*Features adult language and themes.*
Moving house should be stressful but ultimately rewarding. As it turned out this isn’t the case if you are being forced to move back in with your parents. There’s no sense of renewal or achievement.
I feel like it’s a massive step backwards.
The fact he was dragging his family along behind him made it even worse.
On reflection he was surprised that Evie even considered it, let alone agreed. Jon had underestimated just how far the mouldy flat had pushed her.
In fact, the stress of the whole thing wasn’t down to moving their possessions from one place to another. The stress came from realising that most of their possessions would have to be dumped. The amount of things they actually took to his parents house was depressingly small.
Jon couldn’t help feeling as though he’d failed in some way. It should never have come to this. We’ve lost almost everything, and now we’re stuck in the same house as my parents. I have no idea when we’ll be able to find another place.
He went back out to the driveway to pick the last of the boxes out of his Dad’s car. His Dad had been amazing in the last few weeks, his Mum had been suspiciously quiet.
When the whole ‘mould episode’ began Jon had taken it in his usual laid-back stride. He thought it would be one of those things that sorted itself out. He never imagined it would take over their home so completely. Over time he realised that it wasn’t only the furniture the mould was wearing down.
The evening he had come home to find Evie holding Robbie and crying to herself had been a jolt. From that moment on it had become his mission to find a way out. But the problem soon became a twisting maze full of dead ends.
To begin with Jon took to studying his finances during lunch breaks at work. He soon had reams of paper full of scribbled numbers and sums. He went through all of the household bills, adding up how much money they needed to exist. He tried to cut it down to the very barest of bare essentials. Rent, power, heating and food. He discovered that there was no room for cutting anything out. They already lived on the bare essentials.
The first thing he cancelled was the home contents insurance, it seemed that it had been wasted money from the start.
Ever since they moved into the flat their finances had been walking a tightrope. The rent was higher than they would have liked. But it was a necessity once Robbie came along. When he looked into it throughly Jon realised that they’d slowly been sliding into debt. It was only £10 a month here, or £20 a month there, but after a year it added up.
Jon worked for hours to try and work out where they were losing the money. In the end he figured out that things had slowly crept up in price. Their food bills were slightly higher, their energy bills had taken a few jumps too. All of a sudden Jon realised just how high the tightrope was, and he felt dizzy.
It wasn’t a crippling debt. He didn’t have any credit cards, or outstanding loans, they had just driven themselves into an uncomfortable overdraft. The problem was Jon couldn’t see how they would be able to climb out of it. They only had enough money to live on the basics, their wages didn’t cover the costs anymore. It would soon come down to a choice between eating and turning the lights on.
To his credit, Jon didn’t panic. He had always been a logical man. He was very problem orientated. He would find a solution, but deep down he knew that the solution would be an unpleasant compromise.
He sat down with a blank piece of paper and calmly wrote down what the problem was, then went on to brainstorm possible solutions.
* * *
Problem: We are in debt through no real fault of our own. We can no longer support our meagre lifestyle. The cost of living has gone up, and we cannot afford it. At the same time we need to find a way to move out of our crappy flat, which in turn will cost more money.
Solutions: The easiest solution is to make more money. Possible ways to do this:
Ask for a raise.
Ask for more hours.
Apply for a loan or credit of some sort then worry about the re-payments later.
Ask my parents for money.
How can we move out of the flat on our current budget?
Find a cheaper place to live. This will mean less rooms and a worse neighbourhood. In fact we might end up in a flat that is just as bad or worse than the one we are in now.
Can we afford a mortgage? No is the easy answer. We haven’t been able to save a penny between us for years. We haven’t got any cash for a deposit, and it would seem that we’d struggle to keep up repayments if we can only just afford our rent now. However, a mortgage might end up cheaper than our rent? Have to look into this.
Could ask to stay at my parents place while we try to find somewhere else. It might give us a chance to save a little money too. This is probably the last resort.
* * *
The same day Jon went to see his store manager.
He knocked on the office door timidly and waited for a response, secretly hoping that there wouldn’t be one.
“Yes?” Came a call from inside.
Jon opened the door a little and stuck his head through the gap. “Neil, I wondered if you had a moment to talk?”
“Jon. Of course. Come in.” Jon closed the door behind him and sat in the chair opposite his boss. It always seemed a lot lower than the chair on the other side of the desk. “What’s up?”
Jon found himself fumbling with his hands in his lap and looking down, he noticed the tie he was wearing. That tie told the other staff he was a supervisor, a few months ago he’d been one of the lowest employees in the place.
This is important, pull yourself together. “Umm, this is a little awkward if I’m honest.”
“Don’t worry Jon, everything you say here is private.”
“Well, I’m having a bit of money trouble and I’m trying to weigh up all of my options.”
“Money trouble, hey. Hmmm, that’s a shame. How do you think we can help you?”
That doesn’t sound good. “Well, I wondered if I could work more hours for a start. I’ve almost completed my training. If you sign off on my promotion, then maybe you could confirm my pay rise in full?”
Neil looked thoughtful. He began stroking a finger along his moustache. It always freaked Jon out, it looked like he was pleasuring a hairy caterpillar. “I think we might be able to help you out Jon, as you say, you’re due the rise anyway, you’ve done well so far with the training. I don’t see any trouble pushing it forward a bit. Once we confirm the promotion, the extra hours will come with it. Unfortunately, once you are promoted, the extra hours won’t mean more money. You’ll be on a salary.
“Hmmmm. But the rise should make that balance out, you know.”
“Will I actually be any better off?
“So, you want me to work longer hours, with more responsibilities, pressure and stress and I’ll only be ‘marginally’ better off than if I stay as a shop assistant working overtime?”
“Pretty much. But you have to take the long view on this one, Jon. It’s all about paying your dues, you see. You’ll have a year or so of working as a salaried supervisor, then you get a big bump when the next managerial promotion comes along. And it is a BIG bump.”
Jon found himself looking back down at his lap. “OK, Neil. Thanks for your time. I’ve got a few things to think about.”
Neil got up and offered his hand. Jon shook it half-heartedly. “Anytime, Jon. My door is always open.” They both turned towards the door that was firmly closed. “Metaphorically speaking, of course.”
* * *
A few days after his talk with Neil, Jon still felt lost. The landlord had fixed the ventilation in the flat, but that had only slowed the mould’s progress towards domination. By that time the battle had been lost. The situation had broken both his and Evie’s spirit.
One evening he took Robbie out for their usual walk to the park. He decided to walk right though it and almost without realising it found himself on his parent’s doorstep.
When he rang the bell his Dad answered the door. “Hello, son. Fancy seeing you here. Come in.” His dad picked Robbie up out of the buggy and carried him through to the living room. Since they’d started to bring Robbie over, his parents had begun to keep some of his toys at their place. Robbie happily sat down and amused himself. Jon’s Dad disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a pot of tea and a little biscuit that he gave to Robbie. “There, you go, little fella. Munch on that.” Robbie stuffed it into his mouth and after a few thoughtful chews, gave a little cough.
Jon went over and rubbed his back. “Not so fast Robbie, little bites.”
“He gets more like you everyday.” Jon sat back on a chair, his Dad studied him a length. “So what brings you my way tonight? Not that it’s an imposition or anything. It’s always nice to see you.
“Nothing in particular, Dad. I just sort of found my way here. I guess I was on autopilot.”
“Is Mum about?”
“No, she’s out tonight, one of her gatherings, you know.” He took a slurp of tea then fixed Jon with a penetrating stare. “Come on then, out with it.”
“Out with what?”
“Jon, I know when something’s bothering you. It’s the only time you shut up.”
Jon was surprised for a moment before he let a smile creep to his lips. “That’s a fair point.
“I feel a bit like I’m drowning. I know how to swim, but things keep pulling me down. I struggle harder and harder, but the weight of it all increases. No matter how hard I try I just stay in the same place. Lately the water has come up to my neck and I can’t see how I can possibly stay above it.”
“That sounds unpleasant. Try to be a bit more specific.”
“It’s just life, Dad. Life and everything it entails. I used to think I had most of it figured out. We’ve never been well off, but we had it all balanced. Slowly things have changed and I haven’t been observant enough to notice. I’m fighting to keep the balance. If I stop fighting I’ll fall, but if I keep fighting I can’t win either.
“The flat is the biggest problem. We’re paying a lot of money to stay in that shit hole. It’s ruined almost everything we own, and it’s stressing us both out. I haven’t got the money to move to a better place, and the prospect of moving somewhere worse is galling. I’ve tried asking for a raise at work. You know, I thought maybe I could get into a little debt in the short term and work my way back out, but that took a hammering the other day. My boss pretty much told me I’d be better off going back to my old position and working longer hours.”
Jon reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a wad of papers. “I’ve been carrying these around for a few days now. They’re credit card applications. I keep thinking it’s the only way out, short term. Then I can worry about the debt later on.
“How can it be so hard to look after your wife and kid? I work hard, I earn as much as I can. I’m honest, I pay my taxes, I pay my bills. I don’t have any major debts, but I still can’t keep ahead of the game.”
Jon’s Dad lifted his cup to his mouth then paused and looked over the rim at his son before putting it back down on the table. “Let me have a look at those.” He said, pointing to the forms Jon was still grasping. Jon passed them over. His father took a cursory look before neatly ripping them in two. “When you’re in a hole, it’s rarely a good idea to try and dig your way out. Making things worse in the hope they’ll get better is a fools solution. You can bring your family here, Son. Come and move in for a while until you can right yourself. It’s the most sensible thing to do.”
Jon sagged in his chair. Not out of relief, but in defeat. “I can’t ask you to do that Dad. I can’t impose my problems onto you.”
“Shut up, Jon. You didn’t ask me to do anything. I know you’ve already thought of it because you’re not stupid. I also know that you wouldn’t just up and ask for a favour because you’re stubborn like your mother.” They both smiled at that. “It’s what a father does for his son. It’s what you need to do for yours.”
Jon looked over to Robbie quietly playing on the floor surrounded by biscuit crumbs.
“I’ll have a talk with Evie, see what she says.”
“Tell her it’s the best thing you can do right now. She might not like the idea, but that’s the sacrifice you’re both going to have to make for the time being.” His Dad stepped away and held Jon by the shoulders. “There’s no shame in taking help that’s offered freely.”
Jon looked down at the floor. He was desperate to turn the offer down, but the hope of a solution had been kindled. He snapped his head back up as a thought occurred to him. “What about Mum?”
Jon’s Dad picked up the empty cups and made his way out of the room. “For once your mother will have to like it or lump it. There aren’t many times in our life together where I’ve put my foot down, but this’ll be one of them.
Now, bugger off home and get things sorted. You can’t leave Evie in that flat on her own for too long, it’ll drive her mad.”
* * *
Jon stacked the last box in his parent’s spare room.
Our room now, I suppose. It was a large space with a double bed, wardrobe and dresser. There was enough floor space for Robbie’s small bed. It’s going to feel like a hotel for a while, but not in a good way.
Jon had discussed it with Evie and she had agreed with only two conditions. That they pay a fair rent or board to his parents and that they help out around the house. Jon’s Dad agreed happily and became quite excited by the prospect. His Mum on the other hand had nothing to say, at least not to Jon.
Robbie came running into the bedroom chasing a ball. Jon picked him up and started swinging him around. Robbie loved to be lifted and thrown around a bit, he smiled and squealed in delight.
Jon misjudged the space and caught the corner of a box with Robbie’s legs, it tumbled to the floor and split open like an over-ripe fruit.
Jon sat Robbie on the floor, rolling his ball back to him and began clearing the mess. On top of the pile was a book he’d never seen before. It had a leather cover that had been embossed with a pattern. It was tied closed by leather strings that had been stitched into the spine on each side. He looked at the page edges and saw that the mould had attacked it leaving small black and green spots on the paper. Holding it up to his nose he could still smell the dusty aroma under a sweeter scent.
He was surprised that it hadn’t been thrown out with the other books. He’d had to get rid of half of his collection because he couldn’t bear to hold them, the stench was disgusting.
Then he realised what he was holding. It was Evie’s diary, she’d sprayed it with her perfume to try and get rid of the smell.
Running his finger over the cover left a slightly brighter trail behind it where it rubbed away a thin layer of dust. His finger tip brushed the bow knot of leather string. The temptation to open the book and read was growing with each second he held it.
“Daddy. I like ice cream because you’re the best.” Said Robbie looking up at Jon from the floor.
Jon smiled down at his son. He put the book back in the box and folded the flaps over to close it. “You want some ice cream, do you? Let’s go and see what Grandad has in the freezer.” He picked up Robbie and left the room.
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