This story is by Tom Housden and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mark knew what he had done was wrong, almost definitely compromising everything he held dear and had worked for. His relationship, his job. Colleagues would find out what he had done. His life, as he knew it, was over. He guessed everyone had the potential to show their darker side, but not him, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Life for Mark was great, at home anyway. He had a wonderful girlfriend and they were trying for a child. Even though they didn’t have much money, they scraped past. However, he was fed up with his low-paid job, sitting in one place all day cashing cheques. It’s a job at least, he kept on telling himself, as if that made it any better.
He didn’t have much of a start in life, he was bullied at school for being different. He went to a mainstream primary school, which he loved. He had a best friend called Ben, who had since moved to New Zealand on their last day. He was very disappointed when he heard he was going to be moving, They did stay in touch on Facebook, but that wasn’t the same. He would love to go and see him one day!
Even though he went to a special school for his secondary education, as he had cerebral palsy, he felt he didn’t fit in. He was perfectly fine mentally, he was just a bit wobbly at times. He wasn’t in a wheelchair either, so that made him feel further out of place. There was another factor too: the work was too easy for him. He didn’t really enjoy it. When his parents were looking for a secondary school to which to send him, they thought that this was the school that was the most suitable.
His dad died in 1992, when he was 49. Mark had only been 13 then. He now didn’t have a father figure to look up to. His Mum found him a mainstream secondary school, at which he made friends, and was much happier.
When he left school, he trained as an IT Technician, doing a qualification while working in the IT department. He became self-employed, doing jobs for local people. He did love his job, but it was quite lonely, especially when he had been working in a group of 10!
He thought he would be single all his life, then he met Jessica. Before her, he felt a bit like a social hermit! All of his friends that he used to go bowling with and go to the cinema, had either moved away or got married with children.
4.57, 4.58, 4.59! Counting down to the end of another routine day, same thing tomorrow, and the next day and so on. For the first time in his life, he felt he needed an escape.
On the way home, he placed a bet. He sometimes flicked on to horse racing on TV, but he’d never put a bet on before. He knew the risks but decided to have a flutter anyway. He didn’t have the money to gamble, but what the heck?! He put £100 on a horse called ‘Sure Thing.’ It paid off big time. My first bet and I win big, he said to himself triumphantly.
He decided to celebrate by going for a drink in his local pub; he made a pact with himself that he would only have one, and not Stella, like he normally drinks, as that is one of the strongest beers and he didn’t want to get sozzled. He normally saw a few of his friends there, but tonight he didn’t see any, it was a weeknight after all. It wouldn’t look good if he turned up to work with a hangover, although he did say to himself that having a hangover may help cure, if only temporarily, the monotony of his job. He kept to his word and only had a Cider, and a packet of Scampi Fries.
He got to work just before nine, ready to start the day. He was bright eyed and bushy tailed, feeling rather optimistic, even about his job. With any luck, no-one would have noticed that some money had gone missing from the shop. 5.00 came, and he hadn’t been called it anyone’s office. He tried his luck to see if he could get away with £200 today.
As he walked home, his routine was the same. He went in to the bookies, bet on a horse called ‘Lucky Leaf’ and won!
Same routine the following day, stole, this time £500, once again to see if he could get away with it, once again, gambling then home.
He overslept on the following day, which meant that he didn’t get in to work until 10.00. His boss called him in to his office and asked him why he was late. He said he slept through his alarm clock and it wouldn’t happen again.
He was about to step out of his boss’ office when his boss demanded him to sit down again. Surely they hadn’t found out about the stolen money? They had. It was immediate dismissal.
On the way home later that morning, he mulled over what to tell Jessica. She was so pleased for him when he found a job a couple of months ago.
He didn’t go straight home, he went and put a bet on a horse that was racing that very afternoon, ‘Fortunate Freddie’. Except this time, Mark wasn’t so fortunate, he’d lost the money that he’d gambled with. After leaving the bookies, he nipped into his local for a drink. He promised himself he would only have one, but one soon turned into two, two into three, and so on. By 10, he was quite drunk and decided to call it a night.
He staggered home, just about picking out the right key from his keyring, to unlock the front door. There was no sign of Jessica. He stopped for a moment, trying to get his bearings in his drunken stupor. After a while he went upstairs and found her in bed. Instantly, she smelt the alcohol on his breath, not only that but the smoke that had clung to his clothes from the customers that were smoking outside the pub.
After a night in the spare room, he tried to reason with her, but he had no luck. He wasn’t thinking clearly, so he decided to go for a walk. It was a lovely sunny Saturday, but nothing was sunny for him. How would he pay the bills now that he’d lost his job? He would find another one in good time. In the meantime, there was nothing wrong with another drink and another gamble was there?
He came home. That was when it happened. Jessica had a go at him for losing his job, gambling, and getting drunk, which started an argument. He then did something that he instantly regretted, he hit her.
There is never an excuse for hitting a woman, he told himself. At the start of their relationship, he had told her he’d been abusive to an ex before, but that was 10 years ago, and he promised it would never happen again.
He never really could explain to her, her friends, even to himself why he hit her, everything came to a head, and he took it out on the girl he loved. And even though this was the first time he’d been violent towards her, they had had big rows before; this time though, it was over, and he couldn’t cope…
He was at his lowest ebb, and knew he couldn’t go on like this. However, despite recent attempts to try and stop his gambling addiction, it was no use. He had to go and have one last gamble, even though this was his last little bit of money. He was just about to walk into the shop, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Jessica.
She was holding a 1 year old child. His child.
Was this a dream? Was this real?
‘Ummm, no thanks’ he heard himself say when asked if he wanted to place a bet. Something had stopped him, was it Jessica? Was it another voice inside his head? It can’t have been Jessica, she was nowhere to be seen. He concluded that it must have been a dream.
He was proud of himself that he had resisted temptation. Walking down the road, he saw some homeless guys. Reaching into his pocket, he took the money that he was going to gamble with, and gave it to them. Not much, but maybe it would be of more use to them than him.
After all this time, he finally felt good about himself. With a smirk, he told himself that he was on the road to redemption.