The International Writers Magazine
:Short Story about families

Alan Stokes

t's mum's birthday. I'm sitting in the lounge surrounded by what's left of the family. I'd like to say I'm having a great time but I'm not. There's just too much noise. Everybody wants to speak and no one's prepared to listen. What we need is an arbitrator because sooner or later someone will get hurt and it won't be me because I had enough of that from Shaz and I'm not accepting that from anyone anymore I'm not I'm fucking not.

Or maybe a psychiatrist. Maybe two psychiatrists. One for the women and one for the men.
Fuck it. We're crazy, it's as simple as that.
Then again all families are crazy. I don't know whose idea it was to create the family but they need shooting. I honestly don't know why people have kids.
Maybe in the future we won't have kids. Technology's moving fast now.
I hope so.
But then again I won't be around to see it so what's the point?

That's the problem with technology. It's always too far beyond - ahead - complicated - annoying - it's untrue. I mean for Christ sake I still don't know how to use a computer. Can't even switch the bastard thing on. It just sits in my flat like a plant. I should start watering it. Ha.

My brother's kid comes over to me. He's three now and very strong. I don't have much to do with him at the best of times. Now that I'm drunk I want to kill him. The little bastard just won't listen to a word you say to him. I've told my brother - Brandon - he needs some discipline but he says no, he wants a radical kid. Mum reckons this is because Brandon was into punk when he was younger and has never grown out of it. Naturally I don't agree with her. No one agrees with anyone in this house.
Entering this house is like entering an argument.

When my dad walked last year I could not understand how he could do such a thing but now I do and I support his decision one hundred percent. To be honest, I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did. If you ask me the man has every right to be seeing a woman half his age. After what he went through he deserves all the pleasure he can get. The man's a hero.

The boy smacks me in the face and laughs. I tell him off and he smacks me again. I look at Brandon and Brandon tells him to stop. The boy calls Brandon an idiot and vacates the room.
I get out of my chair and tell my brother that he needs to do something with him. He says nothing. I say he's a great kid but already he's a bully. Again he says nothing. I shake my head and go out into the garden for a smoke.

Mum drops the spaghetti into the pan and sits down at the table. She sips her wine and looks at me. Clasps her hands, for Christ sake. Like she's praying. For what? Another life?
Sometimes mum worries about me but mostly she couldn't give a fuck. This might be down to the medication, but she was like that before dad left, correction, ran off with the woman from next door.
Mum sips her wine and asks how I'm doing. I can't believe it. A minute ago she said I was nothing but a selfish bastard. She often says that and I take no notice of it.
- Okay. Not bad. Things could be worse, you know.
In other words, I'm not with Shaz anymore and things are great but she doesn't get it or doesn't want to get it, so I change the subject and ask how her birthday's going. She shakes her head and tuts.
- What's wrong now?
- I don't want to talk about it.
- It's dad, isn't it?
This came out before I had a chance to think about it and I know how she'll respond. She'll scream at me.
- I hate him I fucking hate him why did he leave me why! Why Bill why!? Tell me why! I want to know why!
It's crazy but I want to laugh. Why Bill why? Isn't that a line from a song?
- I think you should be asking dad that, not me.
- You're the one who sees him.
- So.

Dominique. Tall. Dark. Attractive. Beautiful maybe, depending on your taste. French. Grew up in a bakery which I still mention now and again for a laugh because it's like saying I grew up above a pub I mean I know it happens but how many people does it happen to?
I drain my can and get another. Sit back down in the chair.
My brother - Brandon - thinks it's funny as well. He also says it's one of the reasons why he fell for her. I laugh at that too because it's ridiculous. It's like saying you fell in love with someone because they wore great underwear or had a tattoo or smoked long thin cigars or drove around town in a pink mini or a huge fuck off motorbike.
I open the can.

If her dad was a rich baker I could understand it but the man's skint. How do I know that? I don't. I'm guessing man, guessing. I mean have you ever heard of anyone making a fortune selling bread? Okay Mr Sayer but we're talking about a one-man band here not a conglomerate. If the man was a multimillionaire, Christ, my brother wouldn't have stood a baguette's chance in hell of landing her. Rich women don't marry artists. Correction. My brother's not an artist he's a designer.

Then again maybe he is an artist now. When I arrived he informed me that he has re-invented himself and now goes by the name of Brandon Fix. That's Fix with one x. Apparently he's really big in Berlin. Had an exhibition there recently. Didn't sell anything but you know, next time, next time.
He's hilarious, my brother. You should meet him.
Lectures at the university.
Met him for a beer once and he left early to go feed his kids but I stayed on and his students bought my beers all night. He's like a God to them. He used to be like a God to me but then I grew up and realised he's just as fucked up as anyone else.

I say wife but they're not married and probably will never be married. Not unless Dominique has five kids. That's what Dominique says anyway. She says she will only get married when she's had her five kids. Presently she has three.

Occasionally I have long discussions with Dominique but usually we don't speak much to each other because she's too busy looking after the kids. But I like her and that's the important thing. Dominique informs me that Brandon wants to speak to me. I ask about what and she sighs. I open the fridge and pull out another can.

A woman I work with sighs all the time too. Whenever I speak to her, she sighs. Whenever I look at her, she sighs. The other week I asked why she sighs so much and she came right up to my face and screamed fuck off yeh bastard fuck off.

Generally the women I work with are okay with me so I didn't take it personally. But yesterday another woman did the same thing and I'm beginning to think it's down to me. Well not me exactly but the job.
I hate the job now. I used to love teaching but the thought of it now makes me want to throw up. I nip out the classroom for a smoke at every opportunity. My students joke that I hide in a cupboard somewhere and in a way it's true.
I toss my cigarette into the bush.

Christ I'm too old for this I need to change things I need to change things. Mark was right. We should have met in a park or better still a pub.
My brother wants me to live with his family. He says he's converting the loft in a week or two and will have more space. I ask him why and he says he could do with the company. I'm about to say yes when he laughs and says he's joking.
Oh Brandon you're funny, so fucking funny man.
Berlin my arse.
© Alan Stokes Jan 9th 2006
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