He had argued with Sarah in the morning.
She had wanted more, a special treat for Carrie, that’s what she had said, but he had no more to offer, only three. He said that was all there was because the rest needed to go on the electric, otherwise they’d be sitting around in the dark and cold again. She had worked herself up and up, and in the end there had been shouting, and then Carrie was afraid come down for breakfast, and then she had been late for nursery and he for work.
The foreman said it was not good enough and said he would dock his pay unless he made up the time, so then he had meant to call the school and say he would be late to pick Carrie up and would they mind…but he had not found the time because at break he had called his father to ask why he had called five times in three hours. It had not been easy. It had never been easy with his father. He had started going on and on about Ron from the club and how he still owed him that money, and so he’d said they would go together on Thursday and speak to Ron again.
“But what do I do in the meantime?” asked his father, anger and desperation competing for dominance in his voice.
He said he would bring a few quid round on his way home.
And then his phone battery had died and he had no time to borrow a phone so he was late. He cut across the beach, thinking it would be faster, but the sand dragged him down. It was then that he saw the ring, shiny and plastic, glinting in the sand amongst the burger wrappers, seaweed, and crisp packets. He bent down and picked it up. He brushed off the sand and put it in his pocket.
Carrie stood outside the school, holding her teacher’s hand. She ran and hugged him. He picked her up as she cried and buried her face in his neck.
“I—I thought you had…forgot-ten me.” The words spilled out between the sobs and sniffs.
The teacher walked over to them.
“I’m sorry,” he offered.
She held up a hand. “It’s OK, Mr Pulford. She was no trouble at all. Just try to call next time.” She smiled a thin, cold smile, and he considered explaining about having to call his father, and the phone dying, and the threat of his pay being docked, and the extra work because Jake had been off sick, all of which meant he hadn’t had two minutes to try and borrow a phone.
But he was too tired, so he just said, “Thank you, I’m so sorry,” and, stroking Carrie’s hair, he turned towards his father’s house.
When Carrie was calm, he put her down and held her hand. She walked beside him, telling him all about how naughty Jack O’Leary had been in the sandpit and how he had thrown sand in Jessica’s eyes, but he was only half-listening because he was trying to calculate in his head how much he could spare for his father.
He didn’t want Carrie coming into his father’s flat; it was too dirty, and if Carrie was there his father would want them to stay and he would make a fuss. So he left her on the top step outside the flat door, and made her promise to stay there. “I’ll be five minutes, I promise, just don’t move.”
She nodded sulkily. She wanted to come in to see Grandpa because he always let her bounce on his bed like a trampoline.
He put the fiver on the coffee table. “There’s enough there to see you through ’til your pension comes in, Dad. Dad?”
His father glanced away from the television and gave the five pound note a disgusted look. “What, that’s it? After all I’ve done for you over the years? I didn’t bring you up to be such a stingy git.” He turned back to the telly.
“You need to tidy up a bit, Dad.” He threw an empty microwave meal packet into the full-to-bursting bin. He sighed and dug around under the sink for a new bag. “If you can’t look after yourself, social services will put you in a home, and there’ll be nothing I’ll be able to do about it.”
“There’s nothing you can do about anything. You’re bloody useless. Nothing you can do about Ron nicking my money, nothing you can do about Sarah, nothing you can do about Carrie living in that shit-hole.”
“All right, Dad, all right!” He slammed the bin lid shut. “I’m going now. I’ll see you Thursday, then.”
His father did not say anything. He did not turn away from the telly.
When they got home, Sarah was nowhere to be seen. “Mummy, Mummy?” called Carrie, but there was no answer, only a note on the table, scribbled in a rush.
“She’s gone out, sweetheart,” he said to Carrie.
Probably to get something nice, Special Brew most likely, he thought. He made Carrie sit down at the kitchen table and gave her a couple of chocolate biscuits and her colouring pens and book.
He returned to the living room and collected up the empty cans and bottles. He remembered when she had come back the other night, after her last binge four days ago. She had bitten him when he tried to stop her drinking more, so he’d given up and left her on the sofa.
On payday he would take Carrie away from here, away from her and away from this town where they had been stuck for years. He couldn’t take the weight of the others any more. They would be better off just the two of them. Next payday, that was it.
He went back to the kitchen. Carrie looked up from her drawing.
“Come on then, let’s see.” He picked her up and sat on the chair, putting her onto his lap. The crude drawing showed three stick people with happy smiling faces.
“It’s me, you and Mummy, when Mummy is better.”
He kissed the top of her head. “Yes,” he said quietly. “Yes.”
He remembered the ring, and dug in his pocket. “I found buried treasure for you today on the beach—pirate treasure.” He opened his hand, the ring gleaming in his palm.
Her face lit up. “For me?”
He put the ring on her finger. “Treasure for my treasure.”
She beamed, and he felt the warmth of her little hand in his and knew everything would be all right. Maybe he would save up; they could leave in a few months.
He sang as he searched the bare cupboards for something to eat.
© 2018 Rosie Escott