This is (not) America
This is a short story taken from my anthology collection: ‘This is (not) America’ – it’s available in eBook and paperback.
The damp patch in the room’s corner has got bigger. It’s obvious even in the half light. Now it looks like Africa, or am I thinking of South America? The pointy one anyway. Or are they both pointy?
Definitely not Australia. That’s more oval. And Lucy lives right near the bottom on the right.In Melbourne.
It’ll be the middle of the afternoon there and I suppose she’ll be at work. I ought to email. Something casual. A ‘how are you doing?’ mail.
3AM exists for a reason. It’s when I do my best worrying.
There’s a lump on my leg and I don’t know how it came about. It’s been there a week now and ought to go down. There’s no bruising, just this soggy lumpy bit of me attached to my leg. I looked online, and it turns out it’s either an infection, rheumatoid arthritis or terminal cancer.
Not that cancers run in our family. Terminal or otherwise. Strokes tend to see us off.
Except for my uncle Reggie. He got hit by a car. It was his own fault. The stubborn sod was 90 and refused to use the footpath. Used to say he was here before the cars. The kid driving was only 17. His family sent flowers.
I looked in the mirror this morning. Really looked. Not a quick check for nose hair look. A proper examination. With the lights on.
God, I’m looking old.
And I’m losing my hair. I’ve always had a big forehead, they used to call me Slaphead at school. But I’m sure it’s receding. I hope I’m not losing it on top too. I’ve no idea what’s going on there. When I have my hair cut, I always laugh when the barber picks up a mirror and offers to show me the back.
‘It’s OK,’ I say. ‘I trust you.’
I’m already going grey. Louise at work reckons it’s sexy.
‘You’re looking distinguished, Simon,’ she said the other day. ‘Look at Philip Schofield.’
Distinguished is another word for old.
It’s OK if you spend your mornings laughing at strange-shaped vegetables on a sofa. You can have your hair whatever colour you like. When you work in a bank, stick with the hand you’re dealt.
Flash Dan from IT support uses Grecian 2000. You can tell. It looks like he combed boot polish through his hair.
And he drives a Porsche.
‘Why would anyone fancy Dan?’ I once asked his colleague, Lucy.
‘I suppose it’s his personality,’ she managed eventually.
‘Nothing to do with the Porsche?’
‘That’s just something men think makes them look good. Women find it funny.’
It didn’t stop her from letting him snog her at the Christmas party. She thought I didn’t see, but I did. They both pretended to be drunk, but I’d heard tell Tom he was on antibiotics so he couldn’t drink.
I could get up and go to the gym. It’s open 24 hours a day and you only need to put your pin code in. I’ve always wondered what sort of people go in the middle of the night.
Sad bastards with no life.
So what does that make me?
They’ve had this extra room built with machines that do your whole workout in half an hour or something. I must see what it’s all about. Tom reckons it’s brilliant.
I really ought to ring him back.
He keeps leaving messages.
He sounded pissed off in the last one.
‘Call me back if you remember my number.’
The thing is, he’s not to know why I’ve been avoiding him. One erotic dream about your best mate doesn’t make you gay. Even if he is.
But three? That’s got to mean something.
And I’m not.
Gay, that is.
I’ve been engaged twice, booked a church once, even got as far as agreeing the order of service before she decided marriage was ‘this enormous step, right? What if we’re not ready? What if we’re not those people? What if somewhere out there, there’s someone else we’re both meant to be with and we have kids and end up messing with their heads?’
Close escape, that one.
Last time I heard anything of Lucy, she was being evicted from Dale Farm. Tom reckoned he saw her on the news throwing half a house brick at a police car.
I ought to ring him back. I will do.
Or Saturday maybe.
And suggest we meet up. For drinks. Perhaps a game of pool. Dinner. Whatever.
3AM is the perfect time to worry about cancer.
My current favourite obsessions are prostrate and testicular.
It bothers me I might not be doing the examination right.
I downloaded an episode of This Morning where they had a doctor showing men how to examine their balls and I’m sure there was some kind of a lump the first time, but then try as I might I couldn’t track it down again.
I ought to go to the doctor, but it’s murder getting an appointment unless your head’s hanging off. And that bitch on reception wants to know everything before she’ll agree to let you sit on one of the chairs in reception.
I ought to go private, but it goes against everything I believe in politically. I took it out of Tom when he told me he’d signed up for BUPA. I can hardly back down now.
Not to mention how much it costs.
I had to cancel my AA cover last month.
It can only be days before the car breaks down.
And nobody wants to tell you how to examine yourself for prostrate cancer. I’ve tried the Internet, but it all seems graphic and hideous. Not that I’ve got any problems with sticking a finger up my bum. Like I say, I’m perfectly comfortable with my sexuality.
On the whole.
Apart from that dream.
Though thinking about it, I had a bag of cheesy Wotsits before bed last night and they never really agree with me.
So here I am, going bald, possibly riddled with hidden cancers and single. Having homo-erotic dreams and worrying about money. Is it any wonder my hair is falling out and I look so old?
Maddy turns over, her eyes wide open to transmit anger.
‘Are you ever going to stop typing?’ she says and swipes at the lamp on our bedside table. ‘What are you working on now?’
‘A piece about getting old?’ I say. ‘I’m not sure how to end it.’
‘Can you have someone die?’
‘Done it too much.’
‘Wake up and find it was all a dream.’
‘I might just have them roll over and have sex,’ I say hopefully. She gives me a look that suggests it’s not my lucky night.
‘Make yourself a milky drink and turn that bloody iPad off.’
I nod and do as she says, only to watch the numbers change on my clock.
At 4am, I’m downstairs and waiting for the kettle to boil. Not that I fancy tea, but what else is there? I can hardly open a bottle of wine at this time of night. Or rather, early morning. I’d be pissed by breakfast. And that’s a slippery slope.
Maddy gets up and flushes the toilet. Like she always does at 4.15. She doesn’t come down to see if I’m OK.
I suppose we do still love each other. She infuriates me just as much as I drive her insane. That we still feel something must count. Pale indifference would be tragic.
The first birds sing and I prop open the back door, enjoying the cool air of dawn. Soon the chorus grows optimistic and full. I rinse my cup, lock the back door, and climb the stairs.
Maddy hardly stirs as I slide back into bed. I kiss her shoulder and she brushes me away.
Daylight seeps around the curtains and each dark worry, fear and doubt loses power. For now. Until it’s 3AM tomorrow, when I’ll dig again until answers come.
This is a short story taken from ‘This is (not) America’ – it’s available in eBook and paperback.
- Paperback: ISBN 9780993557125
- eBook: ISBN 9780993557118