Happy Times

Greg knew it was old-fashioned, but he liked it.  It reminded him of when he was a kid.  He and his mum and even his sulky older brother George would eagerly await his dad’s arrival home from work the Friday after they’d returned from holiday.  It was always a special occasion.  They’d get a Chinese takeaway and load the holiday photo slides into the projector.  They’d project the photos from the holiday on the wall and the room would fill with their excited chatter as they all regaled each other with anecdotes as to what the circumstances of the photos were and any other funny stories that they remembered.  It was light-hearted banter with plenty of laughs.  Even George would laugh and join in.  The total opposite of the monosyllabic grunts he’d make the rest of the time.  It was a cosy, joyful bubble of a world for that night.  The biggest laughs often coming when the slide was loaded upside down and Greg would swiftly twist himself upside down on the sofa only to be tickled by his dad until flopping down onto the floor. Happy times.

Greg made sure that he kept that tradition alive much to Amy’s chagrin.  She couldn’t see the point in having some corny old projector when they could hook up the laptop to the 42” plasma TV and view the photos in high definition. But he’d done it all through their relationship; even their wedding photos were on slides and she’d endured it up to a point.   They had to put up with poor quality pictures shone onto a patchy wall in their living room.  It wasn’t so much as a special occasion, it was a chore.  Even the Chinese food was unwanted.  Greg was the only one who liked it.  His twin son and daughter had never enjoyed it and so they’d all be forced to choose one of the “English specials” from the menu because Greg would flatly refuse to walk the further 100 yards to the curry house.  Greg’s enthusiasm failed to rub off on Amy and subsequently their kids.  It was an effort to get through the slide session and his moronic commentary to placate their dad.

This occasion was different.  It was the first since the divorce.  Everyone bar Greg sat in silence.  Even the curry, for which Greg had gone the extra yards to bring, was left untouched.  A palpable atmosphere hung in the room of the flat in which until 4 months ago Greg had called home.  The lights were off throughout.  Only the whir of the projector provided a soundtrack to Greg’s commentary as the sole source of light projected photos from their past on the wall.

“Great Yarmouth 2008:  Do you remember?  Burning hot summer we had.  You kids turned 6 just before we left for the holiday.  The car was loaded up with toys.  You always got boys and girls versions of everything.  When did that stop?  You get your own stuff now don’t you?  You get what you want now.”

The next photo showed Amy and the kids lined up and posing awkwardly in front of a static caravan.  Everyone is squinting into the sun while Greg takes the photo.  His shadow stretches out from the bottom of the frame, elongated by the sun’s angle.  His elbows are high up on his frame holding the camera.  Sun seeps through the gaps between his arched elbows and his head.  The shadow looks like a giant eye on a man’s body.

Greg leaned forward being careful to use his left arm to raise his beer can and have a drink.  Amy was snuggled under his right arm and he didn’t want to spoil the moment.

“Brilliant holiday that was.  One of the best.  Great caravan park with a kids club and everything.  Beach was only 200 yards away.  We’d spend all day every day on there.  I don’t think any of us wanted to come home after.”

Greg pressed the button on the control.  The next slide shone fuzzily.  It is Greg, buried up to his neck in sand on the beach.  The kids are either side of him.  They are all smiling.

Greg laughed.  “What a wally, eh?”  He extended his right arm around the back of Amy and nudged the boy curled up on the sofa next to his mum.  The boy ignores him; doesn’t move.  “Fancy doing that to your old dad, eh?”  Nothing, but silence.  “Gruesome twosome I used to call you.  Your mum didn’t like it, but you didn’t mind.  You knew I was just kidding.  It was her and her spoilsport ways.”  Greg’s face turned from a smile to a look of disgust as he gazed down at Amy.  “Always spoiling the fun you was.  Couldn’t just have a laugh could you? No.”  He shrugged Amy off him and stood.  He walked to the wall, picking up a prawn cracker on the way.  He cast a large shadow over the centre of the picture.  His head, protruding from the sand on Great Yarmouth beach, projected onto his shirtless back.  The twins still shone brightly on the wall.  Greg studied them seriously.

“Look at your faces.  Unbridled joy.  So innocent.  Just fun isn’t it?  That’s all.  The sort of unblemished enjoyment of doing something so silly.  Enjoy it while you can kids, it doesn’t last.  Once you get the weight of the world on you, you don’t have fun.  You just exist in an endless cycle of work.”  Greg crunches noisily on a prawn cracker.  He spits crumbs as he talks. “ If you’re lucky, you get family.  Like us.  And you experience that fun again when you have kids.  If you’re lucky you won’t get divorced.  You won’t get a restraining order for trying to put your family back together.  To stop everything from falling apart.”

He stood hands on hips staring intently at the picture; His own beaming grin from yesteryear shining brightly on his glistening wet back.

He turned from the wall and looked back into the room, hands still on hips, like a craftsman surveying his work.  Amy had remained on the sofa as though limply trying to still snuggle up to the space where Greg was sat.  Her hair matted with slowly congealing blood.  Her dressing gown shredded and bloody.  The kids were both coiled in the foetal position, save for the boy; his arm was outstretched in self-defence, punctured and bloody from the wound he caught trying to protect himself from the knife.  The girl had slumped further onto the floor.  She was limp and ragged.  Her eyes remained open with a look of fear.  They had lost their shine, but the light from the projector still flickered on them.  In the dim light seemingly black streaks of blood splatters had touched almost everything in the room.  Greg himself is covered, but none of the blood is his own and in the light of the projector it remains a vibrant deep crimson.

Greg’s eyes filled with tears.  He picked up the knife from the table on which the projector sat.  He studied it in the light from the projector: blood and torn flesh on the blade.  He turned and sat back on the sofa.  He pulled Amy back under his arm and cuddles her still warm body gently.   Hands shaking he fumbled for and retrieved the control for the projector.  The next slide appears.  The photo shows all of them together, but it is projected upside down.

Greg laughed.

A siren wailed in the distance.

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