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Jim Paused

Jim paused and looked up as Margery walked out of the office. 'Go home sometime!' she called at him. She worked hard enough herself, but Jim was in a class of his own. I'll be off in a minute, he thought. Just doing this bit of email.

The security system clicked in and the lights dimmed. Damn, he thought. I'll be in trouble. He grabbed his bag and left the computer chugging away. It'll be done by morning.

'Sorry, love. Urgent work again,' he mumbled as he hurried in, kissing his wife, who look more concerned than cross. 'Is there any dinner left?'

Jennifer was already in bed, of course. He crept up and felt that wonderful glow as he looked down at the innocent sleeping there, all curls and cutsie. It was all for her, really. I'll try and get some time this weekend.

They sat down together to watch the late film, Jim on the floor leaning back into Laura's smooth legs that flowed down from her tired body. She did look tired. We're both tired, I guess. During the adverts, he skipped out to check voicemail.

*

The next day he was in early, as usual. Brian's car was there, too. Strange. His manager usually came in around eight.

'Jim. Uh.' Brian looked oddly at him. 'I knew I'd catch you now. Could we talk?'

He knew. It didn't take a genius. Things had been tough recently, and even though he'd upped his already full workload, he'd guessed it would only be a matter of time. Grateful for many years of dedication. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Even though he was ready for it, he wasn't. He thanked Brian. Said he understood how difficult it was for him. Walked out with a frozen smile. Not kidding anyone, really. But the alternative was worse. He met Margery going the other way in the car park. She took one look and her mouth fell open. Obvious, I suppose. 'Not now, Margery,' he said, as he hurried to his car.

The house was empty. He made a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table, not drinking it. He went into the study and looked stupidly at the piles of papers. He went upstairs and sat on the bed. He went outside and sat in the garden. It didn't change anything. Staring into nothing, the hopeful future gone. Poof. Just like that.

*

After ages, Laura came back. He'd been dreading it, but there was no way he'd be one of those sad fools who pretended and still went out in the morning. She was, predictably, both shocked and determinedly supportive. What a woman. He didn't deserve her. We'll get by, she said. I'm earning enough to pay the basic bills.

But that's not right. I'm the provider. It's what I do. I work hard and get paid well. There'll even be a good pension if I can stay the course. Or not. He noticed his own breathing. Long, deliberate and slow. You'll be alright. You'll get another job. Maybe not as good. But something. Anything. And hey, you'll get the time this weekend after all.

Laura went out to get Jennifer from school. When they came back, he was still sitting on the sofa in the gathering gloom. Jennifer came over to him, climbed up and stood on his lap, looking seriously into his face with those deep blue eyes. Without a word she put her arms around his neck and hugged him. He held her tightly. As they sat there, clinging, he felt the ice inside begin to melt.

 

***

 

~by David Straker~

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