Jonathan Sideboard trudged up the garden path, through the snow, to the front door of his house. The funeral had gone well. Well enough, it had to be said. His late father, Ernest Sideboard, eighty-four, was six foot below ground. Six whole feet separating him from the surface of the earth. From Jonathan. And a funeral couldn’t go better than that, he thought.
Jonathan removed his Wellington boots, one at a time, and banged the snow off them against the porch wall. He let himself into the house.
And he dumped his boots in the hallway without fear.
Jonathan made himself a cup of tea, and sat in his father’s chair. Forty years old, at least, this chair. This piece of tat. As old as Jonathan himself. When his father was alive, if the old man ever needed a paper or a packet of fags, he would shove his bony fingers down the side of this chair and come up with the goods. Forty-eight pounds and sixty pence, that’s what Jonathan had dug out of the chair the day after his father died. And two small keys. All of it hidden deep down the sides of the upholstery, and the back. And Jonathan was sure there was more, in that armchair, deeper than a man could reach.
He placed the cup on the arm, wondering if it would spill. And he smiled. Smiled at the thought of his father, cold in the frozen earth. Yes. He smiled. Then he laughed. Laughed so much he cried. And then he couldn’t stop crying.
There was a bicycle, once. A bicycle his father had bought home one Friday lunchtime. ‘Son,’ he’d said, ‘this bicycle is a good bicycle. Look after it well and it will last you a lifetime’. It was still in the shed. The bicycle. In a corner, hemmed in with old pots of paint and broken flower pots. Jonathan hadn’t ridden the bicycle in thirty years, and now, on this day, sitting in his father’s armchair, it was all he could think about.
Jonathan’s father had been an avid cyclist. He’d shown Jonathan how to change a tyre, how to mend a puncture. And Jonathan would listen to his father, breathing in every word, thinking him the greatest dad in the whole world. Then, one cold day in February, it all stopped. Everything.
Jonathan had cycled home from school, his front tyre slicing through the new fallen snow. Darkness hovered in the air, waiting to steal away the last ray of sunlight, the last ray of hope. On seeing the front door ajar, something that was never allowed to happen in this house where every penny was as solid gold, Jonathan dismounted, and walked his bicycle up the garden path, his heart pounding. He leant the bicycle up against the porch, and stepped inside the house.
And it was as quiet as the grave. No screaming, no shouting, no ordering about, from his father. No desperate simpering, no tearful pleading, from his mother. Nothing. Silence. And the smell of charcoal and burning.
Jonathan made his way through the hall, slow. He peered into the front room. And there in the armchair, lit by the half light filtering in through the heavy curtains, sat his father, his face slippery with sweat, shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
‘Dad?’ Jonathan said.
Jonathan’s father raised his eyes to meet Jonathan’s.
‘Son,’ he said.
And from that moment on, Jonathan never questioned where his mother had gone or why Mr Johnson from next door was never seen again. He did as he was told. He followed the rules of the house.
And the father and son got on with their lives.
Jonathan did not do well at school. He stumbled through till fifteen then went to work on a fruit and veg stall on the market. His father, wracked with arthritis, and Lord knows what else, confined himself to his chair for the last twenty five years of his life, hardening with every passing day.
Jonathan would get home from the market, make up some sandwiches for them both, and they would sit in silence, father and son, each with their own thoughts, their own fears, each with a sense of their own damnation.
And in the final months, weeks, days of his life, Jonathan’s father would sit for hours, mumbling feverishly, jumping at every little noise, preoccupied with a smell of burning flesh and two suitcases under the bed.
He never stopped worrying about those.
The doorbell sounded. Jonathan jumped fair out his skin, drew his knees up to his chest, and remained in the chair. And, again, the doorbell sounded. He waited.
Those suitcases. Jonathan had crept up there once, whilst his father slept in the chair downstairs, to his father’s bedroom. Jonathan was on his hands and knees dragging one of the suitcases out from under the bed, when the door opened behind him and there stood his father, a face of stone.
Jonathan slid the suitcase back from whence it came, and left the room.
And not a word was said by either father or son, about the incident. Ever. Jonathan knew he’d transgressed. He knew he’d done wrong. And every ounce of wanting to know, wanting to find out what was in those damn suitcases evaporated forever.
He crept upstairs, as of old, as if wary of disturbing his father. He trod carefully across the landing and turned the handle on the door of his mother and father’s old bedroom, and went inside.
And there they were. The two suitcases. Under the bed. Jonathan heard a noise from downstairs and hurried to the top of the landing. But there was nothing. Of course there wasn’t. His father was dead. Jonathan would be alone.
He pulled himself together and re-entered the bedroom. He dragged the suitcases out. Padlocked. Both. But he had the keys in his pocket, those two small keys. Breathing heavy and deep, Jonathan unlocked the suitcases one at a time, then lifted both lids. And sat back on his haunches,
He’d known. All these years, he’d known. He just wanted to know for sure. And it was funny, he thought. Knowing for sure really doesn’t make any difference at all. He shut both cases, and slid them back under the bed. Unlocked.
The darkness he’d always felt inside unfolded within him, suffocating him, choking him, squeezing him.
He went down to the electric cupboard, for the torch, and out into the freezing night, to the shed, barefeet, snow flurrying all around him. Once in the shed, Jonathan located his old bicycle and a nine pound hammer, and began beating the metal frame till it bent and buckled and twisted, tears streaming down his face.
He looked at the baldness of the tyres, and took a moment of solace.
Jonathan removed the tyres from the wheel, just like his father had taught him and laid them to one side, then carried on beating the wheels till they were misshapen beyond repair.
Beyond repair. Now there’s a phrase, he thought.
Movement outside. The soft tread of a fox or something. Some lone creature of the night. Jonathan’s past and his future collided in his mind. A past and a future no longer viable. Another phrase, he thought. No longer viable. He spotted a deckchair hanging on a nail. And he smiled. And stripped to his underpants.
Before leaving the shed, Jonathan gathered together the two worn bicycle tyres and removed the deckchair from its perch
And in the middle of the garden, in a foot of snow, sat Jonathan Sideboard, on the deckchair, two worn bicycle tyres slipped over his head, his eyes closed, waiting for the cold to take him.
Bio: Ian Ayris is a part-time careworker and part-time house-husband, carrying out these duties with varying degrees of incompetence. He is also a a qualified counsellor, and has five published short stories to his name. He has just completed his first novel.