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Contemporary Fiction Sad

After the three hectic days of all five adult children arriving – with partners and progeny – and moving in, unpacking, and rearranging furniture to “how it used to be”, Mom Richman – Gladys - was exhausted, physically and emotionally, after the verbal battles between her offspring. She sat on the window seat in a bay window overlooking her perfectly manicured rose garden, with the heavy brocade curtains pulled closed, hiding from the ruckus with her G and T. Pop Richman – Albert – would have to deal with today’s kerfuffle.

Four sets of grandchildren were fighting for the lolly scramble he’d decided to entertain them with, much to the displeasure of his two daughters and one daughter-in-law. It was one of the holiday traditions he’d begun with their children when they were “pint-sized”, to her own displeasure.

Eleven o’clock is never a good time of day to let children fill up on sugar! Especially before midday dinner.

Sighing, Gladys buried herself in her romance novel. She was eager to find out whether the heroine would fall for her lover’s sweet talk once she discovered his ragged past. Soon she was oblivious to the family noises, knowing the housekeeper would be mustering her kitchen crew to prepare everything for the midday meal.

On the other side of the brocade curtain the family were either sitting back, idly sanctioning Albert’s ides of fun, or fully engaged in scrambling for the lollies. Soon enough, all the boiled candy and toffee sweets were gone, stuffed into mouths or bulging pants pockets. Penny, clever wee lass, had brought a miniature shopping basket, supposedly to carry around her baby ragdoll – whose real purpose was to hide the sweets below her.

“Off outside for a run and a play, kids!” bellowed Grandad Albert. “Once around the house, and upstairs to wash up.” No parent expected them to take less than an hour to complete the mission, with hidden sweets to enjoy, and the size of the garden with its low boxus maze, the fountain pool, and the strawberry patch to investigate.

“Okay, kids. Who’s for a drink? Wine? G and T?” he offered his offspring and respective spouses.

Gladys swished open the brocade curtain and lowered her feet to the floor. “I’ll have a G and T, dear.”

“Oh Mum! There you are!” Her eldest daughter Sistine rushed to give her another hug – too tight, too stiff to be genuine adoration.

Oh, she knows how to play the inheritance claim alright.

The other offspring all made “good morning” and happy face greetings, Stella flicking a sneer at Sistine, Gladys noted.

And so the hour passed in forced jollity and conversation. It may have been the last festive season of the year, but all minds were on the coming announcement of to whom Pop would be handing on his business.

That motor cycle dealership had been in the family since Albert’s father, Edward “Eddie”, had begun it at age twenty-two, built on his five years as a motorcycle racing career. Not as a professional, but with his accredited championship awards pinned up around the shop’s walls as testament to his mad racing days, and his reputation for racing like a “mad bugger”, they did more good than any advertising. He’d built it up, and up, taking on the top name brands of Britain and the US. He’d bought out and closed down the opposition. Hell, he was the first motorcycle dealer in town to bring the Japanese bikes on board!

Albert, his only son, had been riding bikes since he could straddle the 50 cc. with both boots on the ground. He’d become a bit of an ace rider as well, as he’d moved up the cc sizes as he grew. He raced, he scrambled, he test-rode every model. He took time out to put himself through a trades course, and returned as head mechanic, training the juniors they needed. He had a head for measurements and figures, and took on managing spare parts. And, he rode.

So much did Albert love bikes that years later when Gladys, having given him three daughters, finally gave him two sons, he named them for brands from the UK and Britain. Hence, Indian and Harley.

Indian had taken to the bikes as eagerly as had old Eddie and Albert. He’d been working at the shop since he turned fifteen, and was now in charge of the workshop and the Japanese division.

And Indian’s wife, Sylvia, fully expected to soon be wife of the new owner. After all, hadn’t her husband been helping run the business for so long? And it was obviously a very successful business, judging as she did by the lavish lifestyle of her mother and father-in law.

At dinner, the children ate in the upstairs nursery, under the watchful eye of Winnie, the second kitchen maid cum nursery maid. Out of sight, out of mind.

In the adult’s dining room, between the first and second course, Albert stood and poured a freshly opened wine – gold label – for everyone. Something in the air held them off from grabbing up their glasses for a quick taste. An expectant air filled the formal room.

Returning to his seat, Albert remained standing. A silent intake of breath, as everyone realised that, yes – Albert was going to make The Important Announcement. He picked up his glass, cupping it in hand, its stem between his fingers.

“Ahem,” he politely feigned a cough to get their attention. As if it wasn’t already on him.

“I have an announcement to make. On this date, forty-five years ago, I became sole owner of Richman and Son, the most reputable motorcycle retail business in this town. As you know, my father began the business, and I was, and am, proud to have been selected as his heir to one of the most prestigious retail businesses in town. I miss my father, old Eddie; he gave me the best training and career I biker could ask for.

“And, my dear wife, Gladys, has been part of my journey all along. Gladys, I will never forget seeing you in Mad Mike’s side car in that Wanganui Cemetery Circuit event! –“

Polite gasps burst from around the table. “Mum! You rode motorbikes?” Olivia exclaimed.

“Only side car, dear.”

“And you never let me have a bike of my own!?” Petulant hysteria began to crack her voice.

“To continue, if I may.” Albert retook control. “You, Gladys,  stole my heart then, and you have had my heart always. I love you, my dear.” He raised his glass to her in a shared toast, Gladys beaming, her children smiling.

He glanced around the room, the table. “Today, it is my pleasure to announce my retirement from the business in an active role. I am proud to declare I will be taking on, as an active partner for the first five years before surrendering full ownership, my son – Harley!’

The shocked silence was deafening.

“Please, will you all stand and raise your glass to wish Harley all the best, and offer congratulations for this wonderful opportunity.” He paused, seeming oblivious to the shock, so thick in the air you could cut it. He raised his glass even higher. “To Harley!”

Gladys rose quickly to her feet, glass raised. Gradually others stood, glasses raised…not so much.

“Cheers, Harley.” It was reluctantly echoed, slowly around the room, as the stunned family – Harley too – drank the toast ordered by Pops.

They slowly resumed their seats, and Gladys took delight in examining their expressions. Indian was black with fury, his wife scarlet for the same reason. “What about me!” he quietly protested.

The hopeful sons-in-law all held their expressions as neutrally as they could, but Gladys saw a biting of the lower lip here, a furrowed brow there, and a look of worry on Olivia’s husband’s face.

Okay, that’s the announcement done. Now the sizzling fireworks will start firing.

She wasn’t wrong. As Pops leaned back in his chair, casually taking a cigar from the silver box at his right hand, clipping it with the gold inlaid silver cigar cutter and flicking his silver lighter to draw it to life, he smiled down the table to Gladys. No one noticed her wink back at him.

Nice one, Albert. Keep going.

But, before he could, the whispering around the table was again interrupted.

Harley coughed, and drew Albert’s attention – and everyone else’s as well. “Dad, I love you, and I appreciate this totally unexpected announcement.” He paused. “But I cannot do it.”

A low buzz of murmured questions and conjecture went around the table.

“Well, he’s never been a bike man.”

“My James know more about motorcycles than Harley. Or Indian for that matter.”

“This could be my chance,” whispered Olivia to her husband, who slowly nodded his head, knowing she had three bikes of her own in their garage at home.

Gladys spoke up. “Perhaps we women should leave the room, and leave the men to talk shop,” she said. “Drawing room, ladies?” She stood, expecting them to take the hint.

They didn’t – they glared at her. There was no way their husbands would be making decisions without them. Olivia targeted Gladys with a black look.

Gladys understood – she’d known Olivia had been riding around for years.

She took her seat again. “Well, Albert, I tried.”

“Thank you darling.” He beamed at her.” Best if you’re here, of course. Well.” He turned to Harley. “This is a big honour, boy. What’s the reason for not taking the reins?”

“I’d prefer to discuss it with you and Mum in private.”

A fist thumped the table, clattering the last cutlery and startling the already nervous guests. “I will not be removed from this discussion!” thundered Indian. “I have worked for years for this business, this chance! I have put my bloo—“

“Shut up and quit blustering, brother.”

Indian subsided into a seething near-silence, with occasional heavy breathing.

“Harley? I’d like – we’d all like to hear your reasons. Just… explain,” Gladys said quietly.

“Yes, lad. And I think there’s little point in cutting out people who all feel somewhat invested here.” Albert went to the side table and poured himself a port, seeming to forget the other men in the room. He sat down, took a mouthful, and leaned forward, elbows on the table. “You have the floor.”

Harley reached into his vest pocket, and drew out folded papers. As he sat, he slowly unfolded them, turning them face down onto the damask dining cloth, beside his setting. He sat and stared at them, until he drew a long breath and raised his head.

“As you all know, I work at Biggs, Cache and Farmley, the accountants. Last month a new client came in, asking us to audit the annual reports of another business his daughter had shares in.’ He turned to Indian. “Richman and Richman, your wife’s partnership.”

The air chilled.

“Richman and Richman partnership comprises, your wife, Stella Richman, you – Indian Richman, Stella’s aunt Mrs Adrienne Delman. And a silent partner, Stella’s father, Patrick Delman. It was he who brought the paperwork in.”

Indian blustered, “Well, so what If I manage a business not related to the bike shop! What’s the matter with that? Every businessman has more than one investment!”

Harley stood, and picking up the papers, walked around to his father. Placing them in front of Albert, he returned to his seat without a word. Albert fingered the papers, as if unwilling to flip them to read.

“I can’t take up the business partnership, Dad. Not as it is. It’s had the cream of the profits skimmed off, by way of fake transactions with Richman and Richman.’ You need a lawyer - at least." He turned. “Stella, your mother is disgusted with you, as I am with Indian.

“And Dad? I don’t want to be in charge as Richman and Son goes under – as it will. The paperwork in setting up the fake company has every contingency covered. And years of fake contracts and forged signatures on transactions.

“Dad, I feel sickened. I just want to get away from this shithole brother of mine—as far as I can. I don’t want to be here and watch your heart break. I’m sorry – I’m not cut out for this.” Tears welled. “Dad, it’s been going on for years. The mess is too much to unravel. I’m sorry. I can’t help you. So I can’t stay.”

In the silence of the room, he stepped back towards his father. Albert’s eyes were full of sorrow. He reached for Harley and drew him in, held him closely as they silently wept on each other’s shoulders.

Gladys stood, and walked to meet him halfway. She too had brimming tears, as she drew him in. They held each other and, she rocked him, as she’d done when he’d been a sad, left behind ten-year old, watching Indian take off for another Saturday cross-country ride with his Dad.

Indian stood up, and opened his mouth to speak.

“Hup!” ordered Albert with a raised hand, stopping Indian’s words in his mouth. He addressed the room in general. “I believe now is the time for all disinterested parties to find themselves something interesting to do elsewhere in the house?” His voice was calm, but strained. His eye bored holes in Albert, then he looked at Stella. His expression was black, yet drained.

The sisters and their men left the room in silence, each couple heading to their rooms upstairs, leaving the room of five people feeling empty and lonely. Two in the room, their minds racing – how to get out of the shit they’d dropped themselves into.

Three felt only misery – Gladys and Albert for Harley, and Harley for his parents. Broken-hearted, they separated; Harley left by way of the door out to the parking space. The sound of his purring engine, the crunch of his tyres on the fine gravel of the driveway, were the only sounds.

Gladys and Albert held hands, and turned to Indian. Gladys left Albert to do the talking.

“Get out of our house, and don’t come back. Ever. But do not leave town.” He stared at Sylvia and his son. “NOW!”

The crash of a chair tipping back to the floor was the only sound they made, as they left the room. Soon after, came the sounds of a maid carrying their bags, as they carried their children downstairs, across the parquet foyer, and to the car.

As it’s noise faded rapidly into the distance, Albert wrapped Gladys in his arms, and walked her from the room, each as heart-broken as the other.

November 26, 2020 19:58

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