Lifting the Lid

By: Rob Johnson


Trevor stood with his back to the fireplace like some Victorian patriarch but without a scrap of the authority. Although the gas fire wasn’t on, he rubbed his hands behind him as if to warm them. His mother sat in her usual chair by the window, staring blankly at the absence of activity in the street outside.

He knew exactly what her response would be. It was always the same when he told her anything about his life. Not that there was often much to tell, but this was different. This was a biggie. Almost as big as when he’d told her about Imelda’s—

‘It’s of no concern to me.’

There we go. And now for the follow-on. Wait for it. Wait for it.

‘I’m seventy-eight years old. Why should I care? I could be dead tomorrow.’

Trevor screwed up his face and mouthed the words of his mother’s familiar mantra, but it became rapidly unscrewed again when she added, ‘…Like Imelda.’

‘Don’t,’ he said. ‘Just don’t, okay?’

‘No concern to me,’ said the old woman with a barely perceptible shrug.

In the silence that followed, Trevor became aware of the ticking of the pendulum clock on the mantelpiece behind him. It had never been right since his father had died, so he checked his watch instead. ‘You won’t be… ‘ and he hesitated to say the word, ‘ … lonely?’

If his mother had had the energy or inclination to have laughed – derisively or otherwise – she would have done, but she settled for the next best option and grunted, ‘Hmph.’

Trevor knew from experience that the intention was to pick away at his already tender guilt spot, and he looked around the room as if he were searching for the nearest escape route. His mother still referred to it as “the parlour”, perhaps in a vain attempt to attach some kind of outmoded elegance to a room which, to Trevor’s eye at least, was mildly shabby and darkly depressing even on the brightest of days. It was festooned with fading photographs of people who were long since dead, interspersed here and there with pictures of his more recently deceased brother and his very-much-alive sister. Of Trevor, there was only the one – an unframed snapshot of him and Imelda on their wedding day.

He became aware of the clock once again and cleared his throat. ‘So… er… I’ll be away then.’

This time, the shrug was accompanied by the slightest tilt of the head. ‘No concern to me,’ she said.

Again, he glanced at his watch. ‘It’s just that I have to—’

‘Oh get on if you’re going.’

Trevor stepped forward and, picking up his crash helmet from the table next to his mother, kissed her perfunctorily on the back of the head. For the first time, she turned – not quite to face him, but turned nevertheless.

‘Still got that silly little moped then,’ she said, repeating the comment she’d made when he had first arrived less than an hour before.

‘Scooter, mother. It’s a scooter. – Anyway, how could I afford anything else?’ He was thankful she couldn’t see the sudden redness in his cheeks or she would have instantly realised that he was lying.

He kissed her again in the same spot, and this time she seemed to squirm uncomfortably. For a moment, he followed her line of vision to the outside world. – Nothing. He tapped his helmet a couple of times, then turned and walked towards the door. As he closed it behind him, he could just make out the words: ‘Your brother wouldn’t have gone.’

Out in the street, he strapped on his helmet and straddled the ageing Vespa, eventually coaxing the engine into something that resembled life. He took a last look at the window where his mother sat and thought he saw the twitch of a lace curtain falling back into place.

‘Oh sod it,’ he said aloud and let out the clutch.

At the end of the road, he turned right and stopped almost immediately behind a parked camper van. Dismounting the Vespa and still holding the handlebars, he kicked out the side stand and was about to lean it to rest when he decided that some kind of symbolic gesture was called for. Instead of inclining the scooter to a semi-upright position, he looked down at the rust-ridden old machine, tilted it marginally in the opposite direction and let go. With the gratingly inharmonious sound of metal on tarmac, the Vespa crashed to the ground and twitched a few times before rattling itself into submission. Trevor took in the paltry death throes and allowed himself a smirk of satisfaction.