He pulled into the services off the motorway. It was one of the days that happened once or twice a year in England, when the temperature seems to rocket and travel becomes uncomfortable without air conditioning. Even with the windows open the car boiled, his old Jaguar had a heater that would barely keep you from freezing in winter, and did nothing to stop you roasting in summer.
He pulled over at the far side of the car park, where it was quieter, parking facing the green slope of grass that people walked their dogs up for exercise. Idly he watched as a family took their dalmation for a walk up the hill. The hot breeze was blowing across the car park and up the hill, lifting the young girl’s skirt. She would smooth it down and then forget almost immediately and her flowery, light summer dress lifted again. The inevitable flash of white panties happened and he knew that he shouldn’t be interested. The girl was, maybe, twelve or so. Too innocent to think about the view of her white covered bottom from below. He wasn’t excited, just idly watching a pubescent girl’s rear; in a few years this view would have the boys flocking. He got out and went to buy a coffee to wake up and a Coke to cool down.
It had been a long drive, all night from the North of Scotland where the ferry from Orkney had dumped him at 11pm at night. He was tired, tired of the drive and tired of his family. Mostly he was tired of his brother; locked away on Mainland, Orkney for the last 20 years, out of communication, not wanting to talk to his family. Now, with their mother dying he had made a final, desperate effort to bring him round. It hadn’t worked. His mother had begged him to try; not really, he thought, because she cared, more because she thought she ought to care.
Well, he’d done his duty. He had driven his car, his Dad’s old car, all the way to Orkney and his brother had taken exception “Why do you get the car?”
“Because I was bloody well there when he died, because I needed a car, because I dropped my job to be more available to help. Because ... because you didn’t care one fucking bit!” He apologised, he always did; but the resentment stayed close to the surface. His brother would get half and yet he’d done nothing. Max didn’t really mind about that; he minded that his parents both left him with all the responsibilities and used him to do stuff for them and yet still treated his brother John the same in the will. It wasn’t the money, it was the love. Damn it! Why didn’t they love him more than his brother when John cared so little? What was it his father had said to him two weeks before he died? “Sorry about your job Richard, but it’s not like you were a director or anything. You’ll get another developer job I suppose; but isn’t it a young man’s game these days?” Yeah, thanks Dad, downgrade my sacrifice by telling me I was just in a shitty job. Actually it had been little loss, he hated working for Dogbert Enterprises (not their real name, that was what they all called the mega-engineering company with the caring soul of Caligula), but his Dad didn’t know that. He was, had been, a project manager on the new dyno-bit development; it was just weeks away from success when he left, now Tony Smith was getting all the credit. He enjoyed his work, just hated the shits you had to work for. His mum and dad were the only people to still call him Richard. Even his gran had switched to Max, she had been cool. Richard Mackintosh, he hated his name: Richard, Rich, Dick. Nothing made it better, and there were four Richards in his class at secondary school so he became Mack; by sixth form that had become Max and it stuck. He liked Max – he even liked it when the occasional drunken student had asked if he gave Max-imum Dick. Occasional drunk girls nearby would look interested at the prospect.
Back in the car with his coffee and Coke, he watched with a smile as the same family returned and the young girl now showed him the front of her pants. Her dress protruded slightly at the front where her small breasts had begun to show; to some perverted people she was a wet dream, unaware of the lust she could create. He drank his coffee, stepped out to put the cup in the bin and stroked the dog as it went past. The family smiled at him and he smiled back. ‘Ships passing’ he thought. Storylines that had no connection and made no sense.
At Woking he turned into his mother’s drive; washed, changed and went to the hospital. “Oh, Richard, what kept you? It’s been ages since you left. Did you find him? Did you get the call on your mobile?”
“Oh dear. His doctor called. He was found in his garden by the neighbours, massive stroke they think. They called your mobile to tell you.” She had given them his old work mobile which had been dropped when he left. He’d told her several times to use the new number, but she wasn’t interested in anything but herself these days.
“He’s ... he’s dead?”
“That’s what I’m telling you. So your journey was wasted, even if he’d come back with you he wouldn’t have made it” She cared not one jot that he had made such an effort, or might feel guilty, only that her plans had failed. His thoughts were less charitable ‘the fucking bastard! Now I’ll have to sort out his affairs too!’
Technically, he knew, half John’s estate went to his mother and half to himself; unless John had made a will, which he doubted since John was the least practical man in the whole Universe. No, he would have ignored the problems he’d create by dying intestate. Max had read up a lot about this when dealing with his father’s affairs which had been complex enough even though he had left a will.
John had never married, there had been rumours of girls, and rumours of boys, but as far as Max knew he was virtually asexual. He just had no desire to know people. Max had married and seen his children nearly reach adulthood before his wife buggered off with the deputy head at the school she taught English at (‘at which she taught English’ his ex- would have corrected him). Then he’d seen them every other weekend. Still, Terry (Teresa) had been a good mother and Terry (Terence) had trod the delicate line between step-father and ‘friend’ pretty well. Max prided himself on being responsible, not throwing a wobbly and cursing his wife (their mother) in front of them. The kids had turned out okay really. Now they were adults their relationship was easier – Simon had even asked why he’d been so reasonable, saying he might have liked to have heard his (real) father slag off his (step) father occasionally, but that he respected Max for it.
It didn’t hit him until he was alone. He’d had this alter-ego, John, around all his life. The one who got on easily with girls, the one who could tell jokes, the one who was caught at the school dance with Tracey Bannister behind the chemistry labs with her knickers round her ankles (so, maybe not asexual then) and still managed to talk his way out of expulsion (Tracey was pregnant a year later, at 16; it wasn’t the hardest to get inside her knickers). John was the easy going, devil may care, laid back, smooth talker. Max was the hard-working, studious, boring (oh yes, even he thought he was boring) one. The one consolation was that John’s friends had been as ephemeral as his nature, they had evaporated like morning mist and John had been left working in the job his Dad got for him in the town he grew up in while his friends vanished around the world and lost contact; Max’s few friends were still his friends, they even had occasional reunions. They had been staunch in supporting him when his Dad died, three came to the funeral; the three who were in Britain at the time, though two had to drive 200 miles or more to be there. But it was still his brother. He had lost his brother. Quietly, in the privacy of his own apartment, he poured a large whisky, played Simon and Garfunkel and cried.
His mother made an unexpected recovery and opted for a longer, slower decline rather than the hoped for (at least by Max) sad but rapid death.
“I’m going to have to go up to Orkney to start sorting out John’s affairs”
“Okay dear, you go. See you Saturday”
“No, mother. That’s what I’m saying. I’ll be up there for a couple of weeks I expect. I won’t see you next weekend”
“Okay, dear. Well, if you do get the time to call in you know I’ll be pleased to see you”
“You do know where Orkney is don’t you? It isn’t just round the corner you know”
“No, I’m sure it’s very hard. I’ll be fine on my own, don’t you worry.”
“Bye then love, see you next weekend”
“No ... oh, nevermind”
It wasn’t that her mind was going, just that she was only focused on herself. Even the request to see John had been simply for her own comfort and satisfaction rather than to see John reconciled.
He flew up this time. He would check how much of John’s stuff was junk and how much might be transported south.
He had contracted a funeral director to start the arrangements so they were able to schedule it for the first week. There were three mourners, himself, the neighbour Sandra, and her daughter. It seemed too few to arrange a wake, so he asked them out for a meal.
“Thanks for coming, and thanks for looking after the animals”
“Well, we were neighbours, so it seemed only right, but I can’t pretend we had much to do with him. He was very ... private”
“You mean he was a difficult, cantankerous old git” he looked at Sandra’s daughter “Sorry, I don’t mean to offend, but I’m his brother and if I can’t say it who can?”
.... There is more of this story ...