It had always been a problem. From primary school age, Gareth had been impulsive, most young children are. So no-one paid particular attention when teachers described him as ‘irresponsible’ or ‘doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions.’ He was intelligent and polite, but his inability to apply himself meant that he left school with few qualifications. In itself, this was not a problem, as his father owned a building firm and would employ him.

           He left school at sixteen, and by this time had grown into a skinny lad of approaching six foot tall. His parents were often exasperated by his actions: he came home with tattoos and ear piercings, he experimented with illegal substances, they had the mothers of two young girls knocking on their door because he had been caught ‘in the act’ with their daughters. Although, Fred and Rose remonstrated with him, and were worried by his behaviour, they put it down to a wayward nature, and normal teenage rebellion.

           Working with Fred was not a success. Gareth soon made friends on the building sites. This was one of his strengths, his adventurous spirit meant that, at school he always had mates, and this continued in the workplace. Despite, always having friends, he never kept them, either his recklessness would scare them away, or he would say something offensive to them, and an argument would develop, and that would be that. It was of no concern to Gareth; there would always be someone else to pal up with. His work friendships led to problems for Fred, as he had a blithe disregard for his father’s role as the boss. His timekeeping was haphazard, he appeared to have no understanding that, if Fred said ‘We start at 8.00 am.’ that’s the time he needed to be ready for. If he fancied a pint, he would down tools and wander off to the pub, taking several of his workmates with him. Or if someone suggested a different way of doing something, he would do it, without consulting his father, sometimes creating health and safety issues. The list of things was endless, and it quickly became clear that working together was unsustainable for the pair. Fred told his son, who failed to understand the issue.

           The manual work had muscled Gareth up, he now had the physique to match his height. Working with Fred had given him the experience of earning good money, and he liked spending. He often appeared home, with an unlikely purchase, maybe a silk shirt, a mountain bike, a picture of a Buddha, anything which caught his eye whilst out and about. He had also developed an appetite to match his size, so Rose was at pains to impress upon him that he needed to earn money to pay her keep. Fortunately, casual labouring work was easy to find, and so he drifted from building site to building site, working hard, making friends, and usually being let go, sooner or later from some misdemeanour or other.

           Living at home was not easy for Gareth or his parents. He liked to party, and if the opportunity arose, he would stay out drinking, smoking and using recreational drugs until the supply ran out. Rose worried when he failed to come home, but however much she tried to explain it to him, he never could resist an invitation. His good looks and natural charm meant that he was seldom without sexual invites, which he rarely refused. Again, this was not behaviour conducive to living at home with his parents.

           However, the matter resolved itself. Gareth’s current crony, Al, shared a house, and next door lived a single mother with one small daughter. When Gareth visited his friend, he noticed her out in the garden, pegging out washing, playing with her toddler, doing some weeding. She was always busy, several years older than him, small and petite, and he was attracted to her. He liked the little one too. In general, children liked him because he was always willing to play and be silly with them, and this small girl was no exception. When he leaned over the fence, she would smile shyly at him, and would giggle when he asked something like ‘What’ve you got in that bucket, bogies?’ or ‘I bet that dolly smells of poo.’

           Fate intervened. One Saturday lunchtime, as Gareth, Al and his housemates lay around in the shared house’s living room, enjoying a bit of puff together, they heard plaintive cries for help. The five men rushed out to the back garden to see the next door neighbour, Debs and little Sofie outside their home.

           ‘The washing machine’s smoking.’ With that Al and Gareth hurdled the dividing fence and leapt into Deb’s house. Gavin yanked the washing machine from its plumbing, and alone carried it out of the house, tossing it into the garden, leaving Al to turn off the water and electric. Sofie was crying and Debs was near to tears.

           ‘Don’t cry, sweetheart. Uncle Gareth’ll take you into town and get you an ice cream. We’ll pick a new machine up for Mummy whilst we’re at it.’

Al appeared at Deb’s is back door.

           ‘Be alright if I borrow your van to take Debs and Sofie into town, won’t it?’ What could Al say? And so despite having no child seat, Gareth drove Debs and her daughter into town. As they drove along, Debs tentatively said.

           ‘I’m happy to get Sofie an ice cream, but to be honest; I can’t afford another washing machine at the moment.’

           ‘Don’t worry about, I’ll get it and you can pay me back when you can.’ And so it was settled, Gareth bought Sofie the biggest available ice cream complete with sprinkles, strawberry sauce and chocolate flake, and Debs a washing machine. He loaded it into the back of Al’s van, drove back to Deb’s where he plumbed it in, and had everything back on and ready to go within the space of three hours. What woman wouldn’t be impressed?

           ‘I’d like to cook you a meal, to thank you for all you’ve done today.’

           ‘I never say no to a good feed.’

           ‘Are you free tomorrow, about 8.00?’

           ‘I’ll be there.’

The next evening, Gareth arrived at Deb’s laden with a large bouquet of flowers, which were definitely not a supermarket bouquet, a bottle of champagne and the largest size tub of pick’n’mix sweets for Sofie. Deb’s had packed her off early to bed, so Gareth sat at the dining table and ate most of them, whilst Deb’s was serving their meal. She had bought a bottle of prosecco, so by the time they had drunk that and Gareth’s champagne, they were both sloshed. Inevitably, they ended up in bed together. Much to Deb’s surprise, when they had finished, rather than pull his clothes on and go, Gareth snuggled down saying.

           ‘Come and put your bum in my lap.’ She soon heard his breathing settle into the gentle rhythm of sleep. When she woke in the morning, he was already awake, lying flat on his back, one hand behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. She had a roaring hangover. When he saw her stir, he turned to her, and asked.

           ‘Alright, if I go down and make us a cup of tea?’


He pulled on his trousers and headed downstairs. As he pottered around the kitchen, boiling the kettle and opening cupboards, searching for mugs and tea bags, he heard a faint noise behind him. There stood Sofie, hair a tangled, mouse’s nest, still half asleep, dressed in pink, brushed cotton unicorn pyjamas with her favourite giraffe soft toy tucked under one arm.

           ‘Have you come for breakfast?’

           ‘Yes, that’s right sweetheart. What would you like, jammy toast?’

           ‘Can I have some of those sweeties?’

She had seen the half empty pot of pick’n’mix on the table, where Gareth had left them last night.

           ‘Course you can. Shall we put the tele on? What’s on? Is it Mr Tumble this morning?’ They settled together on the settee, television on, and Sofie reluctantly sharing the remains of the sweets with Gareth. It was here that Debs found them, when she staggered down the stairs, bleary eyed, nearly two hours later.

           ‘Did you make the tea?’

           ‘Oh sorry no, we got engrossed in Bing Bunny and I forgot. Tell you what, pull some clothes on and I’ll whisk us up to McDonalds for breakfast.’

Gareth moved in with Debs and Sofie. There was no discussion about him moving in, he just didn’t leave. He went back to his parents and packed a bag of clothes and toiletries. Rose asked him where he was going; he told her that he was going to live with Debs. She was dubious, an older, single mother who he’d only recently met, but there was no reasoning with him.

           ‘Mum, when something’s right, you just know.’

At first it was fun. Gareth’s impetuous behaviour meant that life was never dull. He was full of surprises. Once he came home and told Deb’s that he had booked a holiday for them, they were to leave the following morning. He had not considered that packing needed to be done, Debs needed to book time off work, and excuse Sofie from preschool. There were many small incidences: he came home with a tiny black kitten he had found without considering that it might have an owner, he taught Sofie to play the recorder with her nose, and then was surprised that she had taught the rest of her class the same trick, he asked Deb’s to make him a meat pie, and then bought in fish and chips, because he ‘fancied it instead.’ Some of the things were trivial, but some were more important.  

Their relationship was on a slippery slope. Everything Gareth did now irritated Debs. The situation came to a head one Friday night when he did not come home from work at the usual time. It was 11.30 pm before a very drunk Gareth returned. Meanwhile, Debs had been waiting at home with Sofie. To make matters worse, they were meant to be going for a meal out with her extended family, to celebrate an aunt’s sixtieth birthday. Debs had got ready, leaving the bathroom free for Gareth. She was expecting him to rush in, late and full of excuses. Time went on, and the babysitter arrived, and she had no option but to send her away. She was furious, when he let himself in, full of smiles and bonhomie; she flew at him, her small fists beating at his chest.

           ‘You selfish, selfish bastard! Where have you been?’

           ‘Out for a drink with the lads.’

           ‘Well, you can fuck right off again. Go on, go, get out.’ She half pushed him back through the front door, and he bewilderedly staggered out. She locked and bolted the door behind him, rushed to the back door and did the same. He made his way to his car, parked outside in the road. Fumbling, he unlocked it, opened a rear door, and promptly collapsed and went to sleep on the back seat, in full view of all the neighbours. He woke late the following morning, he could half remember the previous evening’s events, and had a clear memory of Deb’s rage. He went to the front door, it unlocked but would not open. He realised that she had bolted it from the inside. He went round the back, only to find that she had done the same to the back door. He commenced banging on it, and shouting for her to open up. Nothing. So then, he started to try to kick the door down. This bought a reaction, an upstairs window was flung open and Deb’s lent out.

           ‘I told you last night, go away. I meant it, we’re done.’

           ‘Sod you then.’ Gareth turned on his heel and made his way back to the car. He paused for a few moments and decided to head to his parent’s. After he had left home, they had moved to a small bungalow. The cynical amongst you may think that they had done this to prevent him from returning. You may be right. He stayed at Fred and Rose’s for a few nights, sleeping on the sofa. He tried to ring Debs, but she refused to answer. She wouldn’t take Rose’s calls either. She spoke to her son.

           ‘I think you need to accept that she doesn’t want you back.’ He nodded in sad acceptance. Rose persisted. ‘And you can’t really stay here, sleeping on the sofa.’ He nodded again. She continued. ‘So what are you going to do?’

‘Don’t know really.’   

In the end, she did what most mothers would do, she helped him to find and fund a small rental property. It was a mid- terrace, two up, two down house, built at the beginning of the twentieth century. In many ways it suited Gareth: it was central to town, big enough for his needs, and small enough not to need much upkeep. He settled well, living alone meant that he could bring sexual partners and friends back and do whatever he fancied. If he failed to get up for work in the mornings, no-one nagged him, it resulted in him being short of money sometimes, but other times he earnt plenty. Occasionally, he ran out of things to wear because he hadn’t done any washing. He just re-wore soiled items. Other times, he ran out of food. There was always the 24 hour convenience store.       

Trouble had been brewing for several months. It had been a long hot summer, and the resident of the cottage, next door but one to Gareth’s had become an irritant to him. To the rear of the terrace, each house had a long narrow garden. During the spell of good weather, this particular neighbour had taken to lighting bonfires, cooking outside on a barbeque, and playing loud music. He had two small, pre-school children who were allowed to play outside from 7.00 am until 9.00 pm whenever the weather was dry. He and his wife appeared to be at home most of the time. Gareth had been and spoken to him on several occasions. Twice, to ask him to turn his music down (this despite the fact that Gareth often played his own music at such a volume that it shook the walls of his home), and once to complain about the acrid smoke from a bonfire, which was blowing across the gardens onto Gareth’s washing. Both times, Gareth had been polite, but terse, and the neighbour’s responses had been apologetic and compliant. Nonetheless, anyone observing their interactions could tell that the two men disliked each other, and were ‘sizing each other up.’

     It was 10.45 pm, and Gareth was suddenly woken from his peaceful sleep. ‘Shouting! That’s what had woken him. It was that prat down the road, shooting his mouth off again.’ He swung himself out of bed, rapidly went to the bathroom at the rear of his house and peered out of the window. There, sure enough was his detested neighbour, waving his arms around, beer bottle in hand, mouthing off at his wife.

           ‘Shut the fuck up, cunt!’

           ‘Come down here and say that, wanker.’

With that, Gareth was out of the bathroom, down the steep stairs, into the kitchen and out of his back door, into the rear garden. He was barefoot and naked, except for the boxers that he wore in bed. Through his garden, out into the alley, past next door’s back gate, and into his enemy’s garden. There stood the neighbour, short and fat, ridiculous multi coloured Mohican hairdo, bare chested, trainers and no socks, belly hanging over the waist band of his cut-off jeans, lurking by the irksome barbeque, mousey wife sitting on one of their cheap plastic garden chairs, several of their acolytes milling around, drinks in hand.   

Crack! Gareth let him have it. A powerful right handed punch landed directly on the neighbour’s jaw, sending him sprawling to the ground, beer bottle smashing as he dropped it. Silence. The neighbour’s gathered friends stood, aghast for a few moments, before his wife started screaming, and there was a rush of activity and raised voices. Gareth turned, brushing his hands off against each other. ‘Job done’, and was preparing to return home and to bed, when a solid object came crashing down onto his skull. In slow motion, his legs slowly gave way beneath him and he crumpled to the ground. Again silence fell, the assembled company waited for him to groan and get back up. When a few seconds passed, and he didn’t, some of the less inebriated individuals became concerned and cautiously approached his inert body. Still, no movement. One brave man crouched down and put his head near to Gareth’s, he could hear the sound of raspy breathing.

‘You’ve knocked him out cold.’


‘Think we better try and bring him round. Get me some cold water.’

From nowhere a glass of water appeared and was thrown, unceremoniously into Gareth’s face. Still nothing. People were becoming worried, and some were noiselessly disappearing, not wanting to become involved. The Good Samaritan called a friend to help him, and together they rolled Gareth’s inert body into the recovery position.

           ‘Best call an ambulance.’

           When the ambulance arrived and he was loaded onto a stretcher and into the back of the vehicle, he remained unresponsive. The few remaining people watched, as the ambulance sped away, blue light flashing.

           There were final sad consequences to these events. Gareth lost his life; the blow to his head had caused a fractured skull and irreparable brain damage. The neighbour lost his liberty, being tried and imprisoned for manslaughter. In different ways, they were both lost to their families. And all because, Gareth never learnt that, to every action there is a reaction.    

May 24, 2021 10:52

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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