A Very Short Story

He could hear the tinny noise drifting down from upstairs. The theme music for that pop shown on the Light Programme. Easy Beat. Groups and noise. He’d told his son that was could listen to it, as long as he stayed in his bedroom and kept the sound low on the transistor radio.

It was a sunny morning, late spring. He’d been up since seven, his wife -always his wife, never the wife – cooking breakfast, then off to Roundhay Park to let the dog run off the lead. Up at the small lake, the model boat people were sailing their craft. All remote control and God only knew what, like a bunch of big, eager boys.

He’d read his way through the Sunday Express, not that was much in it these days. No news, just scandal and rubbish, anything to sell papers. The sun came through the window, falling over his shoulder as he read.

Twenty years since the war ended, long enough for a bald patch to appear on the top of his head. He could feel it now, warmed, making him feel old.

In the kitchen he filled the kettle, then poured the boiling water into the metal bucket, topping it with cold and a sachet of proper car shampoo. The other stuff ruined the paint, everyone knew that. Sponge, chamois leather.

The Wolseley was parked in the drive. Seven hundred pounds it had cost him, a year old, but worth every penny. Leather seats, walnut dashboard, it felt like driving a Jaguar and it purred along the Great North Road.

His wife had complained, of course, the same way she had when he came home with the Tudor watch. They couldn’t afford it, she insisted, never mind that he told he that business was good. He never stinted her on the housekeeping, she didn’t have to worry about a thing. Neither did their son, he’d taken him out and bought him a Scalextric set yesterday, for God’s sake. They had money.

He was a manufacturer’s rep. Knitwear from Hong Kong. Cheap but well-made. That was what it said on the business cards, and he was gone four days a week through the north east. Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Newcastle. Sometimes all the way over the other side to Carlisle. The Wolseley had a big boot for samples and made all the hours of driving a joy. It was an investment, like buying good tools. That was how he explained it.

On Sunday he washed the car. Presentation was part of selling. He always looked good, wearing a suit and tie, well turned-out. The army had drilled that into him. His kit laid out exactly, everything, perfect, clean, Blancoed to high heaven. He’d enjoyed soldiering, it made sense to him. But he’d learned so much during the war. In the Commandos he’d picked up the skill of killing quietly, moving stealthily, never letting death bother him.

He soaped up the coachwork and the windows, seeing them sparkle in the light, bubbles forming and popping. He paid attention to the arches and the wheels, sponge and brush. Then bucket after bucket of cold water before using the leather to dry it all off and leaving it clean and shiny.

Ready to head up north again tomorrow.

But first he’d be out this evening. A small job. He’d started doing them just after he was demobbed. It began as a favour for a friend who was pressed, then word spread discreetly. Now, two or three times a year the telephone would ring. He went all over the North and the Midlands. It kept him sharp, used the skills he’d been given. And it paid well. It bought the car, the watch, the transistor radio he could hear blaring upstairs.

After all, the money had to come from somewhere.

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