Monday 22nd December
There’s shouting from along the street, at house one twenty: Jason’s mum’s house. She’s screaming and crying. I can hear it from my living room. I look at Mei and she looks back at me. Her thoughts are written all over her face: now what?
We go outside to see what’s happening.
Harold is out with his kitten in his hands. The Starkies are out at their gate and I can see Bret and Alan chatting to each other in the street outside their home.
It looks like Jason’s mum is having her children take away from her. There’s a police car there and a man and woman both wearing a suit. I think they’re social services, though I can’t be certain. But who else would it be?
The older daughter is at the door to the house watching and crying. I wonder if she wants to be taken away as well. She’ll be left there to take care of her depressed mother. What a life.
I see the youngest child being put into the car. Their mum is begging on her knees. She’s a mess. My sympathy for her has returned and I regret saying what I said to her last night.
Harold shakes his head. ‘What a situation. So close to Christmas.’
I nod without looking back at him. I’m mesmerized by the whole thing.
Jason’s mum looks along the street at everyone. How embarrassing for her.
When the car drives away everyone heads back into their homes. I don’t know how long she stayed on the pavement.
It’s time to take Mei to work and head to my own job. I’m sure she told me her boss was giving her a week paid holiday around now. I’ll ask her later.
I drive past number one twenty. It looks quiet and shut up tight. I drive past the canal bridge, which has no activity whatsoever. Not even a dog walker.
This Christmas is definitely going to be a memorable one. It’ll be known as ‘That Christmas where Jason died and his mum lost the other kids’. Sad.
Mei tells me she will finish work early on Christmas Eve. I like that. I love Christmas Eve almost as much as Christmas Day. The TV is usually fun. The Snowman is a staple of Christmas for me. I have to watch it every year. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without it. That and The Snowdog. And Shrek two. And Christmas Vacation, which I’ve already seen this year. All Christmas movies really.
I get to work and find Amy leaning against her white Ford Fiesta again. This time she’s wearing tight blue jeans and that brown leather jacket. She does look yummy. She also looks down, like she’s had some bad news.
‘What’s up?’ I ask as I step out of my car.
She shakes her head. ‘I can’t tell you. Agatha is waiting to talk to you inside.’
My stomach sinks. It’s got to be about Mrs Mellor. I wonder if it’s because I visited her yesterday. Shit. Lee, you idiot. You shouldn’t have gotten involved.
‘Something serious?’ I ask.
She shakes her head. ‘Let’s just say that Mrs Mellor isn’t on my round today.’
The other drivers are watching me as I walk inside. Everyone knows something. Am I the only one who doesn’t? News travels fast.
Agatha is at her office door. She’s composed and not the hag I expected her to be. She politely and calmly says, ‘Lee, please come into the office.’
I look around at everyone. ‘What’s this about?’
Her dark side kicks in for a split second. ‘Just get inside.’
I do as she asks. Without thinking I walk right inside and she closes the door. I don’t sit down. That’s her seat. She’s playing nice and I don’t want that to change.
Agatha takes out an envelope from her drawer and hands it to me. The envelope says:
For Lee Mercer’s eyes – Meals to your Door
‘What’s this?’ I ask.
Agatha shows some sort of humanity. She looks at me full of sympathy. Her eyebrows are high and her eyes are wide. I’m confused. She says, ‘Amy handed it to me this morning. Mrs Mellor slipped it into her hand yesterday.’
‘Thanks,’ I say. I decide to read it alone in the car. She understands.
Before I leave Agatha says to me, ‘She was found this morning.’
‘She hung herself.’
My jaw drops and I feel my soul almost leaving my body. I stand there, gobsmacked. My eyes well up.
I grab my box and walk out through the sea of driver’s glances and get into my Clio.
I’m shaking while I hold the letter in front of me. I’m in two minds whether to open it or not.
Time is short as I have to do my round soon. What to do?
I decide to read it after my round when I don’t have any pressure. I also don’t want an audience, which is what I have when I look around my car. Amy is there with them looking like she’s waiting for an explanation while also looking sorry for me. I throw her a grateful nod and leave.
The round goes by with the letter begging to be opened on the passenger seat beside me. I fight the urge to stop and cry and manage to finish my round without a hitch. It was the hardest round I’ve ever done. I should be at home.
The way home takes me to the village of Hutton when I can’t wait any longer. I pull over on Liverpool Road in a space between Longton and Hutton that has no houses and only fields. It’s perfect for privacy.
I pick up the envelope and move it between my fingers, holding it up to the daylight to try and look through it.
Just open it, Lee.
First of all, thank you. Thank you for looking out for me. Thank you for going to the school for me. It worked and the children stopped. They even apologised. I should have told you but I’ve had things on my mind I couldn’t tell you.
I feel I owe you an apology. I requested a different driver because of another reason. That man you saw at my door was no carer. He is my son. He’s a worthless drug addict who I cannot shake for the life of me. Years ago he stole from me and ruined my life. He doesn’t know I’ve written to you. I wanted to tell you about the kids stopping their bullying, but then my son arrived and I couldn’t say no to him. He is my son. I thought I’d got rid of him, but he just showed up and things went back to how they used to be. I’m not as strong as I was back then.
Don’t beat yourself up, Lee. You did nothing wrong. You are the adopted son any mother could wish to have.
I wish you a happy and peaceful life.
My vision is turning into a watery cascade that trickles along the contours of my cheek. Mrs Mellor is dead. The last image I have of her is that defeated expression she showed from her living room yesterday when her son answered the door. I wish she had told me the truth. I should have done more, forced myself back into her life. She was more important than my job. She was a lonely lady living her last few weeks under the influence of a drug addict son. God, what did I do?
I drive home. I suddenly feel like I want to talk to my mum. I’ll call her when I get back.
This is turning into the worst Christmas ever.
The lack of belongings Naz felt in her home now makes sense. Her son took them. It also explains the plates in the sink. What a piece of shit he is. She must have felt there was no other way out.
‘Why didn’t you say something?’ I say out loud.
Depressed and angry, I head home. I’ve never felt this low before. It’s like something’s pressing on me and I’m struggling to breath. My hands are shaking at the wheel and even though I’m trying not to blame myself I can’t help but feel more tears pour from overflowing eyes.
When I get home I can’t stomach the new sense of happiness Mei’s mum has become accustomed to. I don’t even feel like seeing Harold. But I have to go somewhere. So I plan to go and see him anyway after I’ve spoken to my mum.
I stay in the car and call her.
There’s no answer. Typical.
I get out of the car and head to Harold’s. I knock and walk in. He’s in the living room playing with his kitten. He sees my red eyes. ‘What’s wrong?’
I hand him the letter and take my seat while he reads it.
‘What a bastard,’ he says. ‘I don’t know what to say to you.’ He looks at me sternly. ‘You mustn’t blame yourself.’ He goes on about what happened when he lost his wife and how he blamed himself for it and wished he could have done more. I know I haven’t lost my wife but it’s similar when anyone dies. You wish that you’d put more effort in. He tells me that I did everything I could. It makes me feel better somewhat.
‘I’ll make a brew.’
He goes into the kitchen and I watch his kitten run around on the floor doing that kung fu shit that they do. It’s cute and it momentarily takes my mind off Mrs Mellor.
Harold comes in with the cups. ‘What happens now?’
‘I don’t know. I suppose someone will arrange her funeral. The police will probably want to talk to me.’
Just as I say that, my phone rings.
I hold it up. ‘Do you mind if I?’
Turns out to be some company telling me they can get me compensation for the accident I never had. I feel like giving the man a mouthful. I want to tell him to stop wasting people’s time with this scam. I used to do a similar job selling kitchens so I do have a hint sympathy with them, just not today. I get ready to tell them to fuck off when I just cancel the call before I can mouth the words.
I try to change the subject. ‘How’s Liverpool doing?’
It’s like a switch is turned and Harold is suddenly full of energy. He starts on about their last match, analysing everything like a back seat manager. He makes some good points. Then the topic transitions to the state that Manchester United is in at the moment and how they’re not the dominating team they always were.
It gets to four o’clock and I think it’s time for me to leave.
The rush hour traffic doesn’t bother me tonight. I could stay in this jam all night if I had to. I sit with my arm on the window bottom leaning against my right fist. My left arm is just resting on the wheel. I really can’t be bothered to do anything.
When I pick Mei up she knows right away that there’s something wrong.
‘What now?’ she asks.
I tell her everything what happened today and my eyes fill up again. ‘I’ll never see Mrs Mellor again.’ It’s not like she died of natural causes. That, I could deal with. I’ve known plenty of clients pass away over the years, but I’ve never known anyone who committed suicide. She must have felt so low and trapped by that monster she had living with her.
As I half expected, when I get home the police are waiting to speak to me.
It isn’t Constable Smith or his lovely colleague; these two are both overweight men. Looks like they’ve been sent to ask questions from the bottom of the barrel
They sit on my sofa with cups of teas that Mei’s mum has made for everyone.
I show them the letter Mrs Mellor wrote to me. They look at it and then look at me with the same look I’ve seen all day today. The kind of doughy eyes with raised eyebrows and their lips pressed together like they’re holding in a fart. They take a copy of the note.
‘I feel so sorry for her,’ I tell them.
They stay for thirty minutes. They tell me that the son is being questioning for harassment and suspicion of theft. I don’t know if they should be telling me that. They tell me that Mrs Mellor had no other family but had some savings that will see to her funeral and not much else. Looks like her son might have been trying to get at them. I guess she killed herself to stop that happening. I’ll give the police credit, it hasn’t taken long to find that stuff out. Unless the son talked.
It doesn’t matter how things happened, she’s dead and will be buried after Christmas I guess.