Sam heard the rain before he rolled onto his side and opened his eyes. He lay perfectly still, listening to the staccato p-patter of nature’s rhythm. He heard guitar strings E D G picked and lightly ringing. He moved his tongue over his teeth, rolled onto his back and stretched his arms wide. Long as he could remember he’d loved the sound of rain; better at night though lulling him to sleep. He heard a lorry pulling up outside, its engine idling, soon joined by the voices of refuse workers talking or calling to each other as they rattled the wheelie bins over the pavement. Sounded like happiness. On a wet Friday morning. At least he didn’t work outdoors. The light from his phone pinged at the corner of his eye. Sam let it lie amongst the clutter on top of the bedside cabinet. He didn’t open the curtains.
His skin had the pallor of curdling milk, or was it the bathroom light, or his bleary eyes, or his liver? He quickly brushed his teeth. Mechanically washed his face, neck, shoulder blades, under, upper and forearms. He felt somewhere between warm and cold. The word equidistant popped into his head. Made him smile. Not an easy word to scan and rhyme…
“What’s that, Sam?”
“Not an easy word to scan and rhyme?”
Jonah was sat cross-legged on the shaggy wool rug beside the radiator (as though he were drying out), an Ibanez acoustic guitar nestled in his lap. Sam put two heaped tablespoons of ground coffee into the cafetiere, waiting for the kettle to boil. Who else would it be phoning him this pissing early? Perhaps not especially early for a hard-headed pro such as Stephanie St. Clare. She’d be ringing again, no doubt, cursing and narrowing her dark brown eyes. A shiver ran through him, from his sternum to his toes. Jonah hit an ominous chord.
“I’m getting away from all this, Jonah.”
“Christmas upon us, Sam.”
“I’m in the mood for something softer.”
“It being a wet and windy winter.”
“Make an indentation of my arse in warm sand. Days of languor and lapping waves. Ice cold lager.”
“Pinacolato and Rum baba.”
At the metallic sound of the letter box flapping open and shut, Sam shuffled the short distance to the hallway, and picked up the envelope lying there. Recognising the feminine pen-strokes of his name and address he smiled softly.
“A card from Auntie Muriel.”
“Ahh, nice. Getting on in years now.”
“Eighty…. Five, I think.”
“I’m not her only living relative, leave it out, will ya’.”
Same every year, for how many years, same sentiments, same words used. The cost of postage stamps had sky-rocketed this year. Oh, crikey, had he remembered to send one to her? A Christmas card only, a piddlin’ useless thing that could change a person’s day. Sam sipped his strong, black coffee, adding another teaspoon of demerara sugar. He had to get out of the city. Had to get his mind right. Head south, like in all the best film noir he’d seen.
Seven missed calls from Stephanie St. Clare – wasn’t even half past nine. She’d be sending in the para-military goons next. The script was finished. How many more drafts? The last scene was left, that was all. They had discussed this till their very tongues had run dry. As though the actors – the real talent – wouldn’t be coming in to rearrange the furniture! Changing lines to suit their specific needs. Eighth call coming in from… Maxwell Fertz? Maxwell Fertz, Executive-in-charge, balls the size of dumbbells, genre defying, multiple award winner, corporate cannibal. God help us! They wanted his blood. Sam edged his head around the curtains at his bedroom window, half expecting that his 1998 Porsche 911 Carrera had been nicked. It was Christmas after all! A gift to himself out of the first tranche of moolah from his fee. After all the years of struggle, penury, desperate hope, hopelessness; a classic ride to impress.
He wasn’t going to finish… the last scene refused to come out of him.
“House is empty across the road.”
“Yes. It is.”
“Strange. Young couple with two kids moving out before Christmas.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“No goodbyes or anything. Just gone, Christmas upon us. Bet the landlord threw them out, Eh, Sam? Landlords kicked their arses out.”
“Nothing you or I can do about it.”
“Are you ready then?”
Sam packed his handmade leather Hermes suitcase and vintage strapped soft leather shoulder bag, like the Porsche he’d bought these items second-hand. Since selling the film script he’d been on the fringes of important circles; he had to look a certain way, fit in, ‘tis the way of this world. A half reliable lover would round things off, preferably blonde, and able to wear a gold lame dress. He felt as though his chest was about to burst, his ears giddy with the sound of his pulse.
This was happening. A character forced to make a choice… makes a choice.
“What’s that I’m hearing, Jonah?”
“I thought Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas would set us off.”
“Turn it up!”
Sam watered his house plants. He gave the Yucca leaves a strenuous wipe. He had an impulse to go out and dance naked in the rain. He filled his 8oz pewter hammered hip flask with brandy. This was happening. They were going South.
Fifteen missed calls and counting.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Hardly any decorations… in the windows.”
“Miserable as Christmas, aint it?”
“What speed you clocking?”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it.”
“I’m seeing a headline – Writer Fleeing Deadline Involved in Fatal….”
“Shut yer hole, will ya’!”
Cosseted in soft warm leather, slicing through the dull English rain, wish it could be Christmas every day on the radio, felt like he was sat in his living room, the Porsche as good as driving itself. This was a life indeed. Wasn’t it? Just what he’d always wanted… All the rejections and better luck next time, Sam was the (40-year-old) kid with the killer script, wined, dined, they even entertained his casting suggestions, they seemed to like him! He was merely easy to manage. A grateful sucker. It was their reality. Now he was a liability, costing them money by the day. Litigation coming next, they’d sue his ass down to the bone, or worse. There was always episodic television, he could go back to theatre; God help us, teaching would be the death of him. In his mind he was Matt Damon with his girl in bangs, Mila Kunis, swirling up Texan dust in a classic Pontiac, hotly pursued by a mephedrone fuelled Tom Hardy and a paranoid, gender fluid, rogue CIA operative played by Frances McDormand. Dream on, mothers kissing Santa; he was sad Sam, another driver on a grey, rain-soaked English motorway, tail between his legs, heading… hey, wait a, wait a, wait a mo. He wasn’t travelling south. He was on the M11. A small stretch of motorway heading East.
He needed a break.
Seven parked cars he counted, unevenly spaced across the wet concrete of the service station. An evocation of loneliness. Hunched together like a murder of crows the clouds were having a breather. Rain had stopped. Telling himself he’d give up come the new year, Sam lit a cigarette. Elvis Presley, he could always raise a smile at Christmas. His mum had idolised the King. Rest her soul and bobby socks. Walking steadily, his mind momentarily at ease, he approached the glass entrance to the cafeteria, toilets, shops. Then froze in his tracks. In the foyer a choir of school children was forming, resplendent in bright red blazers, the little ones at the front wearing caps. Away in a manger. So much joy and innocence in this world. He couldn’t take another step closer. And he was desperate to pee. Spotting an evergreen bush at the top of the grass verge, Sam rushed toward it. Unzipped. Relieved himself. The little lord Jesus. Any more of this he’d get himself arrested. Still, he brought the hip flask from his side pocket. It was empty.
23 missed calls and counting.
The old house looked the same. In his memory it would always be the same. Late Victorian built in the Queen Anne Style. Good honest red brick and ribbed chimney stacks, leaded lights in the casement windows representing the strength of a nation. Popular in America also. He knew every nook and cranny of this house, stairs you couldn’t step on for the creak. Some of his best days spent, getting ready for a Saturday night. Sam placed his head on the steering wheel, his breath coming shallow, on the verge of tears. Film is the art of doing what is necessary.
27 missed calls and counting.
“Sam, what on earth?”
“Gloria, oh Gloria.”
“You look dreadful.”
“I’m in a bad way.”
“Have you driven all this way from….?”
“I’m a horrible person.”
“You stink like a brewery.”
“Come, come in…. You’ve lost weight, I’ll say, since…”
Sam hadn’t properly registered or sensed that Gloria was dressed like a Fairy Godmother, in a tight, creamy pink coloured leotard, white laced tutu, white tights, her silvery grey hair tightly braided, sprinkled with glittering gold. It was that type of day he was having.
“Is that your Porsche, Sam?”
“It should be Jonah’s…. it should be Jonah’s…” Sam bawled and sank to his knees.
“Calm down, dear heart. You’re safe here.”
“I’m a fraud, nothing but a fraud… Oh, Gloria…”
Listless and pissed on all fours Sam was dripping thick tears and effluvia onto the mauve and lilac weave carpet that hadn’t long been steam cleaned, but she could hardly turn the lad away from her door.
“You’ve got yourself in a bit of a tiz.”
“None of it…none of it is mine….”
She’d known Sam since he was a chubby thing in short pants. Lost his own mother so young. He and Jonah were the best of friends. Both film and music mad, two peas in a pod. Times they resembled each other. She could never quite work out who had the stronger crush on whom, or whether they had crushes on each other only at different times, not that it mattered to her then or now. Jonah was dead. Five years. Sam was still his best friend.
“Now, in case you are wondering why I am so attired….”
“You look lovely.”
“Oh, you always had a bit of an eye for me, you sauce.”
“I did? I did, Gloria.” Sam blubbered.
“Anyhow, I’m playing Fairy Godmother in a little musical thing we’ve put together for the community centre. I did it last year and went down a storm.”
“Are you walking there?”
“In these heels, dear? No, a friend is collecting me, any time now.”
“I told him not to fix, I told him.”
“Now, Sam let’s not bring this….”
“That batch of heroin was too potent for….”
“Sam for pity’s sake, I don’t want to hear this!”
“Oh, God, Gloria what have I become?”
“Davina and Michael will arrive in a couple of days with the children…”
“She’s beautiful.” Sam cried.
“Yes, she’ll be pleased to… mind you’ll sober up if you’re staying, yes, Sam?”
“Not one word is mine, not one word….” Sam was crawling instinctively toward the staircase.
“They’ve been having problems lately and I will be knocking their heads together, make them see sense. I am the Fairy Godmother after all.” Gloria laughed joyously. Catching her reflection in a hallway mirror she flicked her right leg and twirled; at seventy her bust was anything but matronly!
“The original idea, story, concept…character arc, commas and ellipsis…all…”
“You’ll stay in Jonah’s room.”
“The only thing that’s mine is the title, and that’s the first thing they bastard well changed… Oh, Gloria…. Everything is Jonah’s.”
A moment settled around them, Gloria spoke plainly.
“Your conscience has brought you here.”
“I’ll kill myself.”
“How dare you.” Gloria glared at the stupid fool, “Dare you say that to me?”
The boy was plonked halfway up the staircase, neither here nor there, his breath didn’t sound altogether healthy, and he looked worse. This old house had seen some rum times in the forty-three years she had lived in it. She could no more sell the place now than she could hop, skip and jump over the moon. Too many memories, like cherished, maddening friends. Peter, the bloke who did the gardening, would be arriving any time now with her carriage. Gloria walked through to the kitchen and picked up her wand from the old oak table. Returning to the hallway, she smiled at Sam.
“Conscience is the greatest thing we possess. You’ve stolen Jonah’s screenplay? Doesn’t that sort of thing happen all the time in the land of LaLa?”
“I can’t finish the last scene.”
“Well over Christmas let’s see what we can do. Jonah is here. I can hear his laughter somewhere. Can’t you, Sam? …You could always give me some of your fee.”
At the toot of a car horn Gloria curtsied and waved her sparkling wand.
“How do I look?”
She laughed raucously. The world was a better place.
David's stories have appeared in Duality books, Friday Flash Fiction and performed on Resonance FM radio (UK). He was commissioned to adapt and direct his short story 'Into The Breach' for the 2021 Rise of the Resistance Festival, screened at Bloomsbury Theatre London. For several years he has worked in the public sector, mostly with homeless charities, in hostels and supported housing units. David was a founder member of punk band Vee V V. He finds his stories while he's out and about, or they find him... He lives with his wife and family in London.