Two Out of Three

Thomas threw the empty bottle away. It hit gravel laid over the roof and broke. “What am I going to do?” He opened a second beer and started to drink it.

Twenty-three floors below him people were returning to their flats from nights out. Aggressive shouts from a fight echo upwards from the street.

“I don’t know. Sitting on this roof and getting drunk seems good,” Russell said, draining his beer bottle, and then throwing it away.

“It’s so sudden.”

“Isn’t it always?”

“But it is part of the plan,” admitted Thomas.

“The plan?”

Thomas leaned back in his garden chair. “The plan. The plan is that by the time I’m twenty-seven I am going to have a wife, a kid, and a job for life. I made this promise to myself when I was seventeen.”

“Well it looks like you’ll at least have one of those,” Russell said, laughing.

“Looks that way.”

“You and Liz could get married to.”

“Maybe.”

“Why not? You’ve been together for years.”

“We have.”

“Seems the right thing to do.”

Thomas sipped his beer. He’d known Liz since school. He’d known Russell since school. Nearly everyone he knew he’d known since school.

“So what’s the problem?” asked Russell. “You two should do it. You’d get a bigger flat from the council. I read in The Sun that the government wanted more people to marry.”

“The problem is: I don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?”

“Well, just before Liz got pregnant, we had a row. She left the flat after and I don’t know where she went.”

“That was when you told everyone she’d gone to visit her dying uncle, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“We didn’t believe you; I didn’t anyway.”

Thomas shrugged. “I didn’t expect anyone to. It was just easier than explaining what had happened.”

“So Liz came back, and you think that she went off with someone else while she was gone. You think the kid ain’t yours.”

A police car drove past the tower on the street below. Siren and lights on with kids hurling abuse and stones as it went past without stopping.

“There’s that. But that doesn’t bother me so much. Even though, I guess, it should. Don’t know why. She doesn’t want to leave here. We’ve talked about moving away. That was what we argued about. There’s fuck all here for me. And it’s not like I can’t get work elsewhere as a mechanic. But there’s nothing here. I’ve been looking forever. Truthfully I don’t know why, but I want to leave the estate.”

“Really? You want to leave where you grew up? Where would you go? It’s not like there are many other places for us in the city. We’re stuck on the estate forever.”

“I don’t want to end up like my Dad, down the pub every night and doing nothing all day. If that means leaving the estate, then I’m going to leave it somehow. And this kid, I want the best for it, and that ain’t here.”

“Why not? What’s wrong with here? Going down the pub every night sounds good. Sounds fun. Better than sitting up here in the cold. And what about us? What about your family?”

“Sure, fun; except I have a kid on the way. The little bastard is coming, and I want the best for him. Even if he isn’t mine,” Thomas said. He stood up, and threw the empty bottle at the pile of broken ones. “I was thinking of joining the Army.”

Russell said nothing.

“It’s a job. And it’s away from here.”

“But there’s a war on. You’ll get blown up in some dusty shit hole by raghead terrorists,” replied Russell.

“I don’t seem many other options. I’m a mechanic. I can fix things,”

“Yeah, and?”

“Well the army need mechanics. I went to the recruitment office and asked. The officer there told me,” Thomas said.

“Does Liz know about this?”

“Yeah.”

“What does she think?”

“I don’t know. She saw the leaflets on the floor, and I told her, but she had to go to work.”

“Do you think she’s happy about this idea?”

“Fuck knows. Probably not.”

“And that’s why you can’t marry her?” Russell said.

“Among the other reasons.”

“Well at least you’ve got a baby on the way. That’s pretty cool.”

“It is,” Thomas said, standing up. “I’ll see you later. I’ve got to sign on tomorrow; I need to sleep.”

Thomas walked towards the door that went inside. Russell waved. “Night. I’m going to sit up here and have a smoke.”

When he walked out of the tower block the next morning, Thomas smelt the pungent smell of legalized weed, and Russell was leaning against the bus shelter next to the road holding a plastic bag.

“What’s in the bag?” asked Thomas, as he approached the shelter.

“Some films.”

“Anything good?”

“Nah; just about to go trade them in.”

“Oh right. I’m just heading into town as well. Gotta sign on.”

“Yeah, you said last night.”

A police drone circled low overhead watching the estate. The City bus stopped for the two. Thomas put some money down on the driver’s tray and bought a ticket. He went to the back of the bus. Russell waved for the security camera and put his money down.

Russell sat next in the seat in front of Thomas. “So did you tell Liz that you think she cheated on you?”

“No. Course not. I’m not sure I even think that. It’s just a feeling.”

The bus drove out of the estate and joined the main road leading into the city centre.

“Did you talk about this army thing?”

“No.”

“You told anyone else?”

“Just you and Liz. If the interview goes well I’ll tell Dad. He’ll be proud I reckon. He’s always going on about St George’s Day and stuff like that. He said that he wished he’d joined the army when he was younger.”

“Right.”

They said nothing else on the way in. Russell busied himself by looking at the free-newspaper that had been left on his seat. Thomas looked out the window at the world passing by. The bus snaked through other high-rise estates until it reached the edge of the city centre. The bus passed under the flyover that ringed the centre.

It was there that Thomas had a moment of realization; he hadn’t told anyone else, but Liz had considered getting an abortion. She was nine weeks pregnant and the limit was three weeks away. The baby was likely coming, as Liz didn’t really like the idea of killing her baby. He was going to have to get his life sorted. If he joined the army now he’d be earning a private’s wage before the baby was due. There’d be money for the kid; so even if he left Liz he could still offer to help her. He’d have a job and a kid.

The bus stopped outside a strip club across the street from the job centre. “You coming Tom?” said Russell, who had started to walk down the aisle.

“Yeah. Just thinking. Two out of three sounds good enough doesn’t it?” asked Thomas.

“I’d settle for that. Three out of three would be better. What are you on about?”

Thomas stepped off the bus and onto the pavement. “Never mind.”

Council Estate, Debouvoir Road [flickr]
Two Out of Three [Looking For Strange]

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