Shirley was nagging again. Yip-yip-yip, on and on like an irritating little bird that never stopped chipping and cheeping till it did his head in. Usually it was the biscuits, or because he’d left the loo seat up again, but this time it was some crap about a parcel. He didn’t know what – he’d stopped listening the minute his ears started to bleed. Inbuilt safety mechanism, that was, inherited from his Dad. Mam had used to nag something rotten too and his Dad stuffed cotton wool in his ears, these strange little white dabs sticking out sideways like there was a plant in his head trying to grow out. Billy had laughed at him once, and Dad – once he’d heard – had just smiled. “Me ears is bleeding, Billy lad, with all that fucking nagging. So I put cotton wool in them to stop the blood. Yer mam knows to shut up then.”
It had worked well enough for his Dad, but Shirley was another matter. Take the fucking Last Trump to shut her up half the time – even if he used enough cotton wool to stuff a pillow she still went on. And on. And bloody on.
“It says on the card it was too big for our letter box. Honestly, Billy, I told you we needed a porch months ago. If we’d had one of those they could’ve left it inside there instead of taking it away again. I only popped out for a minute, just round the corner shop for some more fags and it must have turned up then. I can’t be expected to wait it all day just in case they deliver something.”
“Unh,” said Billy, flapping his newspaper. It was seven o’clock in the morning, for fuck’s sake, and he wanted to eat his breakfast in peace, not listen to a load of crap about parcels and stuff.
“And I can’t get out today, not with Mum coming for lunch. She’s not getting any younger and she likes her main meal in the middle of the day. If I go out I won’t have time to cook and she’ll go hungry, and then what sort of a person would I be.”
Same one you usually are, fucking useless, thought Billy but he was too busy spooning his egg to say so. It was runny this morning, exactly how he didn’t like it. Liked his boiled eggs like he liked his women – nice and firm – but did Shirley listen? Did she hell.
“And anyway I was trying to think what the parcel was because I didn’t think I’d ordered anything but then I remembered them curtains I saw on Ebay the other week. You know – for the back room. I’m sick of the brown ones we’ve got in there and these were a nice pale green. I told you all about them when you got in from work the other day.”
“Yurgh.” Billy swigged tea from a large white mug with blue stripes, and wondered why women didn’t come with an off-switch. There was an interesting bit in the paper about a footballer screwing someone else’s wife and he blotted her out, only re-surfacing at the ominous words:
“You’ll have to pick it up on your way to work.”
“The parcel, Billy. Are you even listening to me? I’ve already said I can’t get out to fetch it, not with Mum coming round. So you’ll have to go.”
“What? I can’t do that. Traffic’s bad this time of day, it’ll make me late for work.” He didn’t add that he was already on final warning for smoking where he shouldn’t have; what she didn’t know, she couldn’t nag him about.
“Oh, Billy. You never do anything for me. It’s not as though it’s out of your way – you have to go practically right past it on your way to work. Just set off a bit early instead of leaving it to the last minute like you usually do.”
Her mouth got that petulant wobble he hated so much and was already opening for another tirade. Billy groaned. He could give up now and go and fetch her fucking parcel, or he could hear about it for days. The line of least resistance beckoned. “Okay, okay, keep your ruddy hair on. I’ll go in a minute. Just let me finish me tea.”
Coming in from work that night he hadn’t even got the front door closed before Shirley started in on him.
“Didn’t you get it then? Don’t tell me you forgot – I only told you this morning.”
He’d had a bad journey home stuck behind a particularly ponderous bus; he was tired and hungry and thirsty and he’d forgotten, temporarily, what she was banging on about. “You what?”
“Oh, Billy. My parcel! You know – the Ebay one. You promised me you’d get it. I might have known you’d forget.”
“Oh, that. No I didn’t forget, yes I tried to pick it up and no they wouldn’t let me. Buggers said I needed your I.D.”
“Oh. What’s ay-dee, then?”
“I.D, stupid. Short for identification. They needed something with your details on it.”
“Oh, well, why didn’t you say so? If that’s all I can give you a letter or something. My friend Pam wrote to me the other week and that’s got my address and everything on it. You can take the envelope and try again tomorrow.”
Billy opened his mouth to argue but Shirley was standing between him and the kitchen table and he knew from experience that he wouldn’t get fed unless he agreed. “Give me the ruddy envelope then,” he said, and shoved past her to grab his knife and fork.
The next day he tried again, with no more success than before. This time he made sure he remembered to tell her about it when he got home, which saved the barrage of questions the minute he got indoors. “No I didn’t forget your parcel. Buggers still wouldn’t let me pick it up. They need official I.D., they said, like something from the bank.”
Shirley’s cheeks burned a dangerous shade of red. “But I haven’t got a bank account, Billy, you know that. Are you sure you’re not making all this up? I bet you just forgot – I know what your memory’s like. I can’t see why they wouldn’t let you pick my parcel up, we are married after all. I need them curtains for the back room, Billy. Can’t I just write you a note?”
Billy shrugged. “No good asking me, I’m just the ruddy messenger. Why you can’t go yourself I don’t know. Your Mum didn’t come today.”
“No I know but I had loads of chores. The washing doesn’t do itself, Billy, however much I might want it to. And I’d the beds to change and the bathroom to clean – you’d left the fuzz from your razor all over the sink again. Takes me forever to get that off. If you’d clean up after yourself occasionally I’d be able to get out more….”
Once again cowardice seemed to be the better part of valour. “Well give me a ruddy note then and I’ll try again tomorrow. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ve only been late at work twice already this week.”
“Yeah,” she said without so much as a smile, and sat down there and then to write the note. It took her some time, with her tongue poked out the corner of her mouth, and by the time she’d finished the chips were burned. Billy sighed. He hoped those buggers at the sorting office accepted the note because he’d had enough of all this pissing about.
“Think them blokes are getting sick of me,” he said that night, wiping his feet on the mat. “The main one had a right go at me today, said he’d already told me twice. They need a credit card or a driver’s licence, or something with your photo on plus your name and address.”
“But I haven’t got a bank account and I don’t drive,” she wailed. “Honestly, Billy, I’ve been looking forward to them curtains for days, I can’t believe you still haven’t got them after all this time. And Mum’s coming again tomorrow and I can’t get out. I don’t care what you tell them at the post office – just make sure you get the parcel.”
Her lip was wobbling like the Millennium Bridge and now she had tears in her eyes. Fake ones, probably – she was good at getting her own way like that – but he could never be sure. “What you getting all worked up for, Shirl? It’s only a pair of bloody curtains. And where’s my tea? I’m starving.”
Angry tears spilled down her face, blotching her trowelled-on make-up chalk white and puce. “Only a pair of curtains? As if you’d understand. And I haven’t cooked anything tonight, I’m too upset. You’ll have to go down the chippy instead.”
That did it. Billy would put up with most things, but he had his rules and Shirley knew what they were. His tea was on the table when he got in from work and that was that. True he preferred the chip shop chips but that wasn’t the point; any wife of his had to remember her place. He raised his fist and she cringed, but he didn’t hit her because he’d had a thought. A warm and wonderful thought that would get him the ruddy parcel and put paid to her nagging besides. Oh yes, she’d have her curtains, he thought. It’d be curtains for her all right.
The next morning Billy was waiting bright and early on the sorting office step. He had a Tesco carrier bag over one shoulder and was whistling the latest Number One. The minute they opened the door he hopped inside and took his place at the head of the queue.
“Not you again?” the foreman said when he saw who it was. “Blimey, you’ve been here every day this week. Hope you’ve got the right I.D. this time otherwise it’ll be another wasted trip.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” said Billy with a laugh. “I’ve got I.D. all right. Better than a driving licence or a sodding credit card, much better than a photograph.” He opened the Tesco bag and brought out Shirley’s head, still dripping sluggish drops of blood from the open wound across its neck. “That good enough I.D. for you? Then give me the fucking parcel before I do the same to you.”
Bio: Fiona Glass lives in a pointy Victorian house in Birmingham with one husband, several visiting cats and far too many spiders. She writes darkly humorous fiction, usually with a twist in the tail, and her stories have been published in various anthologies and magazines including Mslexia, the Radgepacket series from Byker Books, The Pygmy Giant and Flash Me Magazine. You can find her online at www.fiona-glass.com .