Login   Sign Up 


Plan B

by McAllerton 

Posted: 06 April 2010
Word Count: 2524
Summary: First draft of a tense suburban drama.

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced


The piano had been on the pavement for two days now. Terry Williams knew it was two days exactly because he’d noted the time and day. Tuesday 18th May 2010 at 1500 hours. He knew the Wilkinsons, the owners of the house opposite, were away on a cruise and their son, Simon, was home from university staying in the house with friends.

Terry was 53 years old, his waist was thickening as his hair thinned. His skin and eyes were pale, he looked as if he needed to be out in the open air more. He had been made redundant from a firm of City accountants in the credit crunch and now he worked from home checking tax returns.

On that Tuesday afternoon Terry looked up from his computer when he heard someone swearing from over the road. It was Simon and his friends lifting the piano through the door. Simon’s hair had grown since leaving home and his long curly locks fell over his face as he heaved the piano over the threshold. His friends laughed as he struggled. When they got it to the pavement Simon lifted the lid and played a boogie-woogie tune. The others made whooping noises and danced around the piano in their shabby jeans and T-shirts. Terry thought they looked a mess and might even have been drinking: his thin lips curled in disapproval.

Working from home had been tough for Terry. He’d been happy catching the 7:54 from Basildon to Fenchurch Street every day and thought he’d carry on until he retired. The rituals and routine suited him: breakfast of tea, toast and marmalade, walking through the suburban streets to the station, buying the Daily Telegraph from the same shop, greeting his colleagues with the same small talk. Life was different now.

Simon had come out later and covered the piano with a blue tarpaulin. Every time he heard a diesel engine in the road, Terry looked up expecting to see a van to take it away.

Terry’s wife, Ruth, had helped him plan this next phase of his working life. She was a practical woman, a freelance IT consultant. They discussed it and made a plan.

“Make a new routine Terry,” she said “I know you. You need routine. Men go all funny without routine in their lives.”

He had listened and he knew she was right. She usually was.

“Imagine you’re still doing nine to five but at home. Make the spare room into an office. Go out of the house and buy a newspaper. Come home and get down to it. Have a coffee break, go out for lunch, sit in the park, stop at five o’clock.” Ruth called a spade a spade.

The blue tarpaulin had come loose in the wind. It flapped against the back of the piano. Terry was distracted by the flap, flap, flapping. He looked up from his computer in the spare room window each time, hoping Simon would come out and tighten the green washing line he had used to tie it. After a while Terry tutted every time the wind caught the tarpaulin, or when a van came up the road and did not stop outside to collect the piano.

Terry thought Ruth was wonderful. Her father had been an army man and she approached life with military precision learned the hard way from moving around the world, never settling too long anywhere. She was a good person to have around in a crisis. He thought they made a good team. She helped Terry make lists of who to contact, which agencies to phone, old colleagues to speak to. It was agreed that after three months they would review the plan, take stock, and decide how to proceed.

“Plan for every eventuality,” Ruth said “if Plan A doesn’t work, go to Plan B. It will be all right Terry.” She had straightened the papers on which they’d been making making notes, stood up and announced, “Right, now it’s time for a drink.” She went to the kitchen and returned with gin and tonics. “A toast, to the new venture. Terry Williams: the Sequel.”

Terry remembered her words every morning and said to himself, “Come on Terry. No point moping about, get on with it. Don’t let the side down.”

He’d been working from home for six months now. The work came in thick and fast to start with but now it was drying up. Sometimes Terry thought he was getting used to being at home, other days he felt desperate and wanted to run from the house. He and Ruth had not had children, so it was just the two of them. He had a few friends, but mostly made through work, so scattered around London at all points of the compass. Terry put on a brave face when Ruth came home.

“Hello dear,” she said “how was your day at the office?”

“Busy day today, Jim dropped by with a new account to talk through. Bill says he’s worried about another takeover. Oh and the rumour is that there’s something going on between Pauline in corporate finance with that new solicitor, the one with the Ferrari and the villa in Nice.”

“That’s the spirit Terry. Keep smiling. Any news?”

“Well the cat tipped the wastebin over. I ran out of paperclips. And the Jehovah’s witnesses called twice, I think I’m on their hit list. Oh and did you notice, that bloody piano is still outside number 12?”

“I know. It’s beginning to be a bit of an eyesore, I wonder what’s going on.”

Ruth and Terry were watching TV later that night. Terry went over to the curtains a few times and looked out at the house opposite.

“It’s still sitting there, that damned tarpaulin flapping away.”

“Relax darling. I’m sure the Wilkinsons have organised for a van. Simon has probably put it out on the wrong day.”

Later that night, as Terry was trying to sleep, the wind grew stronger and the flapping got worse. Before he knew it Terry was out in the street in his burgundy dressing gown. He marched across to the piano, wrestled with the unruly tarpaulin and tried to pull the plastic washing line tight. His efforts were in vain. The line was tangled under the piano and it was impossible to keep hold of the tarpaulin in the gusting wind.

Terry stalked back to his house, his thinning hair flapping around his head, dressing gown flying in the wind like a Roman centurion’s cloak, his face screwed tight. He fetched a Stanley knife from the toolbox and returned to do battle with the tarpaulin.

He cut through the plastic outer layer of the washing line, but the Stanley knife was useless against the coiled wire inside. Terry tried to hack through it but the knife slipped and he winced as he felt the blade slice deep into his left hand. In the dark he felt his hand quickly become wet and sticky with blood. Nursing the injured hand in a fold of the dressing gown, he retreated to the house.

Ruth was waiting for him in the kitchen. “My God, what have you done? Let me see.”

“I was trying to tie up that damned tarpaulin. The knife slipped.”

Ruth wrapped the wound in cotton wool and held it tight to staunch the flow of blood.

“Girl Guide First Aid,” she said “elevate and apply pressure. Hold tight soldier.”

Terry let her take over.

“I’ll go over and tell Simon to sort it out,” Ruth said. “It’s his bloody piano.”

Ruth put on her coat and left the house. Applying pressure, as instructed, Terry enclosed the cut with an iron fist and thought about strangling Simon.

A few minutes later Ruth returned. “There’s no reply,” she said straightening her hair and taking off her coat. “It’s wild out there. How’s the finger?”

“I think it’s stopped bleeding, you’d better put a dressing on.” Ruth dressed the wound with gauze and tape and pecked him on the cheek.

“Come on, Mr. Angry, back to bed. I’ll change that field dressing in the morning and we can sort out Simon and the piano.”

Terry did not sleep much. He drifted off once or twice and dreamed of playing the piano while blood poured out of his hands over the keys. In the morning his jaw ached from grinding his teeth.

When he went downstairs in the morning Ruth was in the kitchen with her coat on, drinking the last of her coffee. “I’ve been round again but I don’t think Simon is there,” she said “let’s change that dressing then I’ll have to be off. At least the wind has died down.”

Terry had just one tax return to complete that morning. He was half way through when the sound of music and laughter came through the open window. Terry looked outside.

Gathered around the piano, a group of people was watching Simon play a tune. No boogie-woogie this time, he was playing his heart out. A stirring victory march, or so it sounded to Terry. Simon’s head shook in time, his shoulder length curly hair tossing around his face. His friends looking on admiringly. Terry’s brow tightened and he closed the window.

The tax return was half finished on Terry’s computer screen. He entered some figures and looked up again at the scene outside. They were chatting now while Simon idled with the keys. Terry drummed on the desk with the fingers of his right hand, softly at first then an increasingly harsh tattoo. The cut on his left hand throbbed.

Then he was on his feet and marching down the stairs. Plucking his keys from the hook without breaking his stride, he strode through the front door, slamming it behind him with a firm push of his right arm.

Terry approached the group, “Hello Simon, what’s going on here?”
“Hi Mr. Williams,” said Simon, “it’s a project for my art course. A community art installation. We leave the piano on the pavement and film what happens when people walk past.” He pointed up at one of the bedroom windows where Terry could see another friend of Simon’s with a camcorder on a tripod. A flashing red light on the front of the camera indicated that it was recording. “Not much luck yet. But now the wind has died down we should get a bit more action.”

Terry was confused, expecting to get the apology and instant action his status deserved, now he was unsure of his ground. “Look Simon, I’m working from home now and I can’t concentrate. Do you think you could give it a break?”

“It’s only for today Mr. Williams. Now the sun is out we should get plenty of passers-by.”

“But I can’t work with the noise,” said Terry, his voice rising in volume with each word and the furrows on his brow deepening. “I really think you shouldn’t be disturbing the neighbourhood like this.” Terry looked straight at Simon and their eyes met. The wound on Terry’s left hand pulsed under the bandage and his eyes cut into Simon’s.

“OK Mr. Williams. We’ll take a break for a while.”

Simon’s friends were looking at Terry while this exchange went on. They all seemed to have the same long hair and shabby jeans as Simon. One was leaning on the piano. Terry noticed another smirking and looking up at the window.

“Thanks Simon,” Terry said “I don’t want to spoil your fun, but other people live round here too you know.” He turned and walked back across the street, trying to keep his shoulders high and chest out. Behind him it was quiet.

When Terry returned to his desk, he looked through the window. They were still there, muttering now in a little group, but the lid of the piano was closed and Terry pursed his thin lips in grim triumph.

That evening he told Ruth what had happened while they sat at the kitchen table with their gin and tonics. “Oh Terry well done. My little hero. You’d better watch out they don’t put you on YouTube though with that camera trained on you. Hey, I wonder if they have.” She went to the hall and returned with her laptop.

After a couple of minutes she called him over, there was a note of hesitation in her voice, “Terry, darling, you’re not going to like this.” He stood next to her where she sat at the kitchen table. Ruth played him the clip. The caption read ‘Tension on the Streets: Suburban Stuffed Shirt Sees Red’. Terry watched himself in the small square of screen. He didn’t recognise the pinched face of the man in the clip, but he knew it was him. He could hear his own voice sounding odd, like someone impersonating him as he heard his words from earlier, “But I can’t work with the noise.” His jaw clamped like a vice. He watched as this other self shrank as he walked away from the camera.

“Oh Terry, how funny. You’re on the web, fame beckons." She looked up at him and saw his eyes narrow and his face darken. “Now Terry, don’t go off half cock. Keep a firm hand on the tiller. You are not to go over there. I forbid it.”

“You must take this on the chin,” she went on. “It’s just high spirits. In our day they would have just written your name on a toilet wall.”

“The little bastards,” he said through barely parting lips “the scruffy little student bastards. Who do they think they are?”

Ruth patted him on the leg. “Oh come on Terry, you did the right thing. They stopped didn’t they? This is just their cowardly revenge. Don’t let it rile you.”
Terry forced his lips into a colourless smile, “Yes. You’re right. Of course darling.”

Again sleep did not come easy to Terry. He was eventually drifting off when the piano started again. He glanced at the red digital numbers on the alarm clock, 02:43. He pulled on his dressing gown and slippers and raced downstairs.

Unlocking the back door, he went straight to the shed then marched down the side of the house and into the street. The weight of the axe felt good held across his body. The night air was cold and his breath snorted out in steaming clouds. Swinging the axe high above his head, the first blow smashed into the top of the piano.

The students scattered, “Shit he’s gone mental, phone the police, quick, get inside.” Simon was slowest to react. Perhaps he had drunk more than the others. Or maybe he was more determined to wind Terry up by playing on. He was still playing when the second blow hit him between his shoulder and neck. Blood shot out from a severed artery, splattering the white keys.

Terry stood with the axe across his chest. To his left he could hear Ruth screaming. To his right he saw the red light of the camcorder flashing through the clouds of his warm breath.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Crimsondelilah at 09:35 on 09 April 2010  Report this post
Hi Mark
Great premise and I think suburbia is always a great setting for drama. I think there's lots to enjoy in this story and you've described your MC's deteriorating state of mind quite well as he tries to adjust to this new uncertain phase in his life.
I love Ruth. I think her language - 'Don't go off half-cocked', 'hand on the tiller', is spot on.
I do think that you have room to cut and tighten - for example the dialogue between Terry and Ruth after his failed attempt at fixing the tarpaulin. I'm not sure we need all that detail about dressing the wound or for Ruth to go to Simon's herself, seeing as she tells him the next morning that she's already been to SImon's.
Also I wondered whether when Terry looks out of the window, he's not justing staring at this piano but these young students who are frivolous and have it all to look forward to and who have no idea about redundancies and what it's like to suddenly feel so rudderless at 53. I think what I'm trying to say is that the story could benefit from a little more insight into Terry's interior life.
The end is gory and slightly ambiguous as to whether Terry means to hit Simon or has he just seen red and is smashing haphazardly? I like it.

tec at 05:47 on 10 April 2010  Report this post
Hi Mark,
wow, I certainly did not see that coming. Pretty gory stuff. I like a surprise ending, and I think this one could work, but I think you need to plant the seeds first. Would Terry really snap so completely, and so suddenly, over a YouTube video? I guess I had a different reading than Crimsondelilah - I didn't really see a deteriorating state of mind. I read an increasing annoyance, but not something that would lead to murder by ax. I also don't think that you necessarily need to get rid of some of those detail scenes - I think they can help build the tension if you have a reason for including them. The scene of Ruth dressing the wound, for example, struck me as kind of unsettling - she was sort of emasculating him - does any wife really call her husband "Mr. Angry?" that seems more a mother/son exchange. A scene like that can add to the general impression of Terry as lacking control over all aspects of his life, and what does that do to a person?

I really like the premise of this, really like that it reflects what's currently happening in the world and has a very modern-world meets old-world kind of tension. But I think you need to put a few more screws into Terry - maybe one of the kid's parents is CEO of the firm where Terry used to work? I agree w/ the previous comments that we need to see more of his interior life, or even just more of what's happening to him externally, to make his break at the end believable. I think you can have a believable surprise ending, if that makes any sense. And the end right now for me was unbelievable.
thanks for posting - look forward to reading another draft

Indira at 08:31 on 13 April 2010  Report this post
Hello Mark,

I thought this was really well done.
You handled the different layers that affect the MC brilliantly:
the increasing annoyance of the piano from the flapping tarpaulin to the seemingly flippant students,
the silent, suppressed despair that must be kept in line before the relentlessly positive Ruth,
the feeling of being trapped by circumstance and love,
and the final slow-burn trigger of appearing ridiculous and having the piano start up at night.
Excellent build up of tension.

A small practical detail, how does the camera 'see' the axe incident in the dark. And doesn't the dark add confusion to the students' response. Perhaps you need a street lamp or some such?


fluffyduffy at 14:02 on 13 April 2010  Report this post
Hi Mark,

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this, especially the ending - I wasn't expecting it. I do, howevre, agree with Tec, I too didn't get the impression of the MC's diminishing state of mind, all I saw was a man struggling to come to terms with his new working regime, as well as getting extremely annoyed with Simon and his friends - rather than the piano situation. So I couldn't see how the MC would suddenly flip out and axe Simon. Was it intentional or accidental.

All in all though, I enjoyed it.


McAllerton at 08:17 on 14 April 2010  Report this post
Thanks for all your comments. I will go back and look at how Terry can be shown to be deteriorating. I wanted to get this across by showing rather than telling which is why he doesn't speak about his emotional state, and nor do I go inside his head. You're right to say that the reader needs to get the sense of his rage, rather than mere annoyance.

Thanks again


bjlangley at 12:25 on 19 April 2010  Report this post
Hello Mark, like other readers have said, I didn't see that ending coming. For a second I thought it might be a dream, as it did seem a step too far. I think we could do with another encounter with Simon before this, just one more thing to rile him before he really flies off the handle.

I think the relationship between Terry and Ruth works well, they seem like a genuine, believable couple.

There are a couple of lines in there that are a bit too expositional:
"Working from home had been tough for Terry."
"Terry thought Ruth was wonderful."
You show this in the story anyway, so there's no need to tell us too.

I did like his description: "his waist was thickening as his hair thinned"

All the best,


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .