by William Gallagher
TIM Lambast woke up like he was wrenching himself from sleep. An urgent drive forced him upright before he opened his eyes and he’d turned, put his feet on the floor before he even knew it. Standing up, he balanced awkwardly for a moment and then forced himself to be steady. “Right,” he said. “This is going to be a better day.”
There were exam revision notes on the desk by his bed and he pushed them aside, ignoring them as they fell to the ground, ignoring them and the empty McDonalds’ Coke that he knocked away, looking for his phone. It was as he turned away from the desk, trod on the Coke and actually wished for the first time that his mum would still tidy his room, that he saw the phone under the bed.
Yet again he’d left it unplugged and the battery was dying. He checked his texts, saw and ignored one from Pamela – “Remember: Chemistry’s rescheduled for 9 today” – and switched off the phone. That felt a little weird: he couldn’t remember the last time he’d intentionally switched it off. It would be better if he could only learn to charge it but that clearly couldn’t happen now.
Tim reckoned yesterday’s underpants were good enough and he didn’t bother with socks, barely bothered tying up his laces, and then he was heading out of the bedroom. He stopped to look at the door with its perfect, unblemished, pristine wood. And then he was carving the number 3 into it before slamming the door behind him.
At the bottom of the stairs, he saw his mum with her mouth open. She’d been about to call him and then stopped, remembering one of many recent rows where he’d said he wasn’t a child anymore, but Tim thought she was being sarcastic and acting surprised. “Don’t talk to me,” he said.
“I’m okay with that,” she replied. “But Tim, it’s the 12th. Last exam. Tomorrow we’re going to have to talk about you getting a summer job.”
“Not a problem.”
She flicked the kettle on and tried to wait until it was boiled. “Yes, it is. It’s a problem.”
“I’m thinking I’ll go to Southfield, they’ve got work there.”
“Where’s Southfield?” She made tea for Tim and strong, strong coffee for herself.
Tim stared at her. “You know.”
“Nope,” she said. “Not one single clue. Is it near Northfield?”
“I know you know.”
“I really don’t.” She put some toast on his plate and then took a piece back to eat. “I think I preferred it when we weren’t talking.”
“I could ask Dad.”
“Yeah. Good luck with that. If you get him, remind me what his voice sounds like.” She finished her slice of toast and began clearing the table. “A picture would be nice.”
Tim stormed through the front door and out onto the street, feeling like his body had all this raging energy yet his mind wanted a minute to think. He didn’t get one second. Pamela was waiting. He’d forgotten she would be waiting. Was nothing under his control? She started to speak and he pushed by her, saying quickly “Last exam, Chemistry, 9 o’clock, I know.”
“Er, good morning to you too,” said Pamela.
“Right, yes. Morning. No, I didn’t know about Stacy, yes I’ve remembered a pen, yes I’ll ask Steve, is that everything? Because you need to go.”
“Are you okay? Is this like Physics last week?”
“I’m not doing the exam, there’s no point, now can you get going?”
Pamela looked at this spotty, gangly Tim and for one instant could see the little boy she’d grown up next to. “What does Stacy see in you?” she asked, walking away.
Tim watched her go, then looked back at his house, saw a curtain move and made a show of leaving to follow Pamela. Once he was out of the gate and around the first corner, though, he crossed the street, doubling back and tried to quickly dart by opposite the house. There was a short line of shops along and slightly further down the street: Tim went into a coffee shop there and sat in the window where he could see and hoped he might not be seen.
“Well now,” said his Chemistry teacher. “Good morning, Mr Lambast. Haven’t we somewhere important to go this morning?”
“Shit,” said Tim.
Pamela was just walking up to the school gates when Mr Brown pulled up in his car and Tim got out. He jerked his head to her and reached back in to hand Mr Brown his coffee carton. “Better hurry now,” said Brown as he wound the car window up and reversed into a staff parking place. It was a staff parking place between Tim and the gates.
“Come on, then,” Tim said to Pamela. “Let’s get this over with.”
“What is it with you this morning? Are you nervous? I thought you were good with Chemistry. Just so long as it’s not chemical components of limestone again. I get so bored with rocks.”
“Not gonna happen.”
“Oh, like you know. Bet you it does.”
“Bet you I can be out of here in twenty minutes.”
“I think I could even like this confident Tim.”
Pamela’s saying that stuck in Tim’s mind and was enough to delay him: it took a whole thirty minutes to complete the paper and head out. “Where do you think you’re going, Mr Lambast?” called Mr Brown. But Tim strode out of the room, so focused on something that he didn’t notice everyone watching him. Maybe it was only because he was heading out with his back to her, so she couldn’t see the pimples, but Pamela began thinking of having a chat with Stacy.
“Alright, everybody, heads down, this exam is important,” said Mr Brown. “Even if some of us aren’t thinking of our futures.”
Tim got back to the coffee shop as quickly as he could but didn’t go inside. He hadn’t thought until he’d got there, hadn’t thought until he could see his house, but now he realised he had no way of knowing if his mum had left yet. Mind and body tussled: he didn’t want to go into the coffee shop if she wasn’t home but he didn’t want to be seen on the street if she were. He turned both ways, turned back, practically shook with indecision and then like a cork being released he ran to the end of the street. Tim took the first corner and then slammed back up against a wall, panting like he was being chased.
The wall was part of the corner shop and right by Tim’s head there was a sign for topping up mobile phones. He blinked. Got out his phone, switched it on. There were 18 messages, some from Stacy, one from Pamela, others from a number he didn’t recognise but guessed was the school. He ignored them all and phoned his mum.
He was just wondering what he’d say when she answered, when she didn’t. “Lesley Lambast, leave me a message,” said her voicemail. Tim ended the call.
Immediately, his phone rang and he jumped, turned it around to show the screen, certain it was his mum and startled that it was his dad. “That’s new,” said Tim, cancelling the call and then regretting it.
Tim sank down by the wall and put his head in his hands. He thought about just going home, he thought about what time his mum must’ve left to get to Southfield, about whether she’d be gone already or whether he could stop her.
Just then, a silver BMW i8 drove by and Tim’s eyes widened. He was no car fan, he had no interest in BMW but he had every interest in this one. Tim jumped up and ran around the corner back toward his home.
The BMW was outside his house, its engine running, and his mum getting in. Tim ran out into the middle of the road, waving his arms and yelling but the car pulled away and nobody in it gave a single glance back.
He openly wept.
It was when a van came around the corner and almost hit him that Tim finally moved, finally jumped up onto the pavement and it was as if the movement of his body jolted his mind too. For Tim got out his phone again and re-dialled his mum. “Lesley Lambast, leave me a message.”
“Mum,” said Tim. “Come home, please. I need you.”
He didn’t know what else to say, didn’t know how to tell her what he knew. But he did now know one more thing. Checking his phone again, he said it aloud, fixing it in his mind: “Silver BMW arrives 10:15am.” Then he nodded like he was making a list.
Tim went back to his house, sat on the wall outside it and switched off his phone to save battery power. Nobody was going to call for another ninety minutes, nobody he had to speak to anyway. He just sat. Thought. Wondered if his mum ever got the message. Wondered if she heard it and chose to come right back. He wondered with a jolt whether she was coming back when it happened.
At 11:45am, Tim switched his phone on exactly in time to answer the call that came through. “Yes,” he said. “I’m her son.”
Somehow it was Pamela who came first, came faster than even his dad or his grandmother. They each touched him, held him, tried talking to him and he waited through it until they stopped. The three of them talked on together, Tim slipping away unnoticed, borrowing his dad’s iPad to look up where Southfield is. Looking up bus routes and timetables. Finding Darnstable Street and wondering what was there. A house with a silver BMW in the drive? A hotel? Tim looked and searched and mentally filed it all away.
Tim Lambast woke up like he was wrenching himself from sleep. An urgent drive forced him upright before he opened his eyes and he’d turned, put his feet on the floor before he knew it. Standing up, he balanced awkwardly for a moment and then forced himself to be steady. “Right,” he said. “This is going to be a better day.” He stopped to look at the door with its perfect, unblemished, pristine wood. And then he was carving the number 4 into it before slamming the door behind him.
© William Gallagher 2016