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STALLING

by juleschoc 

Posted: 29 November 2004
Word Count: 1697


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STALLING


Harvey got the ring three months ago. He paid three hundred and seventy five for it. He nearly changed his mind when he saw the tag. Three hundred and seventy five pounds is a lot of money out of a care assistant's wage. It's the most he's paid out for anyone, anytime in his life. He's spent a lot less on his mother. But he loves Gail. Gail is always saying she loves him too, but he's been putting this off for a long time. A very long time.

It's not Gail. Hell no. Him and Gail, what they have is good. It's so good it's hardly real. They do all the corny loversish things like hold hands as they walk through town. They tickle and chase each other and people in the street look at them funny. They have their own secret love code. He puts a hand in his pocket and jingles his keys when he wants to make love and when she squeezes his hand he knows it's her way of saying I love you. They have pet names. She calls him Snuggytosh because she loves his bum. He calls her Babyboo because she cries to him sometimes. Sometimes it gets too much and things get on top of her. But Harvey's always there for her. He's always there for his Babyboo. God yes, they definitely love each other.

It's Ellie. Ellie's the problem. Gail's daughter. Ellie's a pale, skinny peeved kid with a frosty face. A furiously freckled, demanding little madam who likes to have her own way. Ellie's only ten but she knows how to flick switiches. She has Gail jumping through hoops.

When Harvey first met Ellie she just glared. She stood in the hallway unwavering and sullen throughout the whole initiation. Ellie didn't have to say a word. He knew what she was thinking. This was Harvey, big deal. What's to flap about? Ellie's face is expressive. Annoyingly expressive.

'I'll eat my dinner in my room,' she said and she left Gail to apologise.

'It's all been so hard for her,' Gail said.

Harvey just nodded. He felt awkward for Gail. He didn't know a lot about kids, but he was willing to let a little rope here and there. Ellie was just a kid, after all. She was at an awkward age. She was coming to terms with the divorce. She wasn't ready for intrusions. It would take time and patience.

He'd tried with Ellie. God knows he'd given his worth with the kid. He bought her presents and spoke quietly, even when her moods ruffled him. He spent his time in dark cinemas yawning or eating popcorn until he felt sick. In the bowling alleys he learned to avoid the consequences by missing a strike. He always ley her win after the first game. Sulks always spolied the day. Harvey sat through the board games shaking the dice and making up jokes, but Ellie never laughed. He made an effort with her friends who were always polite. He'd heard as Simone told Ellie he was, 'fit.' Harvey was cool. Much cooler than her mother's boyfriend who just sat in front of the telly. Simone's mother's boyfriend thought Blue was just a colour.

It was the way Ellie treated Gail that really got to Harvey. Ellie didn't ask, she demanded and woe betide if the answer was no. There'd be a palaver. Ellie really knows how to stamp and sulk. The goddamn kid screams and cries until she has her own way. Harvey still shudders when he thinks about the day Fatty Harbuckles sold out on strawberry shortcake.

'I don't want anything else,' Ellie said after the waiter went through the menu.

'But they don't have strawberry shortcake,' Gail told her.

'The strawberry ice cream is just as nice,' Harvey said diplomatically.

But strawberry ice cream just wasn't good enough. Harvey watched Gail turn white as Ellie crossed her arms.

'We'll have to go to the other Fatty Harbuckles,' Ellie told them. She told them this and she stuck out her bottom lip. Gail's voice was shaky as she asked the waiter for the bill. Harvey thought she was joking when she turned to him and asked if he would would drive them to the other place. He remembers looking at Gail and thinking is this woman for real? He was so worked up during the thirty-mile drive he almost ran into a lorry at a junction. He thought, All this fuss for a bloody ten year old.

There was a two hour waiting list when they got there. Harvey tapped his foot and huffed in the heat. He felt his temper build every time he looked at Ellie. Everywhere in the place there were noisy, colliding kids, but Ellie sat in the corner, smugly quiet. He heard somebody - it was a child - being slapped. There was a scream then he listened as the mother said, 'Why can't you behave like that nice little girl in the corner?' It really riled him.

When they finally sat at the table he picked up a cold glass and put it against his face. He felt his insides move in waves as he watched Ellie dig the spoon into the strawberry shortcake. To top the day she only ate two mouthfuls. Two bloody mouthfuls! He had a word with Gail about it later. Discipline. The kid needed discipline.

Two weeks later he saw the other side of Gail. They were in the shopping centre and Ellie wanted a pair of jeans in Top Girl.

'I can't afford it this week,' Gail told her.

'But I really want them,' Ellie said.

'And I really don't have the money.'

Harvey waited for Gail to pull out her purse and sigh. He expected her to flick out the notes and take Ellie for the fitting. But she didn't. When Ellie started with the tactics, Gail's face went alarmingly red. It was like something inside her had been unleashed and when she started shouting it was like she didn't know how to stop. The telling off was so loud and blunt that it startled the other shoppers. A lot of people passed by and shook their heads. Others mumbled or looked disgusted. When the shouts finally climaxed with a slap to Ellie's face, somebody suggested calling childline or the welfare. Harvey felt ashamed. He wished for an earthquake or a bomb explosion. He saw the injured look on Ellie's face and he began to shake. He wanted to tell the people what she was really like. He wanted to yell at them about the sulks and tantrums and constant pressure. But he just smiled apologetically and nodded his head.

When it was over and Gail's face had turned to a soothing pink, she began to cry. She sobbed quietly in the car all the way home while Ellie sat in the back pouting. Every now and then Harvey would look in the rear view mirror at Ellie's pale, dispassionate face and wonder how he could hate a child. How he could hate a child so much. He felt relieved when he finally pulled out of the driveway to go home. It was always nice to go home after the weekend.

Then Gail started with the pressure. It was about six months ago. She asked how he would feel about moving in with them. Harvey didn't answer at first. He sat quiet and stared at the television. Then he told her he needed time to think.

'There's no need to rush,' Gail told him. 'You just take all the time you need.'

But after a few weeks Gail began to get impatient.

'This isn't a normal relationship,' she said as Harvey put on his coat. 'I just don't see why we can't make a commitment.'

But Harvey didn't answer. He watched Ellie's slippers tread the stairs before he kissed Gail and said goodnight.

Then Ellie went on holiday with Simone.

It didn't take Gail long to coax him. It was just a week and she didn't like being on her own, so he packed a small bag. It was just a week he told her. Just a week, until Ellie came home.

'I'll make sure you'll never want to go home,' Gail said and she gave Harvey a slow, lingering kiss. Harvey remembers her going into the kitchen afterwards then coming back in with a can of beer in her hand. She gave him the beer before she took his bag.

'You just relax,' she said. 'You just relax and let me take care of your things.'

Harvey made up his mind that week. The ring had to be ordered. It was on the Wednesday but the ring wouldn't be ready until the Friday. He called the restaurant and booked the table for Friday night.

Then Ellie came home early. She stomped up the stairs declaring her hatred for Simone while Harvey and Gail scrabbled for the scattered clothes on the bedroom floor.

'There's no way I can get a sitter,' Gail said when he told her about the meal.

Harvey thought about taking Ellie, but it was only a minute before he remembered Fatty Harbuckle's. He cancelled the meal before he went to pick up the ring. He put the ring in a drawer and that was where it stayed until Gail startled him with the ultimatum.

'I'll give you one week,' she said before they agreed about the break.

The week is up and Harvey knows Gail will be waiting. God, how he's missed her. He really needs to see her. A week is enough time to put things into perspective. He takes the ring out of the drawer before he picks up the phone.

'Hello.'

He says hello on the crackly line before he asks for Gail.

'It's Haaarveeey.'

Harvey hears the phone slam against the table. He listens to the whiny voice and the clatter of shoes on tiles in the background. Then he puts his finger on the reciever. He looks at the ring and listens to the dead tone for a long time before he finally hangs up.












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Comments by other Members



dryyzz at 12:40 on 30 November 2004  Report this post
Hiya,

A few comments on this. Towards the start, I felt as though the narrator was a seprate peronality telling the story, a friend of Harvey perhaps. Towards the end, the telling and language of the narrative became more neutral, and the narrating personality seemed to dissapear. I think that it would seem better if the narative was more even, either all neautral, or all with personality. (I liked the personality version towards the start better). Hope this makes sense.

Your story does paint the picture of the girl well and the quandry Harvey is in does seem palpable.

I did find the end a little confusing.

You say,

"Harvey hears the phone slam against the table. He listens to the whiny voice and the clatter of shoes on tiles in the background. Then he puts his finger on the reciever. He looks at the ring and listens to the dead tone for a long time before he finally hangs up."


At first, I though that Harvey had terminated the call, but as he's listening to the 'dead' tone, that leads me to believe the phone has been put down on him. Maybe I'm just being thick, but it did make me wonder.

Nice piece, full of the everyday things that makes us human.

Hope this helps.

Darryl








scoops at 16:31 on 30 November 2004  Report this post
I really liked this, maybe because it rings bells with my own life:-) It's an area that's very hard for adults to be honest about because it feels almost abusive to dislike children, particularly where there is a reason for their rude or dysfunctional behaviour, and this tackles the issue head on in a very even handed way. The narrator doesn't put anyone at fault. That's a real feat. I felt slightly confused by the tense in your telling of the tale: it all seemed to be happening now, even the bits that are flashback, but it was still compulsive reading:-) Shyama

Dee at 12:54 on 01 December 2004  Report this post
Jules, I really enjoyed this. Bloody kids, eh?

I got a bit mixed up with the tenses. Most of the time I could follow them but occasionally the shift in tense disrupted the flow for me.

They tickle and chase each other and people in the street look at them funny.
You need a comma after Ďotherí Ė otherwise it begins to read as if they were chasing people in the street.

He always ley her win let

Simone's mother's boyfriend thought Blue was just a colour.
Love this line! Itís so ten-year-old girl.

Itís a damned good story, well worth a polish up.

Dee



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