In the cheapest furnished room in the new/old Days Hotel, Carl Lane lay awake. The stiff heavy air dried his rheumy eyes. The little red light of the smoke alarm blinked unsympathetically at him.
His wife Rachel lay beside him, sleeping soundly, as far as he could tell. His two daughters, Roisin and Caoimhe, lay head to foot two feet away in their single bed. Roisin was nearly 12 and tall for her age; her feet protruding from the duvet on to her sisters’ pillow. Rachel would tell him not to make fun of her big feet, “She’s sensitive about them, you calling her runners canal boats doesn’t help.”
But try as he might, Carl was drawn to her feet. They seemed linked to everything that was wrong in his life. They didn’t fit and they caused stress and anguish. Carl, staring back at the blinking red light, realised he was grinding his teeth and scolded himself. The filling on his top left side had fallen out and the tooth was an open sore; cold air sending shock waves into his jaw and head. He had been unconsciously putting his tongue in the hole, trying to alleviate the pain, until his tongue developed an ulcer. Now, he was grinding his teeth. Somehow the motion eased the throbbing in his temple. Any relief was enough.
His wife turned over to face him; her eyes momentarily open and then went quickly back to sleep. He resists the urge to wake her. “Sure what good would that do? Us both not sleeping?” he thought. It was nearly 2:30am and Carl knew that, for the third night in a row, he wasn’t going to get any sleep. He wanted to cry but quickly scolded himself again. “Dad never cried, not even at mams funeral. Suck it up!” he told himself.
Still, he couldn’t think of a way out of his predicament. He’d lost his business eight years ago, fought the bank for another six years, through the grinder of temporary mortgage arrangements until they took his home seven months ago. He’d gotten work, lots of jobs; each one progressively worse than the last. His newest as a General Operative paid less than a third of what he used to earn. But he was a worker, “Dad always worked, two jobs, for over ten years” he’d say.
When they left their home, the only Social House available was on the other side of the city, miles from the kids’ school and his crap job. But he would have taken it, if he hadn’t been told that if he did he did the family would be taken off the list for the new Social Houses been completed in the area. “Hold on a few weeks” the woman in DCC had told him. “They’re nearly ready, just snagging to do, you don’t want to fall down the list”. That was six months ago.
“That’s how we ended up here” he thought. “Homeless, or in emergency temporary accommodation. Temporary my arse”.
He lay there for four more hours, scolding himself. Knowing the only solution and mocking himself for being too much of a coward to do it. “There’s money there, you just need to take it, chicken shit” he’d repeat over and over.
Before his alarm sounded, Carl dragged himself out of bed and, as quietly as he could, went to wash and dress in the hotel room bathroom. The sink, doubling as a washing machine, was filled with the girls knickers and vests. Ringing them out and placing them on the shower curtain rail, Carl Lane started to cry. Turning the taps on to muffle the sound, he crumpled to the floor. His chest heaved and his eyes burned until he felt like he was going to pass out.
Maybe he did pass out. He couldn’t be sure. Either way he felt better. He washed and dressed and went back into the brightening room. His wife smiled a faint smile. “Morning, you look like you slept” she said. “Yeah, feel much better” he half lied.
Taking a packet of breakfast cereal bars from the mini-fridge, Carl put two aside for the girls and kept one for his drive into work. Putting on his Hi-Vis jacket and grabbing his keys he paused at the door. Turning back into the room, he went over to the girls bed, kissed them both and sprinkled imaginary pixie dust in their ears, like he had done when they’d had their own beds, their own rooms in their own home.
Then, sliding across to his own bed, he hugged his wife with all the strength he could muster. He wanted the hug to say “I’ll take care of you, everything is going to be fine” but all he could whisper was “I love you”. “I love you too” she replied. A quick kiss and it was out the door. The weight of the tiny room lifting with every step Carl took.
By the time he reached the car he felt almost positive, peaceful even. As he drove towards the plant, he turned on the radio and chewed on his cereal bar. The car felt alive beneath him and the morning sun seemed pleased to see him. As soon as he got the car up to one hundred and forty kilometres per hour, Carl Lane turned his car off the road and smashed into the central embankment. Happy knowing as he did, that the shit job had a death in service benefit of four times his annual salary. Carl felt better once he’d accepted he was worth more dead than alive.
Tony Groves April 2016
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