Angie’s behind the counter, and she’s putting two pieces of cod in to fry.
Sandra’s leaning on the other side, and she wants to know how Angie’s boy Mark is getting on.
“He’s driving me bloody nuts,” says Angie, ladling chips into a paper bag. “He’s seventeen now, can you believe it?”
Sandra’s wide eyes suggest that she can’t.
“He spends all day in bed, with his laptop. He won’t get up for no-one, he won’t get a job. I’m sick to death of him.”
Sandra is shocked.
“He used to be a good lad, didn’t he?” she asks. “You know, when he was little and that?”
Angie digs hard into the chip storage bin with her chip serving spoon.
“Yeah, well, that was a long time ago, wasn’t it? Now he’s just a waste of space.”
Sandra looks a bit uncomfortable. Angie looks up. “You want salt and vinegar on them, Sand?”
Angie’s mum comes in from the back room. Her apron is stained with grease and fat splashes. She bustles around, and catches the end of Angie saying: “He’s not all sweet and innocent anymore.”
Angie’s mum says: “Sweet and innocent? Mark? You’re bloody kidding.”
“No, mum, I was saying he’s NOT sweet and innocent.”
“Oh. Right. No, not since he ended up in court.”
“Eh?” says Sandra, shocked once again. “What’s he been in court for?”
Angie crosses her arms, defensive.
“He got a job up at that plumbing place, you know, behind the gym. And he took 500 quid from the till, he thought they wouldn’t notice. They couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. So that job didn’t last very long, did it? He’s not worked since.”
Sandra’s having trouble taking this in.
“Did he get done?” She probably means, did he go to prison? But he escaped that.
Angie looks at her mum, who’s busy behind her, the looks at the floor. She doesn’t want to meet Sandra’s eyes. “He lost his scooter, and the money he’d saved up. Which weren’t much. Court said he had to pay it all back, and compensation on top. He still owes ‘em. God knows how he’s gonna find that much money, though. Little sod. All day in front of that laptop, you know.”
Angie’s mum asks: “But what does he do?”
“Nothing, mum. He sits in his room all day with his laptop.”
“I know, but what does he do? He must do something.”
“Nothing. I dunno. I’ve told him to get a job but he won’t. He won’t go down the Job Centre. He won’t even get up. Hopeless. And two sausages was it, Sand?”
Angie’s mum blows up. “It’s his dad’s fault. He didn’t even send Mark a text message on his birthday. It’s disgusting. He doesn’t want to know about his boy. He’s a bastard.”
Sandra’s eyes look wet. Angie’s mum’s shoulders fall a little, her face relaxes.
“That’s where it’s come from. You were never like that, Ange.” She turns to Sandra. “She were never like that. She worked hard. And when she had the kids she came back to work too, came and helped me out.”
Angie laughs. Trying to lighten the mood.
“Well, that was thanks to Sandra, weren’t it, mum? Sandra had the kids while I went out to work, didn’t she? If it weren’t for you, Sand, I’d never have got back to work.”
Angie’s mum hasn’t finished yet, though.
“No jobs. I know it’s hard these days, but it’s been hard before. I’ve never been out of work, not for a single day.”
Sandra looks like she’s remembering the times when she looked after little Mark. Her expression is sad, forlorn. Her memories are of a sweet little boy, perhaps riding a bike or being a bit cheeky at tea time. She looks at Angie.
“Do you give him any money?”
Someone had to ask.
Obviously, she expects Angie to say no. That’s what Sandra would do, if Mark was still in her care. But Angie is defensive again.
“Well, I do. I mean, I don’t. Not always, anyway. But sometimes I give him a few quid, you know, just to tide him over, keep him going.”
There’s a very brief silent moment. Sandra’s trying not to let her feelings show. Angie’s putting more cod pieces into the fish fryer. Angie’s mum bustles out to the back room again, wiping her hands on her apron as she goes. She might be muttering something.
Angie blinks quickly as she stirs the chips in the fryer. “Perhaps — I dunno. Just a tenner here and there. I suppose it all adds up, don’t it?”
Sandra’s nodding. It would be rude to say what she really thinks. She picks up her bag of sausage and chips, and cradles it close to her chest. She sighs, her eyes cast down.
“That’s right, Ange. it all adds up.”
Giles Turnbull writes about technology for the Press Association, about photography for Photocine News, about Macs for MacUser and Cult of Mac, and about fripperies and oddness for The Morning News. He lives in south-west England and has a thing about geology. More at gilest.org.