Slowly Ronny poured the cold coffee into the sink and opened the dishwasher to put the dirty mug on to the empty shelf.
Sandra had been very particular about her kitchen, a place for everything and everything in its place. She couldn’t abide dirty dishes cluttering up the work surfaces and certainly wouldn’t allow the gleaming butler’s sink to be sullied by even the hint of a coffee stain. Ronny ran the cold tap to wash the coffee dregs away and stared out of the kitchen window at his sons talking in the garden.
He knew that they were discussing him. They’d made the excuse of slipping outside for a cigarette but he knew that they were hatching a plan out there. Probably making arrangements that would mean he wasn’t on his own for too long, like some kind of babysitting service.
It would be very easy, he thought, to let them take over, too easy in fact to be wrapped up in their protective kindness. Ronny turned from the window and refilled the coffee maker and then loaded the grill with freshly cut bread. Sandra didn’t like sliced bread, said it contained too many additives and Ronny had gone along with her, it was her kitchen, her standards, her domain.
‘Come inside you must be freezing out there. If you have to smoke I’ll find you an ashtray, you don’t have to skulk off into the garden. Come on, sit down, I’m just making some breakfast, you’ll need something inside you before you go home.’
George and Martin glanced at each other conspiratorially as they sat down at the kitchen table.
‘Dad, we’ve just been talking about that. Martin and I think that you shouldn’t be on your own today, so Martin is going to arrange to stay here this morning and I’ll go home. I’ve got to get in touch with the office and sort out some stuff at home but I can get back here for about 2o’clock and then we’ll swap over and Martin can go home for a few hours.’ Said Gorge, helping himself to the freshly brewed coffee.
When did my boys become men, thought Ronny as he heaped the hot toast onto a plate? It only seemed yesterday that they we running about in football kits pestering him for the latest computer game or a new skateboard and now here they were grown men talking about him as if he was the child.
He knew that he had to keep telling himself that they meant well but all this fussing about was suffocating him. The longer that George explained through the mouthfuls of hot buttered toast, that it would all for the best if they arranged to stay over here with him, at least for a few nights, the more that Ronny felt his world closing in around him. He panicked as if felt his breathing becoming shallower and his pulse racing. Staring across the table he knew that they were talking but all he could hear was a low buzzing noise, like the sound of a mosquito trapped in an empty room.
Ronny took a breath and held it as he gripped the edge of the wooden table. His palms were sweating and his head felt like it would explode as he screamed ‘Enough’
Martin and George instantly stopped talking, it was as if that one word was enough to strip away the years and they were little boys who’d been caught fighting in their bedroom.
‘I know that you mean well, but enough is enough. I’m not some kind of geriatric who can’t be trusted to not piss his own pants. Just go both of you, go home, or go to work or wherever it is you need to be and leave me alone.’
‘We were only trying to help. We just thought that you shouldn’t be own your own right now.’ Snapped George.
Martin handed his brother his coat and together they made their way down the hall to the front door. Ronny knew that this was an argument he had to win. There was no way he was going to be treated like some kind of fool and the sooner his sons realised it, the better.
‘But that’s exactly what I want, I want to be on my own, listen let’s get one thing clear. I am not some kind of feeble old man and when I want your help I’ll ask for it. Is that clear?’
George spun around and stared at this stranger standing in the kitchen doorway yelling at them.
‘Is this the way you spoke to Mum? Did you scream at her when you didn’t get your own way? No wonder she was always looking for excuses to get out the house.’
‘What the fuck does that mean.’
‘Don’t play the innocent with me Dad. Even you must have noticed that she was never at home, she was either offering to cover extra shifts at work or arranging nights out with her girlfriends. She probably couldn’t stand being cooped up with you all day.’
Ronny ran down the hall and grabbed his eldest son around the neck. ‘You little bastard he snarled ‘You don’t know anything about your Mum and I.’
‘Dad stop it!’ screamed Martin as he tried to pull his father’s arms away from George’s reddening neck ‘he didn’t mean anything by it. He’s just upset, we’re all upset.’
Ronny relaxed his grasp and stared down at his trembling hands. Then suddenly, as if he had been punched in the stomach, he collapsed onto his knees and sobbed.
His body shook as the tears flowed and the racking sobs went on and on. His world was spinning out of control and he didn’t know how to make it stop.
Everything he knew and believed in was unravelling before him. His oldest son had looked at him with barely concealed contempt when he’d said that his Sandra, his quiet, shy Sandra had been looking for ways to be away from him. He need to know if Martin felt the same, was it true that his wife couldn’t bear to be in the same house as him?
Martin looked down at his father and with tears rolling down his cheeks bent to help him to his feet.
‘Is it true Martin? Did she hate me so much she wanted to be anywhere but here with me?’
‘No Dad, of course she didn’t hate you. George is just upset, that’s all. Come on let’s get you back in the kitchen.’
Ronny reached up and wiped away the tears from Martin’s cheeks. ‘Don’t worry son, I’ll be fine, go on, take your brother home, I think that we could all do with some rest.’ Seeing Martin hesitate, he continued ‘honestly I’m OK.’ Putting out his arms to his eldest son Ronny walked over to George who was standing with his back to the front door ‘I’m sorry son, I was totally out of order.’ And pulling him towards him Ronny engulfed his son in a hug. Relaxing his grip he patted George on the back, ‘thanks for coming over last night. I don’t know how I would have coped without you two here. But go on home now and see to your families. I’ll be OK, there’s going to be a lot to do over the next couple of weeks and I’ll need you two to help.’
Ronny stood in the doorway as his sons drove off down the street. This wasn’t the time to fallout with your family, he thought. No matter how much of a prick your son was. And closing the door against the threatening grey sky, Ronny turned and walked into the kitchen to feed Buster his breakfast.