Jobless in January: Johnny Smith Sample

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Joey and Dave walked me downstairs and out of the front door. A pushbike shot into the driveway and pulled up in a spray of gravel just before ploughing into us. Charlie glared at us from underneath a metallic green cycle helmet.

“What are you lot doing in the middle of the driveway?”

“Standing here just to get in your way, Charlie!” Joey snapped back without a pause.

“We were going to give Johnny directions back to the sea front,” Dave explained. “It’s easier from the road.”

“It’s easier to drive him than give him directions.” Charlie moved his glare to Dave.

“I wanted to walk. I need the exercise.”

I ignored Charlie’s snort, just like I was ignoring the clinging Lycra that was displaying all his muscles. The pushbike was giving me more ideas. I didn’t know where my old one was at home, or even if I still had it, but I could afford to buy a new one now. Cycling would help get me in shape and be a way to get to a job, if I found one.

“Johnny is trying to get back in shape,” Dave said. “I thought that maybe you could give him a few pointers?”

“And while you’re at it you could show him the way to the sea front,” Joey added.

“I suppose I could.” Charlie sighed loudly. “If he stops staring at my arse long enough to look where he’s going.”

“Your arse?” I turned my gaze to it and stared openly. “Very impressive I suppose, must’ve taken a lot of work to get it like that. Are those gel saddles any good? I’ve seen a lot of people with them and the adverts make them sound wonderful, but are they really any better than a decent saddle?” I lifted my eyes from the bike saddle and looked at Charlie innocently. I just prayed that I wouldn’t blush. I had been staring at his arse and wondering if the narrow saddle was as painful as it looked.

“I haven’t noticed that much difference.” Charlie shrugged and glared at me suspiciously. “I think it is a bit better. It came with the bike and I haven’t bothered changing it.”

“Can’t be too bad then.” I nodded. “Maybe I’ll try one and see for myself.”

I said goodbye to Joey and Dave, after agreeing to meet them the following evening.

It felt awkward walking along the road with Charlie looming beside me. It was even more awkward answering his barrage of questions about my height, weight, age and stuff. He was pushing his bike with one hand in the centre of the handle bars and making it look easy. I knew it wasn’t.

“You should get a complete physical before you start any intensive exercise.”

Charlie’s voice startled me. He had been quiet for some time after I finished answering his questions. I had been trying to pretend he wasn’t there, which was difficult given the size of him.

“I’ll draw you up a plan,” he continued. “If you stick to it for three months you’ll be in better shape than Joe.”

“I will?” I wasn’t sure that was possible. Joey looked in pretty good shape to me and he was six years younger, not to mention how seriously out of shape I was.

“If you stick to it.” Charlie nodded. “It won’t be easy,” he warned. “But if you have the will power it’ll produce results.”

“Okay. Thank you.” I was bristling slightly at the tone of his voice, especially when he mentioned will power.

“There’s the sea.” He pointed ahead of us.

“Then I can find my way from here.”

I watched the bike vanish around a corner and blinked a few times.

I shook my head and turned back toward the sea. It was starting to get dark and the wind seemed to be colder without Charlie’s bulk acting as a wind break. I walked faster. The sea front promenade was well lit, I shouldn’t have any problems finding my way back to the guest house.


Author Extra

This is a little ‘missing’ scene from the novel. It was never part of the novel, but is referred to in it.

“Dad?” Lynn swung back and forth, clutching my hand with both of hers, and looked up at me with her head cocked to one side. I knew that look and that tone; I braced myself for what would come next.

“Dad? Can we have ice cream? From that place that has all the flavours? You know, where they do that coffee you like.” Lynn made a face at the thought of coffee. “You could even have coffee ice cream,” she suggested with the air of one bestowing a favour.

“Lynn, it’s cold and raining,” I started patiently, “it’s not ice cream weather. And you know I’m not eating sweet things anymore.”

“I’m sure one ice cream wouldn’t hurt.” Lynn sniffed and sounded like my ex-mother-in-law. I suppressed a shudder — not having to deal with the Pearmaines was another benefit of the divorce.

Lynn’s head tilted the other way. “It’s always ice cream weather,” she argued, swinging more on my hand. “My legs ache and you know ice cream always makes them better.”

“We could go home and sit down,” I suggested ignoring Andrew’s snort from my other side. My kids were good, but even they had done enough shopping for one day. I disengaged my hand from Lynn’s, handed the bags in my other hand to Andrew and tried to hitch up my boxers without anyone noticing. The belt kept my jeans decent, but the boxers were now miles too big and wouldn’t stay put. It was a sign that all my pain and suffering in the name of diet and exercise were paying off, just like that big git, Charlie, had promised.

“Dad, why don’t you buy some clothes that fit?” Andrew interrupted Lynn’s latest monologue on the benefits of ice cream. “You said we were going to eat in town and it’s nearly lunch time. So we could go to Palmer’s and get you some clothes then eat there.”

“Palmer’s?” Lynn perked up. “That’s where they do those neat ice cream sundaes, isn’t it? You really need to get some new clothes, Dad,” she changed tack, but I wasn’t fooled. “You look like you’re playing dressing up in those, now you’ve worked hard and lost all that weight. You’d look really good in clothes that fit. And Palmer’s has a good selection, you know.”

“I do know what Palmer’s has and hasn’t got.” I shared a glare between my two innocent looking children. Palmer’s was an old independent department store still clinging on into the twenty-first century and sold most things, as well as having an excellent café with too many desserts for my willpower. Desserts which both kids loved. Andrew’s suggestion wasn’t just for Lynn’s benefit.

My boxers slithered downward once more, rain dripped down the back of my neck and people pushed past us as my children stared at me with hopeful expressions. I rolled my eyes and tried to make the best of it. I did need new clothes, but I hadn’t quite reached my target weight and was holding out until then to splurge. Some new boxers wouldn’t hurt though, maybe a couple of T-shirts and a pair of jeans just so I could enjoy having lost this much weight. And we did need lunch. At least at Palmer’s I could insist that the kids ate a proper meal before their ice cream sundaes.

“Can we, Dad? Please?” Lynn judged her moment and widened her eyes.

Half an hour later I slumped into a chair in Palmer’s café and made a mental note to never take the kids clothes shopping with me again. I was wearing my new, scratchy clothes at Lynn’s insistence and to Andrew’s apparent relief. The sales assistant had bitten his lip and maintained that snooty air when he offered to cut the price tags off for me. But I’m sure there was more than professional interest when he eyed the fit of my new jeans.

I couldn’t let my panic surface with the kids there, but I’d been more focused on getting away from the department, and the assistant, than arguing with the kids’ selections. So I was now wearing boxers with cute kittens on, which at least no one could see, and a T-shirt proclaiming that I was “Hot Stuff” — both Lynn’s choices. The kittens I could understand but the T-shirt? Apparently it was her favourite colour and the flames were neat.

“I should have worn your T-shirt,” I muttered to Andrew when Lynn bounced off to wash her hands. A nice airplane on a sky blue background would have been much less conspicuous and no one would have to know about the matching plane-spotted boxers.

“Maybe it’ll shrink in the wash.” Andrew eyed the garish T-shirt without much hope. “Or you could spill something on it. At least you don’t look like you’re homeless now.”

“What?” I glared at my son. I hadn’t looked that bad had I? My old clothes were clean and in good condition, just a couple of sizes too big. I might have overslept this morning and not had time to shave, but that didn’t make me look like I was living rough, did it?

“Come on, Dad, you’ve got to have looked in a mirror.” Andrew rolled his eyes at me with one of those flashes of adulthood that twelve-year-olds display. “You’ve lost weight and all. Your old clothes hang off you and look so bad it’s embarrassing.”

“Oh?” I was embarrassing my kids by wearing baggy clothes? That had potential, I’d always looked forward to that time when I’d be the one doing the embarrassing rather than on the receiving end.

Lynn came back then and interrupted the moment. I let her monologue about which ice cream sundae to have wash over me as I contemplated the possibilities for parental revenge on my kids.


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