CAN LIVE WITHOUT THEM

After the second of our solo offerings in this sequence, Eden Baylee and I are back with the next in our ongoing series of 800-word collaborations. This one was started by Eden and follows the usual pattern of us alternating 200-word sections with no discussion of where the story should go or what points – if any – it should make. We just want readers to enjoy them. If you need to know more about the project, you’ll find it here.

Prompt: She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change..
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill

***

Can Live Without Them

The sound of a jackhammer outside the window woke Lidia from a deep sleep. For a second, she had no idea where she was and why the room looked so bright, then it hit her. She wasn’t in bed. It was the middle of the afternoon, and she’d fallen asleep at her desk—a first! She stood up and stretched her arms above her head. Her butt hurt, and her lower back ached from sitting on the plastic chair. She closed her laptop and headed downstairs.

The house was quiet.

“Tim? Where are you?”

No answer.

In the kitchen, the dishes piled in the sink, and the smell of garbage wrinkled her nose.

Why did she always have to clean up his mess?

She bagged the rotting garbage and threw it outside in the bin. The noise of roadwork sounded again. She walked around the corner and saw workmen breaking up a part of the street. There was one worker operating the machinery while another three stood and watched. She approached them and gesticulated with her hands to say, What’s going on?

One of the men saw her. He raised his palm at her and screamed “Don’t come any closer!”

+++

Even in her still befuddled state, the irony of his words raised a smile. Usually the shouts she got from building workers carried invitations which not only suggested moving nearer to them but involved removing various articles of clothing before doing so. His warning was unnecessary anyway; she didn’t even want to be in the same street as that pounding hammer and the dust and chunks of material it was throwing up. Also, her mute question was superfluous because, lying along the pavement beside the workmen were several long PVC drainage pipes obviously ready for laying. As a writer of crime fiction, she knew exactly what they were and how frequently, in fiction at least, they were seen as convenient disposal channels for various body parts. Disregarding the man’s continuing gestures, she stepped onto the pavement and looked more closely at them. They were wider than she’d expected and, slowly, the possibility formed that they might help her resolve the dead end she’d reached in the plot of her latest story. Eager to develop it, she waved at the man, turned and walked back, grateful that there would be no Tim there to barge in yet again and disturb her.

+++

By the time the sun set, Lidia finally stopped tapping at her keyboard. The brief interaction with the road workers was all she had needed to energize her novel. Now, as she reread her chapter with smug satisfaction, something else tugged at her—hunger. She had missed lunch but was in no mood to cook.

And where the heck was Tim?

Lidia threw on a light jacket and headed out. She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked.

He didn’t bother to look up. “Suit yourself,” he said.

Lidia motioned to a server and asked for scotch on the rocks before sitting down with a menu. She was happy before she walked in. Now doom and gloom in the form of her son sucked away any joy she had felt.

“Look Tim, I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m not putting up with this any longer. If you don’t like living with me, then move out. My house is not a hotel, and I’m not your maid.” She knew he had nowhere else to go, but their little arrangement was no longer working for her.

+++

“OK,” said Tim. “I’ll start looking for a flat.”

His dull, bored tone surprised her as much as his words. She couldn’t help but reply, “And who’ll be paying the rent?”

He shrugged. “Probably Dad. At least till I get my uni grant.”

“Have you asked him?”

“No need. I know he’ll do it. He’s… different.”

It was another matter-of-fact, throwaway remark.

“What do you mean? Different from what?”

Tim lifted his head. The directness of his gaze disturbed her.

“Not what, Mom, Who.”

Some seconds passed.

“Me, you mean?—Me?”

Tim nodded.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, his voice low, gentle. “You’re a great mom. I’m proud of you. And not just for the books. But you don’t live in the same world as us. As me and Dad.”

Lidia started to reply but he went on.

“The things that bug me can’t be solved by some tricky bit of plotting. Dad’s the same. He didn’t want to leave. He’s still in…”

He stopped. Shook his head.

“He told me he couldn’t be what you wanted. And I’m the same. I can’t either. I’m a waste of space. And I know you’re not my maid.”

He stood up.

“Bye, Mom.”

***

All comments welcome.

2 comments

  1. I completely forgot about this Bill. I read it like I was reading it for the first time. Great job, us! I liked it. Hahaha!

    I remember this story being a real ‘push and pull’ of power between us. In the end, Tim wins the readers’ sympathy, and Mom appears the villain. How you were able to turn the ending around is a good lesson in subtle storytelling and surprise.

    xo
    e

  2. Thanks, Eden. Well, at least two of us have read it.
    I’d also forgotten about it and, like you, coming fresh to it seemed to make it work quite well.
    I hope people find the ending relatively open. Yes, Tim’s words seem to ‘condemn’ his mum, but the final ‘Bye, Mom’ surely buys her a little sympathy.

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