Wednesday 29 April 2020

Episode 7 Jess

by Janet Howson 

strong tea

Jess was sitting in utter chaos. She looked round the kitchen-diner, tapping her fingers nervously on the table where a cold cup of overly strong tea was getting cold. There were patches of wall where the plaster had been removed, assorted tins of paint and brushes in jars stacked in corners, rolls of wallpaper waiting to be hung, bare roses hanging from the ceiling waiting for shades. It was miserable and she was so fed up with it.

She was very young when she met Michael at her drama group. He was helping to construct scenery and she was in her first play. It was “The Owl and the Pussycat”. She remembered it as if it was yesterday. They were both very young, she was eighteen, Michael was twenty one. They rushed into an early marriage against the advice of her concerned parents. They never liked him. It was great at first, they bought the flat but it was very run down but he promised to do it up, “Make it into a mansion fit for a queen.” She believed him. The truth however was that he seemed incapable of finishing a job. When he wasn’t out drinking he was pouring over his lap top or mobile phone, placing bets. On top of everything he was now out of a job. She worked with Patrick and Jason from the drama group. It was mainly answering the phone, taking orders and sending off invoices. Not terribly interesting but at least it brought money in and it got her out of this depressing atmosphere. They were relying on Jess’s savings. She had come into a small inheritance when her gran died. Most of it had been used for the deposit on the flat but there was still some left.

She sighed. She couldn’t even start any of the decorating. She had fallen off a ladder about three months ago which resulted in her needing an operation to freeze a couple of vertebrae. She had been told not to go up any ladders at the moment.

Perhaps she could go through her lines for the next play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. She had two small parts. She was in hospital during the casting so the director had given her the ‘left overs’, Snug and a fairy. She was quite happy with that, as long as she was involved.

The phone rang, shaking her out of her thoughts. She got up and answered it. It was unusual to receive a land line call. “Yes, Jess here.”
“Could I speak to Michael Prentice please?”

“He’s out at the moment, Could I help you?”
“Just tell him Corals, the bookies phoned. He needs to get back to us urgently. He  ain't answering his mobile.”

“Oh… okay.” The phone was put down at the other end.

Jess could imagine what that was all about. Another reason they never had any money. Michael bet regularly and had an account with Corals. She tried to ring him. He wasn’t picking up.

She suddenly felt very panicky. Where would they end up if they got evicted from the flat for not being able to pay the mortgage? She felt sick at the thought. Her parents would not have Michael and his parents were no longer alive and he had no other family as far as she knew. He was an only child. I will ring Patrick, I need to talk to someone. First of all though I must take some pain killers for my back.

She opened a drawer and took out a cardboard packet. Pushing two tablets out of the foil she got a glass of water and swallowed them. Only two, that would be okay. The words of the consultant rang in her head. “The good news is the operation was a success but the bad news is I feel you are hopelessly addicted to painkillers”.

He had given her a limited supply of the drug and specific instructions as to how many to take a day and when.

She found her mobile phone and rang Patrick, he picked up straight away, “Hi, what can I do for my favourite girl?”

“Patrick I really need to talk to you. Any chance you can come round? Michael is out so we will be on our own. Don’t worry if you are busy.”

“I am never too busy for you. I was just going over my lines. I didn’t realise how much there was to learn for Lysander. I think I’ve knocked it on the head though. Be with you in fifteen.”

Thank goodness for that . Patrick always made her feel better. He was a joker, the class clown. Everybody loved Patrick. She looked at herself in the cracked mirror in the hallway. She looked tired and tearful. She would splash some water on her face, in the hope that it would wake her up a bit. She looked at the calendar pinned beside the mirror. Perhaps her period was due and that was why she felt so tired. She counted up the weeks since her last period. Oh no, this couldn’t be happening. She had been so taken up with everything happening in her life she hadn’t realised she had missed one altogether. It had been eight weeks. She was never late. How would they possibly cope with a baby when they had no money and the flat was in such a mess. What would Michael say? She sat down and put her head in her hands. She had always wanted children but his was the wrong time. It could be a false alarm. She'd better get a pregnancy testing kit.

As soon as she thought it she got up, found her coat and purse and changed into her shoes. There was a chemist just round the corner. She would have enough time before Patrick arrived. She could talk to him about it. He would know what to do.

It didn’t take her long. The pharmacist had changed recently so she was glad he didn’t know her. She didn’t want all the neighbours gossiping.

As she approached the flat she could see Patrick’s red car pulling into the car park. She always felt so much better when she had talked her problems out with Patrick. They had gone to the same school together, joined the same drama group together and now worked together. He was her best friend. He saw her and waited until she reached the door to the flats.

“Here she is, the love of my life, the beautiful and talented Miss Jess Prentice.” He pretended to blow a trumpet.

“Oh, shut up, Patrick. You are such and embarrassment.” She gave him a hug. “It’s lovely to see you. Come on, let’s put the kettle on.”

They climbed the stairs to the second floor and Jess let them both in. She wanted to do the test. She had to find out one way or the other.

“Patrick, I just need to use the toilet. Can you do the honours with the tea? You know where everything is.”

“I am always your obedient servant. Got any biscuits?”

“They're in the cupboard next to the cooker. I won’t be long.”

 She left him crashing about in the kitchen while she disappeared into the tiny toilet. In her heart of hearts she knew what the answer was going to be. She opened the packaging and performed the task, then waited the required length of time. The blue line indicated it was positive. She froze feeling sick. She was going to have a baby. Part of her felt thrilled but the sensible part of her knew that it was bad timing, with the state of their finances, the flat, Michael out of a job, the fragility of their marriage.

No, she couldn’t have it. It wouldn’t be right to bring a child into the world she was in at the moment. She felt tears welling and quickly got a piece of toilet paper to blot her eyes.

“You all right in there, Jess?” It was Patrick, she had forgotten about him.

“I’m fine, I’ll be out in a minute.” She blew her nose, put the test back in the paper bag it came in and opened the door. Patrick was standing at the door of the kitchen looking worried.

“I was about to send a search party out for you,” he joked. “Tea is poured, strong, one sugar.”

“Thank you Patrick, you are a star, I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She took the tea and sat at the table, Patrick sat next to her.

“Okay, so what’s wrong? I’ve known you long enough to know when something’s up. Spill the beans to Uncle Patrick.”

That was all it needed a few kind words and she burst into tears. Patrick left his seat and knelt in front of her taking her into his arms he rocked her back and forth until she was able to speak.

“I’m pregnant and I know we can’t afford a baby and Michael is in debt with Corals. He'll go berserk and it was probably my fault and he is out of a job and I don’t know what to do and…”

“Okay, okay nothing is as bad as it first seems. You have still got your job and you could bring the baby to work with you and anyway Michael might be thrilled he’s having a baby. I will help you in any way you want and I am sure your family will be there for you.”

“Michael won’t be thrilled, I know him,” she paused to wipe her face with a tissue, “and we haven’t been getting along very well recently. He' s never here and his betting and drinking have got worse. I've been taking too many pain killers for my back and feel like a zombie most of the time. Everything is such a mess, Patrick. My mum and dad have never liked Michael, I know they want me to leave him but how can I if I am having his baby?”

Patrick took her hands in his. “Now listen to me. You are a strong lady, you will get through this. The first thing to do is tell Michael and then we will go from there. Now drink your tea, try to calm down and then ring him.”

Jess looked into his kind eyes and felt comforted. He would never let her down like Michael did all the time. She didn’t even know what he was doing today. He would just set off every morning without a word to her and appear again later expecting his dinner, hardly talking to her. She didn’t like to ask where he had been or who he was with as she feared the answer. She had suspected he was seeing another woman for a long time. She needed another pain killer. They blotted out painful thoughts and made her feel drowsy.

“I’ll get my phone. I think it’s in the bathroom.” She got up and made her way to the bathroom where the tablets were in a cupboard. She took two out of the box and swallowed them down with the tap water and as she did so she was suddenly gripped with guilt. What about the baby? Could the tablets be harming it? Did that thought mean she wanted the baby? She knew in her heart of hearts she did.
She returned to Patrick with her phone. “I don’t expect he will pick up my call,” she punched in his number and let it ring, “It’s gone straight on to message, I’ll wait until he comes home tonight.

 “Okay, how are you feeling now?”

“I think I have realised I do want the baby, even if it means being a single parent. Will you stay with me until Michael comes home? I' m a bit frightened of how he will react. He likes you and anyway he wouldn’t hit me in front of you, would he?” She felt tearful again as she thought of the times their arguments had ended with Michael slapping her, then being mortified and her forgiving him yet again.

"Of course I will, as long as you promise to test me on my lines for tonight’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” dress rehearsal? It will keep your mind off things as well. I’ve got my script with me." He bent down and pulled out the well-worn script from his back pack. “Let’s start where Lysander enters with Egeus, Hermia and Demitrius. If you take all the other parts and I will say mine.”

They sat together, until they finished the play. Jess then went through her lines but there were so few, that didn’t take long and she was word perfect. It had got dark and they had got through a lot of tea and biscuits. Michael had still not appeared.

“Oh no, Look at the time! The dress rehearsal will have started. You go, Patrick. Tell Shirley I’m not going to make it. I am in no state to act and I don’t know when Michael will come home.”

“I’m not leaving you to face him alone. I’ll text, Shirley. It can’t be helped. I am sure she's been directing long enough to have experienced two of the cast unable to attend a dress rehearsal. Shall I call out for a take-away? I’m starting to get peckish.”

“I’ll do it, I’ve got the numbers on my contacts list. Do you want Indian, Chinese or fish and chips?”

“Fish and chips every time, you know me. We won’t have to order them. I’ll put my coat on and nip out for them. Your usual?” Patrick pulled his coat on.

“I’m not very hungry, Patrick. I’ll just have some of your chips.”

“Okay. See you in a tick.”

Jess listened to Patrick’s steps going down the stairs. She would try Michael’s phone once more. As she was doing this there was the sound of a key in the door. She knew it was him. Patrick didn’t have a key to her flat. He came into the kitchen, slightly wobbly on his feet as he often was if he had been drinking all day. Jess stood up, her stomach clenched. He had his arm round a young girl. She could only have been about eighteen.

“Meet, Natalie,” he slurred, “Natalie this is my wife, Jess. Nat and I have been seeing each other for a long time and the thing is we want to be together. We love each other.” He hugged the girl closer to him. She appeared embarrassed and completely out of her depth.

Jess was speechless. How dare he do this to her after everything she had put up with. Whilst she had been working, coping with her injury and keeping the flat going and cooking his meals, he had been with this child. She was suddenly really angry. “Get out, both of you and don’t come back.”

“You can’t chuck me out of my own home,” Michael started to approach, Jess but was too drunk to grab her. Natalie pulled him back.

“Come on, Michael, let’s go. I don’t want to stay here anyway. We’ll go back to my place.” She managed to get Michael out of the door. Natalie waited for their retreating footsteps. Shocked she sat down to catch her breath. She felt drained .

When Patrick arrived back with his fish and chips he found Jess calmly sitting at the kitchen table staring at the wall.

“Are you all right girl? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost?

“I have in a way. I’ve seen the ghost of the past and it’s time for a fresh start. I know what I want now. I’m going to have the baby. I know it’s going to be hard but with the help of my family and good friends, I will manage it.” She looked at the clock. “I am so sorry, Patrick, you’ve missed the rehearsal.”

No problem,” Patrick pulled off his coat and sat down to start his chips. “You are worth it.” He placed his hand over Jess’s and smiled at her. Suddenly she knew everything was going to be all right.

Links to previous episodes:

About the Author
Janet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity  a Bridge House publication. Her first published book Charitable Thoughts is now out at last and available on Amazon Books.

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