“I know I shouldn’t say it but I wish she would just die,” his mum said, her slice of pizza still half eaten on her plate. “She has been lying in her bed, near comatose now, for nearly seven days. She’s riddled with cancer, she’s in her late sixties and yet she doesn’t die. We go into her every day and change her syringe driver and such. Her family all sit around her bed, they turn her and they give her drinks of water. Everyone is just waiting for her to die and she’s hanging on in there. It’s no life and yet she still wants to hang onto it. I don’t know.”
His mum then picked up her slice of pizza and bit into it.
The three of them were sat around the kitchen’s small, square table. His mum had been an hour late getting home from work, but that had been getting more and more frequent when she worked weekends. She always complained that they just couldn’t get the agency nurses at the weekend, the budget was restricted and so many agency nurses didn’t want to work the weekends anyway. Her workload always increased at the weekend. She would also drive Niki’s car to work and back on her own, so when she eventually arrived home she was bubbling over with stories about her work, stories that she seemed to need to tell and unload from her system. Quickly Simon had realised that this unloading after work, this letting out all her feelings and stories after a day at work, was what his mum did when Niki drove her home on weekday evenings. But when she worked at the weekend, and drove home by herself, there was nobody to unload onto until she got home.
Part of Simon felt awkward and strange when his mum told these stories. They seemed so intimate and so personal to her. They were always about the difficulties she was experiencing at work, the troubles her patients were going through, and how this stressed her. But part of him also enjoyed hearing them. They were his way into his mum’s professional life and they always sounded fascinating.
“Maybe she will pass on in the next day or so,” Niki said.
“I hope so,” his mum replied. “Each day I watch her family falling apart even more. They just can’t cope. It is so sad.” His mum then bit into her pizza slice.
Tonight, their dinner was takeaway pizza. Niki said it was a special treat because his mum was having such a stressful time at work, as one of her colleagues was now on long-term sickness. Simon didn’t complain, he loved pizza. And Niki always ordered it from the same takeaway, and they always came with plenty of cheese and toppings on them, and a crusty base. They didn’t have takeaways very often as his mum always said they were far too expensive. So when they did, they were always special to him. Tonight he’d been pleased when Niki had suggested a takeaway. The idea of having something special to eat helped lift his mood.
His dad had repeatedly called and texted him as he’d taken the bus from the retail park. His calls and texts got so frequent that Simon would dread every time his phone made a noise, even when it was just beeped to tell him he had a Facebook update or one of the websites he followed had a new notification.
When he’d got off his bus, he’d finally sent his dad a text as he couldn’t face speaking to him. The text had read:
“I’m going home. I want to be on my own.”
His dad had gone silent after that, for a while. There had been no texts or calls while he waiting for the second bus, though that had taken nearly half an hour to arrive. It was when he was sat on that bus that the texts had restarted. The first one had read:
“I am very worried about you and this homosexuality. God doesn’t want you to be homosexual. I’ll make a meeting for us with Pastor Preston and he can cast the demons out of you. What days are you free, tomorrow?”
Simon had stared at the text for a long moment. It had left him feeling both angry and betrayed. It wasn’t just that his dad was being homophobic and denying Simon’s sexuality, his dad now wanted him to turn straight. He was treating him as if there was something wrong with him and he had to be fixed.
The texts had continued to bounce onto his phone during the rest of his bus journey home. They were always on the same subject, how Simon had to change to straight or risk going to hell. Some of the texts were quotes from the bible. Some of them were quotes from articles, with links to the article itself. And some were his dad stating his beliefs, which included his belief that Simon would become a Christian too. He quickly stopped reading the texts, as they made him feel so sad and depressed. But each time his phone beeped with an incoming text Simon still felt his body twitch with dread.
When he had arrived home he'd found the house empty and quiet. His mum was at work that weekend, and Niki had obviously gone out for the afternoon. Simon was glad to find the house empty, as he didn’t have to explain himself and face questions about how his day had been and why his dad hadn’t brought him back. He’d gone up to his room, undressed, and taken a hot shower. The hot water had washed the tension from his body, and it had also helped ease some of the feeling of disgust and shame he felt over his stupid behaviour. Once he’d finished, he'd returned to his bedroom and got dressed in a clean tee-shirt and a pair of jogging bottoms. He then lay down on his bed, ignoring three more texts from his dad, and started to read his latest eBook on his phone.
He found it difficult to concentrate on the eBook he was reading as his mind kept wandering back over the events of the afternoon, Over and over he kept replaying what had happened, thinking about what he should have said, how he shouldn’t have snapped at his dad, how he should have kept his cool and not lost his temper, and how he shouldn’t have come out to his dad by just blurting it out in a burger restaurant. But his mind kept returning to the fact that he’s screwed it all up, and that he didn’t know what to do next.
When Niki returned home, about an hour before his mum was due home, Simon had gone downstairs to greet her. As he left his bedroom, he had told himself that he couldn’t tell her what had happened. She would only worry and he couldn’t do that to her. And he didn't want to admit how stupid he had been.
He’d stopped at the bottom of the stairs as Niki was hanging up her coat in the hallway.
“Had a nice day?” he asked.
“I met Tommy and his new boyfriend up in town for a coffee. I love Tommy but God he has a terrible taste in boyfriends. This one was so self-absorbed I could have slapped him. All he could talk about was himself, which soon got so boring. I didn’t slap him though. Tommy is too good a friend. Did your dad drop you back here?”
“Yeah, about two hours ago,” Simon said, which was about the time he eventually made it back home.
“Well, not too long a day,” said Niki.
As she chatted on and he joined her in the sitting room to watch television, he told himself he’d made the right decision not to tell her what had happened. He didn’t want to stress her when she seemed so relaxed today.
Swallowing his last mouthful of pizza, Simon eyed up the remaining uneaten pieces in the centre of the table. He’d already had two pieces and neither his mum or Niki had finished their second piece yet. He told himself to wait, not to seem greedy yet again.
“How was your day with your dad?” his mum asked him, before biting into her pizza.
“He took me to see a film,” Simon replied.
“That sounds nice,” his mum said.
“It was a Christian film,” Simon told her.
“That doesn’t sound nice,” Niki said. “Which one was it?”
“Something called God’s Not Dead.”
“I read a review of it. The review basically said it was shit,” Niki replied.
“It was shit,” Simon said.
“Simon, don’t be like that,” his mum said. “Your dad’s faith means a lot to him.”
“And it’s turned him into a real dick,” Niki replied.
“I know, but that real dick is still Simon’s dad and we’ve got to keep the peace for Simon’s sake,” his mum said. “If I could I’d never see him again.”
“And the film was shit,” Simon protested.
“Your dad never had great taste even before he became a Christian, and Christian films are usually really bad,” his mum said. “At least you didn’t have to watch the Cross and the Switchblade. I saw that at school and it was really, really bad.”
“I always thank God for my heathen atheist parents, every time. They spared me from such ordeals growing up,” Niki said.
“Can I have another piece of pizza?” Simon asked.
“Sure. I think you’ve suffered enough having to see God’s Not Dead to earn it,” Niki said.
As he reached for the slice of pizza he told himself he was right to have kept quiet about what had happened that afternoon. The news would only have upset and worried his mum and Niki, and the two women seemed so relaxed tonight, even after his mum had had another stressful day at work. It was right not to worry them, he told himself. He just had to work out what to do about his dad’s texts.
A big thank you to @Marty, who has done a wonderful job editing this story. Please check out his profile and his stories here.