Case Of Scars
Case of scars
I had a watchful eye on the clock it was one of them afternoons at work that dragged on and on. The clock seemed as if it was broken. All the work that we had to do for the day had been done but we still had to wait until 5.30 to clock out. the rest of the guys in the warehouse were all joking around but I didn’t want to get involved. Sometimes I would joke around as well but today I just felt like keeping to myself. The clock hit 5.30 and I was the first to clock out, not saying goodbye to anyone.
It was earlier that morning when I got into such a bad mood. I had slept through the alarm clock and overslept by thirty minutes. So as fast as I could I splashed cold water on my face, brushed my teeth, got dressed and hurried to the bus stop. I didn’t have time for my usual two slices of toast and a cup of coffee. The few times before when I had overslept it had been because I had been out drinking the night before and woke up with a hangover. This wasn’t one of them times, infact I had an early night and drifted into one of them long sleeps where you just want to keep on sleeping for days. I got to work twenty five minutes late and the first person I saw was my boss a small round man with short grey hair and thick rimmed glasses called Rob Fields. It was as if he was waiting at the door for me.
‘Your half an hour late.’ he said sternly. I looked up and pointed to the clock on the wall and in a casual way I said.
‘No, I’m twenty five minutes late.’
‘Don’t get smart with me son, its not the first time is it.’
‘I have only been late a few times and the work has always ended up being done.’
‘Its not the point you are supposed to be here at nine.’
‘look I am sorry I overslept. Now it is nearly half past nine so can I go and do some work.’ I said in sarcastically.’
My bosses eyes widened with rage
‘Right follow me into the office.’ he said sharply.
I went to the office and he closed the door behind me. He then proceeded to tell me that my attitude needs to drastically improve and that he was giving me a verbal warning. All the time that he was telling me this the vain on his temple was pounding, I watched it, and I fantasised that the vain would explode and that he would drop to the floor in a pile of blood.
I had worked at the paper warehouse for eighteen months and had never liked Rob Fields. There had been bosses that I had worked for in the past who I had got on fine with, ones that treated there staff like adults and would let you leave early if there was no more work to be done that day. Ones that wouldn’t take the money from your wages if you had to attend a funeral. I had also worked for my fair share of bosses that treat there staff like school kids, and are totally humourless who act more like robots than humans. Rob Fields was one of those type.
I got the bus home and the late afternoon rush hour traffic was as thick as ever. I would usually listen to my mp3 player on the bus but I was in such a hurry in the morning that I had forgot it. So I sat on the top deck thinking about my ex-girlfriend about whether she has some other bloke in here life, and if she was happy with him, or maybe she realises that she made a mistake to dump me and she regularly cry’s herself to sleep at night. I thought about getting home and phoning her and I went through in my mind what I would say.
When I got off the bus I was in the mood to have a few drinks so I went to the off-licence and got six beers and a cheep bottle off wine.
I was nearly home when I decided to take a diversion through the park, it was the first late sunny afternoon of spring and after the long dark winter nights I thought I would make the most of it. I opened a beer and walked to the river bank and by the time I got there the beer was almost all gone so I sat on the bank and opened another beer and watched the water flow by with the sun sparking on it. On my third beer I began thinking about when my Dad used to take me and my brother Jim fishing on the river when we were kids, and the time he told us when he was in hospital dying of cancer that he had a confession to make. Me and Jim looked at each other in a worried kind of way, I was thinking that he was going to tell us that one or both of us was adopted. Then with a smile on his face he said to us ’When I first took you two fishing we caught a few small fish, then you wanted to go fishing every weekend even when I told you it wasn’t the fishing season, but you still pestered me to take you fishing so I took you anyway. We casted the rod and the park ranger walked up to me and told me to move on as it wasn’t the fishing season, I reeled in the line and I said to him discreetly so that you two wouldn’t hear that was no bait on the hook. Of cause we never caught anything so the next week neither of you never wanted to go fishing.’ There was a small silence and then we all laughed.
When our Dad died I was twenty and Jim was twenty two and just over a year later our Mum had met a new man called Terry. Neither me or Jim were happy about it. Terry seemed a nice enough kind of guy but it seemed far to soon after Dads death. Jim began to argue with Mum all the time. On the occasions when Terry would come to the house Jim would walk out slam the door and go to the pub. A year later my Mum and terry married, I begrudgingly went to the wedding but Jim refused to attend. Terry moved in our house. So Jim and me moved into a rented two bedroom flat on the high road above a chemist.
When we first had the flat to it was fun, we had a couple of parties and we didn’t have mum on our case, but the novelty soon wore off. The house was always filthy and jims stoner mates would always be over. They sometimes seemed to stay for days, even when Jim was at work they would still be in the front room smoking and watching DVDs. Then Jim began selling drugs, it was only weed but random strangers would be over the flat at all hours of the day or night. Me and Jim began to fight regularly only just reframing from physical violence. We used to be so close now we almost hated each other. Our family was once close but after Dads death it began to fall apart.
I opened up another beer and when I drank that I left the river bank and walked home, when I put the key in the lock I was hoping that the flat was empty. I opened the door went to the kitchen and opened the bottle of wine. Then I heard the toilet flush and a voice called from the hallway.
’Jim is that you?’
‘No it isn’t who the hell are you?’ I replied.
He walked into the kitchen and said ’I’m Jason Jims mate.’
‘Well what are you doing here?’ I said in an abrupt manor.
‘Just hanging out while Jim get’s back from work.’
‘How did you get in.’
‘Stayed over last night, I slept on the couch. Jim said he will be back from work at nine.’
‘Well its only seven thirty so why don’t you go and hangout some other place.’
‘but Jim said…’
‘I don’t care what Jim said.’
I showed him to the door. He left and I went back to the kitchen turned on the radio, filled up my glass and sat on the kitchen table.
Just after nine Jim got home, I was still in the kitchen drinking when he barges in and says forcefully.
‘I just spoke to Jason why did you throw him out? Who the fuck do you think you are?’
‘Who the fuck do I think I am, I think I live here and I get home from work and there is a stranger taking a piss in the toilet.’ I replied staring Jim straight in the eye.
‘You know Jason he’s not a stranger.’
I got up from my chair and stood face to face with Jim. ‘I may of seen him before but I don’t know him, and I certainly don’t know him well enough to have him here alone all day.’
‘Why what do you think he will do? Rob us?’
‘Who knows I don’t know the guy. Your mates treat this flat like a squat.’
The argument got more heated and animated and went on to other things like the hygiene of the place and who owed who money. I lost my temper and pushed Jim forcefully in the chest. He pushed me back and I sent a right hook that planted on his cheek and Jim fell against the door. He got back up and I said sorry. Then he swung a punch that caught me on my left eye. We then had a fall blown fight. Me and Jim had always had fights especially when we were kids but mainly scuffles not fully fledged punches intending to do real damage to each other. Somehow we managed to stop before one or both of us ended up in hospital. We looked at each other and there was blood on both of us.
‘want a beer?’ I said.
‘Yeah go on then?’ Jim said wiping away blood from his lip. I went to the fridge and got out two beers and we both sat at the kitchen table. We both laughed and said sorry to each other but we didn’t say much else. It was a turning point and I knew that Jim was thinking the same. We used to be not only brothers but the best of friends but not anymore something had changed. I guess neither of us were happy with the way our life’s were panning out. Both of us were stuck in dead end jobs. Both of us had lost girls that we loved. Both of us were due a lucky break but it was like we were lost in a tunnel and losing hope of finding the light to get us out. We look like brothers, we have the same facial features and the same dark brown hair and when I was fighting with Jim it was like I was fighting myself and I think that’s why I might of put as much force into my punches as I did.
After I drank my beer I went to the bathroom to clean myself up then went to bed. My alarm went off at 7.30am, and I woke up with a splitting headache. I took a couple of aspirin and made a cup of coffee. Then I went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face and looked in the mirror. I looked like how I felt which was terrible. To add to the early morning hangover look that I was sporting I had an inch long cut just below my left eye. I felt like calling work and going sick but I knew Jim didn’t start work at the restaurant until late afternoon and I couldn’t face seeing him that day.
I left for work and got there in plenty of time but by mid morning my hangover still hadn’t worn off. I kept out of Bob Fields way as much as I could because I knew that if he gave me any shit I would lose my temper and then my job. The other guys said they were all going for a drink after work.
‘you coming as well Phil.’ asked one of my colleges called Steve.
‘Nah not today.’ I replied.
‘Come on Phil why not? it pay day. Just stay for a drink or two.’
‘I’m just not in the mood I just want to go home eat, watch a bit of TV and sleep.’
When I went home that’s exactly what I did.
I didn’t see Jim until Saturday evening. I was in the kitchen making a sandwich when he got home from work, he had a black eye but seemed upbeat. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and said casually.
‘Gonna start packing tomorrow.’
‘What do you mean?’ I said inquisitively.
‘Look Phil, I moving out. You know Neil and Stu well they have a spare room so I’m moving in there. Its in Manor park, the rent is cheaper as well.’
‘So what am I gonna do.’
‘Your be alright, get someone else to move in.’
‘I don’t know, if you cant afford it on your own then move back to mums for a while.’
‘yeah fuck that.’
Jim moved out the following Wednesday, The first few weeks I enjoyed having the flat all to myself but at the end of the month when the rent had to be paid I would be totally skint up until the next pay day which was the first Friday of the month. I didn’t want to get someone else to move into Jims old room because I thought that he might soon want to move back so I began to do as much overtime as I could. I could just about afford to pay the rent, the bills, buy food and go to the pub at the weekend. The bad thing was that I had to had to keep on the good side of my boss Bob Fields because I couldn’t afford to lose my job or the overtime.
When Jim moved out I phoned him the first week and he seemed very dismissive towards me. I still kept on phoning him but I soon stopped when he didn’t return any of my calls. Then one evening when I got home after a particularly tiresome day at work I ran the bath and got a cold beer and just as I was about to get in the bath the phone rang, it was my Mum.
‘Phil have you spoke to Jim lately.’ she asked.
‘No mum I haven’t spoke to him in ages.’
‘I am worried I haven’t been able to get through to him this week.’
‘don’t worry’ I said. ‘he’s properly lost his phone or something, you know what he’s like.’
‘if I haven’t heard from him by the weekend could you go to his house and see where he is?’
‘Yes’ I said reluctantly.
My Mum gave me the address and I didn’t think about it until the weekend. I hadn’t spoke to Jim in weeks and hadn’t seen him since he moved out. I had tried to make an effort but it was as if he no longer cared for me as I brother. I tried to kid myself that I didn’t give a shit, fuck him I thought to myself. But I did care, I had lost my Dad and now I was losing my only brother.
I went to Manor park to the house where Jim lived, he’s beat up car wasn’t parked outside but I knocked anyway. There was no answer so I knocked again and waited. Then just as I was about to leave I heard footsteps behind the door and it opened cautiously. I just about recognised Jims friend Neil from behind the long greasy hair in his face, it was four in the afternoon but it looked like I had woken him up.
‘Hey there Neil.’ I said.
‘Yeah hello its Phil yeah. Not seen you for a while man. How’s it going.’ he said whist yawning.
‘Fine yeah, is Jim about.’
‘Jim left I don’t know why. I got home one night and he’s car was gone and a load of his stuff.’
‘When was this?’
‘Sometime last week, I thought maybe he went away for a few days but I haven’t heard from him. And the git owes me money for the rent.’
I walked to the bus stop feeling more than a little confused. I then went to the restaurant where Jim worked. I asked one of the waiters when they saw him.
‘He never turned up for work this week. No one has heard from him. The manager it going to hire someone else.’ said the waiter.
I left the restaurant and walked to the pub on the other side of the road where Jim usually drinks. I asked a few regulars and the barmaid but nobody had seen him that week.
I made my way back home and phoned my Mum, I told her that I asked around but he hadn’t been seen. She began crying ‘I have a feeling something bad has happened to him.’ she blubbered.
‘Mum he has properly just gone away for a few days that all. Its not the first time he has disappeared for a while.’ I said trying to console her.
Another week passed and My Mum went to the police station and filed a missing person report.
The weeks past with still no word from Jim. Months passed and still no word. I Began to think the worst that the next time I would see him would be to identify his body. Then I thought if he is alive and he strolls through the door one day then he deserves another punch in the face for the pain he has put our Mum through. How could someone act so selfish.
It had nearly been a year since my brother went missing. I was still working at the paper warehouse and struggling to pay the rent and the bills. The good thing was that the boss I hated Bob Fields had taken an early retirement so I didn’t have him on my case anymore. Just like I did the previous year on the first sunny spring evening I went to the off-licence bought some beer and sat on the riverbank. After a couple of beers I began to think about Jim again. That maybe he left because he owed money to a lone shark or a drug dealer. That maybe he left to get a new identity and start a brand new life in a different country. That maybe he works on a fishing boat off the coast of Cornwall or on an oilrig in the north sea. That maybe he fell over when he was drunk and hit his head on the pavement and lost his memory. That maybe he met a French girl and they live on a farm in the north of France milking cows and growing vegetables and is planning to get married to her and start a family. That Maybe he just needed sometime away to sort himself out and will be back soon.
I cracked open another beer and tossed stones into the river. Then to my left I saw a man walking along the bank towards me. As he got closer and I got a better look at him he looked like a homeless guy. He had a dirty green winter jacket on with a checked red and black shirt underneath. His trousers were filthy and his boots were falling apart and he was carrying a big bag on his back. The man sat on the bank about a meter away from me.
‘It’s a nice evening ain’t it?’ he said in a gruff voice.
I turned to my left. The man was maybe about fifty years old but it was hard to tell because of his ragged greying beard and windswept face.
‘Yeah it’s a nice evening.’ I said dismissively as a didn’t want to get involved in a conversation.
‘You got any cigarettes on you mate.’
‘No mate I don’t smoke.’
‘I guess I will have to have one of me own then.’ he said with a cackled laugh.
He pulled out a pack of Old Holborn tobacco and a small pack of rizlas from his pocket and proceeded to roll a cigarette between his dirt stained hands. He lit it and took a deep pull and held the smoke in his lungs and then exhaled.
‘This river, I used to fish on this river when I was a nipper. Long time ago now.’ he said.
‘I used to fish hear too.’
Then he turned to me and looked deep into my eyes.
’I don’t know you mate but it looks’ to me as if you are carrying around a case of scars.’
‘how do you mean?’
‘That case is weighing you down. The more you keep it the heavier the case gets.’
‘Yeah well everyone has there problems.’ I said dismissively.
‘Just leave the case behind, or chuck it in the river.’
‘What’s makes you such a man of wisdom? You haven’t exactly got it made have you?’
He leaned in closer and said in a hushed tone.
‘I’m doing fine my friend. I may not have a house but don’t need a job to pay for one either. For every heads there will be a tails, every up there will be a down, the scales will end up balanced.’
‘it’s a good way to think but I don’t think I can subscribe to that.’
I then stood up gave the man a beer, said goodbye and walked home contemplating on the surreal encounter I just had.
I opened the main door to the building and looked to see if I had any letters in the communal hallway. There was a small pile. I opened the door to my flat and put the letters on the kitchen table. I put a pizza in the oven and then opened a beer and sat at the table and began to open the letters. Amongst the junk mail was an electric bill which I didn’t bother to open. Then I got to the last letter. Straight away I recognised the scrawny lopsided handwriting on the envelope. It was postmarked from Edinburgh. I put the letter back down on the table and took a big gulp from my can of beer. I stared into open space for a minute or two and then picked up the letter again. I held it with both hands. I couldn’t bring myself to open it. I held it tighter and I broke out in a sweat. Then I remembered the pizza so I dropped the letter, leapt off the chair and opened the oven door. The pizza was burnt. I picked up the letter.
By Nick Ward [email protected]