I arrived late again. I know that was part of the problem. They say family should come first, and I agree with that. However, if I don’t do my job then there will be no house to come home to. Daisy didn’t understand this, or maybe didn’t want to.
When I opened the door, my daughters greeted me. I was so happy.
“Daddy!” they said enthusiastically. I wondered if they’d be this excited if I was here more for them.
I hugged them and asked what they’d been up to. They told me about school and raced off to bring back the drawings they’d made.
“Really good,” I said to Rebecca.
It was a crayon sketch of her mother and I, her and her sister, Abby. Next to her mum was another man. He was dressed all in black, had a trilby hat and rough facial hair.
“Do you like?” she asked, and a cold dread filled me.
“It’s lovely,” I said, peering over at Daisy who sat on the couch browsing her iPad and drinking wine.
“What have you got?” I asked Abby, kneeling in front of her.
“It’s a dog,” she said smiling.
“I can see that.”
“Can we get a dog?”
“I’m not so sure,” I said, turning to lock the door.
“Come on! Mum says we can.”
“Really? I find that hard to believe.”
“Mum! Tell, Daddy!”
Daisy looked up, stared me right in the eyes, but didn’t say a thing.
I retired to the kitchen, taking out my laptop. The screen was too bright for the dim light. I squinted as I put on my reading glasses.
Even though I was home, the work didn’t finish.
“What are you doing?” Daisy asked from the living room.
“Need to order some things from Amazon,” I lied.
I was replying to email, like I did last night and the night before.
When I was done, I pushed the laptop away like a finished plate. I relaxed back into the chair. Daisy was anxiously checking her phone.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said slightly on edge.
“You still going out tonight?”
“I don’t know,” she said, tossing her phone onto the couch. She stretched back, her body language stiff.
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” she said, pushing herself up. “Can you put the girls to bed?”
“Sure,” I replied, closing the laptop and slipping it back into my bag.
I never tired of putting my children to bed. They slept in the same room, in single beds, separated by a nightlight that they’d take turns switching off. It was a little porcelain house, its structure lopsided and twisted. Inside an LED bulb lit the furniture and the face of the crooked man who lived in the crooked house. He wore black, with a small black hat. His beard was painted onto his face.
Abby stretched over and switched off the light.
“Was that the crooked man in your drawing earlier?”
“No,” Rebecca said.
She was asleep before I could ask another question.
I descended the stairs quietly, not wanting to wake them.
“You have a parcel,” Daisy said, before returning to the living room and pouring herself another wine.
She was back on her phone.
“Do you want me to cook you something?”
“I’m supposed to be eating out tonight.”
“I know,” I said, “what about something small, like canapés. Like a starter, it won’t spoil your meal.”
“I’m not sure,” she said, still staring at her phone.
“I’m sure they’ll text you soon. Hey, if I don’t finish in time, I’ll put it in the fridge for when you get back.”
“Okay,” she relented, but that was it.
The parcel sat on the table next to may laptop bag.
I checked the fridge, retrieving some basil and tomatoes. There was a fresh baguette on the sideboard. I cut the bread and pulled apart the herbs. I picked up the steak knife and returned to the kitchen table.
I sliced through the sticky tape on the side and opened. A sweet smell wafted out. I smiled. I glanced around the kitchen door to see Daisy stare at her phone, frustrated.
They couldn’t have cleaned it up? I said to myself, lifting out the clearly hairy buttock flesh. I’d have to be quick. I couldn’t have Daisy finding me like this. I picked up the wooden chopping board and moved out of line of sight. I removed my wedding band. I didn’t know why I still wore it. Maybe it was because I was used to it, or maybe it was a just in case. Quickly I filleted the skin away from the meat. I threw it into the pan I’d prepared. The skin sizzled.
I was less panicked now. I sliced the meat into small pieces and waited for the skin to finish frying.
“Smells good!” Daisy said from the living room. Her face still glued to her phone.
I grinned and stifled a giggle. I placed the skin on some paper towel and let the fat soak in.
I returned the meat to the pan and gently seared each side. It didn’t take more than a minute.
I arranged the bread slices on a plate and laid a piece of meat on each, topped with a sprig of basil and a slice of tomato. My heart raced. I tried my best to stop my hands shaking as I entered the living room. Daisy’s eyes were on stalks.
“That looks incredible, why didn’t you ever cook like that for us.”
She reached out and took a canapé.
“I guess I took you for granted. I would never do that again, you know.”
She cocked her head and took a bite. Her back arched and her head fell back.
“This is so good,” she said almost groaning, wiping away a dribble of red liquid from her lips, “it’s so tender.”
I smiled, trying hard not to look creepy. She grabbed more, one with each hand, stuffing one into her face.
“Do you want any?” she asked with a mouthful of food.
“I’m good, I ate on the way home.”
“That’s a shame; you have to try these.”
“Oh I did, when I was cooking,” I lied.
“Can I finish them?”
“Sure,” I said, returning to the kitchen.
It was dark and foreboding now. My shoulders hung. I stared at the left over skin that sat brown and bubbled on the now soaked paper towel. I had hoped I’d feel closure from this. Instead I felt immense remorse and guilt. I’d saved the money for years for my family and I spent it on this. Petty revenge. I folded the cardboard from the parcel, placed it in a refuse bag and pushed it into my laptop bag.
I jumped slightly when I felt fingers lightly run up my back. My spine tingled. I smelt her perfume.
“I know what you are doing,” Daisy said, placing her arms around my shoulders, “I’m with James now. But play your cards right, who knows what the future holds.”
James won’t be over tonight I thought to myself and let out a surprise laugh.
“Am I funny?” she asked, pulling her hands away.
“God no!” I said, as I turned, “what you said made me happy and I’m sorry.”
I forced myself to cry. All that came was a single tear. But it was enough. She wiped it away. Her face was now somber and more beautiful than I ever remembered. I leaned in to kiss her. She pulled away.
“Is that crackling?” she asked, changing the subject.
She walked over to the brown and bubbled skin. Adrenaline poured into my veins. She bit down.
“Were you hiding this from me?” she said almost disgusted.
I shook my head.
“This is even better than the canapés.”
I let out a relieved chuckle.
She stopped and brought her hand to her mouth, pulling out a hair. I grimaced.
“That was one hairy pig,” she laughed.
I smiled back.
“Oh,” she said briefly, returning to the living room.
I hadn’t even realised her phone was ringing. She answered it.
“See you in a minute, let me get ready.”
She put down the phone. Put on her coat and rushed over to me. She kissed me on the cheek.
“Thanks for looking after the girls.”
I stood frozen to the spot. The doorbell rang. Cold air rushed in when Daisy opened the door. She reached on tiptoes to kiss him.
“Can I speak to him quickly?” he asked, looking over to me, “taxi’s waiting.”
“Sure,” Daisy said, turning to wish me goodnight.
When the door shut behind him it was as if all the life was taken out of the room. A chill enveloped me. I didn’t know if the temperature had dropped, or the blood in my system had disappeared.
“Surprised?” James asked.
He stood there, dripping rain water off his black coat and hat onto the wooden floor.
“A man came to see me today,” he said, slowly but purposefully striding towards me.
“Look at my head.”
He removed his hat, revealing a small square of bandage.
“It took a while for me to wake up. When I did though, I knew what I needed to do. He wasn’t even paying attention.”
“That smells good.”
He put his arm around me and marched me to the front door.
“I love her,” he said, pointing out the now open door and to the taxi that waited, “I’d do anything for her. Just like what I assume you would.
“You have to remember, Steve,” James said, leaving the house, “when you pay someone to do a job, they will always take more. Your brother, he did put up a fight, not much though. I hope you enjoyed your parcel, arrive on time as you expected?”
I ground my teeth to stop my jaw from dropping.
“You seem a little pale,” he said leaning over and peering up at me.
“Don’t worry, I’ve sent the rest of him to your family. It’s all skinned and filleted. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.”
“Look after the girls tonight. I’ll take good care of them tomorrow and the next day. There’s a reason why I’m in my position, and you’re in yours; decision making. See you in work on Monday? Remember to finish those reports you promised.”
He smiled, and pointed finger-hand guns at me.
“Sorry,” he said, putting them back in his pockets, “that wasn’t a threat. I guess you’ll be working late tonight.”
Impotently, I watched him enter the car and put his arm round my wife before the taxi drove off. I heard a beep from my pocket. Almost on autopilot, I picked up my phone. There was a new text message, it was from my mother.
Thank you very much for the meat, Steven. That should see us through to Christmas when you and your brother visit. Is it pork?