On account of what happened at school, Andy’s mum suggested he see a therapist. The therapist, Annabelle, recommended he keep a journal to help manage his anxiety. “Anxiety? What anxiety?” he said. “Interesting,” she mused. Andy was pleased to have interested Annabelle; she seemed nice. Later, Annabelle yawned, apologising profusely. “A long day. It’s not you.” This pleased Andy, too; interesting and not boring. Afterwards, his waiting father put his arm across Andy’s shoulder. The air outside was cool, the sky apricot. Andy sighed contentedly. “Don’t worry, mate, it’ll all be OK,” his dad said. Worried? Andy thought. Who’s worried?
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
Before he’d even finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Jared decided to become a Buddhist. And a motorcyclist. He told his family over dinner. Immediately his dad began singing “Everybody was kung fu fighting!”, with his two brothers joining in when they saw Jared was not only perplexed but also annoyed. “What’s kung fu got to do with anything?” he said, but they continued – “… fast as lightning!” – and chopped the air theatrically. When his mum began giggling, he nearly exploded. But he doused his fire and walked away. He was on the path to enlightenment. Unlike those fuckers.
Frannie met Jasper at a rally. Nine years her senior, he was strong-jawed, clear-eyed, ethically scrupulous and, he disclosed, soberly, highly sexual. Soon she was hearing his post-coital dissertations on Marxism and cycling, and not minding it one bit. But five years later she’d grown into herself: a witty, flexible, unashamedly whimsical woman ravenous for meat and a car. With aircon. But Jasper was still Jasper. She admired his convictions but, worryingly, every time she saw him sitting straight-backed, diligently chewing his big salads, she had to fight the urge to punch him in the face.
Slumped on the couch, Wayne looked disapprovingly at the scimitar of gut erupting between his T-shirt and jeans. Ironing, his wife Amanda caught her reflection and was startled by her floppy triceps, exact replicas of her mum’s dreaded bingo wings. Upstairs, young Jai stood shirtless, bending, vigorously, this way and that, looking for evidence of a sixpack. Down the hall, his sister, Kaitlyn, dressing to go out clubbing, self-consciously stuffed tissues inside her bra. Meanwhile, outside, Brutus lay on the grass and licked his testicles as the afternoon sunshine bestowed its warmth and blessing along his fat, hairy flanks.
UP, UP AND AWAY
Clutching her daughter, Evie, and hollowed out by impending loss, Marian blamed herself. Her first mistake, 18 years earlier, was putting that world globe lamp in Evie’s room – its warm light drawing the eye, irradiating Earth in an inviting glow. After that, well, where to begin? With Marian’s romanticised re-tellings of her youthful adventures overseas? With the listing yellow towers of National Geographics in the study? With bookshelves brimming with Newbys, Chatwins, Brysons? With a radio hardwired to the BBC World Service? God, she’d all but dragged Evie here, to this ugly departures lounge. What a bloody fool she’d been.
The sun blazed through the window of Harriet’s “homelike” suite, engulfing her face, and no one thought to draw the curtains. Not her son, Max, who sat reading in a chair. Not her eldest, Joan, who bickered with her husband on her mobile. Not even her youngest, Tamara, the one she’d almost got right, arranging the beige blanket on Harriet’s bed instead of at least tilting her head away from the infernal light. God knows she couldn’t do it herself. What she’d sacrificed for this lot. Her death imminent, eyes streaming, Harriet wished she’d spent more time at the office.
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