PART THREE: School’s Out
Looking up from the infants chair David just smiled at the damp man. Feeling slightly feeble and small, he realised that this was not an alpha male competition zone, the wrong environment, the wrong audience and the wrong chair. David sat back, turned his palms up off his thighs in a gesture of openness. He was too tired for a confrontation and was conscious that he didn’t want, his and the other man’s differences, to ruin Sally’s night.
‘I know this is hard for you to understand, sorry that sounds patronising’ he paused, puffing air into his cheeks and blew out. ‘It’s ok, carry on David I’m with you …for now’. ‘You’ve not got kids have you?’ ‘No… but…’, before he got the rest of his words out David continued, ‘you see I love my girl and I’ll take any opportunity to see her, just because it’s not on paper tonight, doesn’t mean it’s got to be a problem’ he said passively but firm.
‘Well….’ David cut him short again before he could carry on his girlfriend’s proxy reply. He was trying to quote in his own words the moaning of his girlfriend in a short and tidy group of sentences but David wouldn’t give him that satisfaction yet.
‘I’m sure we can make this easier on all of us…’ quick thinking gave David a gift, ‘…I’m guessing you’d like some “you and her” time, you two on your own together more, I can help with that, come on an maybe mention it to her’. There was a new silence although there was movement all around. Chairs scraped, no one else was really listening but in his head, rationality failed to small paranoia; thinking both men were the entertainment now. Kids ran to parents and parents rose to greet them, some with tired enthusiasm, some nonplussed as it was routine.
David paused, normal audio came back to him. He had become so focused on the other man and what he wanted to say without confrontation, that everything on the periphery faded away for those few minutes. The scraping of the chairs had broken his focused conversational trance. He felt he was sat in front of the school bully, pleading a deal to save some of the contents of his lunch box. The good stuff, the treat big brand his mum had put in. Back then, they went out shopping together in the supermarket and he had a choice of a sweet treat at home or forfeit that for a treat at school in his lunch box because they couldn’t afford both. He chose the treat at school although he changed the option to a treat at home when the bullying didn’t stop and the theft carried on.
He dropped his head and a shiver ran down his spine. Looking at David the standing figure noticed the anguish. He could have the lunch box, David had finished with all that now. He could have the leftovers. David wanted Sally. He wanted her to be his but it was best to share her and be happy…ish. Make Sally happy and everything else would follow and get easier.
‘I truly sympathise with you David’, the standing man said peppered with sarcasm ‘…but you can’t do it like this’. He clearly didn’t understand desperation and gloated to himself that he had bedded the side of power. ‘You need to go through the correct lines of communication don’t you’, airing on pretentious, his tone was smug as he recognised a base complexity of his carefully thought out words almost legal in tone. He smiled inside.
David’s eyebrows raised in astonishment at the toss leaving his mouth. The damp man carried on, ‘I’ve lost and had things taken from me that I liked’. Liked! David thought, he loved so it was much beyond ‘liked’. The figure carried on ‘…. My brother once took my stack system, separates and speakers. He sold them to the pawn shop. I was devastated mate’. David fidgeted in his seat, now entertained by the stream of shit.
‘…and I dealt with death too, once my brother assassinated my rat with dad’s air rifle, two weeks it took to get over it, it will get easier David… people come and go in life’. The comparison was unique and deeply floored. The damp figure had his back to the approaching Sally he also was blocking David’s line of sight to her approach. ‘what the f…’ David cut himself short. Wide eyed with worry, Sally stepped out from behind the damp figure and stood between the two men.
‘Hi ya Dad’, she said cautiously. ‘Hi, Nick’ she said to the damp figure. ‘Hi Sally’ said Nick, ‘Alright love’ David said simultaneously, creating a complete mess of words. She looked at David with her back to Nick almost nose to nose with him. Her eyebrows raised showing gritted teeth as to signal, we’re busted! David winked back at her and smiled to ease her anxiety. ‘It’s all good love, don’t worry. Me and Nick were talking about love and loss. You were fantastic, super fantastic’ said Dad with a wry smile. ‘They couldn’t have done it without you sweet’.
Nick unfolded his arms and relaxed his stance, he’d learnt it in a martial arts class once. Dominant defensive posture, it was laughable. ‘Right you’re ready? Ya mum will be concerned that we’ve been a while, let’s get going. I’ve enough to explain tonight without being late on top of it’.
‘Hold your horses there Nick’ Sally said in an easy comic fashion, still with her back to him. She stuck her tongue firmly into her bottom lip and pulled a face in shared frustration with dad. With added crossed eyes to give greater emphasis on the situation they had found themselves in. It was inevitable that meeting Nick or her mum would have happened at some point. She bent over and pinched David’s cheek affectionately, giving it a good wobble. Nick stood there with a, “I’m waiting to go”, look smeared across his face. More a frown with an intake of air trying to form a tut.
Then she reverse nodded her head back towards Nick. David interpreted it as check out this dick behind me. But that wouldn’t be in her head at that age of almost happy innocence. It was a nod of solidarity. Conscious of how the pinch had looked to others, David took it as love and affection. At a distance it looked patronising and full of ridicule, a photographer’s interpretation.
David stood up. Sally dropped her reading bag and the carrier with what was left of her costume from her mum’s house. The school provided the rest. She jumped up as he raised himself up and hung from his neck. The sweat crack evaporating from the chair as David stooped to his daughter’s affections, swinging an arm round her waist, to support her weight and the other to grasp his neck in hidden pain. His face pulled a smiled grimace as he came to rest his warm hand on her cold locked fingers.
‘Darling…’ he wheezed as the sharp pain ran across his shoulders. With added inpatients in his tone, Nick asked her to let go and hurry up. She heard the order and whispered ‘I love you’ in her Dad’s ear. The two men stood face to chin until Sally let go of Dad and dropped to her feet. ‘I love you too’ he said to Sally, eye to eye with Nick.
The penny dropped for Nick, he almost got it, extra time without Sally about. It took anger and emotional exile from the embracing family of two in front of him to realise his selfish need for time without the kids around. He could relax and be himself more.
David straightened himself up, so he looked just above Nick’s eye level. He was a full man again, erect. Masculinity flowed into his unfolded and stretching body.
David subtly mentioned the extra time from his deck of hope and chance, ‘well, just think about what I said and I’m sorry to hear about your hi-fi system and rat’. Off guard, Nick said nodding, ‘thank you, didn’t know you were on my wave length David’. David frowned at this, Nick hadn’t picked up on the hint of sarcasm. ‘You know I’m going to have to tell her what you’ve done tonight’. ‘Please don’t Nick’, Sally pleaded. ‘She’ll hear about it anyway love’, confessed David. There were other mouths to poison lives, with idle parent’s playground gossip, from those present at the scene at the end of the kids show.
‘Right Sally, we got to go’. Sally bent down and picked up her bags looked up to David and said, ‘see you later Dad’. ‘We’ll see young’un’, Nick’s voice fell almost on deaf ears but it cut into David’s heart.
‘See you Dad’ she grumbled. ‘Bye love, you were great, thank you darling, see you some time soon. Nick look after her mate’, David said politely biting the inside of his jowl. He wanted to say thank you for the ticket but she would take the brunt of the blame for inviting and mixing with him from her mum’s harsh socially compulsory bite. Playing up to conventions set out by daytime magazine shows and celebrity culture.
‘Ya know I do’, Nick said with a semi aggressive tone. ‘I’m like a surrogate to her aren’t I’? David tensed. The heat and cold of a panic attack rose inside, his forehead throbbed heavily. He breathed in slowly and controlled himself. He left himself open to that hard hitting reply from Nick. He should have been a little more careful with what he said to Nick but why should he be begging, forever the faithful hound, waiting for a scrap of food to drop on the floor. Sally was no scrap of meat, no piece of discarded food but this was the way things were panning out at the moment for him… at the moment.
There was a feminine clearing of smoker’s throat. The deputy called over ‘don’t you have homes to go to?’ The hall was now empty but for the three of them and the deputy hovering in the doorway. ‘Sorry miss’, Nick grinned with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Not sure what Sally’s Dad’s up to but we’re on our separate ways now’. Quickly David added with a forced smile, maturity and a little dignity, ‘I’m leaving too, my school days are long over Miss Thomas’. ‘Why thank you gentlemen and thank you for your help Sally. You’ve contributed greatly over the last couple of days’.
The three passed her together, trying to fit through the door at once. Then in a fumble of floor space swapping, they organised themselves to walk out in single file and in one voice they all said thank you to her. She grunted a small laugh through her nose. The foyer was cool as the open doors had stolen the heat.
The door had been pinned with a brown rubber doorstop to let the audience out into the clear cold night. Strands of loose carpet blew in the night’s cold breeze. David submitted to Nick. He held back from the short walk to the exit, letting Sally and Nick pass in front of him. He said goodbye and in a flash of remembrance said he needed to go to the office. This opportunity stalled to competing between the two men for now. Sally waved and blew a kiss, David smiled, hurt. He should be taking her home to his or hers.
He’d remembered a conversation he had from a concerned barfly down the local. That he could confidentially put his name down to get an update by paper or email of what Sally was up to at school. He could discreetly get her reports and news on what her year were up to. It was designed to include absentee dads in their children’s lives.
He took this moment to hide his anger and awkwardness. ‘See you soon love, I’ve just got to talk to the teachers in reception about something’. Nick leaned in ‘I hope you’re not stirring fella’. ‘No Nick, I just want to get the number for the school photographer so I can get this year’s photo, as I missed out on it’.
Tutting, Sally waved goodbye and buzzed herself out of the foyer. Nick was too slow to exit and the door shut in front of him, just touching the end of his striding covered toe. He looked up, down and around with his eyes, head and hands trying to work out how to open the door. David came to his rescue and pressed the large green button under a big sign saying ‘push to exit’. The electromagnetic lock released, clicked and nick pushed the door open with a quiet grunt of a thank you to David. Nick hurried on behind pulling the fag packet from his tight jeans pocket and finding his lighter in the front.
David turned away grinning with slight satisfaction but he was still upset. He stood in the reception doorway, uncomfortable that Sally had to walk away with the other guy. Not her or his blood. He was soon distracted from his sadness. He got invited in by the head, who apologised for forgetting his name and a big hello from the pretty year four teacher who smiled softly to him. He warmed up and gave a little smile back.
Outside around the corner, through a curious cat’s eyes Nick and Sally walked on by. It pulled at its claws tearing off damaged fragments and spitting them on the wall he was sat on. His eye never leaving the uncomfortable couple as they walked in silence, Nick drawing on his cigarette just ahead of Sally and the breeze wrapping the exhaled smoke around his neatly cut hair. She was walking a bit behind him looking up at the stars, mouthing like a fish in water, pretending to blow bubbles into space to catch the stars, totally ignoring her chaperone.
The cat rested his paw down next to its other already grounded in front of his fluffed mangy belly. The cat stretched his back into a lazy arch, all his legs straightened, his eyes wide black discs taking in the movements of the two walkers, absorbing the nights light. Jumping down, it followed them.