Sometimes fate has a way of kicking you in the teeth. Or sometimes, maybe, you just hold out your jaw to it and say “Kick me!”
By the time Harry made it back to his flat, it was 5.30pm. As he opened the door to his bedsit, he saw that the answer phone was blinking away in the corner. That could wait a minute, he thought, as he automatically headed for the cupboard to pull out the coffee. He lit the gas for the kettle, and spooned a few heaps of the fine-ground Java into the cafetiere. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he wondered who might have rung him – one thing was for sure, it wasn’t going to be a date for Friday night! Harry hadn’t seen much action that way for quite a few weeks now, and he didn’t expect this Friday was going to be much different. He had in mind an easy night ahead: he’d pack a few things ready for the trip tomorrow, and maybe just relax, listen to a bit of music. The idea was appealing – might help empty his brain of all those McFrys.
He pushed the plunger down on the coffee maybe a bit too quickly, but he needed the quick buzz from the caffeine sooner rather than later. He took a few gulps of the brew, and felt it hit the spot. ‘Better check those messages, Harry’, he thought, having put it off as long as he could, and made his way over to the phone.
The first message sent a chill through his spine. It was Carrie – Harry’s sister in law, her pleasant, warm voice managing to jolt Harry, nonetheless.
“Hi Harry. Thought I’d better ring to remind you – I know what you’re like. Dinner’s at 6. See you then – the boys are looking forward to seeing their uncle so much.”
Click. Harry stopped the machine, and checked his watch. It was a quarter to six, and (of course) he’d forgotten all about Carrie’s invitation to dinner. Those post-it notes were slipping off in Harry’s brain more than he liked to think, these days.
He could still (just) make it. He rang for a cab in five minutes, and rushed into the bathroom out on the landing, grabbing his razor and shaving soap as he did so. He looked in the mirror at his own stupid reflection. ‘You need to get a grip, Harry my boy!’ he said to himself, as he speedily soaped up his face.
He’d just finished his shave when he heard the toot of the taxi on the street below. He grabbed his hat and coat, and ran down the stairs, where he found Jimmy’s smiling face.
“Where to tonight, Harry?” Jimmy asked, as his passenger jumped in the front seat beside him.
“Going over to see Carrie – and I need to be there by six.”
Jimmy didn’t wait for any further instruction, but sped away, determined to get Harry there as near to time as he could.
“Say, Harry,” Jimmy said as they pulled over the flyover “you seeing quite a bit of Carrie these days – twice in one week!”
Harry got Jimmy’s drift. “Don’t be silly, Jimmy. She’s my sister-in-law, the mother of my nephews. That’s all.”
Jimmy smiled back. “Didn’t look like no sister-in-law look she gave you when I dropped you round there the other day, Harry!”
Harry was embarrassed, just a little, at Jimmy’s suggestion, but that might have been because he hadn’t noticed anything special about Carrie that day.
“Nah! You’ve just been reading too many cheap novels, Jimmy. You see things that aren’t there,” Harry said, a little less convincingly than perhaps he’d intended.
He’d never thought of Carrie in ‘that’ way. You don’t – not your brothers’ wife. Sure, she was attractive, easy to get along with, great with her kids. But she was ‘off limits’. As the taxi pulled up outside of Carrie’s house, however, Harry could be forgiven for wondering whether the limits had moved, just a little. He’d better watch himself, or it could all get very complicated.
“See you later, Harry,” Jimmy shouted, after Harry had paid him and got out the cab. Harry wasn’t sure whether he saw him wink, before he turned away and drove off. The wink, if it was there, might have said ‘or then again, maybe not!’
As the doorbell rang, Carrie was busy in the kitchen. She checked the clock: 6.05pm – not bad for Harry, she thought.
She checked herself in the hallway mirror on the way to answer the door. ‘Not bad – not bad at all, woman!’ she thought to herself. She’d had the afternoon off work, had treated herself to a new hairstyle, a facial and a new dress. Whatever it was about that Ana that Harry was so fixated with, she had plans to de-fixate.
When she opened the door, Harry couldn’t help but notice the effect. Of course, Carrie was attractive but, clearly, she’d gone the extra mile tonight. In spite of himself, he found himself saying: “You look stunning!” And he’d stepped inside, unbuttoning his coat as he caught the slightest blush on her face.
“Why, thank you Harry!” she said, as she took his hat and coat to hang it up. “It’s nice you noticed.”
Harry was blushing just a little, too. This felt like unknown territory for him, and he wasn’t comfortable here.
“Go in the lounge for a bit, Harry – the kids are in there. I’ll go fix you a drink.” He watched her disappear into the kitchen. Fine legs that woman’s got, he thought, dismissing it as quickly as it came. ‘Watch it, Harry!’ a voice inside him said.
In the lounge, he found his nephews on the Playstation. As he entered the room, they all stopped and he enjoyed the pandemonium as they climbed all over him. “Did you catch any villains this week, Uncle Harry?” the youngest asked. Harry laughed: “No – not yet. But it’s only a matter of time. Why – do you know any?” They laughed – except that Harry noticed Adam looked a little sullen with it.
Carrie came in with the – suspiciously large – drink. “There you go, Harry – bet you could do with that!” she said. Harry thought he’d never heard Carrie speak a truer word. It might just calm him down. Remember, Harry – you’re only here to see the kids and have a meal. That’s all.
“You boys better get ready now – they’ll be here in a minute!” Carrie said. Reluctantly, they disengaged themselves from their uncle. Harry wasn’t sure what was going on. Adam thought he knew, though.
“Oh, I err … should have mentioned it, Harry. The boys are all off to a sleepover at their cousins tonight. My sister’s picking them up any minute. So we’ve got the place to ourselves.” There was a glint in her eye when she said it.
Harry felt like an actor who’d been asked to stand in for someone at short notice. Whatever script he had, he wasn’t sure what page they were on, wasn’t even sure what the whole play was about. But he was pretty sure Carrie McFry had written it, and he thought he had an idea how she planned it to end.
He’d already drunk half the whisky, he noticed. Not a sign that he was in control of himself. Then there was the hoot of a car horn outside, and within minutes the kids had been bundled out with their sleeping bags and a flurry of ‘See you’s!’. Suddenly, the stage seemed very empty to Harry. Apart from Carrie, that is who, after seeing her brood drive off up the road, was relishing the prospect of getting to know Harry McFry just a little bit better.