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He was angry online, on Twitter and Facebook, and he was angry at work. He was angry at home when he was with his wife and kids, a boy and a girl. He was angry at the pub; in front of the TV; at the polling station. And he was especially angry when he was driving the car he shared with his wife. Sometimes he had to pull over, sit silently at the wheel as other cars whizzed by, and seethe. He’d turn the radio on, to drown out his anger, but the poncey presenters and the godawful pop music they played tended to make him angrier still. More often than not, he was angry while he lay in bed trying to sleep. His dreams were furious.
He hadn’t always been this way. He used to be complacent, back when he didn’t know any better and thought it was perhaps a problem with him. But with his fifty-two years had come wisdom, and the wisdom had taught him that there was no antidote to the world, and he was incensed.
He was a builder by trade, and the men he worked with were angry too, apart from the Poles and Romanians, who were incessantly cheery, always passing round their cheap foreign fags – squashed packets with the health hazards written in gobbledegook. His boss was a woman in her early-mid forties. She had some sort of a degree, and thought she was better than him – it was written all over her smug, jowly face. She reminded him of his wife.
His wife, his family.
His boy was growing up wrong; liked nothing more than watching soap operas with his mother on the settee, sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows sweating in the foam. He was seventeen and he never went to the pub, never brought a girl home. He laughed a high-pitched laugh at his mother’s dopey work stories, helped his sister pick out outfits, sat with his feet folded under him, crummy socks on the sofa. He took long, candlelit baths and read novels about posh people in the olden times, going to balls and wearing bonnets. The wax pooled and hardened by the taps. The kid was clearly sick, but nobody else was fussed.
His daughter never wore dresses anymore. She dressed like a tomboy slut and listened to rap music. Eff this and eff that. Bitch, nigga, pussy. Disgusting. God, it made him mad.
His wife had given up on her weight problem and instead joined a group, held biweekly at the local Methodist church, where similar middle-aged women sat around in circles complaining about their husbands and making pacts to stop shaving their legs and getting their upper lips waxed. His wife had never done a proper day’s work in her life, just fannied about in an office full of homosexuals and jumped-up graduates. Pinged off emails and answered the phones in a fake voice. He’d phoned her at work once, just to let her know he’d be late. He hadn’t even recognised her.
On a rainy Tuesday he got up out of bed and left his wife snoring, went down to make coffee and a bite of toast. The boy was in the living room watching cartoons. He made his toast and spread a little jam. His daughter came into the kitchen, saw him and walked out again without so much as a “good morning”. He’d raised a pair of animals. A baby chimp and a jackal. He got the flowers he’d bought yesterday on the way back from work and hidden in the shed. He arranged them best he could in a vase on the kitchen table and propped up the card, wrote “My darling wife” on the envelope. Swore, kicked the bin, went up for a shower. When he got out of the shower – shivering, no dry towels again – he went down to find the card and flowers were still where he’d left them and his wife left already for work. When the boy came in, and on seeing the flowers, squealed “Ooh, they’re pretty!” it took every fibre of his being not to throw the bloody lot at him.
“You’ve all got to take part in a short seminar,” said his boss when he got in. The men were stood round the portacabin, making weak sugary brews. Nobody had replenished the normal milk and his tea was sickly beige with soya.
“Seminar, boss?” said one of the Poles.
They cleared the room that would be the gym in the hotel they were renovating, and arranged plastic chairs in a circle. Every site he’d ever worked on had about twenty plastic chairs knocking about, and he’d never seen them being delivered or removed.
“Who can define sexual harassment?” said his boss, tight-lipped and smiling. “Who knows what equality in the workplace means?” It went on like this for almost an hour. She handed out sweets for right answers until the bag of fruit pastilles was empty and then she told them to get back to work, clapped her hands at them like they were a flock of pigeons. He went for a cigarette instead.
They were building the hotel for a TV chef who’d recently been discovered doing cocaine off a hooker’s tits in a public place. He didn’t know if this meant it was a park, or nightclub, or another hotel. Either way the bloke’s TV career had ended overnight and so now they were building him this hotel. The chef would soon have a choice of ninety-eight rooms in which to engage in lewd acts with prostitutes, if he very well liked. Fitting the mirrors in the built-in wardrobes of the modern block, he imagined taut, wriggling bodies clad in lace, which naturally led to thoughts of his daughter, and he was so angry he could almost be sick. The Tudor block had thick, black supportive beams framing wattle-and-daub walls. It looked like a giantess’s backside, strapped in slutty lingerie. He obediently slapped on white paint, taking care not to stain the black beams, and chewed his mouth till it bled.
He got home late, and his son was making dinner. Some foreign dish making the house stink of onions and aniseed. “I’m getting something from the chippy,” he said to the room, while his wife and daughter flicked through a magazine at the table and his son sang a pop song as he stirred the pan. The flowers had been moved to the windowsill next to the washing-up liquid and black mould repellent. The card was nowhere to be seen. Nobody cared when he left.
It was an alright evening, clear and gunmetal blue. He drove and drove, letting other motorists squeal out of his way or else suffer the consequences. He drove to the town twelve miles away where he’d grown up, and slowed when he came to the house where his father had died ten years ago, his mother almost three. He drove an extra two miles to see his old school. The sign told him it was now an academy, and he snorted and drove on. He saw the place where the hospital had been where he’d been born, but it’d been knocked down a few years ago and all that remained was a rough patch of scrubland, some blocks of concrete with iron snaking through. He drove to the house of a woman he’d been seeing for a short while, just before his daughter was born. The lawn was immaculate and a brand-new BMW monopolised the drive; it was clear she didn’t live there anymore. He drove to the bridge that was a point of outstanding natural beauty, where more than once he’d contemplated jumping off, only to get back into his car after some time standing in the cold and drive home. He got out of the car but left the engine running, the radio loud enough to make him feel there was somebody there. He stood for a long time, his work boots poking through the rusted railings, looking out at the spectacular view – a castle, the winding river, a smattering of mute swans, the overhanging willows – until it was too dark to see anything new. Then he got back into his silent car and turned the key to find his battery was flat.