Simon lay on the sofa, his feet actually up on the armrest, as some soap opera played on the television, unwatched. He had slumped down on the sofa, after dinner, to carry on reading the e-book on his phone. He’d started that e-book over a week ago but he had barely touched it since Max had dumped him. He'd not had the concentration or motivation to read it. The book was about a gay, former boy band member, with an eating disorder. The book had held his attention at first, but that had been when he was still seeing Max. Since the previous Wednesday, he’d found it difficult to concentrate on anything, especially any sort of book. That evening he’d decided to force himself to read, to try and get back his interest in reading.
His mum always enjoyed watching the early evening soap operas, justifying them as her escapism to help her relax, even though Niki would poke fun at them, and pick apart their plot holes as they played on the television. He’d never liked soap operas, as he’d never liked their slow stories. So he usually read something on his phone while his mum watched whichever one was on any evening.
That evening things had not run to their usual schedule. After the three of them had eaten their dinner together, sitting around the kitchen table, they hadn’t moved into the sitting room to watch television. Instead Niki had asked him to go into the sitting room so she and his mum could have some private time.
Simon had noticed the strange atmosphere that had filled the house when his mum and Niki had returned home from work. Niki and his mum shared Niki’s car for work, his mum using it to drive between her patients’ homes, and they always returned home together. Usually they would enter the house carrying on whatever conversation they’d been having in the car, but that evening the two women had entered the house in an almost stony silence. As his mum had gone up to their bedroom to change out of her work clothes, Niki had sat down next to Simon at the kitchen table where he was working on his latest assignment from college, and had started quizzing him animatedly about his college work. She suddenly seemed to want to talk, and about anything.
Over dinner the conversation had been stilted and awkward. His mum and Niki had both focused their attentions on him, both of them asking him what he’d done at college that day, both of them using him as a way to create a conversation. But Simon didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know how to create a conversation with the two of them. Usually it was Niki and his mum would talk together as they ate their dinner, with Simon adding to it, but mostly just listening to what they had to say. When the pressure was upon him he found it difficult to keep the conversation flowing. He just didn’t know how to do it. So tonight they had simply fallen into silence. He was so glad when the meal was over and he could escape to the sitting room.
“He came to your work!” Niki’s voice rang out from the kitchen. Simon couldn’t not hear her.
“He just turned up, I didn’t invite him,” his mum replied, her voice as loud and clear as Niki’s.
“Rosie! This is stalking!”
“No, it’s not! It’s only Matthew being Matthew,” his mum’s voice replied.
“What did he want this time?” Niki shot back.
“Nothing new. He wants me back as his wife because divorce is against his Christian beliefs. What he always says, but this time he actually begged me,” his mum’s voice said.
His dad had been so angry since his mum had left and moved into Niki’s home. Simon had to spend Saturdays with him, as that was what his parents had agreed, and always his dad would quiz him about his mum and Niki’s relationship. His dad always seemed desperate to hear that their relationship wasn’t working, was falling apart in some way. When Simon didn’t provide the information he wanted to hear he would become angry, or sulk in silence, ignoring Simon.
Simon also knew that his dad was in almost daily contact with his mum. His dad would text or email his mum. These messages would be full of bible quotes or quotes from Evangelical preachers condemning his mum’s relationship with Niki. The texts and emails were full of blunt homophobia condemning his mum’s relationship, homophobia so crude and blunt as to be almost laughable. Yet Simon knew his dad believed all that crap. He'd hear him rant on about it every Saturday he had to spend with him. Simon never remembered his dad being this homophobic when his parents were married and all three of them were living in their own house. But that had been years ago, and sometimes he’d question his own memory.
He knew about his dad’s texts and emails because he had seen them on his mum’s phone. It was only a few weeks after they had moved into Niki’s house. His mum had opened her phone to retrieve him a phone number, and he’d glanced at the screen, looking over her shoulder. There he saw a string of texts from his dad.
“What’s that?” Simon asked her, pointing at the texts.
“It’s just your dad being silly,” his mum replied.
“What’s he saying?” he asked.
“Nothing. Just your dad and all his new views.”
“Let me see,” Simon said.
His mum turned to face him, actually turning her head so that they were staring face to face.
“What he writes in his texts isn’t very nice, Simon,” she quietly said.
“Let me see, please,” he replied.
“He’s still your dad, remember that,” she quietly said, as she handed the phone to him.
As he quickly read through his dad’s texts he’d felt a cold and nauseated feeling creeping over him. They were full of homophobia and anger. His dad claimed that his mum was listening to the devil’s lies when she left him for Niki. His dad claimed that his mum will go to hell if she didn't return to him. His dad claimed that his mum would destroy Simon with her life of sin if she didn't return to him. His dad claimed… All his dad’s claims were dripping in homophobia.
“Why is he doing this?” he asked his mum as he handed the phone back.
“He seems to being getting all his views from your Gran and that awful church of hers. That’s all I can think. He wasn’t like this when I married him, he was nothing like this,” his mum said.
But his dad didn’t just stop with his homophobic filled texts and emails, he also found another way to hold back his mum’s life. His tactic first raised its head just over six months after his mum and him had left him. It was Niki who had raised the question of his mum divorcing his dad. To Simon it made perfect sense as his parents’ marriage had broken down so far that they didn’t even speak to each other. When his dad came to pick him up each Saturday morning in his battered old car, he would stay sitting in his car, and his mum would remain standing inside the open front door. As Simon left the house and climbed into his dad’s car neither of his parents spoke to each other and barely acknowledged the other’s presence. It was obvious to Simon his parents’ marriage was over, that his mum was far happier with Niki then he remembered her being for years with his dad, and that they both should move on.
Niki had suggested a getting divorce as the three of them had been eating their Sunday dinner together. His mum had nodded her head in agreement, and had said:
“I really should. I’ll call Kate on Tuesday.” Tuesday was her day off from work that week.
Simon had come home from college the following Tuesday to find his mum on her mobile phone, pacing up and down in the sitting room. Her face was creased up with anger and her body moving fast, and more than just with nervous energy. Simon had stopped just inside the room’s doorway as he heard his mum also shouting into her phone.
“He said what?... He can’t do that… he can’t… I’ll fucking kill him!... Kate, I… Of course, I’m not going to do ‘anything stupid’… He can’t stop me getting a divorce… That is so unfair… Well how long do I have to wait?... What?... Five years?... Well screw the law!”
Though she was almost shouting with anger, Simon could see tears actually forming in her eyes. He was shocked to find her so upset and angry and didn’t know what he could do.
When she’d finished her call, he quietly asked her.
“What’s the matter?”
She turned to him and he could see that she was now fighting back the tears.
“Your dad won’t give me a divorce. Your Aunt Kate has tried to start the whole divorce procedures for me and he replied to her today. He’s refusing to give me a divorce,” his mum said, her words heavy with her anger.
“Is there anything you can do?” he asked her.
“I can wait. I can get a divorce if I can prove that my marriage has irrevocably broken down, but I have to be separated from your dad for five years before I can get that,” she told him.
“Oh that’s… that’s… shit,” he said. He knew she didn’t like to hear him swearing and he always tried not to, but there was no other word he could think to describe his dad’s actions.
The following Saturday, as he’d climbed into his dad’s car, he’d wanted to shout at him. Shout about how unfair and selfish he was being, how he was using his beliefs to be cruel and to hurt his mum. But Simon had remained quiet. He knew now that his dad couldn’t, and wouldn’t, accept any criticism of his beliefs, and would just dig his heels in tightly and refuse to see any alternatives. He knew he’d have to spend the whole day with his dad, and all future Saturdays, until he was eighteen. Arguing with him over his unmoveable beliefs would only alienate him, and the man was still part of his life, even if for only one day a week. Simon had always known to keep his head down and keep quiet, it had proved his best survival tactic so far. Even though he could feel his body seething with anger and resentment, he had kept quiet and pretended to enjoy another one of his dad’s overly planned Saturdays.
Simon looked up from the sofa and over at the television. Again, his concentration had failed him and he’d quickly lost interest in the eBook on his phone. The soap opera was still playing and two women were arguing in it, but that happened very frequently. He watched the television for a long moment but he didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t even know what the two women were arguing about.
There were two sofas in the sitting room, two matching grey, three person sofas, arranged at ninety degrees to each other along two adjoining walls. They were boxy sofas, all right angles and oblong shaped, with the back at the same height as the arm rests. Yet they were also very comfortable. In the opposite corner was the house’s only television set, angled so it could be seen from both sofas. In the centre of the room was an old travel trunk, decorated with different old labels that proclaimed all the foreign cities the trunk had travelled to, and which now served as a coffee table. The longest wall behind the television was covered, from skirting board to ceiling, with long wooden shelves. These shelves were filled with books, CD’s, several vases, three teddy bears, several pieces of small art, and many different ornaments. Niki had filled these shelves with all the possessions and objects that were special to her.
The room had two doors, one leading into the kitchen and one leading to the three-foot square little hallway housing the house’s front door. Next to this door was the room’s only window, which looked out onto the street, which was where Niki usually parked her car.
Simon really liked this house. It might have been small but it was always warm and comfortable. He always felt welcome here. If he needed to work on a college assignment there was always the kitchen or his room to do it in. The sitting room was to relax in, and he could relax there because there was never any pressure from his mum or Niki. In this house there were none of the tensions or atmosphere there had been at his Grandma’s house. There certainly wasn’t the long list of rules that his Grandma had imposed on them. Until tonight his mum and Niki hadn’t argued. Instead they had easily slipped into each other’s lives, and Simon had enjoyed the calm of their relationship, and enjoyed his new friendship with Niki.
But tonight the two women were having a heated argument in the kitchen, and he could hear every word of it. And their first argument had been caused by his dad. It was almost as if his dad was getting his wish. Niki and his mum’s relationship was not running well, and his dad had caused it.
Niki suddenly marched into the sitting room and dropped down onto the other sofa. Her face held a hard and angry expression. The next moment his mum appeared in the doorway from the kitchen. But she didn’t move. Her face held a nervous and awkward expression, her body was closed up, and her arms were folded defensively across her chest.
Simon turned to Niki and said the only thing he could think of that he hoped would help ease her anger, or at least redirect her anger away from his mum.
“My dad is a real dick, don’t let him get to you. Please,”
“Simon, you shouldn’t listen at doors,” his mum said, turning her attention to him, though she still didn’t move into the room.
“I didn’t listen in. I heard every word from here,” he replied as he sat upright on the sofa.
“Don’t worry about it,” Niki said, turning to him and placing her hand on his arm. “Rosie and I were just clearing the air; it isn’t anything more than that.” She smiled at him. “But you’re wrong. Your dad isn’t a dick. Your dad is fucking cunt.”
“Niki!” His mum exclaimed, shock leaping into her voice.
Niki turned to face his mum and said:
“He deliberately won’t give you a divorce. He sends you all those fucking homophobic texts, and almost daily. Then he turns up at your work, begging you to come back to him, and in front of everyone.”
“He didn’t beg me, he demanded that I come back to him,” his mum said.
“Then he is a real cunt,” Niki said. Simon could hear a smile in her voice now.
“I can’t wait until I’m eighteen so I won’t have to see him again,” Simon said.
“Simon, he’s your dad,” his mum protested.
“And he’s still a dick,” Simon replied.
“He has a point,” Niki said.
“I know he does. And I know Matthew is behaving like a real cunt. But we've got to live with the cunt until I get finally get a divorce out of him,” his mum said.
“Come and sit down,” Niki said, holding out her hand towards his mum.
His mum smiled back at Niki and sat down next to her on the sofa. Niki slipped her arm around his mum’s shoulders. His mum settled down within Niki’s embrace.
“Next time Matthew turns up at work, you call me,” Niki said to his mum.
“I’ll do what I did today. I’ll get Eric, one of our HCAs, to throw him out of the health centre again. Eric works out five days a week and is built like a professional rugby player,” his mum said.
“But Eric is so gentle,” Niki replied.
“And he put on his best camp voice, as he pushed Matthew out the health centre, and called him a whiny little bitch. God, Matthew went bright red then and all the fight went out of him,” his mum said.
“Then you have to call me the next time he turns up at work. I want to see that and shout encouragement to Eric,” Niki said, with a broad smile on her face.
Simon slouched down back onto the sofa. His dad hadn’t won. His mum and Niki weren’t falling apart. Life was returning to how it should be.
“So what’s happened on EastEnders?” his mum asked him, nodding towards the television, where the credits were scrolling down the screen.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t watching it. It was just on,” Simon awkwardly replied.
“Are you sure he’s your son,” Niki jokingly asked his mum.