THE SHELF By Ivan Speck

I KNEW it needed doing. And I knew I had to do it. Trouble was, it was always the same when it came to DIY.

“I need a certain type of screw.”

“My spirit level’s broken.”

“The drill won’t charge properly.”

If I could only put up a shelf the way I could trot out an excuse, she would still love me. And she’d still be here.

I can’t blame her. Not really. It’s not as if she hadn’t given me any chances. Maybe that was the problem. I always thought that she would give me one more.

“The house looks half-finished,” she would say. “I can never invite anyone around because there are holes in the walls, bits of carpet missing and things all over the floor because you won’t put that shelf up. And the kids have nowhere to play in the garden. Where’s that treehouse you promised them two Christmases ago? Fine promise that turned out to be. I can’t take any more, d’you hear? If that shelf isn’t put up this week, I’m off. And I’m taking the kids with me. Then you can live in this pigsty by yourself.”

It certainly sounded like a last warning, but I didn’t think she’d actually do it. I mean, I did try. Well, sort of. I measured the wall, drew pencil marks on it and even gouged little holes with my screwdriver. But then I remembered I didn’t have any rawl plugs. You can’t just screw screws into the wall by themselves and expect them to hold. You need rawl plugs for them to screw into and grip the sides of the hole.

I even got in the car and went down to B&Q to buy some. Except that when I got there, they weren’t open. And that’s when I saw the sign.

“This store will be closing down on Saturday, 8th March,” it read. And what day was it? Sunday, 9th March. One day late. One lousy day. They wouldn’t even have emptied the shop yet. The rawl plugs would still have been inside, sitting there on the shelf with my name on them. Only the automatic doors weren’t on automatic any more. I tried anyway, just in case. I even waved at the sensor on the off chance that they had forgotten to turn it off. But they hadn’t.

So I came back and by then it was lunchtime and Terry was waiting for me in The Optimist. We always go in there for a drink on a Sunday lunchtime. It always sorts me out. I suppose it’s got something to do with the name. Whoever dreamed up ‘The Optimist’ for a pub name was a genius. I mean, you can’t walk past it without thinking it would be bad karma not to pop in there for a quick one. And if you do – walk past it, that is – you don’t feel right. You feel as though you are walking on the negative side of life.

“I’ve got some Rawl plugs you can have,” Terry said. “Pop over one day in the week and I’ll give you a bag of them. Which ones do you need, brown, red or yellow? Red ones ought to see you right for a shelf. I’ll dig some out when I get home and they’ll be waiting for you.”

“Cheers, Terry,” I said. “I just want to get that shelf up before I start on the kids’ treehouse. I saw a great one online the other week. I’ll copy that and they’ll love it.”

And that was that. Rawl plugs sorted, I felt better already, sort of optimistic you might say. The rest of Sunday floated along in a haze of serenity. I was on my way with the shelf, I felt better about myself and life was rosy once more.

Only, of course, I never made it round to Terry’s. At least not in time. A big order came in at work and I had to work late on Tuesday. That was the night I was planning to go over, but with the hammer down in the office, I couldn’t get away until gone six. Back home at half-seven, dinner, read a story to the kids and by then it was too late.

Wednesday would have been a possibility but we had parents’ night at the school and we never miss that, although I sometimes wonder if the teachers ever really differentiate between one child in their care and the next. It must be hard with so many of them in a classroom. I know their workbooks tell a story but if it’s anything like my day, we all used to copy off the brightest one in the group and hope for the best. Sometimes that was me, but more often not. Anyway, ours are doing well and they are behaving themselves, which is nice to hear.

Then Thursday was gym night and Friday is the start of the weekend. Only fair’s fair. I actually called round at Terry’s on my way home, picked up the rawl plugs and walked in ready to attack that shelf. That was until I realised that no-one was in.

“That’s alright,” I thought. “I can make a start and surprise them by having the shelf up when they get in.”

Only when I went upstairs to change, everywhere seemed sort of empty. The coat rack, windowsills, the toothbrush holder in the bathroom. I looked around, trying to focus on the objects that were there but only able to see the spaces where things were missing.

“Have we been burgled?” I wondered. But then why take three toothbrushes and leave mine? And what sort of a deranged burglar breaks into people’s houses and steals toothbrushes anyway?

No, I was missing something. Were they going away for the night or the weekend and I had forgotten? It wouldn’t be the first time. “Better check the calendar,” I thought. Only the calendar was empty. At least the entry for Friday was.

And that was when I noticed it. A folded piece of paper on the kitchen table. The explanation. The note to tell me where they were and when they’d be back. Except it didn’t tell me where they were and the answer to the second part was never apparently.

I didn’t take much of it in, at least nothing save the part that said: “I did warn you.” I didn’t know what to do. I wandered into the living room, but the only object I could focus on was the bag of Rawl plugs.

“Well, I’m certainly not going to put up that shelf right now,” I thought. “Sod it.”

I couldn’t tell you what I did for the rest of the night, or even what I did yesterday. The telly was on but I can’t say that I paid any attention to it. The days have just gone by and now it’s Sunday. I don’t know what to do or what to tell anyone at work tomorrow.

Okay, I do know one thing that I am going to do. I am going to put that shelf up. Right after I come back from seeing Terry in The Optimist.


About highamwriters

A group of recreational creative writers and if you ask us nicely we will let you publish some of our work
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