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Annie and Tom

It was Sunday evening on the other side of Hertferd.

Tom sat with Annie in their flat overlooking the Carlton factory where Tom worked checking crucibles. Water vapour curled out of the tall steel chimneys into the dark star filled sky and then seemingly disappeared into nowhere.

“Ya' know its real weird that," Tom observed.

"What?" Annie gasped impatiently.

“Where in the hell does all the water disappear to?"

Annie looked at her husband quizzically. "What's that got to do with the question?" Annie snapped.

Tom didn't reply. He just carried on looking out of the window.

The cooler rattled in the background. Like a lot of things in their flat, it was something that just didn't quite seem to get fixed. The television aerial drooped, the toaster didn't bounce up, the magnetic knife rack had lost its power and the flowers in the chipped glass vase looked like they needed viagra.

Annie stood up and put her hands on her hips.

“Tom! I demand you give me answer. We've been married five years now. You always avoid it and I'm not having it anymore: when are we ever going to be able to have enough money to have kids?"

Tom sat and thought about what Annie kept asking him and wondered what he was going to do about it.

“You're a born loser. I only love you 'cos of your tight arse in jeans," Annie hissed bitterly.

Tom didn't reply. He just carried on looking at the chimney's pluming vapour. The cooler finally stopped rattling satisfied that everything was as cool as it could be.

He finished his beer and went to bed.

The alarm whined Tom groaned and rolled over in bed and hit it. Monday morning. The reflection from the solar panels warmed Tom's face, prickled his skin and made little beads of sweat appear on his forehead. He listened to Annie's mellifluous breakfast clatterings from the kitchen.

“Can I have some coffee?" Tom shouted.

“Why sure honey. It’s in the pot."

Tom struggled into his Levis and a thick shirt. He looked at his wiry frame in the mirror and smoothed his dark hair. It was beginning to grey at the edges. He sighed, then winked a brown eye at himself, reassuringly.

He sat down at the kitchen table with his coffee steaming in his face, cut eyes staring inscrutably at the wall. Annie stabbed at the items in the frying pan with her spatula.

“Ya' know, I've been thinking Annie," Tom said finally "about what you said yesterday, about kids."

“Yes," Annie cooed her green eyes twinkling

“Well I'm gonna ask the foreman if there's an opening at the factory so as I can get a better job. I know Ralph, the Assembly Operations manager pretty well. He knows I'm regular and work hard for Carlton. Reckon I'll try him at least."

Annie turned back to the frying pan. The fat kissed at the edges of the hash browns.

“Well...I think that's a good idea Tom, you· never get anywhere in this world if you don't push."

“Are you saying I don't push?" Tom retorted defensively.

“No, what I mean is that it's a good idea. The plant's expanding quickly now, you've been there from the start. So they ought to do something for ya'. And another thing," Annie continued, " I thought on Saturday morning, 'cos I know we're goin' over to my folks in the afternoon.... maybe we could go around and talk to some shops and agencies and see how much money we're 'gonna need to get together for any kids. No harm in looking."

Tom looked up from his coffee.

“How many boutiques are there in town?" Tom enquired.

“Genesis, Bausch and Lomb and Genitech. Actually there's Phoenix and some others out of town. Perhaps I ought to put off my parents..."

“Oh Annie, there's no need," replied Tom, "They'll just give us a hard time.”

"No they won't, not when I tell 'em why.”

“Can’t we keep this to ourselves Annie? I don't want them to know”

“Nothing might come of this. Annie, please." Annie kept quiet.

“Now you'd better get off to work now or you'll be late. Take these with you," she said handing over the wrapped hash browns.

Tom kissed Annie good-bye and rotated down the stairs of his flat in his ritual descent two steps at a time. The lift had long since ceased to work. He looked at the graffiti galleries. They were quite mysterious, mystery people talking in the night. Yesterday's addition had been "Madison’s sucks harder than any other district, the MC's.” Today's reply was a diatribe about Easton sucking harder.

All the doors were closed. All was silence. His was the earliest shift. The scraping of his feet on the concrete felt like an imposition on this virgin morning.

Tom felt a torrent of emotion, which caused him to shiver involuntarily. He needed courage to ask Ralph for his promotion, it was risky. He felt exposed, small and alone and not for the first time in his life inadequate. Ralph was one of those people who always seemed to be on the edge of an attack of catatonia. It was risky but Tom couldn't do very much else. There was little other employment in the area and Carlton paid for their accommodation. He hated his job but Annie's parents lived around near Hertferd and she wouldn't go anywhere else.

When Tom asked about his promotion three months ago, Ralph just gave a ceramic smile and muttered, "Keep schtum son, I'll let you know when it's time."

There was a rumour going around that the last guy who pushed Ralph too hard had been beaten by a crow bar. No one saw anything but one thing was for sure, Hank had ended up in hospital with concussion and cracked ribs. He claimed he had memory loss.

Tom emerged onto the empty street; in the distance he could see a glint of sunlight from a grain barn on the edge of town. He thought he could hear sheaves of corn muttering in the wind. He turned 'away wistfully and thrust his hands into his pockets to find his car card.

Dolefully, the petrol engine kindled its flame and woke up. Tom checked the fuel. Nearly used all his ration. The radio started blaring country and western. He flinched momentarily and turned it down: an old number. He smiled briefly and then sighed. "Time to go to work on Ralph," he muttered.

For the first time in his life he floored the accelerator and sped off.
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