A Job On The Tills

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“Could Jim Dawson please report to Mister Draper’s office. Jim Dawson to Mister Draper’s office please.”
Jim heard his name being called over the loud tannoy system. Sixteen years at Thorogoods DIY and this was the first time his name had ever been called. He puffed out his chest. This was a good thing. Mister Draper was an important man. He was only one position below Mister Thorogood himself. Maybe it was promotion. He’d spent his first eleven years in the warehouse checking stuff in and out, moving stock around and of course sweeping up. He was very proud of his clean warehouse and knew every inch of it inside out.
Five years ago he’d been promoted to the shop floor. He made sure that the shelves were stacked neatly, everything had to be in it’s place and priced correctly. He even had to point people in the right direction around the store. It was a big store and people got confused, lost even. They would often ask him where a certain colour of paint would be or where they kept the hand tools. All the regulars knew him and some of them even asked for him by name.
They would come in and say “Hi Jim, where can I find a screw that will fit this hinge.” He always knew the answer. He knew where everything was kept in Thorogoods. It was important work.
Maybe because of all his hard work and loyalty he would now be promoted to the returns section or even trained on the tills!
With a wide grin on his face and hope in his heart he made his way up the stairs and along the narrow corridor to Mister Draper’s office. He knocked on the door. A loud voice boomed out from inside the office.
“Come in!”
Jim entered. A large red faced man around forty years of age with grey slicked back hair and big round spectacles was sitting at a desk in front of him.
“Ahh Jim, thanks for coming so promptly. Please take a seat.”
Jim smiled and sat down opposite Mister Draper.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you up here, eh Jim?”
“Yes Sir.”
“Well, times are a changing Jim. We’re not as popular as we used to be. What with B and Q and Wickes and all the other bastard stores that want to sell what we sell for a fraction of the bloody cost. So we need to make changes. With me so far Jim?”
Jims face hadn’t changed. He still had a smile across his face. Waiting for the words “TILLS” or “RETURNS” to come out of Mister Draper’s mouth.
“Yes Sir.”
“Good man Jim, good man. That makes it a lot easier. I knew you’d understand. So we need to make some adjustments to our staffing levels. So we’re letting you go Jim. You’ll get a redundancy payment, statutory of course, nothing more; we’re not a charity after all. Any questions Jim?”
Jim was still smiling. He hadn’t heard a thing after “letting you go.”
“Go where?”
“Sorry Jim, don’t follow?”
“You said you were letting me go, go where?”
“Well that’s up to you of course Jim. I’m sure you’ll find something. You’re only, what, fifty two?”
“Fifty three.”
“Whatever. You’ll be fine.”
The enormity of what was happening began to slowly sink in. Jim’s face changed.
“So I’m not getting a job on the tills then?”
Mister Draper looked confused and slightly angry. He shook his head.
“Of course you’re not getting a bloody job on the tills. Those jobs are for people who can count Jim and have some kind of intelligence. You’re being made REDUNDANT.”
“But I’ve been with you for sixteen years.”
“Now, now Jim, let’s not argue about that. You’ve only had continued service for the last four years.”
“But I started with the company sixteen years ago.”
“Jim, look, five years ago you wanted to take your old mum to Australia, right?”
“Yes, to visit my elder brother who had cancer.”
“You took two months off work. Is that correct?”
“Yes. But you said I could come back after my break.”
“Which was very good of us Jim. I remember you being very grateful at the time. But it does mean that you had a BREAK in your service with us. Basically, you left and then you were re-employed two months later. This means that there was a BREAK in your service. So your redundancy will only be for the last four years.”
“Oh, I didn’t realise that I’d left when I went to Australia. I thought you were just letting me have some time off to visit family. I did think it was odd though when I had to fill in all that paperwork when I came back. Besides it’s five, not four years.
“No Jim. Redundancy is only for FULL years. So since you RETURNED to us, you’ve been working for four years and eleven months, so we don’t count the eleven months. I know it’s tough Jim but there’s a recession on and we all have to do our bit. No point in worrying about a petty eleven months is there now. The LAW says we have to do everything by the book. You’ll get a week and a halves pay for every FULL year since your BREAK in service. So that’s six weeks wages.”
Mister Draper started tapping on a calculator.
“Now then, you are on two hundred and one pounds ninety two pence a week. So you’ll get one thousand two hundred and eleven pounds and fifty two pence. Not bad eh Jim?”
“Is that it?”
“I think you’re being rather ungrateful here Jim. You could take your Mum to see your brother again in Australia with the money?”
“He died three years ago and Mum’s now house bound due to her illness.”
“Whatever. You could take yourself away on a nice break somewhere.”
“But who would look after Mum?”
“That’s down to you Jim, all I’m saying is that you’ll be getting a nice cheque and you should be very grateful and do something with it. Okay, that’s it and I wish you all the best for the future.”
Mister Draper stood up and put out his hand. Jim stood up and automatically shook it. He still wasn’t sure what was happening.
“So what happens now? When do you let me go?”
“Now Jim, now. No point in hanging around. It’s Friday anyway and you’ve only got two hours before you would normally finish so we’ll let you off those couple of hours. Seems only fair. Go home Jim and everything will come through the post in a couple of days. Goodbye and good luck, please close the door on your way out.”
Mister Draper sat back down again and started looking at some paperwork. Jim stood there for a moment, then turned round to leave the office.
Then he did something. Something that took even him by surprise. He didn’t know why he did it but he seemed not to be in control of his actions. It was as if someone was working him by remote control and he had no option but to follow the instructions. He closed Mister Draper’s door and noticed that the key was in the lock on the outside. He very slowly and quietly turned the key, locking Mister Draper inside.
He walked along the corridor, down the stairs and into the warehouse. He made his way to the paint storage area. He picked up a two litre plastic bottle of white spirit and emptied its contents onto the hundreds of cans of oil based paints. He knew this section well. It was the only blind spot in the whole of the warehouse, completely out of view of the CCTV cameras. He lit a match and flicked it onto the tins then calmly walked away. He heard the explosion a few seconds later. It must have been the loud noise that jolted him back to reality. He ran to the front of the building and begun helping his colleagues escape through the thick black smoke.
The fire at Thorogoods was the largest the county had seen in over fifty years. Sixteen fire engines were needed to bring it under control. The whole building burnt to the ground. All staff were accounted for except one. A Mister Reginald Draper the General Manager. He could only be identified by dental records.
Jim Dawson became a local hero. Mister Thorogood himself paid tribute to his bravery. “If it wasn’t for the quick actions of this loyal employee the loss of life could have been far greater.”
When Thorogoods re-opened nine months later, Mister Thorogood promoted Jim. He was now on the tills.
He didn’t know why, but he had a strange feeling that it was best to give Jim Dawson exactly what he wanted.

His Name Is Ronny Wells.

8093526059_3848ca7c91_zRonny Wells sat alone at the end of the bar. Not by choice, he’d have loved to have company, but he was the kind of man who didn’t make friends easily. Apart from the barman he was sure that no one else on this shitty planet even knew his name.
He took a sip of his cheap scotch and smiled. He remembered something that a Sunday school teacher had once told him. “Write your name in the back of your clothes and God will always remember you.” From that day on he did just that. Every piece of clothing he owned had RONNY WELLS written somewhere inside. It was on the labels on all his shirts, trousers and pants. Even his socks had RW written on the heels. He knew it was a complete load of bollocks but it had become a habit hard to break.
The pub was empty, well, apart from two low life’s sitting in the corner, buying only lemonade and coke. A bottle of cheap scotch hidden in a Tesco bag under the table that they’d nicked from the off licence across the road. Terry, the barman knew what they were up to but turned a blind eye for a while. It was freezing outside and he knew they had nowhere to go. Eventually they became blatant and he told them to piss off. They didn’t argue, they’d had warmth and shelter for two precious hours. Ronny held up his glass.
“Another large scotch please Tel.”
The barman nodded.
“Coming up Ronny.”
At least the barmen knew his name, unlike the almighty who had decided to have an away day for about twenty fucking years.
“Four sixty.”
He handed the barmen a crumpled five pound note. It was his last.
“Keep the change.”
The barman looked confused.
“You sure Ron?”
Ronny shrugged his shoulders.
“Yeh fuck it, why not.”
Tonight was the night. No more pissing about. No more pretend. There was just nothing to look forward to. So tonight he would end what had become a miserable existence.
Why wait any longer? He was thirty six. No family on this god forsaken earth. His parents died when he was nine. Then a children’s home, then foster parents who didn’t give a shit and were only interested in how much money they got from the social. Then two years in a special unit for “wayward boys”. Fucking joke that was. Then came prison.
Prison was a great escape. Three years in the scrubs were the best years of his life. He could hear other guys crying at night, what the fuck? It was the best time he’d ever had. Three good meals a day, clean clothes, a bed to sleep in, what more could you ask for.
He was lost when they let him out. Fucking lost. Big wide world, yet nobody to say hello to. That was fourteen years ago. He’d done a bit of work here and there. Some legit, some not. Didn’t matter he survived.
But sitting there at the bar, he suddenly realised it was all a waste of time. So fuck it. Tonight was the night.
He sipped his scotch slowly. It was eight o’clock and the television in the bar was playing the theme tune to EastEnders. He smiled to himself. That would be the last music he ever heard. How fucking appropriate.
To get back to his squat he had to walk along the Thames and cross the old iron bridge.
He’d throw himself off. The tide and the cold would kill him in minutes. No problem. Job done. He would go to see his maker. Whoever the fuck that was.
“Night Tel.”
The barmen nodded.
“Night Ronny, you take care now.”
He walked out of the pub and along the old derelict pathway that led to the iron bridge. It was minus six and he shivered with the cold. What the fuck did it matter anyway. He’d be dead in a few minutes.
When he reached the bridge, he stopped and took a long look at the Thames. It was choppy and wild. It looked like it would swallow anyone up that challenged it. Fabulous. Why not. Life has fucked him and now he’d fuck life.
He climbed onto the steel railings and took a big gulp of freezing cold air.
“Ronny Wells?”
A voice came out of nowhere. He couldn’t see anyone in the darkness. It spoke again. Only this time much, much louder.
“Ronny Wells?”
“Yeh? Who the fuck are you. How do you know my name?”
There was an eerie silence and for a few seconds everything seemed to stop moving. Even the Thames.
“Because it’s written in the back of your clothes.”

THAT Feeling!

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You know that feeling? That feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach, that cold tingling feeling that makes you shiver even when it’s a boiling hot day? A feeling that you can’t quite explain but your whole body is suddenly filled with dread and you just know that something bad is about to happen?
That’s the feeling I had when mum told me dad was coming home.
I tried to smile but nothing happened. The corners of my mouth just wouldn’t move. I stood there taking in the words, with that feeling running through me.
“Come on love. It’ll be like it used to be. Remember?”
I remembered well. Even though I was only eight years old when he left.
“Remember when we all went to the seaside and he bought you that big ice cream?”
I did. I also remembered me and mum sitting on the beach while he went off to the pub and came back four hours later unable to stand up straight. I also remembered me and mum being terrified when he drove us all the way back to London.
“He’ll be here sometime this morning so we’d better get a move on. We want to look our best for when he arrives. Don’t we!”
The way she said those last two words. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement, tinged with fear. She was smiling but inside I was sure she also had that feeling.
He’d been gone for six years.
“Come on love. Do it for me. Go upstairs and tidy up your room. I’ll do down here. Please?”
Now her words sounded like begging. She should have ended the sentence with “You know what he’s like.”
Because I did remember what he was like. He was a bully. A so called hard man. When the Police dragged him from the house it took five of them to get him into the van. He got ten years for armed robbery. Now after only six, he’s coming home.
That feeling was still with me but at last my lips could move.
“Is Sharon coming over to see him?”
I already knew the answer but wanted to see her reaction. I knew I was being cruel but…
“No love. Not today. Sharon might need a bit of time. You know, to get used to the idea of dad being back.”
Sharon was my sister and four years older than me. She hated dad. Even more than me. He used to insist on “tucking her in at night”. Said it was a job that only he could do.
I remember him coming out of her room one night screaming “That silly bitch has only gone and fucking bit me.”
Sharon doesn’t live with us anymore. She moved in with one of her mates last year. Couldn’t wait to get away from what she called “bad memories”. She left on her eighteenth birthday. Funny, her panic attacks stopped the very same day.
I never went to see him in prison. I would always be ill when visiting day came around. Sharon couldn’t go either as it was always a day when she had an important exam.
“Go on, hurry up. Put on those nice black trousers and a white shirt. No trainers. Put some shoes on for a change. I’m going to make us a nice trifle.”
Mum only made trifle on special occasions, like when it was one of our birthdays. I remember it being dads favourite. Not that he ever said thank you. She made it every Sunday when he was at home. One Sunday she made apple pie instead. Thought it would make a nice change. I remember the plate smashing against the wall missing her face by inches. The look of fear in her eyes when he stood up and put his face close up to hers and called her the “C” word. We never saw him for three days after that.
“Will you hurry up! You’ve been standing there for ages. I’ll tell you what. You can wear your jeans and those new trainers. Happy now?”
Those new trainers were from the market stall in Crisp Street. They were a cheap imitation of Adidas. They cost six pounds. He left us with nothing. Mum had two jobs during the day and worked in the Dalston Arms at weekends. I read the newspaper reports after he went inside. They said he’d gotten away with over seventy thousand pounds. We never saw a penny of it.
“Jesus. Did you hear that? That was a knock at the door. Oh my god we’re not ready. Not by a long shot. It’s all your fault for just standing there gawping. How do I look? Do I look okay?
And back it came. That feeling.

EVEN STEPHEN

8.-Arithmophobia-Fear-of-Numbers.gifHe was awake but kept his eyes closed.
He began counting numbers in his head. Waiting for the right time to start his day. He stopped when he got to one hundred and twenty eight and opened his eyes. He turned his head and looked at the clock on the bedside table.
05.57. He didn’t like that number. It was an “odd” number. He didn’t do “odd” numbers, they made him angry. He closed his eyes quickly so the odd numbers wouldn’t affect his day. He started counting again from one to sixty four. He did this four times confident that this would make the odd numbers go away. He smiled when he opened his eyes for the second time. The clock was showing 06.00.
Better, much better. 06.00 was a good number, an “even” number. But not a safe number. 06.04 was a safe number. It contained the magical numbers six and four. Sixty four was his most favourite and safest of all the “even” numbers. It could be halved into “even” numbers right the way down to number one and as everyone knows number one doesn’t really exist as it’s a “starting” number. Number two is where everything begins.
For the next four minutes he stared at the clock forcing himself to look at 06.01 and 06.03. During those painful seconds he could feel his temperature rise and his pulse quicken. He wanted to smash the clock with his fist and shout the most obscene words out loud, but then along came 06.02 and the anger left him. It wasn’t as bad at 06.03 because he knew he was close to his beloved 06.04.
And then it happened. He grinned. His day could start. It was 06.04.
There was no way he could describe the joy he felt when his magical number appeared, it was as if a pair of invisible arms were holding him tight making him warm and safe.
He pulled back the covers and dragged his skinny body out of bed. He took eight carefully paced steps and entered the bathroom. He pulled the light cord eight times so that there were four shorts bursts of light and four times when the small room was plunged back into darkness. He took four tiny steps and stood next to the toilet. He urinated while he slowly counted to sixteen. He pulled the chain and then waited for the cistern to refill. He pulled it again. Two was an acceptable even number.
He walked back to the bedroom counting out his steps as he did so. He took a handkerchief from his bedside cabinet and draped it over the clock. He didn’t want to see the numbers for the rest of the day. Certain numbers frightened him. Seven and eleven were the worst. He NEVER wanted to see those numbers again.
Last year he’d had one of his “episodes”. The neighbours called the Police at 07.11 after they’d heard him screaming. His doctor thought it best if he went away for a while. The people in the hospital were nice enough but they just didn’t understand about the numbers. He was there for four weeks. He could have come home after three, but that would have been wrong and would never have worked. Too many “odds”. Three weeks was twenty one days, he couldn’t have that, no way. So he stayed for another week. That was good. Two sets of evens. Four weeks equalled twenty eight days. He remembered the doctor saying that he had something called Arithmophobia. Since then a lady called Clare came to see him every day and he knew he was making progress.
He liked Clare. It was her idea to get rid of the clocks in the flat and cover up the one in the bedroom after 06.04. Who needed a clock anyway? He ate when he was hungry and slept when he was tired. He didn’t have a television or radio so no one could surprise him by telling him the time and making him upset. That was another one of Clare’s ideas. Clare seemed to understand about the numbers.
He didn’t go out anymore. Not since the “episode” with the number seven bus. It wasn’t his fault. It should never have been on that road. Only numbers twenty eight and sixty two use that route. But there were roadwork’s up by the Post Office and the number seven was diverted. He saw it coming towards him and just froze. A nice man came and took him back home.
So now Clare comes in every day and brings him everything he needs.
He felt sad about Clare. She’d be coming soon and he knew he couldn’t let her in. Not anymore.
When she first started visiting he asked her how old she was. She said she was forty six. That was good, almost perfect. But last week she’d let slip that it was her birthday soon. He’d asked her which day and she said Tuesday. Today in fact. So she’d be forty seven. There was no way he could let the number forty seven into his home. The doctors would just have to get someone else.
He wondered if Clare might consider coming back in a year’s time.