I Will Always Be There For You
by Brian Maycock
The last throw had to be the
Every damn thing he owned
was riding on this. He pictured the dice rattling in his palm, the moment he released them onto the table. The breath he took
while he waited to learn he was a winner after all.
He clicked on the icon.
It was slower here in this
virtual arena; there was time to imagine those were teeth grinding inside his desktop before - No!
The screen flickered, went
By his side the desktop light
was now off.
He shot to his feet, the first
time he had moved all day, and felt a sharp pain in his back, but he ignored it and moved to the window. The streetlamp opposite
his window was barely visible in the darkness which had descended.
He was either a rich man or
broke and in serious trouble and there was no way of knowing till the power returned and he could log back onto the blackjack
He wanted to scream at someone
but since his girlfriend had left him six months ago because he was a loser he had lived alone.
If he had won the bet he could
get his car back from the repo man, buy some fancy stylish clothes, and - if needs be - hire a beautiful escort for the night
and together they would go to the restaurant where Laura worked.
He would be cool, be friendly
and ask how she was. Everything about him would rub her face in it. Show her how wrong she had been.
He sat back in his chair in
the darkness feeling a little better. He would need to plan this carefully. For a start the escort could not be too beautiful
otherwise Laura would know she was not his real girlfriend.
He scratched the back of his
neck where an itch had flared. There were fleas in his mattress, he was convinced of this some nights when he could not sleep,
and tiny burning sensations tormented various parts of his anatomy.
Perhaps, he thought, with
money from his successful bet he could attract an actual girlfriend. Sure, she would be going out with him basically because
of his cash - but loads of women did that. It was how the world worked.
And he wanted part of it.
He always had.
Instead, he had dealt another
The job he hated. The clumsiness.
The shyness. The long evenings alone at the computer.
A tear ran down his face.
It was a nightmare and he did not know how much longer he could cope like this.
He made a decision.
If, when the power came on,
he found out he had not won his bet but had lost it, he would take the stairs up to the top of the building, walk to the edge,
hold his arms out wide and throw himself off.
That really would be a last
throw, he thought and laughed.
This surprised him: how much
better he felt now he had decided to kill himself.
He scratched his arm.
The light flickered and returned
to life. His computer whirred and a line of light in the screen showed that it was his to command again.
He turned it back on. In a
few minutes he would know whether he would live or die.
The gaming site would not
let him on at first and he felt a moment of panic. He needed to know. He was sweating now, breathing too quickly and his chest
felt tight. Like someone had his ribs inside a vice and they were slowly tightening it.
He shook his head. It would
be rough justice indeed if he found he had won only to drop dead of a heart attack moments later.
He forced himself to take
some deep, slow breaths while he tried to log on a second time.
Yes! This time he was successful.
The enticing yellows and reds
of the site winked and flashed in the background as the window of the game he had been playing started to open.
Only seconds now, and he would
She only had ten minutes break
and the test took fifteen.
It did not help that she could
She tried to calculate how
long had she been sitting there: it must have been three or four minutes already and she knew was pushing her luck if she
added only five minutes to her break.
The way she was going it would
be longer before she emerged from the rest room and headed back into the kitchen.
Mr Murdy would go ballistic
with her. He could even fire her.
He had threatened to do it
earlier that evening when he had caught her swearing at Steve. The crazy son of a bitch had been waiting for her outsider
her apartment and had followed her all the way to work.
She had tried ignoring him
and when that did not work she had tried reasoning with him to leave her alone. Then she had started shouting.
Still, all he did was stumble
along, a vacant look in his eyes. It was almost as if he was not even aware of her. Which made no sense.
He had been waiting for her,
was stalking her.
Are you on drugs? she had
Trouble was, by this time
she had reached work and all Murdy had seen had been her, wearing her Eat-a-Treat uniform, standing outside the front window,
cursing loud enough for all the diners to see.
This was a family business,
he had screamed at her, out of earshot, in his office.
She had tried to explain about
Steve, but when she got to the part about Steve seeming to not be aware of her, her voice had faltered. It felt even more
implausible said out loud.
In the end she had let Mr
Murdy shout at her a while longer and kept her job - But this was her last chance, he told her. One more mistake and she was
Another couple of minutes,
she decided, and she would have to try later.
The hair at the back of her
neck was soaked with sweat. She wondered if it was stress or if she was coming down with something. On top of being stalked
by her psycho ex-boyfriend.
And possibly being pregnant.
The seconds ticked by and
still Laura could not pee.
Great, she thought, Just freakin'
It had been a one-night stand.
Some jock she had met at the
end of a drunken evening with her best friend Steph. Steph was not much of a best friend. She was selfish, insecure and stunningly
attractive. Laura felt as eligible as a one-eared donkey when she was out with Steph but it had been a Friday night and Laura
had not felt like spending another weekend alone.
Why should she? She was single
- again - and still youngish. It was time to have some fun again.
And the fumbling, embarrassing
and messy roll in the back of car that had been the climax to her Friday night had been fun in a way. Maybe a first step on
the way to a new life.
A late period said maybe otherwise
- and the test from the chemists?
Well, it was not going to
say anything now till after her shift ended and she had time to use it.
Sighing deeply, and tasting
sick at the back of her throat and wondering if she was going to resign from her job at the restaurant by throwing up in front
of a room full of customers, Laura went back to work.
He was meant to get them a
taxi. The women who had no one collecting them after work but Laura was too tired to ask Mr Murdy why he was not doing that
He might have replied that
she should just be grateful he had not fired her. If she had not felt so sick she might have agreed with him. As it was all
she wanted to do was go home and crawl under her duvet - after taking the test. A fresh wave of nausea passed through her
at this thought and she had to rest an arm against the wall to steady herself.
She let her head fall forwards,
tried to breathe nice and steady.
Just get home, she told herself,
Everything would be fine. And then? Well, there were worse things than being a single mum.
She could have stayed with
Steve, ended up marrying him. Be one half of Mr and Mrs Jerk.
The thought made her laugh
She was still laughing when
she realised there was someone standing behind her.
No-one knew she was bulimic
and that was no good.
She was suffering, she was
sensitive and troubled and had this tragic compulsion to make herself sick after eating and people needed to know about this.
They needed to be understanding. They needed to be sympathetic and want to spend their evenings with her, and to take her
phone calls, whenever she needed to talk.
Steph knelt in front of the
toilet her sleeve rolled up to her elbow.
Before any of that could happen
she needed to be sick. Then she could phone Laura, start to cry and explain how sick she was.
Laura's reappearance in her
life had not been entirely unexpected. Steph had always known her relationship with the geek was doomed. He was such a loser,
he had also been lousy in bed that afternoon she had called round to pour her heart out about how unhappy she was while Laura
was at work.
It was good, though, to have
a girlfriend to hang with, to go shopping with, to have a girls' night out with.
Steph was less happy about
the fact Laura had gone off with the first man who had showed her any attention. He had been good looking too, had a toned
body and a full head of hair.
Still - Steph leant back from
the rim of the toilet and wiped her lips - he can't have been much of a lover because Laura had not shared any details with
I might ask her, just in passing,
when I ring her tonight, Steph thought as she turned the shower on.
The doorbell rang.
She pulled her dressing gown
tighter. It was night and she was alone. There was no way she was going to answer it.
It rang again.
Being a street cleaner was
not the worse job in the world. His idea of stress would have been to have been tied to a desk. Wearin' a neck tie and shirt.
Might as well have put him
in an iron maiden, he chuckled to himself as he wheeled his cart up Main Street. Dawn was an hour away and he was looking
forward to going home.
His home was nothing fancy,
not much better than a wooden shack truth to be told, but it was where he had rested his aching feet these last fifty years,
and that pleasure had not diminished in half a century.
There had been plenty else
changed in that fat slice of years but the simple act of taking his boots off and dipping his tired flesh in a hot bath had
His boots were close to falling
apart, his bath chipped and stained.
He wheeled his cart to the
side of the road and parked it up. From the back he retrieved a bucket and mop.
He had used them earlier to
bring the road back to brand spanking new after he had come across the blood staining the street. There were a few hairs in
the blood too, a couple of teeth.
He had swept up the teeth,
washed the hairs and the blood from his mop and down the drain with clean, boiling water that he carried in a steel pitcher
strapped to the back of his cart.
Now he repeated the act with
the pool of sick that someone had left across the pavement.
As he mopped, the sound of
glass breaking drifted towards him through the night, a few moments later a scream.
He would deal with that later.
Probably only the glass, if
that had fallen into the street. Any other mess, a private cleaner would have to deal with.
He could not clean the whole
Chuckling afresh to himself,
he dipped his mop in his bucket then moved over the pavement.
No, there were a lot worse
jobs in the world than cleaning the street. Of course, some people would have said they were scared because of the come-backers
and maybe with good reason but he was not scared.
The come-backers only cared
about people they had once cared about. Friends sometimes, lovers always. Families often as not. He thought it was a lot to
do with unfinished business.
He did not know this for sure
but there were lots of things in the world he did not understand and he did not lose sleep over these other things either.
The come-backers always left
him to get on with his job in peace, left him alone.
That was how he liked it.
How he had always been, from
the moment he had popped out of his mommy's womb and she had staggered away from the alley, blood drip drip dripping down
He tutted. There was blood
here, mixed in with the puke. A single tooth.
He would have to make sure
he gave his mop an extra good rinse afterwards.
He let himself in quietly.
He did not want to wake her.
She was a the devil to be
with if she was woken suddenly. She needed to come round slowly. Then she was a pussy cat.
He took his boots of carefully
and rested them gently on a mat. Then, still barefooted he walked into the bathroom.
Being woken by the sound of
running water left her in a placid mood.
There would be no spitting,
He slipped out of his overalls.
He would put them in the washing machine later. First things first, he thought, and he lowered himself into the bath and sighed
deeply as the water continued to trickle out of the tap.
Out in the hall, in her cage,
his mother began to stir.