many glasses of wine they’ve drunk but he notices that Jane’s lips are black-rimmed and her teeth stained like she has bitten on the charcoal. He sees two empty wine bottles lined up next to the bottle bin, and knows there are at least eight drained Leffe bottles lying discarded on top of last night’s haul inside the bin. It has been a very sociable bank holiday weekend.
‘I just wasn’t expecting you to say that.’ He is looking at the fire as he speaks, he’s placed the stick by his side and both his hands are cupping the bowl of his wineglass as though it is a comforting mug of cocoa.
‘Well, you shouldn’t have asked then. I thought we were being honest with each other.’ The words ‘for once’ float unspoken on the cooling night air.
‘But I asked you what you would absolutely have to have on your perfect island, not what you could live without.’
It seems that Jane misunderstood the question and gave the answer that has been bubbling inside her head underneath the shopping lists and catalogues for at least the last three years. Tom guesses that the wine is allowing her to give the answers she wants to give.
They hear the sounds of the neighbours’ car on the gravel next door. They told Tom earlier that they were taking their younger son out for dinner to celebrate his recent exam success. They were both beaming, proud as though the boy’s academic achievements were their own. The car’s headlights cast twin funnels on the grass beside the fire pit, momentarily thrusting Jane into the spotlight. For the first time, Tom notices the faint line of downy hair on her top lip and the way her cheeks seem to droop at each side of her bottom lip.
They listen to next door’s laughter and catch splinters of conversation before the voices trail off as they head indoors. Returned to the shadows, Jane takes another sip of wine. Tom knows they should stop drinking and talking but he is unable to do either now they have reached this point.
‘Knee deep in zombie shit with no back-up. Bad combination’, and the quickfire budabudabuda of an automatic weapon drift down from the open upstairs window.
Jane tsks. ‘He’s too young to be playing that game. I told you to get him something age-appropriate.’
‘He’s nearly 13. Anyway, the bad language will go over his head.’
‘And the violence and half-clad women too, I suppose? The images will stick Tom, he’ll think it’s normal for women to have pneumatic breasts and rugged men to be forever rescuing them with their Kalashnikovs.’
‘You overthink these things. He’s a sensible boy.’
Alfie too has been asked the question Tom has just put to Jane. It was early on in the evening, the right time for such questions. They were just dishing up and had not quite finished the first bottle of red. He hardly has to think for a moment before he answers firmly – his Xbox. Tom smiles and the boy smiles back before suddenly glancing at his mother.
‘He said what thing could I not live without on my island, not who.’
Jane puts her arm round the boy, and it is not clear who is reassuring whom that they are still no. 1 in the other’s world.
While the boy is socializing with the one thing he could not live without, Tom and Jane sit either side of the fire, separated by the burning branches and curling beer wrappers. The primal smells of fire and smoking meat surround them, somehow making it less difficult to be forthright.
‘Anyway, what about the car?’ he says suddenly. ‘You’d miss the car.’
Jane does not hesitate. ‘I didn’t learn to drive till I was 28, I’m sure I could take the bus again.’
Tom’s eyes brighten as he remembers the days he would see her at the bus stop, hands deep in the pockets of the anorak which covered her navy overall, Alfie leaning against her, gripping whatever toy was his favourite that week. They looked so vulnerable, both of them, as though they’d been caught unprepared in a hailstorm and needed shelter.
It had taken him ages to read the name on that overall. ‘Tor—’, ‘Tort—’ then one day the wind had been in his favour and he’d seen it – ‘Tortelano’s’.
‘That’s right. You were always waiting for a bus in those days. Even when we started going out, you were still checking timetables, planning routes and timing journeys. I liked that about you.’
Jane gets up and starts to clear away. She slides the cold sausages off the plate and tips them into the food bin. She makes a face as she sees the greasy outline of each sausage left on the white plate. ‘Something else we shouldn’t let him have really.’
‘Oh come on’, says Tom. ‘A couple of burnt sausages never hurt anyone.’
‘I suppose not, it’s just we never used to …’
‘Oh, I see, another thing I’m responsible for.’
They are silent as Jane continues to clear the wrought iron garden table they use for barbecues but then Tom speaks again.
‘And what about this house? You love this house.’
Jane stops what she is doing and thinks for a moment. ‘Yes, I did love this house, I do love it. I remember when we moved in and it was practically empty. It felt … clean, a place I could put my imprint on. Remember – the blank walls, vacant rooms?’
‘Yeah, Bonnie got everything. I felt so guilty I didn’t put up much of a fight, I suppose.’
They are both silent.
‘I felt guilty too’, says Jane carefully, looking at the sparking wood, flakes of ash drifting gently on to her jeans.
Tom looks at her. ‘Did you? You’ve never said that before.’ He disturbs the burning branches again with Alfie’s stick. ‘I suppose I thought because I wasn’t actually married to Angie, it wasn’t the same.’
‘You were living together, she expected you to marry her after things got settled with Bonnie.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘And her son was what age when we met – a year younger than Alfie is now?’
‘I don’t recall’, he says, poking the stick in the fire, moving the branches so that the smaller ones fall in between the charred boughs and into the middle of the pit. He tries again.
‘You haven’t had to work since you met me. You have always been able to drop Alfie off at school and pick him up. Go on all the trips. You wouldn’t have been able to do that without my … if you hadn’t met me.’
Jane shrugs. ‘We hardly see him these days. He’s at school all day, then on his Xbox or his phone. Anyway, I miss the shop. Not the cleaning and getting up early but I miss serving people, getting to hear about their weekends, who they were buying the chocolates for. I miss packaging up those chocolates. They were works of art some of them. Well, you know, you bought enough of them …’
He does remember buying chocolates for Angie but what he remembers more, is the sight of Jane’s fingers, covered in fifties style linen gloves as she placed each Belgian chocolate lovingly in the little box, making sure they were snug in the corners, fitting in as many as she could without damaging them. He remembers her slender fingers tying the ribbons, he remembers her blunt capable nails and the way she worked the scissors so that the ends of each gold ribbon swirled up making a frothy decorative centerpiece on each box. It’s true – she can work wonders with those fingers.
He glances over at her hands smoothing cellophane over the leftover potato salad. He hesitates then reaches over and grips the first two fingers of her right hand in his own much bigger hand. She leans over towards him as though to kiss his mouth. He holds his breath, waits for her, but then she is startled by a barrage of gunshots from upstairs. Like a mouthful of chocolate, the tenderness is over too soon. She is back to wrapping and spooning, clearing away the debris.
He swirls the last of his wine round his glass and looks at the lawn, wondering what sort of toll the fire pit will take on it. Jane does the garden, and she doesn’t seem to be worried about the grass so maybe it doesn’t matter. He gulps down the rest of the wine, and takes a last throw of the dice.
‘So we know what you don’t need on this island, what’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?’
Jane has her back to him and seems to take minutes before she turns round, her hands full of dirty dishes.
‘I’m going in now Tom’, she says. ‘The fire’s nearly out anyway.’
Tom watches Jane through the long feathers of smoke that turn her into a phantom as she heads into the house to tell Alfie it’s time to put his light out and get some sleep.
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