“They’re looking for new members for the woman’s dart team. I thought I might give it a go. We’re down at the Sloop every Thursday anyway.” She scooped some peas from the saucepan. “Pam asked me if I was interested.” Gillian dropped Conner’s plate on the table. The smell of grease over powered the roast chicken. It would take all day to air out the kitchen. “I wish you wouldn’t bring pieces of that car to the table,” she muttered.
Conner woke to the food and put his starter motor down. “Now love, I’m not against you joining the club,” he said poking the metal with a flat edge screw driver. “Home matches okay, but the away ones. I’d have to drive you. That’s extra petrol, the fees, and, well, you’d have to buy the whole team a drink.” He pursed his lips in. “Could we afford it?
She returned to the table and placed a bottle of Aldi’s ketchup besides his fork. “I don’t know Conner, I’ve got some extra hours, and....”
“That’s all good love, but I’ve had a wage freeze for two years, inflation is outstripping any money you get and the bills keep piling up.” For the first time he raised his eyes to meet his wife. “This is just not the right time, maybe next season?” His phone buzzed, grabbing it from his pocket he licked his finger and transferred the grease from it to the side of his jeans. With it clean and dry he drew over the screen, brought his eyebrows in together and jabbed at the numbers. Ten to one had to be worth a Monkey. Mike always gave him good tips.
Gillian went back to the sink, stared out of the window and plunged her hands into the warm water. “Maybe next season” she repeated.
The summer season brought out the locals and a fine mix of walkers in and around the village. Gillian strolled down the back lane. She clung to the hedge side and dipped under the radar of her neighbours back gardens. Over her left shoulder the river ran a mean current that had been known to catch out the uninitiated and made the swans lose their cool.
She skipped passed the donkeys and followed the path towards the Old Station House. The car engine purred then roared to break the peace. Voices floated on the thermals and hit Gillian at a good distance.
“Go on Pam, give it a good push.” Conner’s voice sang from under the bonnet. The engine volume rose again.
“Whoa” shouted Conner, “Well I’ll be dammed, I think your belt is slipping.” He jabbed at his dark curly hair with his screw driver, scratching his scalp and jiggering his cells.
Pam came out of the driver seat, her shorts perfect for a twenty year old, but didn’t have the same effect on someone hitting her fifties. “Is that bad?” she said whilst leaning over the wing and moving uncomfortably close to Conner.
Conner stood back, his eyes drifted over the engine and down Pam’s open top. He chewed his roll up in the side of his mouth and struck a match to relight it. “No, no, not bad, a bit like the view. Everything rosy and in the right place, but wouldn’t miss a bit of care and attention.”
Not wanting the embarrassment of catching them up to anything Gillian shouted out a warning. “Conner, yohoo, Pam.” Her shrill high pitch broke the tension. Anything to avoid a fuss.
“What’s she bloody want now?” hissed Conner, his forest accent spitting out through a gap in his front teeth. “Always in the bloody way.”
Pam came to his side as they both searched out the bobbing head of his wife. “Now, don’t be like that. Gill’s a good housewife, mousey, but after all, you did marry her.” She pushed an elbow into his ribs. “You could always send her to stay with her sister again? She looks like she could do with a break.”
“I might just do that” said Conner to no-one.
Gillian pushed at the gate, waved and then gave it a big shove. “Hi Pam, sorry, car sounds better.” She waited for approval, nothing came back. “Sorry,” she repeated to hide her awkwardness. “Conner, Mike Turner’s been on, says it’s urgent.” She screwed up her nose and went back to hiding under her hair.
Mike’s name caught Conner attention. He wiped his hands down his jeans. “Back later Pam love, better deal with this. Come on Gillian” he commanded and started a march back up the lane. Gillian trotted on behind.
“You spend all your time down at Pam’s, always fixing things for her. Car, heating, God knows what else.” She said to the back of his head.
Conner raised his eyes to the clouds, “Oh don’t go on woman. She’s by herself. She’s as much your mate as mine. I’m just being a good neighbour.”
“Just saying, that all” she sang back in her high pitched voice. “You still haven’t fixed the tap in the bathroom at home yet.”
He stomped on quicker, reached the side door and slammed it closed as he went through to the hall and grabbed the phone.
Silently she followed in and lent on the wall. The conversation was getting heated. “How much?” he screamed down the receiver. She waited, wincing at his every word. “But you told me it was a cert. What the bloody hell happened.” Gillian hid in the kitchen and put the kettle on. Always a good option. The phone slammed down, the hall door kicked open and a red in the face Conner stood cemented and lost in the centre of the sitting room.
“Tea love?” she asked from the kitchen.
His eyes rolled, his shoulder tensed and he started to grind his teeth. Grabbing his Racing Times, Conner rolled it and threw it across the coffee table. Beads of sweat fell down along the ridge of his nose and dripped on to his top lip. The heat was intense. Pulling at the neck of his t-shirt, he flapped cool air down its front.
He opened his mouth and shut it. Light headed he wobbled on the spot. “I feel a bit fun -funny” he said gently to the room whilst shaking his mane to get the blood flowing. “Yes bring me a cuppa” he shouted back through to his wife. Conner sat down, dropping the last few inches and fell backwards. He breathed in deep, then several short intakes. This was not right. He rubbed his forehead with his right hand, his left feeling heavy. He thumped the arm of the sofa and felt his strength disappear.
Gilliam was used to it, Conner stomping around, snorting and ignoring her. She banged down his mug on the kitchen side and beat the spoon around the edge. The silence from the other room was a sign of what was to come. It led to sulking and nothing Gillian could do for the rest of the night would get her man out of his mood. She picked up his mug and stuck another teaspoon of sugar in it. “Bloody hell,” she muttered to herself as she grabbed his ash tray from the kitchen table. “Here’s your tea love” she shouted as normally as she could muster.
Gillian bumped the door with her hip and went to the table. Cutting the unbearable silence with every step she focused on getting the tea down and her out of the room. Conner grunted. “I’ll just go and grab your fags, here, have your tea” she said. Gillian automatically picked up his magazine and placed it square on the table. “Conner?” her eyes squinted. “Conner, you alright, you’ve gone awful grey.” Not sure what to do she placed her hand on his arm and crouched down to get into his space.
He seemed to sense her there. “You burning toast?” he said confused. He breathed in sharp again and moved position to get comfortable. It didn’t work. His eyes rolled. “God it’s hot.”
Sitting back Conner rubbed his chest and bit into his bottom lip. “I think I better get you the doctor,” said Gillian.
Conner nodded slowly, pulled forward and tumbled to the floor. “Call an Ambulance” he whispered to the carpet.
“Oh bloody hell”, where was the phone? Gillian picked up the receiver from the hall floor. Shaking she hit the first digit and holding her breath she hit the second. She turned to face Conner as he fell on to his back, legs out as he grumbled from deep inside his lungs. One more nine and the ambulance would be here in ten minutes. She stopped. She shook her head. Gillian eyes narrowed as her face became taught.
Pressing down the disconnect she listened to the dead tone and watched Conner turn gery. Hesitating over the first number, she bit down and began to dial again. What if?
With day light fading by five ‘o’ clock, the villages coming home from work locked their cars, stomped to their front doors and turned the key behind them. Gillian pulled on a second jumper and kept both hands around her mug to keep warm. “One more hour and I’ll stick the heating on” she said to the television. A thump came from the ceiling, a few second later a second and then a third.
“Coming love” she shouted from the bottom of the stairs. “Just getting your fags.” Gillian searched around, located the end of a half ounce and some red papers. Taking one step at a time, slowly she made her way to his bedroom.
Conner sat half up and half leaning over the side of his bed. His coughing and spluttering filled the plastic bucket placed by his bed. The room smelt of damp, stale smoke and decay. Biting down on her skinny lips Gillian entered. “Let me help you up.” She grabbed him around his waist, the sweat and the week old pyjamas knocked her back and staining her own clothing.
His hair now matched his grey complexion. The lines on his face aged him well over his fifty five years. Gillian stuck a roll up in his mouth, lit it and watched him settled back in to this small pleasure.
“How you feeling?” she asked as she sat down at the feet end of the bed.
Conner eyes stayed at the slit stage. “Not bad today. What time is it?” he coughed.
“Half five” said his wife without looking at her watch. “I’ll stick the heating on at six, warm the room up for you.” Conner nodded gently and closed his eyes.
“Saw Pam down at the shop earlier, she asked after you” said Gillian. “Rumour is she’s knocking off Mike Turner. Wait till Jan Turner gets wind of it. She’ll knock Pam’s block off.” Gillian watched for Conner’s reaction, there was none.
The lights of a car filtered through the nets. The distraction gave Gillian the excuse to stand up and to see if she could spot who had gone by. She pulled the curtains. “Went to the bank down Cinderford and saw the manager. He says we’ll have to sell up soon. He says it’s better if we take the money from the house than get reprocessed.” Gillian sighed. “You’re not going to work again, the social only pays so much. And with me having to care for you full time, well, there’s not enough coming in to match the bills.” She came around to the front of the bed.
“Seems that your insurance would pay out if you had died, but not for long term illness.” She tucked in his sheet and then muttered to herself. “Been better if you had died.”
Conner dropped some ash on to his sheet. Gillian automatically wiped it, smudging a grey line down the sheet. “I think we have to accept that we could be like this for a few years.” Gillian dropped on the bed and picked at a stray cotton strand.
She sat there in silent. Conner drifted in and out. Every five minutes he would come back and ask the time again. Eventually he dropped off for another restless night. Gillian tiptoed across the hall to the spare room with the realisation that the next day would be the same as the one before.
“Oh bloody hell”, where was the phone? Gillian picked up the receiver from the hall floor. Shaking she hit the first digit and holding her breath she hit the second. She turned to face Conner as he fell on to his back, legs out as he grumbled from deep inside his lungs. One more nine and the ambulance would be here in ten minutes. She stopped. She shook her head. Gillian eyes narrowed and her face became taught.
Pressing down the disconnect she listened to the dead tone and watched Conner turn grey. Hesitating over the first number, she bit down and began to dial again. What if?
Her finger hesitated over the last nine. Where did her future lay? Was this what she wanted? Twenty years of him playing the local field. Conner betting their mortgage money and her, always stretching the housekeeping. Why shouldn’t she. What if she changed her mind?
A skinny smile spread over her face tight face. Gillian had decided. This was her chance and her choice. And no one else would know. Finally she had control. She pressed the final number. It rang out twice.
“Pam, hi, it’s Gillian. Yes, no, no there’s no problem. I was just thinking, do you still have that place left on the darts team?” She stepped forward, lifted her legs high, she wouldn’t want to trip over the body. She snatched up the television controller. “You do, that’s great.” She flicked the channels to Sky Sports Three. “Thursday at seven thirty, I’ll meet you there,” Gillian beamed. "Five pound subs, no problem. Away matches, I might need a lift but I can always throw a few quid in for that". There was a mumble from the other end. "Conner, no he won't get in the way. Not any more."
Gillian replaced the receiver and focused in on the match being played. Nothing could stop her now. Conner's jaw dropped open and he groaned. “Oh shut up Conner, I’m watching the darts.” She kicked back with her heal and turned the volume up. “Always have to be the center of attention. Well not anymore. Oh, triple twenty” she exclaimed. “Excellent, I can’t wait till Thursday!”