‘Dad,’ scolded Emelia, ‘that’ll be two pounds.’
‘For using the C-word. You said that word was double.’
Phil swore again. He’d implemented the new rule this morning, after Emelia’s foul-mouthed rant at her mother the night before. Typical, he thought. Another attempt to control coming back to haunt me.
He tried again with the barbeque’s controls. Swore again as the gas finally came through. ‘Why couldn’t it have done that to start with?’
‘That’ll be four pounds.’
Phil reached for his shades as Emelia ran back over the pool’s bridge into the house, no doubt to troll her classmates on social media. Then grime started blaring down from Julian’s window, the curtains of which were permanently drawn. Now the air was filled with more swearing, plus the pungent scent of skunk.
It wasn’t just the fact they were obnoxious, he thought as he started arranging his farm-shop sausages on the grill. Had he been in the office less, maybe he could have instilled a bit more discipline. But he’d spent the last ten years climbing the corporate ladder and in the case of the recent merger, had expertly pulled it up behind him.
He swore again as he remembered the day he told his staff the news.
Phil let loose a whole string of expletives, more out of surprise that his daughter had come behind unnoticed, then plied her with a full tenner and told her to get back on Facebook.
Still, he thought as he checked the spirits and mixers neatly lined up along his bar. All’s not lost. Those that didn’t get redundancy are still coming. Probably too relieved or thankful to say no.
In the end, though, only a third of them bothered to turn up. Led through the garden gate by the IT manager, Ben, every single one of them looked pensive and tense as they their carried four packs and wine up the garden path like meek offerings for their capricious God.
Phil tried some banter about the afternoon’s football fixtures but Ben looked deeply disturbed. His appraisal was on Monday and so he wouldn’t touch the lager he’d brought with him for fear of breaching ‘the lines’.
Thank God for Jerry, Phil thought as his flamboyant neighbour skirted the pool’s edge along with Belle, his trophy wife. He didn’t know them well, but Jerry was clearly a hard drinker and had brought a couple of neighbours from down the road. Stand-ins for my real friends, thought Phil, many of whom had stopped calling him since news of the merger had broken on local news.
‘How’s it all going since the chop?’ asked Jerry as Phil made awkward glances at Ben who was staring longingly at the wall.
‘Oh, we’re all working hard,’ replied Phil, a finger running across his own throat. Jerry took the hint and started praising the prowess of Phil’s barbeque instead.
‘Yeah, the flame’s fantastic,’ Phil agreed as he looked longingly at Belle’s breasts through his aviators. ‘You should see how quickly it cooks the meat.’
Everyone stopped talking as Julian appeared on the edge of the party, then made a bee-line for the sausages and sat with a paper plate near Ben and his bag of lager, now warming in the sun.
Jerry continued to set the pace at the mini-bar and Phil noticed Sheila was laughing too hard at his lewd jokes.
‘Jerry,’ said Phil tersely, ‘watch your drink.’
‘What, old boy? Your wife has just poured–‘
‘No not that one.’ Phil pointed under the pagoda with his greasy tongues. ‘On the wall.’
Jerry looked non-plussed.
‘Julian’s on medication. And he loves to sneak a drink!’
Bizarrely, Phil could see Ben was speaking to Julian and not only that, holding his attention. Raising the first smile Phil had seen in weeks. Phil made a note to ask Ben how he’d done it on Monday before realising that would be a definite breach of the lines.
Emelia came out of the house in hot pants and paraded herself around the pool’s perimeter so Julian took his plate and headed back inside in disgust. And then the grime started back up again, along with the unmistakable smell of skunk.
‘He’s 18 right?’ checked Jerry. ‘Don’t worry, my eldest was a complete bastard at that age too.’
‘Yeah,’ replied Phil. ‘The name for it’s depression.’
Jerry nodded politely but didn’t look convinced.
Why, Phil wanted to shout at the very top of his lungs, Julian’s depressed in the first place, when he has everything he could ever wish for.
But Phil did know why. Or at least, could sympathise because he felt it too. A foreboding cloud that overhung everything and ate away at whatever he’d won, as though it had all been gotten through ill means.
And that was truth, he realised. The pay-rise, the job, striving for weekends with vague friends he hadn’t managed to offend yet. The idle wife with the key to his account but who’d let herself go, the children on prozac and dressed in designer clothes, the pool and patio and the fucking barbeque. All a result of hard-nosed brinkmanship at director level, managing his way through a merger into a position worth double his normal salary.
He thought of the old-timers he’d made redundant and then those who were now overworked and struggling in their place. People like Ben and his team, twitching nervously near the wall and he wondered who was better off.
And this meat doesn’t even taste right, he said to himself, looking down in disgust at the sausages. But Jerry and his crew were too half-cut to notice and Ben was getting ready to lead his party home.
‘Sheila,’ he called out, but his wife was too busy laughing at Jerry so he waved a fiver at Emelia who was twerking in front of the patio’s mirrored door. ‘Get me a coke. And make sure it’s got a double shot of whiskey.’