A Tale of the Bizarre.
Gina Roberts, filled with apprehension, was staring out of her kitchen window into the garden. The sun was starting to sink below the horizon and shone its orangey light onto the patio stones and the overgrown grass beyond. The sight of the lupines and hollyhocks aglow with its light brought a brief smile until she thought again of her husband, who would soon be home. Home from the job he hated, to growl at her. To snarl and snap at her when she spoke to him because he was in a foul mood, full of spite if she answered him back and a slap ready if he did not like the meal she had prepared.
She opened the cutlery drawer and retrieved her box of cigarettes. She often left herself enough time to go out into her garden for a furtive smoke before he got back. She had given up smoking years before but had slipped back into it over the last six months or so. She had hoped the odd cigarette would help soothe her. It did not but she carried on anyway, happy to have these private little moments of peace. She did not want that to stop. Not yet.
Gina went through the back door from the kitchen to the garden and stood on the patio, near the green wheelie bin where she lit her cigarette and blew smoke into the evening air. She had finished all her chores for the day. The carpets had been vacuumed, the kitchen gleamed, the bathroom taps shone above the shiny porcelain bath and sink and the sparkling clean toilet smelled of bleach with a hint of lime, just as her husband insisted. All that remained to do was to dish up the casserole that had been cooking and microwave the vegetables to go with it. She spent the next five minutes looking at the plants and enjoying her moment before returning to the kitchen and uneasily awaiting her husband’s arrival.
When Gina reached into the freezer for the bag of peas, she noticed a large piece of ice had formed on the edge of the lowest shelf. She tried to dislodge it by poking at it with a wooden spoon handle but it would not budge. Then she tried to shift it with a plastic spatula. She managed to get it just under the edge of the ice and she pushed and pushed as hard as she could, until the spatula abruptly broke the frozen seal on the icy shard and Gina fell forwards, banging her head on the top freezer shelf. She stood up straight and rubbed her painful temple. She saw the piece of ice was now lying across the lowest shelf. It was completely smooth and straight along one side but jagged and serrated along the other – like a huge ice bread knife.
She heard the sound of a key in the lock.
He was home.
She closed the freezer door in haste and forgot all about the peas.
She heard her husband cursing under his breath as he closed the front door. She called out to him in the cheeriest voice she could manage, “Dinner won’t be long, Shaun or would you like a drink first?”
“Get me a beer, will you.” No ‘hello’, no niceties, no asking how she was. Gina fetched a bottle of beer from the fridge and took it to her husband who was now in the lounge. He had thrown his coat onto the back of an armchair and was standing in front of the window to the garden rolling up the sleeves of his blue work shirt. He heard her coming and turned to face her, holding out a hand to receive his beer. His face was as thunder, his brows low and angry. Gina thrust the cold bottle into his hand and rushed off back to the kitchen.
Another bad day, then. Weren’t they all. She busied herself with preparing the meal, dishing up the casserole into bowls and boiling the carrots she had already peeled and sliced.
Later, after dinner and the complaints about the casserole and the distinct lack of peas, Gina cleaned the kitchen and washed up. Then while her husband was watching the news on his laptop, Gina escaped to the garden. It was almost dark now except for the light coming from the lounge and kitchen windows and the solar powered fairy lights that she had hung around the shed and along the fence at the bottom of the garden. It was so peaceful out here.
As she walked down to the grass beyond the patio, Gina heard the whispering rustles of the trees as the breeze blew them and the sound of nocturnal woodland creatures going about their evening. She walked further until she reached the shed and the light from there was just about enough for her to be able to make out the figures of the short and stout garden gnomes that stood in a little group, near to some lupines, almost behind the shed. Her husband had not been happy when she had bought them. He called then “ugly” and “common as muck”. He had wanted her to get rid of them, telling her she had wasted money on them. Gina could not bear to. She had begged him to let her keep them and said she would put them out of sight so no one else would see them except for her, when she went to the shed. To her surprise he had relented and so Gina has moved Hector, Bill, Stan and Jimmy to the far end of the garden. Out of sight maybe but not out of mind. She chatted to them on lonely afternoons or when she felt sad. Their cheery painted faces with big expressive eyes comforted her and they never shouted at her or gave her disapproving looks and they had most certainly never raised a hand in anger to her. She called them her Cheeky Boys.
Time to go back inside. Her husband would be having his shower-before-bed soon and so right about now, he would be wanting another beer. Gina hoped as she often did, that he would not get too drunk that night and shout at her for no apparent reason. “Sorry I haven’t got time to chat,” she told the gnomes. “Stan, is that a snail on your hat?” then she stooped down, removed the offending snail and popped it on the nearest lupine leaf. “There,” she said, “that’s better. Nighty-night, see you tomorrow, my cheeky boys!”
Much later, Gina was nursing a tender cheek after her husband had grown frustrated with the computer game he had been playing and had taken it out on her. As he often did. Luckily he had passed out on the sofa not long after that and so Gina had gone off to bed alone and was grateful for it. She fell into a troubled sleep though and had a nightmare about being trapped in a doll’s house with only a plastic cat for company. There were only two rooms in that tiny house and neither the doors nor the windows would open. The plastic cat kept telling her “no way out meow. No way out meow.” Then music began playing. Gina stopped trying to force the back door open to listen to it.
It got louder and louder until suddenly she was in her bed with the alarm clock playing their news jingle. A velvety voice informed her it was Tuesday morning, it was six o’clock, and it was another sunny day, but to expect showers later. Gina stared at the ceiling for several minutes before she got out of bed, put on her dressing gown and went to the bathroom. Half an hour later she went downstairs, nervous of what may await her.
Shaun would probably still be asleep on the sofa but he would wake up unhappy that he had spent yet another night in the lounge. Gina had helped him up to bed in the early years but not now. He was too heavy to shift and he could be handy with his fist after so much beer. She no longer had the strength nor the confidence to get him upstairs to the bedroom. Gina thought she should look in on him at least.
She got to the bottom of the stairs and turned right into the lounge. She could hear him gently snoring now she was closer. Usually he snored like an old warthog and she could hear him from upstairs but not this morning. As she came around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, she saw him. There he was, still dressed in his blue work shirt, stripy tie and trousers. His head rested on two flowery cushions. Gina entered the room and very carefully and softly padded past him to open the curtains as quietly as she could. She did not want to wake him yet. Just then, he stirred. “Bleugh, mmph, bleugh,” he said. Gina froze momentarily then stepped as silently as she could past the sofa where he lay. She was almost past him when his hand grabbed hers, making her jump and take in a fast, sudden breath. “Peugh, hmm, uegh… Giiiii-na….” he said and shook his head, “Gina..?” He tried to turn his head to look at her and thankfully, he let go of her hand.
Gina took advantage of this small unexpected freedom and rushed off out of the room calling out, “I’ll get breakfast, won’t be long, ten minutes!”
A few minutes later, just as Gina was putting bread under the grill, her husband walked into the room. She heard him come in but did not look. She was bent over the still cold grill, pretended to be engrossed in the bread and remained where she was.
“Gina, are you OK?” he asked. What? He never asked that! “G, I’m sorry. So very sorry,” Gina stood back up and turned to look at him. He had said sorry? Really? Gina could not speak and just stared at him. He stared back at her, bleary-eyed and haggard. But somewhere in his bloodshot eyes, Gina saw a hint of sincerity. She could not remember the last time he had looked at her like this. He actually looked earnest – something she had not seen in him since that afternoon thirty-six years ago when he had proposed to her over a big slice of cake, in that little café in town.
Gina remained silent. He carried on speaking. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been a bad husband. A drunk and a pig, a good for nothing pig. I’m so sorry Gina, so sorry.” Then his head sagged, his face crumpled and he made a loud, gurgling snort as he sniffed back as a single tear dripped down his nose. Then he began shuffling forwards towards Gina, his arms outstretched, inviting a hug. Gina did not move. He came closer to her, she could not back away as the grill was right behind her and so there was nowhere to go. He reached for her, wrapped his arms around her and encompassed her in his cloud of stale sweat and beer. Gina felt smothered and wriggled uncomfortably so as he loosened his grip on her. He was still saying sorry. Over and over he said it but now he added the postscript of how he had changed. He would no longer be that man. He would be different. He used the phrase ‘seen the light’ and said that he was ashamed.
Gina did not hug him back. She was confused and unsure and a little repulsed. He had said sorry to her here and there, over the years but his sorries had eventually dried up and his treatment of her had slowly got worse and worse. He continued to apologise and sniffed loudly every now and then which Gina took as an excuse to escape his grip with the offer of getting him a tissue.
Gina extricated herself from his damp embrace and handed him the clean tissue she had fished out of her pocket. Loud and long, he blew his nose. Then he took her hand and led her back to the lounge where he sat her down on the sofa and carried on with his apologies.
“I’ve been a pig,” he said, “a real pig, G and I truly am so sorry.” His eyebrows pleaded with her to believe him. “It’s a bloody miracle you didn’t leave me, G,” he continued, “I would’ve deserved that but you stayed with me. You cooked and cleaned and looked after me because you love me, don’t you. No matter how much of a pig I was, you stayed ‘cause you love me.” He was squeezing Gina’s hands tighter and tighter as he spoke and then he started sobbing. Gina waited uncomfortably while he tried to compose himself enough to speak and then he continued. “Something happened last night, Gina. I had this dream. I dreamt some thugs broke into the house, a gang of them. They were threatening me!” Then Shaun Roberts told Gina about the terrible nightmare he had endured that had caused him to have this morning’s epiphany…
…Six or seven blokes, all massive men, had come into the lounge where he had been sleeping. They had surrounded him on the sofa, woke him up, leering down at him. One of them, the biggest one of the gang had been brandishing a sword. A colossal, gleamimg Samurai sword, as far as he could tell! That gigantic bloke had shouted at him, “ice to see you, Shaun. Ice to see you!” How did he know his name? Had he been watching the house? Stealing his post? The whole mob had kept chanting his name then they had begun calling him a pig. Why on Earth would they do that? They said if he acted like an animal then he should be treated like an animal. They told him that he did not deserve this nice house. That he did not deserve his nice wife. That he deserved to live in the mud like all the other pigs. And then suddenly he was somehow outside; outside in the cold night air, naked and on all fours in the mud. The gang of huge blokes who were torturing him, had formed a circle around him there in the cold, wet mud and were chanting some sort of nursery rhyme. He could remember the words clearly. “Piggy-wig, piggy-wig, doesn’t ever give a fig. If he doesn’t promise it all stops, we’ll all be eating piggy chops!” (He had to stop at this point in the story and re-blow his nose.) It was awful. He could not escape them. They were brutalising him! He tried to tell them to stop. That he would call the police. They had no right! But his words did not come out like normal words, they sounded like snorts and snuffles and grunts. They must have drugged him! That’s why he couldn’t speak properly. Then the chanting quietened down a bit and the biggest bloke spoke again, “Well, pig, how do you like your new life?” He had tried to stand up to face this big bully who waved the glistening Samurai sword in his face but he couldn’t. His legs were too short and his back was too long. He could only remain where he was, on his four stumpy limbs there in the mud, unable to speak but making strange noises that sounded like grunts and squeals. “Are you going to stay as a pig, Shaun Roberts?” said the sword bloke. “Or are you going to change your horrible ways and be a man again? If you choose to be a man then you must change your ways. You must be a good man. Appreciative and grateful for your nice life. You must be kind to Gina who loves you. Will you be a good man, Shaun or will you stay as a pig? Choose!” The man with the sword again flaunted the weapon and added, “if you choose to be a man but do not change your ways, my friend Jim here, will be very happy to turn this plump pig into pork chops! Choose carefully, Shaun!” The huge Samurai sword sliced through the air in front of him and he began begging to be a man again. He would change. He had seen the light. He promised. He would be a good man, the best man who had ever lived. He swore he would. He will prove it! The big man with the sword had told him that it was a “one time offer”, this would be his “one and only chance” or he, Shaun Roberts would become a mud-rolling-pig for evermore….
…”And I woke up on the sofa. That’s when you came in the room, Gina,” said Shaun with tears in his eyes. “That terrible dream has made me realise how badly I’ve treated you, G. I have changed, I promise. I really have. I will be a better husband to you. I’m so sorry Gina, love.” Then he leaned towards his wife and gently kissed her cheek. “You’ll see, Gina, I’m a new man!”
Gina was bewildered. Her husband who had been immensely uncaring and often really quite nasty, had had a dream and was now a changed man? Well, she would believe that when she saw it. Some small part of her wanted very much to trust his words that things would be different but she could not.
Much, much later after Shaun had finally gone off to work, at least two hours late, Gina had gone to the garden to smoke a cigarette. She thought about that morning’s events. It was all so peculiar and so out of character for Shaun to be like that. He never apologised, never explained. Perhaps he really was going to turn over a new leaf after that rather violent nightmare. She couldn’t help but hope. They had been happy once, did she dare to hope they could be again.
Gina wandered further down the garden to look at the trees along the fence. They shook their leaves in the light wind and whispered to not let her guard down, just in case. She turned to her right to say hello to her cheeky boys, but Hector, Bill, Stan and Jimmy were not there in their usual place. Her eyes opened wide with the shock of it, where were they? Where were her boys? She looked all along the fence at the end of the garden but there was no sign of them. She looked behind the shed and around the lupines but still could not find them. Had her husband moved them? Had Shaun got rid of them? She knew he did not like them. She felt panic rising at the thought of her boys being gone, maybe thrown over the fence into the trees or worse. Then anger overtook the dread. How could he? How dare he! Gina spun around and started to march up the garden to go back into the house. And that’s when she saw them. Her cheeky boys! Oh thank Goodness! She began to run. “Oh there you are!” she cried with relief. They were lined up on the patio, along the wall, under the kitchen window. That’s why she hadn’t seen them before; she had walked straight past them without realising.
When she got to them, she bent down and checked them all, one by one to make sure they were all alright. No breaks or scrapes or damage. No harm had come to them and Gina was so happy to see them. Relief engulfed her in a warm embrace. “Oh my boys!” she cooed, “I thought you had gone! But you’re here and safe.” Then she burst into thankful tears. “I’m so glad you’re all alright,” she said, picking up Bill to check him, “though you all seem a bit muddy! Look Hector, it’s up to your knees! Where have you been?” But she didn’t care about a bit of dried mud as long as they were all here and in good condition. Gina dabbed her tears and then took her boys, one at a time back down the garden. She didn’t want to put them so far away this time and so settled them on the far edge of the patio, this side of the shed, where she would be able to see them from the kitchen window. She hoped Shaun would not kick up a fuss. “See you later, I’m going to make myself a sandwich,” she smiled at them and blew them a kiss, “be good, my cheeky boys.”
Shaun arrived home from work a little later than usual that evening; Gina presumed because he had to make up for being so late this morning. “Dinner is almost ready,” she told him. When she reached into the freezer for the peas, Gina noticed that the shard of ice had gone. Probably fallen down the back of the shelf, she supposed. Over dinner, Shaun announced that he had begun looking for a different job. He had never really liked this one and it was time to move on to pastures new. He also told her that he had been looking into booking them a weekend away; maybe they could stay at a bed and breakfast place somewhere nice, perhaps next month. “You deserve a break, G,” he said before going back to eating his dinner.
Afterwards, he told her that it had been delicious and he actually thanked her. Possibly they would get a takeaway at the weekend so she could have a night off cooking. Gina was truly astounded. Even more so when her husband did not drink any beer that night, nor the next or the one after that. Was this the change that he had promised her? Was he turning over that new leaf? Gina still could not truly convince herself that he could stick to being so pleasant. They spent their evenings watching old films on the telly together in the lounge. He even came home with a lovely bottle of fancy bubble bath for her the following week, saying he’d had to pop into town during his lunch break, had seen this and thought of her. Gina felt happier than she had done in years. But it was not to last.
Weeks later, he started to drink again. Just one bottle now and then. This soon turned into several every night. The new job he had spoken of never did materialise, neither did the weekend break he had mentioned. Her husband’s bad moods returned and Gina’s scant happiness evaporated.
Three months later, he slapped her face when she had slightly burned the cheesy breadcrumb topping on the pasta bake.
Back to square one.
Gina was unhappier than before – those few weeks of contentment had been cruelly snatched from her and she was so much more miserable than she had been. One day, she started to think seriously about leaving him. But did not know where or even how to go. That night she cried into her pillow alone as he was drunk on the sofa once again. As she fell asleep, Gina thought she heard a voice saying “…ice to see you again, Shaun…”
She awoke to the sunshine peeking over the top of the curtains and heard odd noises coming through the bedroom window from the garden below. She turned to glance at the clock. It told her the alarm had not gone off yet as it was just gone a quarter to six. She flicked the switch to ‘off’ as it was too late to go back to sleep now. She got out of bed, put on her dressing gown and opened the curtains to see what was going on outside at the time of the morning.
Gina squinted against the bright light. The noises were getting louder. She looked through shielding fingers down into the garden. What sort of kerfuffle was going on so early?
In the slightly overgrown grass at the other side of the patio, near the hollyhocks and lupines, was an enormous pig. It snuffled its way through the grass, snorting and grunting loudly and disapprovingly. “What the..?” said Gina. She turned away from the window to look back at the bed. Her side was dishevelled and her husband’s side was neat and the pillows still perfectly puffed up. She remembered he had slept in the lounge last night. Gina looked back to the garden.
The pig was still there, she was not imagining it. It was a really huge mud-covered pig. Why ever would there be a colossal pig in the garden? Stranger even than that though, was why was this big fat, mud-streaked pig wearing a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up..?
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