They’re halfway back home before either of them says anything. The late Sunday afternoon traffic is light, but they’re stuck behind an Eddie Stobart lorry and the road is too twisty for Tim to get past.
“Well,” says Angela eventually. “That was grim.”
“Yeah,” says Tim, shaking his head. “Gets worse every time, doesn’t it?”
She doesn’t reply. They drive on. There’s a stretch of dual carriageway and Tim accelerates into the open road.
He inclines his head towards the back seat. “What do you reckon, Matt?” he says.
“He’s asleep,” says Angela.
“Do you think he notices?”
“He will, one day.”
The dual carriageway ends just before they meet two caravans, travelling in convoy. Tim sighs. “Was there a single patch of wall that wasn’t covered with Charlie’s daubings?” he says.
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you see the one in the downstairs loo?”
“Yes, what was that one supposed to be?”
“Well, I know what it looked like.”
They both snigger.
“I mean, really,” says Tim. “Would you put that on display? Even as a joke?”
“I’d be afraid of social services.”
Angela frowns. “That noise has started up again,” she says.
“It’s probably nothing.”
“When’s the next service due?”
Tim listens to the whistling noise, trying to work out which part of the car it’s coming from. He gives up. “Do you think we should start Matt on Suzuki?” he says.
“I hate the violin.”
“Yes, but – “
“Don’t even think about it. He’s probably too old already.”
“Yeah. They usually start them round about the same time as weaning.”
“Yep. Charlie’s probably been scraping away for three years already. Same with chess.”
“Oh God, wasn’t that awful? Poor Matt. Didn’t know what to do, did he?”
“I think he knew exactly what to do,” says Angela. “If I’d been presented with that at the age of four, I’d have tipped the board over too.”
“Nasty little tantrum that caused.”
“Very nasty. They’ll have trouble later on, mark my words. That noise is still there, you know.”
“Of course it is.”
“It’s not just going to go away.”
“Yeah, I know.”
The caravans have both turned off and the road is clear again.
“What exactly was that in the casserole?” says Angela. “I was afraid to ask.”
“Christ knows. I fed most of mine to the dog when no-one was looking. When there was all the kerfuffle with the orange juice.”
“He’s so clumsy sometimes.”
“Oh come on, it was an accident waiting to happen. If I was being really bad minded, I’d say they’d set it up.”
“Not from the way Sarah reacted.”
“Bloody hell, no. She did apologise, though.”
“So she should.”
They both laugh.
“Poor Toby,” says Angela. “No wonder he’s losing his hair.”
“Is everything all right with his business, do you think?”
“I don’t know. He’s certainly got a nice new car.”
“The Lexus?” says Tim. “I’m sure he had that one last time they came to us. No, it’s just he didn’t say much about work. Usually he’s full of how they’re expanding into Estonia or Azerbaijan or wherever and there was hardly a peep today.”
“I’m not sure Sarah let him get a word in edgeways.”
“Yeah. One day I’d like to talk about something other than kids.”
“I know what you mean. If I ever go like that – ”
“Don’t worry. I’ll kill you first.”
“Toby did seem quiet, though. You don’t think – ”
“Good Lord, I hadn’t even considered that.”
They have caught up with a tractor, one of those with a cab the size of a small house. Tim can’t see any way round it.
“Would explain a lot,” he says. “I can see him now, checking into some seedy hotel in downtown Tallin – ”
“With a painted blonde on his arm – ”
“Dunno. Just like the name. Valentina Tereshkova. First woman in space.”
“I know that.”
“Anyway,” says Tim, “it’s a small lift and there’s only just room for them, along with an elderly grandmother, dressed all in black, and a passing accordionist from Vilnius – ”
“ – and unbeknown to either of the others, Toby’s hand reaches up under Valentina’s skirt, caresses her rump through silky knickers and – ”
“Is Matt still asleep?” says Tim.
“What?” says Angela. She turns to the back. “Yes.”
“Good. Carry on, I’m enjoying this.”
“I lost my thread.”
“Oh yes. And then … no sorry, I can’t get past Toby’s head.”
“His bald head. And those preposterous glasses.”
“Yes, I can see that might be a problem.”
“What was he like at uni?” says Angela.
“Same as he is now. Less bald and less ambitious, I suppose. And not married to Sarah, obviously.”
“Maybe she’s the one having the affair.”
“How would that work?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she drops the child off at nursery and races home to wait in for the gas fitter or something.”
“The gas fitter? You’re kidding.”
“Yeah, for that spanking new range thing.”
“Christ, yes. How much did that cost?”
“Bloody fortune, I bet,” says Angela. “She still can’t cook, though. Anyway, the gas fitter comes – ”
“Ripped and tanned – ”
“She gives him a mug of tea – ”
“And she asks him for a hand with his ballcock – ”
Angela sighs. “No, Tim, keep up. He’s a gas fitter, not a plumber. Doesn’t work.”
“Ah well, never mind.”
They’re still stuck behind the tractor. Tim glances across at Angela. “Wonder what they think of us,” he says.
“Fuck knows. Don’t care,” says Angela and they both start laughing. There’s a Little Chef at the next roundabout. Matt’ll like that.
Jonathan Pinnock is the author of Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens (Proxima Books, 2011), which occasionally gets included in lists of things that should never have been done to Jane Austen, the Scott Prize-winning short story collection Dot Dash (Salt, 2012) and the bio-historic-musicological-memoir thing Take It Cool (Two Ravens Press, 2014). His stories and poems have won a few prizes and have been read on BBC Radio 4, among other cool places. He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com and tweets as @jonpinnock. He also runs the poetry site Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis.
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