A short story
By Stephen Jay
Jeanette Cooper was a very, happy woman. She looked at her two wonderful children and thought about her loving husband, and it was all joy. They had a mortgage, but Jim worked hard, and Jeanette still got some freelance translation jobs, so financially they got by.
It was a Saturday afternoon. Jim was working at debugging some programs for Monday. The phone rang and Jim Office appeared on the caller display. Jeanette answered, “Hi darling how’s the debugging?”
“Not too bad but the tests take so long. You go down the Lion’s Wardrobe first, and I’ll meet you all at around nine thirty.”
“Ok. The rest of the gang will be there unless Charles is with you.”
“No he’s not. Must go, ring you later, love you.”
“Love you, bye.”
She went to check on the kids who were playing outside. Danny was four and Julie six. They had recently adjusted to the loss of the family dog, Freddy. Jim had had Freddy for several years before they were married. He was a Dalmatian and very intelligent. They were concerned when they had Julie but Freddy was perfect. When Julie crawled around he crawled with her, and when she started walking he let her lean on him as much as she wanted, then the same with Danny.
When Julie was three a few months after the birth of Danny, Jeanette became very tired one afternoon. She sat in the chair and dropped off to sleep. Julie was playing with Freddy and Danny was in his cot. She was woken up by a banging on the door. She looked around and couldn’t see Julie or Freddy. She ran to the door, and it was a policeman holding Julie, he said, “Are you missing somebody Mrs Cooper?”
She had been asleep for over an hour, and it seemed Julie or indeed Freddy had managed to open the back door, then open the back gate and wander down to the park. A walker found Julie wailing in stinging nettles with Freddy beside her. The walker rang the police, and when they arrived a neighbour recognised Julie and Freddy. The police took it very seriously and Jeanette received a visit from social services. She thought they were making a mountain out of a molehill since people did fall asleep sometimes, but she had had problems before, psychiatric problems. Jim changed the back door lock and put a bolt on the gate out of reach of little people.
Freddy lived until he was thirteen. He had a heart attack, and the vet said it would be better to put him down. He died in Jim’s arms late one night. They had to explain to Julie the next day that she wouldn’t be seeing him again. Danny was too young to understand, but kept calling for Freddy for several days. It was now a few weeks later and Freddy was not mentioned by the kids anymore.
There was a knock at the door. Jeanette knew it was her parents who had a key but didn’t like to use it if they thought someone was home. “Hi Jeannie, how you doing?” her father said.
“Fine dad.” As she spoke he went into the lounge and turned on the TV to watch the football results. She whispered, “I’ll get some food together.”
Her mum had already gone into the garden to say hello to the kids. Jeanette heard her say, “There you are, not run off to the park today then?”
“Mum! That was years ago.”
“Yes and you’re still leaving them in the garden by themselves.”
“Don’t be silly.” Jeanette was annoyed; it was as though her parents were always worried about her taking care of the kids. The garden was secure, and she could see them through the kitchen and lounge windows. Penny, her younger sister, would know exactly how to handle children, but she didn’t have any. Penny could do nothing wrong, Penny had never gone missing from uni, Penny had never hung a hangman’s noose from the door hook and left a note. Penny was magnificent!
“You’ve been having the pills I hope luv,” said her mum.
“What? I finished with them a year ago. Damn things became addictive.”
“You never said. We’ll always be here for you.”
Except they weren’t. They lived in Spain most of the time and had come back for a couple of months. Jeannette concentrated on the food and served up chicken with salad at around six. She tried to be civil to her parents, and it worked. Feeding Daniel was always a good distraction and entertainment. Julie took care of herself.
It was a couple of hours later when the kids had been put to bed. Jeanette said, “If they wake up, don’t play with them just carry on with their book. Any problems then ring me on the mobile.”
“We’ve done this before you know.”
“Yes, but not since you came back.”
“We took care of you didn’t we? If we can do that we can do anything.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you.”
“I wasn’t being sarcastic, I am just grateful that you didn’t have me adopted.”
“Stop it you two,” Jeanette’s dad said.
“Right I’m off to the pub,” said Jeanette and walked out the front door.
Jeanette arrived at the pub. Kate, Elaine, Dave, Charles and his wife Wendy were already there. Kate said, “Where’s Jim?”
“Oh he’ll be along around nine thirty.”
They got drinks and chatted about their news since the last get together. At nine Jeanette’s phone rang. It was Jim who told her he was at home and would be along in ten minutes. After the call Jeanette said to the others, “Right guys, you know Jim does one line on the lottery every week. Well, I’ve memorised his numbers, and Frank has agreed to chalk them up on the board.”
“That’s a bit mean,” said Elaine.
“It will be a punishment for being late. Let’s see how he reacts.”
“I agree with Elaine, you do tend to make fun of him sometimes,” said Kate.
Jeanette wasn’t expecting such a reaction. She thought it was a funny thing to so. She went over to Frank, and he rubbed off the other numbers and put up Jim’s line. At least Frank thought it was a good joke and would play along when Jim celebrated.
Wendy was on Jeanette’s side and said, “I can’t wait to see his reaction. You know he’s done it this week Jean?”
“Oh yes, he does it online by direct debit, so he can’t miss a week.”
“Great! What do you think darling?”
Charles said, “Great joke, but I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, Jean, when he finds out.”
“He’ll see the funny side,” said Jeanette.
They kept looking at the door, and then Jim came in. He stopped for a few second and looked at the lottery numbers on the blackboard and came over to the party. He said, “I’ll get some drinks, usuals? You having lager Charles, not driving?”
“Yep, we’re getting a taxi home,” said Charles.
Jim went off to get drinks. Kate said, “That was strange. He must know they’re his numbers. He wouldn’t have checked them before coming on his phone would he?”
“No he normally leaves it until the next day,” said Jeanette.
Jim took a while but came back with a tray of drinks. Jeanette had two gin and tonics queued up. Jim said, “Come on Jeannie you’re dropping behind.” He then took his pint of lager and drank almost all of it in two large gulps.
Jeanette could take no more and said, “When I went to the loo before you came I couldn’t help noticing that the lottery numbers on the blackboard are similar to yours. I mean I don’t know them all, but you must be close.”
The gang were eagerly waiting Jim’s response. He took his glass of lager and finished it off. Then he slammed the glass on the table, looked at Jeanette and said very loudly, “I’ve been having an affair with your sister for the last two years, and I’m leaving you tonight!” He then stood up and left.
Jeanette was sitting open mouthed not knowing what to say. The whole pub had gone quiet for a few seconds, but their interest faded quickly. Jeanette drank one of her spare gin and tonics in one go and said, “He’s joking right? He’ll be back in again in a minute, and we’ll all have a good laugh.”
“I don’t know,” said Elaine, “he looked in earnest to me.”
Jeanette looked at Charles, “What do you think? You must have spent a lot of time with him lately with all the late nights.”
Charles went a bit red faced and said, “Um, late nights? Jim hasn’t been doing any late nights.”
“What? Next you’re gunna tell me he wasn’t at a conference a couple of weeks ago.”
“Sorry Jean he wasn’t. He had some in lieu time and took a week off.”
Jeanette let out a scream similar to a woman missing an easy shot in a Wimbledon final. She said, “I’m going home.”
Dave said, “I’ll walk with you.”
They arrived at Jeanette’s home and Dave said goodbye. Jeanette went in, and her parents were surprised to see her. She said, “Guess what? Jim has left me.”
“What?” said her mother, “I don’t believe you! I know he got fed up with you taking the Mickey out of him all the time. You know, the nappies when the kids were babies, playing jokes on him.”
“You need to believe because it’s true. He’s been having an affair for two years, apparently. Didn’t you guys know?”
“How would we know?” said her dad.
“Because it’s Penny!”
“Really, we knew Penny had someone but this, no way!”
“I should have let her burn that time,” said Jeanette.
“I thought we didn’t speak about that since your therapy.”
When Jeanette was six she carried Penny to a bonfire and sat her on the top with the guy. She thought they looked cute together. That was the first time she had seen a bonfire, because they had lived in a flat before that. Her parents went mad, accusing her of trying to burn Penny. The fire wasn’t going to be lit for hours, and Jeanette didn’t know that it ever would be. No one believed her, and she felt herself being watched whenever she played with her sister. Jeanette couldn’t help saying what she always said, “I was six, and I didn’t know what a bonfire was. Why did you never believe me? You treated me like a devil child. That’s why I became so depressed.”
“How could you not know? Anyway, you knew what stairs were though didn’t you?”
When Penny was four she ran to the stairs and fell down them. Jeannette tried to grab her but missed, so when her mother ran out to see what was happening she jumped to the wrong conclusion.
“She tripped and fell; I tried to stop her. You never believed anything I said.”
“We’re not talking about this. Calm down or you’ll make yourself ill,” said her dad.
Jeanette began to feel distant. Her parents were talking but sounded like they were miles away. The day had started so well, and now she was having an episode.
It was three months later, and Jeanette was sitting in the patient’s lounge. She had gone into hospital voluntarily and was sent to a psychiatric home. She had been to one before but never for this length of time. A nurse, Carol, sat next to her and said, “Your parents want to see you when they bring the kids next time. What shall I tell them?”
“Tell them no. I will only see my kids no one else.”
“Ok I’ll ring them. Remember what we said, that you need to show us that you are dealing with these situations. What about Jim?”
Jim? She thought of how Jim had saved her. He was so laid back and docile, just like his dog. He didn’t care about her psychiatric episodes. He invited her into his home, or more precisely his and Freddy’s home. She gained a lover and two best friends. How did Penny do it? She had seduced a couple of her previous boyfriends but Jim? That didn’t make sense. From now on she didn’t have a sister. She said, “I can’t see him. He’s with Penny, and they’ll get my kids. I just can’t think about it.”
“Your kids are with your parents in your home as you well know.”
“Ok, now the difficult one. Someone is here to see you now.”
A shiver went through Jeanette’s body. Penny had never come to see her before and here she was without an invite. Her instinct was to shout out that Penny wasn’t welcome, but she remembered Carol’s previous comments. A peaceful feeling came over her and she said, “Ok.”
Carol looked shocked and said, “That’s brilliant. I’ll bring her in and get some tea for you both.”
Five minutes later Jeanette noticed a couple of the male patients look up. Penny had entered the room. She was as slim as ever with perfect bottom hugging jeans and dazzling long blond hair. Jeanette stood up and before she knew it Penny was hugging her. Penny said, “Sis, I’m so glad you agreed to see me.”
“It’s been suggested that I face up to people, even those that have ruined my life.”
“Don’t be like that.”
Peter, a volunteer, appeared with a trolley. He suggested they go out into the garden and found them a quiet spot to have their tea and cakes. Penny said, “He’s nice.”
Jeanette said, “Yes, he seems to care about people.”
“Well, he certainly cares about you.”
“He cares about everyone here. Now what are we going to talk about?”
“I’ll get straight to the point. Let’s start with Simon and Raj.”
This was a surprise. Simon and Raj were Jeanette’s boyfriends. She caught Penny in bed with both of them. One may have been a mistake but two? She said, “Right, Simon, I was twenty-one and waiting for the right time to sleep with my new boyfriend. He was so understanding and accepted that we should take our time. I was living at home and Mum and Dad were in Spain looking at property. I was in my first job after uni and had one of my headaches. I came home early to find you, my seventeen year old sister, in bed with Simon. Have I got that right?”
Penny looked down and said, “Yes, but I never really explained.”
“What’s to explain?”
“I never told you how I lost my virginity.”
“I didn’t care, why should I?”
“Remember Mr. Reynolds?”
“You mean the English teacher? What the hell has…”
Penny interrupted, “We were lovers.”
“My God! He was in his thirties. Not forgetting a teacher!”
“I know. I was over seventeen. He lived on his own, and one day he gave me a lift and invited me in for tea. He didn’t live far. I knew he fancied me; his eyes followed me everywhere. Once we started sleeping together we couldn’t stop, it was like an addiction. He awakened this thing in me.”
“Christ! How did it end?”
“I think someone told the headmaster, and suddenly Justin was gone from school. I went round to his house and it was for sale. I didn’t know what to do. The next few weeks without sex were hell for me. Then I was at home one afternoon about four and Simon knocked on the door. I don’t know why he thought you would be home. I invited him in and one thing led to another.”
“So your excuse is that you are a nymphomaniac?”
“You could call it that; the craving was all powerful. Simon was there, and he certainly seemed willing. A guy like that was no good for you.”
“Oh right, my little sister can test all my boyfriends. What about Raj?”
“He started ringing me. I had a reputation by then. I went round to his flat.”
“And I had a key!”
“I think Raj was a player. He knew you might let yourself in. I didn’t know anything about that.”
“Well, thank God you went to a University far far away! I dread to think what you got up to there.”
“I studied hard, played squash, and had lots and lots of sex! Look, maybe I’m the one that should be in this place.”
“It’s no crime Pen.”
“You haven’t called me that for a long time.”
“No.” Jeanette sighed, “None of this explains Jim.”
“Where did you meet Jim?”
“I met Jim in the gym as you well know.”
“Whose gym was it?”
“Yours, I mean you went there and suggested it to me.”
“Jeannie, Jim was my boyfriend.”
“We were serious. My sex addiction was under control, and Jim was so laid back, he was great for me. Then you came along and that was that.”
“Why didn’t you say, and why didn’t Jim say?”
“I told him not to. I thought err.”
“You thought that if I knew then I would revel in taking him away from you.”
“Not quite, but I thought you could do without the hassle of knowing.”
“Me being a nutter you mean?”
“Sorry, we were getting along then, and I thought I should find another guy. I mean that’s never been a problem for me, but I loved Jim and it was hard to be without him.”
“Wow! Pen I’m so sorry, I didn’t know anything about that. So when did you and Jim start seeing each other again?”
“Oh, that was a couple of years ago. Jeannie you kept laughing at him. When the kids came he changed nappies and you ridiculed him telling him he never did it right. I know the post natal thing affected you, but you hit him Jeannie. Admit it?”
“I slapped him a few times it was nothing.”
“Well he told me once you hit him so much he had to take a few days off work!”
“He told you that? Yes it’s true; I hit him with the buckle end of his belt, like I did to you with dad’s belt a few times. I was so sorry afterwards. He never complained, never argued or stood up for himself; he just got on with things.”
“That’s because he’s Jim, so laid back he’s almost dead. That’s why we love him. At least I do.”
Peter came up to take the trolley away. He said, “Everything ok here? You look a bit agitated Jeannie; do you need the nurse to come over?”
“No, I’m fine Peter, in fact better than fine.”
Peter was a tall well built man in his thirties. Jeanette looked at him, and he started to blush. She said, “Why did you volunteer here Peter?”
“Oh my mum had a few problems in her life, so I know what it’s like. I was between jobs, well, unemployed, so thought I’d pass some time here.”
“Is your mum here?”
“No she didn’t want to live anymore and ended it all.”
“I’m so sorry Peter.”
Penny said, “That’s terrible.”
Peter walked away with the trolley. Jeanette said, “Pen, I’m not going to kill myself if that’s what you’re thinking. That time at uni was like a sick joke I don’t know why I did that.”
“That wasn’t in my mind. In fact I was thinking that Peter really fancies you.”
“Don’t start that again. Pen, tell me why Jim left in the end.”
“Well, he was conflicted. He wanted to stay with you and the kids, but he also wanted to be with me. He knew he couldn’t have both for much longer. If he left he would still pay the mortgage, you would get the house, and a chunk of his salary. He didn’t know how he could afford it all long term.”
“We had been struggling a bit but coping.”
“Then he saw his lottery numbers chalked up in the pub. He knew it was a multiple rollover. He told me he came over to your table and said he would buy a round of drinks. As he was waiting at the bar he decided what to do. He would give you half of his win and whatever else you wanted. He would leave you and come and live with me. You know what he’s like. That type of decision was almost impossible for him, but he got himself all geed up.”
“Yes, I’ve never seen him so forceful.”
“He came over to mine and went on the internet to show me the numbers. They were different, as you know! He told me that was the last joke you would have at his expense. He would still leave you and do the best he could.”
“Oh God! So he may not have left me if I hadn’t done that?”
“Jim is Jim, he could easily have stayed with you and been miserable rather than upset the applecart. You wouldn’t have wanted him to be unhappy though would you?”
“I wouldn’t have known, because he’s not someone who talks about feelings, and I’m not someone who listens. Just for the record I haven’t hit him for a couple of years.”
“I know, and he forgives you all that stuff.”
“Of course he does.”
“Now, you’re only here voluntarily aren’t you?”
“Yes, but social services may want a report.”
“Sort yourself out, do whatever they want and get yourself back home. Mum and dad are there with the kids, Jim is helping out and staying with me.”
“Pen, why did you come here today?”
“I had a revelation. We’ve all been pussy footing around you, not wishing to get you upset. I know you best sis, and I love you. It was time for you to face up to things.”
“Pen, when we were kids, were you scared of me?”
“Never, I knew you loved me and wouldn’t really hurt me.”
“I gave it a good try sometimes! I’m so sorry for all that stuff.”
“Forget it. I looked up to you, didn’t you know?”
They embraced and went back into the lounge. Penny said goodbye and left. Jeanette caught the attention of Carol who came over. Jeanette said, “Carol, I want to see my parents, and I want to see Jim.”
“Oh fantastic. I’ll ring them and explain. Your parents can bring the kids. I love your kids, and I could get Pete to entertain them if you need time alone with mum and dad!”
It was another two months and Jeanette was home with her children. Her parents would stay for a few more weeks but then she would be on her own. She knew Jim would do everything he could to help out, and Penny was welcome. What made everything bearable was her new boyfriend, Peter. They had started dating as soon as Jeanette left the home. It was a Saturday night and Jeanette had agreed to meet Peter down the Lion’s Wardrobe at nine thirty after he had finished work at the home.
She said goodnight to the kids and chatted to her parents. Her mother said, “You’ll be all right when we go back to Spain won’t you? We could stay longer.”
“Hey! I’m fine.” The last thing she wanted was for her parents to stay longer, though she was glad of the closer relationships that had developed with all her family. She left for the pub just before nine thirty.
Frank said hello, and Jeanette looked around but couldn’t see Peter. She bought herself a gin and tonic and stayed at the bar watching the door. Peter came in and stopped at the blackboard looking at the lottery numbers. He then came over, kissed Jeanette and said, “I think I have a couple of those numbers.”
“Oh don’t trust what’s written up there.”
“I’ll buy you a drink and tell you all about it.”
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen Jay
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