This chapter is set on the same day as the previous one, Monday (Lunchtime), but several hours later.
This is the longest chapter in the story, as you read it you’ll understand there is a lot happening here, so I have split it into two parts. The second part will directly follow on from where this chapter ends.
He’d taken his usual seat on the bus home, upstairs and just back from the front. He didn’t like sitting in the very front seat on the top deck, as that was where little kids sat and pretended to drive the bus, and he was beyond that. Again, he stared out of the window as the bus pulled away from the stop. All week, so far, he’d had little interest in reading or listening to whatever he had downloaded onto his phone. He just spent his journeys, to and from college, staring out of the bus window and letting his mind wander. Though it never seemed to wander far.
He hadn’t been able to get the first bus home after the end of college. He’d walked out and found the bus stop surrounded by a crowd of noisy lads and girls all jostling for attention and status; the same crowd of straight lads and girls from lunchtime. He’d felt panic snatch at his chest, cold and hard. It was too risky to join that crowd. Dangerous in so many ways. So he had held back, sat on one of the benches outside the college’s main door, and waited for the crowd to disappear.
The bus took so long to arrive. Simon had sat there nervously watching the crowd milling around the bus stop. If they had seen him, if they had reacted to him, he would have dashed back into the college. But they had just ignored him. They had seemed too busy paying attention to each other. When the bus had arrived, late, that crowd of lads and girls had simply hurried onto it without even a backwards glance.
The next bus, Simon’s bus, had turned up barely two minutes later, and he had boarded it alone.
The bus slowed down and then came to a quiet stop. But there was no sound of the doors opening. Simon glanced ahead, out the front, and saw that the bus was stuck in traffic. They were caught in road works on the High Street. He settled back down again, staring out of the window next to him. He would get home eventually, and he didn’t have to hurry home anyway.
He wanted to erase today from his memory, but, almost against his will, the events of lunchtime kept replaying in his mind. He just couldn’t stop thinking about them.
Watching those bullies attacking Freddie had scared him. It had felt like he’d been watching his own fate, at one step removed, and it had left a bitter taste in his mouth. Of course, they wouldn't just pick on him because of his sexuality, if they found that out. They would also single him out over his home life, if they knew that too. He had so much to keep quiet about, and all by himself.
He stared out the window again, only to be greeted by the sight of the first floor of Kent’s Dry Cleaners, which was the same thing he'd seen when he last looked. The bus was still stopped in the traffic. It hadn’t moved a millimetre. 'Is it just the road works causing this?' Simon wondered. But it wasn’t as if he needed to rush home. His mum and Niki wouldn't get home from work until six or later. He always returned home to an empty house, it was just the way it was. But sitting there, on an unmoving bus, was more boring than anything else.
The few times anyone had asked him at college, Simon had said that he lived with his mum, and that his parents were separated. That was the truth. But it was a simplified version of the truth.
Two years ago his mum had left his dad, but Simon didn’t tell people that she left his dad for Niki, her female lover.
Until he was ten his life had been a dull, suburban life. He lived in a square, semi-detached house, on an estate of identical square semi-detached houses, with his mum and dad. The houses on the estate were so alike that the only way to tell them apart was by the different front gardens and cars parked outside them. The estate was made up of twisting streets and sudden cul-de-sacs. It was a nearly a ten minute walk to the nearest bus stop. But Simon had been happy there. He had his own bedroom and his mum was always there before he left home for school and when he got back from school in the afternoon. And there was no church on Sundays, just cartoons on the TV.
Then, only a month after his eighth birthday, his dad had come home from work on a Friday evening, dumped his satchel bag on the kitchen work surface, and announced to Simon and his mum:
“I got bloody sacked today!”
“What?” his mother asked, as she stopped chopping the vegetables for their evening meal. Simon was sat at the wooden table, half-heartedly doing his homework, but he’d stopped as soon as his dad walked into the kitchen.
“Hector Isaacs, the Executive Manager for Marketing and Sales, marches into our office at four o’clock today and tells us our office is being closed down!” his dad said, his voice filled with anger. “They are ‘rationalising’ the sales department and we’re closing. We make the most money but we’re the one closing, and Swansea is staying open. Their office is far cheaper to run even though they made less than half what we did last year. So those Welsh sheep-shaggers get all my contacts and hard work and I get made redundant. It’s so… so unfair!” His dad punched the work surface in front of him, making the storage jars on the shelve above it rattle for a moment.
“God Matthew, what’s going to happen?” his mum asked, ignoring the pile of vegetables she had been chopping.
His dad sat down at one of the chairs in front of the work surface.
“They gave us a choice. Work our month’s redundancy period and then wrap up the office, or we could leave now with our redundancy pay. I took leave now. I couldn’t stay there as they picked over the dead bones of my job. Lee Abbott is working out his redundancy notice, but he’s brown-nosing to move to the Swansea office. ‘Yes Mr Isaacs, I’ve got no family commitments and can move to the arse-end of nowhere.’” His dad’s last sentence had been delivered in a mock, high-pitched voice.
His dad was using phrases that Simon didn’t understand, like sheep-shagger and brown-nosing, but he’d learnt ages ago that there was the right time and the wrong time to ask questions, and this was very much the wrong time. So he’d kept quiet.
“What are we going to do?” his mum asked.
“You’re going to have to save money and I’m going to have to get another job, and fast,” his dad replied.
His dad had job searched every day, even at weekends, mostly sat at his laptop and applying for jobs online and sending off his CV, which he seemed to be re-writing almost every day. But none of it led anywhere, he just couldn’t find a new job. His dad kept blaming the economy, saying there were so few jobs out there that he was qualified for, and Simon’s mum had agreed with him. In the end it was his mum who had got a job first. She’d joined a nursing agency and gone back to being a nurse in the hospital.
Suddenly it was his dad who would be there when he returned from school. But his dad never seemed happy to see him. He didn’t seem happy at all, just sad or angry, and all the time. Simon quickly learnt to avoid him, and certainly not to upset him.
Even with his mum working, things quickly became difficult. The first thing to go was his dad’s car, which had disappeared two weeks after he had lost his job. Simon had come home from school one day and the car wasn’t parked outside the house. He’d assumed his dad was out of the house, gone to his first job interview. When he’d let himself into the house, unlocking the back door and walking into the kitchen as he always did, he’d found his dad sat at one of the kitchen’s work surface, surfing away on his laptop.
“Where’s the car?” Simon asked.
“Gone!” his dad snapped back. “They took it away this morning.” His angry tone told Simon not to ask any more questions.
When their big HD TV, which had dominated the corner of their lounge, disappeared, to be replaced by a small colour TV borrowed from Aunt Kate, his mum’s older sister, Simon knew not to ask why.
Everything had changed six months later. His dad had still not found a new job, though his mum was still working as an agency nurse. They'd had to move out of their house. Simon had returned home from school, on another Friday afternoon, and this time found his parents arguing in the lounge. His mum was shouting at his dad, and his dad was shouting back at her. But this time it was his mum whose face was creased up with a very angry expression. Simon had walked into the room to be greeted by his mum shouting at his dad.
“Here’s your son, tell him what an arsehole you have been!” his mum shouted at his dad. His mum rarely swore in front of him, even though he knew she swore, he’d heard her doing it enough when she thought he wasn’t there. This time she’d openly sworn in front of him.
“I’ve not been an arsehole!” his dad shouted back at her. “It’s not my fault that in this economy no one is hiring people like me!”
“Your dad hasn’t been paying the mortgage,” Simon’s mum said directly to him. “And now the bank is repossessing our house!”
“It wasn’t my fault!” His dad shouted back.
“Yes, it is, you arsehole!” his mum almost screamed back.
Simon retreated back into the kitchen, away from their argument. He always hated it when his parents had their bitter and loud arguments, and they had been happening more and more since his dad lost his job. He always wanted to stop them arguing, but he didn’t know how to do it. So he had sat down at the one of the kitchen’s work surface and waited for it all be over. He had homework in his school bag waiting to be done, but he didn’t start it. He didn’t know how to start it. His mind was too worried about the argument he’d walked in on. So he just sat there and silently waited.
Eventually the kitchen door had been pushed open and his dad had walked into the room. The man’s face looked tired and sad, as if he wasn’t well, and he moved as if the tiredness infected his whole body.
He sat down on the chair next to Simon.
“I’ve got some bad news,” he said, his voice heavy with sadness. “We’re going to have to move out of this house, we just can’t afford to live here any longer.”
“Where will we live?” Simon asked. He couldn’t think of anywhere else were they could live.
“My mother, your Grandma, has said that we can go and live with her. Isn’t that kind of her?”
“Will I have my own bedroom?” Simon asked him. He knew his Grandma had a big house and that she had two sitting rooms. But he didn’t know how many bedrooms she had. Would he have to share a bedroom with his parents? He had never done that before, even when they had gone on holiday.
“Your Grandma has given us the back two bedrooms. You’ll have to have the smaller of the two because your mother and I will have the bigger one.
“Will I have to change my school?” Simon asked.
“This isn’t all about you!” his dad suddenly shouted at him, anger exploding out of the man.
Simon had physically jumped back from him. He felt fear pounding in his head. Why was the man so suddenly angry? What had Simon done wrong?
“For God’s sake leave the boy alone, Matthew! It isn’t his fault we’re in this mess,” his mum’s voice called out.
Simon looked up and saw his mum standing in the kitchen doorway. She had her arms folded across her chest. A thick strand of hair had escaped from her ponytail and was hanging down at the side of her face.
“I’m trying to explain it all to him and he keeps asking me stupid questions,” his dad snapped back at his mother, as he twisted around to face her, who was standing behind his chair.
“They’re not stupid questions,” his mum flatly replied. “You’re turning his world upside-down, of course he’ll have questions.”
“This isn’t my fault,” his dad protested.
His mum ignored his dad and turned her full attention onto Simon.
“No, you’ll stay at your school but it’ll take you longer to get there, so you’ll have to leave earlier,” she said.
“My old school is much closer,” his dad protested.
“He’s not going there,” his mum snapped back. “It’s a bloody Church of England church and I’m not having him indoctrinated with all their crap. Simon is not changing schools mid-year, I want him to get some qualifications, and your old school failed its last two Ofsted reports.”
The following weekend they had moved into Grandma’s house, sharing the large detached house with the old woman. They had spent the previous week packing up their home. Simon was told he could take his clothes and books but none of the furniture from his bedroom. All their furniture was going into storage, as his Grandma had her own. On the Saturday morning a removal van had turned up and Simon's dad and three removal men had packed all their furniture into it. Then his dad and the removal men had driven away in it.
He and his mum had waited in the empty house for dad to return, which took over an hour. Simon had sat on the empty living room floor and read his latest book. He tried to ignore the fact that the house had no furniture in it, but he couldn’t. He could barely concentrate on his book. Instead he kept looking around himself. The house seemed so large and noisy without furniture. The walls of the living room seemed so high and far away. He could see the darker cream patches on the walls where his mum’s pictures used to hang.
His mum had wandered from room to room as they waited for his dad to return. The dark and sad expression on her face had told Simon to keep away from her. When she was upset Simon knew to stay away from her. When she was sad the last thing she wanted was company, and she’d snap at him or his dad if they tried to approach her. Even if she had wanted his company, Simon didn’t know what he could say to her. So he had just sat there on the living room floor, waiting for his dad to return.
The removal men had finally dropped dad back and the three of them, with all their bags, had caught a taxi to Grandma’s house. His mum had called up a big, People Mover taxi, with two rows of seats in the back. They had filled up those seats with themselves and their bags. On the journey to his Grandma’s house his mum had sat next to Simon and silently cried to herself. His dad had ignored her, so Simon had reached over and had taken his mum’s hand, which she had clutched tightly.
When they had arrived at his Grandma’s house, Grandma had taken one look at all their bags and had said:
“You have all brought a lot of bags with you. Do you need all those bags?”
Simon hated living at his Grandma’s house. His Grandma had so many rules, and there were so many different things they were not allowed to do. They couldn’t watch television before seven o’clock at night. They couldn’t make noise inside the house. They couldn’t move any of the furniture. The list just seemed to go on and on. His Grandma’s biggest rule was that they went to church with her. Every Sunday.
His Grandma went to her local Anglican church but she proudly told them that it wasn’t like 'your usual Church of England church'. Simon would much later learn that his Grandma’s church was an Evangelical church, and they prided themselves on their music, their strict adherence to the bible, and the fact that they felt they were always right because, in their opinion, they were God’s only chosen people. The Sunday service would begin at nine-thirty, and seem to last the rest of the morning. The music was very different from church hymns he’d heard in the past, but the rest of the service was very in your face. People stood up at the front of the church constantly telling the congregation how sinful they were and how powerful God was. The message soon got boring and dull. He got shouted at enough at his Grandma’s house, especially by his Grandma, and he now had to go to church every Sunday to get shouted at as well.
The first big argument between his mum and his Grandma had been over going to church. His Grandma insisted that they say grace before each meal. Grandma and his dad would always bow their heads as grace was said, though his mum would keep her head raised and her eyes open. Simon had wanted to do the same, as the words of the grace barely meant anything to him. But he was afraid that his Grandma didn’t close her eyes either, keeping an eye on all of them, and she kept finding enough faults with everything else he did.
A little over a month after they’d moved in, over Saturday night dinner, his mum and Grandma had exploded into an argument.
“Tomorrow’s service will be a very special one,” Grandma announced to the whole table. “The Reverend Preston Kendrick will be our guest preacher. He is truly a man of God and his preaching will melt the hardest of hearts.”
“I’m not going to church with you tomorrow,” his mother flatly announced.
“You said you weren’t working this weekend. Though I don’t know why you need to work. Even nurses should observe the Lord’s Day,” his Grandma announced.
“Because if I don’t work Sundays my patients could die, Nancy,” his mum replied, as always calling his Grandma by her first name, even though his Grandma had repeatedly demanded that she shouldn’t. “Diabetics need their insulin, even on a Sunday.”
“Rosie, you said you weren’t working this weekend,” his dad added.
“I’m not, but I’m not going to that awful church again,” his mum shot back.
“My church isn’t awful!” his Grandma snapped back. “My church is a true beacon of God’s love.”
“No, it’s a beacon of self-hatred!” his mum shot back.
Then the two women had dissolved into a loud and bitter argument, each of them shouting their reasons, which seemed to distilled down to his mum not wanting to go to church, and his Grandma demanding that she should.
The argument had seemed to end with both women running out of energy and falling silent. The silence had carried on for the rest of the meal. A heavy and tense silence which had hung over the table, and stretched out through the rest of the evening. His mum had quickly retreated to her bedroom, leaving Simon in the sitting room with his dad and his Grandma. His Grandma disapproved of everything that was on television on a Saturday night. She refused to pay for satellite TV, so they had ended up watching a DVD which that night was The Sound of Music. Simon had pretended to be tired and retreated to his bedroom long before the Nazis appeared in the movie.
His bedroom was the tiny box room at the back of the house, next to his parents’ small bedroom. It was much smaller than the one he'd had at their old house. There was barely enough space in it for a bed and a wardrobe, let alone a chair, so he had to spend most of his time sitting on the bed. His Grandma didn’t have Wi-Fi so he just read things on his laptop computer. He didn't surf the web on his Grandma’s computer, as she would always be looking over his shoulder if he did that.
He’d hated that bedroom, with its floral wallpaper, old dark wooden bed and wardrobe, its thick and very faded velvet curtains, tiny bedside table with an equally small lamp and lace lampshade, and the tiny amount light that the small window let in. But, as much as he hated the room, there was nothing he could do about it. He'd been told he had to move here and he’d been told that this bedroom was to be his. No one had asked him what he wanted, but that was the way everything was with his life. He just followed behind and did what he was told. So he lay down on his bed and started reading a book on his laptop.
The next morning Simon had had to go to church with his dad and his Grandma, while his mother had stayed home. Simon had envied her missing church, missing being told that how sinful they were over and over again. His dad though seemed to have a different reaction to it all. At the service that Sunday, after Revd Preston Kendrick had preached a long and very emotional sermon about how everyone was a sinner, there was what was described as an 'alter call'. Revd Preston Kendrick called on anyone 'touched by the Lord' to come forward to the front of the church. To Simon’s surprise and inner horror, his dad had been one of those people who walked down to the front of the church. Simon had cringed inwardly as his dad did so, but his Grandma had beamed proudly.
In the car ride home, his dad had babbled away about how wonderful it was to give his life to God and finally find some meaning to his life, while his Grandma had smiled broadly throughout it all. Simon had never seen the woman looking so happy before.
The next three years had seemed endless to Simon. His dad was able to find a job, but only working in the Customer Services department of a Christian book supplier. though it had been Grandma who had found him the job, through her church contacts. And the job paid much less than his old one, so they had to still live in Grandma’s house.
He watched his parents’ marriage fall apart, slowly, one piece at a time. His mum had not been happy or impressed when his dad told her he was 'born again', casting aspirations on his choice of religion. Suddenly it became another topic for them to argue about. And they certainly argued. Night after night, Simon would hear them arguing through the thin wall that separated their bedroom from his. He’d hear his mum’s disappointment, again and again, in those arguments. And when his dad replied that he was now trusting in God to provide for them, his mum just snapped back at him.
Though they seemed to keep their arguments to their bedroom, his parents were barely civilised to each other in the rest of the house. And the tension between them was obvious. His mum and his Grandma argued more often as well, not that the two women had ever been the closest of friends before they had all moved into Grandma’s house. Their arguments seemed to revolve around his Grandma’s beliefs. She would regularly criticise his mum on her behaviour, the way she dressed, the way she was raising Simon, the language she used around the house, the fact that his mum still worked, but most of all because she repeatedly refused to attend church. But his mum didn’t take his Grandma’s criticisms quietly or lightly. She would snap back at the older woman’s comments, and soon they would fall into another argument.
Simon wasn’t immune to the bad moods in the house. His Grandma and his dad would repeatedly criticise him, usually criticisms that echoed the ones his Grandma criticised his mum over. And his dad’s criticisms would almost be carbon copies of his Grandma’s ones. Now his dad was taking his Grandma’s side in whatever argument broke out in the house. And since he had become 'born again' his view had taken a sharp turn towards the hard-line, so that they soon became no different from Simon’s Grandma’s views.
Even his mum became short tempered with him. She might still be supporting him in all the endless arguments that kept breaking out, but if he pushed her with too many questions, and sometimes that could just be more than two at a time, she would snap back at him to be quiet.
And the whole time he lived in that unhappy household Simon was forced to attend his Grandma’s, and now his dad’s, church every Sunday. And the church services never improved. It was always the same happy-clappy hymns. And week after week they would sing the exact same hymns, and receive the same self righteous message of guilt. Again and again he would be told how sinful and damned he was without God. He never got anything positive from the church services. Sitting next to his dad and Grandma, on the church’s uncomfortable chairs, he felt such strong pressure from both them to also become 'born again'. In the car drive home his dad and his Grandma which quiz him about what the service had meant to him, and what he’d enjoyed most about it. He never told them that his favourite part was when it was finally over. But he so often wanted to.
He repeatedly begged his mum to let him miss church, to save him from church, but always she replied that he had to. Sometimes she’d say he had to go to keep the peace in the household, what peace there was. But mostly she said that he had to because his dad liked him going. Every time she denied him his request, Simon would feel a stab of resentment, even anger. She didn’t have to go to church, but she still forced him to go.
Shortly before they had moved into his Grandma’s house, his mum had got herself a permanent job, so no longer having to work haphazard Bank Shifts, which she had said she hated so many times. She had got a job as a nurse in a District Nurse team, working out of the Health Centre on Abbey Street. The job entailed providing nursing care to people in their own homes, mostly people too ill or infirm to leave their homes. And she obviously loved the job, as she would always be talking about it and the people she worked with.
Shortly after they had moved into his Grandma’s house, Simon had overheard his Grandma snap at his mum:
“I don’t know why you work. I never worked once I’d married my Talbot, God rest his soul. I worked full time being a wife and mother, which is a full time job, while my Talbot provided for me. He even provided for me before he passed on. A lot of young mothers could learn from me, and we wouldn’t have all this juvenile delinquency we have now.”
“I work because for your useless son can’t provide for his family,” his mum snapped back.
“My Matthew isn’t useless!” his Grandma shot back.
“Tell that to the bank who repossessed our house because he didn’t pay the mortgage. Very useful!”
Everything changed shortly after his fourteenth birthday. That January his mum took him to the cinema as a birthday treat, to see the latest Star Wars film. He’d wanted to see it when it came out but the Vicar at his Grandma’s church had denounced it, all to do with the film’s religion of The Force, and so his dad forbade him seeing it. It was his mum alone who took him to the cinema that Saturday afternoon.