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The way the wind blows

The man walked slowly down the road, his hands buried deep in his pockets, his collar pulled up around his neck trying to protect himself from the cold that engulfed him. The trees swayed violently overhead as his gaze was drawn to the birds that moved effortlessly in the breeze above. Swaying and dropping before gliding off into the distance. He stopped at the traffic lights, watching the cars race by. He jumped slightly and moved in circles to try and keep warm, blowing into his cupped hands and rubbing them violently. He shook them before burying them deep in his pockets, intertwining his fingers around a lose thread of old tissue. He stepped his foot into the road hesitantly, his eyes fixed on the car moving closer in the distance. He stopped and moved back, resigned to the fact he wouldn’t have made it across in time. He stood still and watched the car go by in a hurry before the soft beeping sound and the red man across from him changed to green. He bowed his head and skipped lightly across the road. He moved quickly, his eyes fixed in place as his mind raced, trying to think of excuses.


‘They didn’t have any left?’ It would be the best one. But whether she would believe it or not wasn’t certain. He looked up as a bus pulled in. He watched as an elderly lady stood down, her hand gripping the railing on the inside of the door. She hobbled away slowly, her hand clutching her bag tightly as the bus drove away. He stared at her, his mind racing, eyes fixed on the bag. The large parcels creeping over the top ‘What’s in it? I could just go up and take it. She couldn’t stop me.’ His heart-beat rapidly as she came closer. His grip on the tissue tightened and he could feel the tear in the thin fabric. His eyes flitted from the lady to the ground back to her bag, his mind thinking of all the possibilities that would await when he snatched it from her. She was in touching distance; his body grew warmer and he stood slightly taller. He removed his hands from his pockets, feeling the cool breeze which brought a new sense of calm to him.

 

He stared at her and she smiled at him with a slight nod.


He was frozen in fear, he saw the warmth and kindness in her eyes and returned the smile and kind nod. He was defeated. Deflated and stuck in a situation he couldn’t see a way out of. 


He reached the top of the road as the rain started. A heavy downpour which along with the wind chill made it almost unbearable. He stood there and watched the house. He could see the young boy in the sitting room, jumping up and down, a smile on his face as he stared at the lights of the Christmas tree. He closed his eyes and his head fell back slightly feeling the rain on his skin. He clenched his fist, not wanting to go in. Wanting to run away, to leave and never come back. He had brought too much pain and there was nothing he could do to right it, no matter how much he wanted to. He willed himself forward. Taking one small step at a time until he found himself sliding the porch door open and stepping inside, staring at the doorbell. He remained frozen with a small voice urging him to run away, to leave and never return. “It will be so much easier for them without you,” The voice whispered.


He turned slightly and placed his hand on the porch when the front door opened. His wife stood in front of him, and he forced a smile. She chuckled at him. ‘Did you get splashed by a passing car?’


‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘Just a slow walker is all. Rain started and I just kept on walking.’


‘Well, that was stupid, wasn’t it. Did you get everything on the list?’


‘No, Shelves were empty,’ He said, hoping to see acceptance in her eyes.

 

She was silent and smiled half-heartedly, seeing a sadness in him.

 

‘Christmas time madness,’ he added sombrely.

   

‘Yeah.’ She pursed her lips and nodded. ‘Come on, give me that coat and go upstairs, get yourself changed. Get nice and warm. Not good for you to be this wet.’


He kicked off his shoes and stepped in, removing his now weighted coat and moved slowly up the stairs. He took off his jeans and emptied the pockets. His phone, wallet and a piece of paper. He tossed his jeans to the washing basket in the corner and stared at the paper forlornly. He folded it and looked at his watch. An hour to go. ‘I can fix it all,’ He told himself, just as he had time and time again. ‘All I need is one and I can give up. I can put it in the past.’

 

An hour to go.


He sat in the sitting room, his gaze fixed on the tv, yet his mind was miles away. ‘One last time,’ he told himself. ‘No more.’ It was always the same, and it was never one last time. No matter how much he wanted it to be. His gaze flitted to the bottom of the tree. The sparse array of presents from family and friends. He looked at the joy on his son’s face. The smile a mile wide. He feared it wouldn’t stay that way though.

 

He looked at his watch. 30 minutes to go.


He closed his eyes and leaned forward slightly, glancing at his son who sat by the fireplace, sitting crossed legged as he played with his army men around the manger. Mary and Joseph appearing to be pulled into a military exercise.

 

He smiled at the innocence. The fact he knew nothing of the world or what he was going through. What the next two hours held for him. 


The door opened and his wife came in, a smile on her face and a cup of tea in her hand. She passed the cup to him and he held it tentatively, staring at the light brown tea as it swirled around the cup. He was lost in the gentle ripples, before taking a sip and placing it down on the table beside him. 

‘Are you okay?’ his wife asked, seeing his open stare.

 

He looked up and nodded ‘Yeah, yeah. Everything’s fine’


She let it go, seeing the discomfort on his face. The worry that was slowly building inside him. 

She knew what it was. The same thing every time. Again. He had promised to leave it in the past. But again, he had fallen into the perils of its grasp. She looked at the boy and the battle being fought over the manger. Her gaze fell on the Christmas tree. The presents or lack there-of. 

She forced a smile and turned to leave, closing the door behind her and stopped in the hall trying to fight back the tears that began to surface. 


He sat on his phone, his eyes fixed to the app, the scores being updated with every second that ticked by. ‘Daddy, Daddy, watch.’ His son called to him, pulling his trouser leg.


‘What is it?’ he said looking up.


‘Watch.’ The youngest pointed at the tv and they watched a scene from Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear gliding through the air, to the amazement of all the other toys.

 

He forced a smile of encouragement at his son, who jumped with glee as he held a buzz lightyear toy in one hand. The child ran away, the toy gliding through the air, like it had done on the tv. He felt a pang of guilt as he stared at his son oblivious to what was going on.


His phone vibrated and his attention was quickly taken away from his child.

 

1-0


His face fell and his eyes closed. He had fallen into it again.

 

Failing already.

 

He looked at the slip of paper and saw nothing but defeat on the horizon.


30 minutes in and he was up in one, down in three.

 

He was dejected, forlorn and resigned to the fact it was all over. Again. So soon and there was nothing to be gained. No new experience.


The tree shone bright in the corner, as the evening grew slowly darker. The young boy sat on the sofa opposite him, his eyes fixed on the adventures of Buzz, Woody and the rest of the toys, a blanket draped over him, his tiny feet poking out as he held Buzz tight in his grasp. He watched the tv in awe, no doubt convinced that when he went to bed that night, Buzz would come to life, and with all the army men embark on an adventure he could only dream of. 


The phone vibrated and he checked the scores. Up in three and down in one.

 

Unpredictable as always. It never changed and this was the game he had agreed to play. A game which he lost time and time again.


A little bit of hope is enough to convince the most rational that things will work out. A light at the end of the tunnel. It shows that it can be done, and it shows the sweetness of your victory. It teases you and entices you in before it's taken away from you.


He closed his eyes and prayed to a god he didn’t believe in preaching that this would be it. That he would quit it all if he won this one. A prayer said rehearsed many times before.


Ten minutes to go and his prayer was answered. A smile crept across his face and his mind raced. Things would be different. A Christmas miracle. Things could be different this year. 

Presents under the tree and food in the fridge.


Things had to stay the same though. He leaned forward in his chair and willed time to move on. He hoped and prayed that things would stay the same. That he could win. That he could finally right all his wrongs.

 

One match finished. Win.


He nodded his head. Feeling the stress in his body increase.


‘Daddy.’


Second match finished. Win.


‘Come on. Two more. Come one,’ He said, getting slightly more agitated.


‘Daddy.’


‘One second, son. Give me one second.’


‘Daddy.’ His youngest called again.


‘Third match finished. Win.

 

‘Daddy, watch.’


‘What?’ He snapped standing up and dropping his phone to the sofa. ‘What do you want?’ he shouted.

 

The boy stared at him in silence clutching Buzz close to his chest.


His phone vibrated and he turned to pick it up as the sitting room door opened and his wife walked in.


Fourth match finished. Loss.

 

‘94th minute. Fucking 94th minute.’ He dropped his phone and sat down.


‘James. Go play upstairs. Daddy and I need to talk.’


The young boy left the room sombrely and the couple sat in silence, listening to the soft patter of feet as he ascended the stairs. 


‘How much this time?’


‘I can win it back. I know I can. Just one more go and I –’


‘That wasn’t the question. How much did you lose?’


He remained silent.


She shook her head. ‘Every fucking time. Just when I think you’ve stopped. That you’ve changed. You do it again. Every time.’


‘I can win it back. I promise.’


‘How much?’


‘Three hundred.’


She sighed. ‘All the money for the James’ presents.’


The room was still.


‘I don’t think I can do this anymore.’


‘What do you mean?’


‘I’m going to take James and I’m going to stay at my mams.’


‘You don’t have to.’


‘Yeah. Yeah, I do. I don’t want him around you. You keep doing this and I… I can’t be around you.

You need help. And I can’t let you throw our savings down the toilet on this fantasy that you’re going to win it all back.’


‘But I can’


‘No, you can’t Stephen. When will you realise that?’ she said, standing and walking into the hall.


‘James, honey, come down and get your coat.’ She called. ‘We’re going to see granny.’


They boy crept down the stairs and put on his coat with some help from his mother.

 

‘You don’t have to do this,’ He whispered. ‘Please.’

     

‘Yeah. I do.’


She ushered James into the rain and into the car.


‘Is daddy coming with us?’ he asked, holding his toy.


‘No, honey. He’s got some work to do. We’ll see him again soon. Okay.’


The boy nodded, a smile on his face as he waved at his dad in the porch.

 

‘Please, you don’t have to go.’ He pleaded as his wife moved to the driver side.


‘You need help. I can’t watch you destroy this family anymore,’ she said getting in the car. 


He was still and watched as the car reversed out of the garden. A wave of emotion fell upon him and he stepped into the garden, waving to his son with tears hidden by the rain.  



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