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An excerpt from

Simple Acts of Kindness

Richard Todd

One thing was for certain, thought Bob Hallmark, and that was that tonight, one way or another, he was going to get his ashes hauled.

What a woman Ellie was.  What a honey.  He was going to stick it to her every fucking which way. In his present frame of mind he quite simply didn’t give a damn as to the consequences.  It was odd, he reflected, how at times his wife and the house and the kids, all of the family crap, seemed like the most important thing in the whole world whilst at others, well, the sum of his ambition seemed to be nothing more than a simple and overwhelming need to shoot his load.  And tonight she was damn well going to get it. Yes sir, thought Bob, as he pictured her in his mind’s eye, I’ve spent too much time screwing Suzie while thinking about Ellie.  Tonight’s the night. Tonight I get this goddamn monkey from off my back.

“BOBBY.”

Before Bob had the opportunity to reply Suzie again called his name, but this time even more loudly.

“BOBBY!”

“All right,” he snapped. “All right, all right, I’m coming.”

He tramped downstairs to where a cup of tea was waiting for him on the breakfast bar in the kitchen.  He screwed his face as he sipped at it.  Why couldn’t she make his tea the way he liked it? It was tepid and weak and Bob wondered how the hell it could be that after twelve years together that Suzie still made him tea that tasted like shit, no matter how often he told her to leave the goddamn bag in a while and to let it stew.  He reckoned that maybe she did it to provoke him or maybe to get her own back or maybe she just didn't care how much it pissed him off.  Whichever way it was here he was at seven thirty in the morning and already he was wondering just why the hell he had married her. He swilled the tea down the sink and banged the cup down on the side, which Suzie pretended not to notice – probably just to irritate him some more, or to make a point, or something.

“I need some help with the kids,” Suzie stated in an accusatory tone and Bob figured that was what the sack of shit cup of tea was really about.

“I can’t be expected to do it all myself.  It’s not fair,” she continued.

Bob felt guilty, for a moment or two.  Suzie was a good mother to his kids, there was no doubt about that.  And Bob had tried his best but there was no point in lying to himself any more, he simply didn’t have the character.  He had long since ceased torturing himself over his moral failings, these days he just indulged them.  Anyway, Suzie had let herself go.  Once upon a time he had lusted after her but now, whenever he looked at her, he felt indifference.  He reflected that he hated her hair, it was greying and it was middle length and it was boring.  It used to be long and blonde and sexy as hell, but not now.  And she seemed to take it as some kind of personal attack if he suggested that she might visit the hairdresser and have some of that blonde colour put back in.

Whatever her goddamn magazines may tell her, accepting middle age gracefully wasn’t sexy.  Suzie would look down her nose at him and tell him that they weren’t kids anymore and that he should grow up and appreciate what he had.  Appreciate her how she was. Bob didn’t want sensible and he didn’t want middle aged.  What Bob wanted was a woman, but the woman he wanted wasn’t Suzie, it was Ellie.

“Right, yeah, right,” he said, his already bad mood worsening.  “I’ve got to put in a full day at the office but sure, whatever, that’s fair I guess.  It’s fair that before I get to spend the day working my balls off to pay the bills that I do all of the things that you’ve got all day to do.  That’d be about fair, I guess.”

Suzie was studiedly ignoring him.  She pursed her lips and then puckered up as she applied her lip stick.

“Annie smells,” she said finally, refusing to be drawn as she set to work on her eyes.  “Her diaper needs changing, or she’ll get a rash.”

“Well I guess I’d better change Annie’s diaper then had I?” asked Bob.

“I guess you’d better had,” said Suzie.  “Unless, of course, you want her to get a rash.”

Bob muttered under his breath.  Sometimes he couldn’t help but wonder what his life would be like if they would all just disappear.  He bent down and picked his daughter from her bouncy chair.  She smiled at him in adoration and Bob felt guilty at his thought.  He placed her on the changing mat, stripped her, almost gagged on the smell, changed the diaper and dumped the foul smelling mess in the bin.

A commotion began at the kitchen table, just like it seemed to do every morning.  Perched in his high chair and wailing like a banshee was Bob’s eldest, Joey.  He threw his cup to the floor.  Bob picked it up and gave it back to him with a smile.  Joey threw it down again and this time the lid came off, spattering milk over Bob’s shoes and pants.  Angrily Bob dumped a bowl of cereal in front of the boy. Joey overturned it, smiling winningly and, just for a moment, Bob felt his heart melt.  He remembered how much he loved his boy and he ruffled his hair. It was full of semi coagulated food which caked up Bob’s hand.  Muttering a string of curses under his breath, he walked to the sink to rinse it off.          

“Not in front of the kids, Bob,” snapped Suzie. “It’s lucky that at least one of us thinks about what’s best for them, rather than what’s best for themselves.”

Bob thought of saying something back but he no longer could be bothered.  He had now unequivocally had enough of his family for the day and he just wanted to get the hell out of the house and get out quickly.

He ate some buttered toast on the hoof as he got his things together, including his overnight bag and a fresh suit and, having done so, he grabbed Joey from his high chair and tucked him under one arm.  Dropping Joey off at kindergarten on his way to work was a pain in the ass but what the hell could you do?

He picked up his keys and his briefcase which he tucked under his spare arm before struggling out to the car and strapping Joey into his car seat in the back.  He started the engine up but before he could pull away Suzie was standing at the side of the car.  Bob took a deep breath, wound down the window and did his damnedest to stick a smile on his face.

“So when will we see you?” she asked.

“Honey, I thought I told you.  I have an out of town meeting. Dirkze dropped it on me.  I have no choice.  I reckon it’ll be a late one.”

“So when will we see you?” she repeated.

“Well, the thing is, like I said I reckon it’ll go late.  And after that I’m gonna have to do all that glad handing and bullshit that goes with the territory.  Socialise a little.  You know how it is, the wheels of industry need a little liquor to oil ‘em.  I’ll have to play it by ear.  I’ll do my best but if it gets too late maybe I’ll stay over at a hotel afterwards. I’ll let you know.”

This was a lie, of course.  He fantasised that he would spend the evening, and hopefully the most of the night, screwing Ellie and he wondered if it could really happen tonight.

“Don’t wait up,” he called to his wife with a smile, his mood now improved by the thought.

As he pulled away, through his rear view mirror he saw Suzie just standing there.  Looking old and beat up by life.  He felt another twinge of guilt but the thought of Ellie quickly knocked that out of his head.

And then he reached the end of the drive and hung a right and Suzie was out of sight.