Welcome Home

The headlights of a bus pierce the living room like searchlights catching Fred stuffing a chip into his large mouth. He stares intensely at the flickering box.
+++++“Shut curtains, Davo,” he orders his lanky, younger brother. Davo skulks to the window and draws the curtains.
+++++“David!” squeals Rebecca from the dining room table. She slaps at the light switch and the living room is alive with golden light.
+++++“Go to your room, you sarky bitch,” Davo retorts. The effect this has on his sister makes him smile.
+++++“Keep the noise down, you two. Get us another can. I’m out.” Fred crushes his empty can of Stella and flings it at the dead fireplace. Very soon the fireplace will spew out its contents of empty cans onto the carpet and Davo will have to clean the mess up.
+++++Fred mutters a curse under his breath as the opposing team score a goal. He raises a hand and takes the beer from Davo.
+++++Fred has boils on his head, muses Davo. He won’t say anything to his older brother though. Fred would burst his nose in an instant. Simon would be back from Iraq soon, and Fred hadn’t budged from that chair all afternoon. No banners for his brother, no surprise party, and Mum hadn’t come downstairs in two days.
+++++Something had happened over there.
+++++Rebecca was opposed to the troops in Iraq; she said it was a war over oil and an illegal invasion. What did she know, she and her sappy circle of college friends?
+++++“Simon should be back by five. That’s what he told me.” Davo hopes to inspire some interest in his fat brother with this announcement.
+++++Fred grunts and issues a long rolling fart. He lifts a buttock. “Ooh.”
+++++Simon had done something with his life, despite all the criticism he received from his sister – Simon the baby eater. One day Davo will join the Army and be a hero like his brother.
+++++Fred looks down and scratches his bristling belly; it looks like a rind of pork cut from a pig. A sheen of fat reflects light from the TV. “God! Fuckin’ ‘ell.” Fred laughs and wafts a large hand around his groin. “Share and share alike, eh? Better out, than in that’s what I say.”
+++++Rebecca closes her book with a snap and storms from the living room, feet clacking on the sticky carpet. Fred points a bare foot at the fir tree lying in a horizontal position behind the TV.
+++++“Davo. Are you going to put that tree up, or what? It’s the fucking 19th, fer chrissake.”
+++++“I’ll do it later.”
+++++“It’s been there two weeks now. We got the lights as well, the ones from the boozer.”
+++++Dodgy five minute lights. Davo knows people who can get you stuff – anything in five minutes. You ask for a telly and the acne-ridden addicts would be back with it within five minutes.
+++++“Fred. Simon’ll be here in ten minutes.”
+++++“Will you shut the fuck up? I’m listening to the commentary here.”
+++++Fred sits up and Davo knows he’s getting close to a kicking. There should be banners here, he thinks, to welcome the hero back. He tells all his friends and associates at school about his brother. Simon’s prefabricated reputation is currency that diverts the bullies’ attention. What Davo doesn’t tell his friends is that Simon works as a storeman for a Logistics Regiment. Simon hadn’t sounded right when Davo last spoke to him on the phone, last week.
+++++Fred pulls himself up and manages, after three attempts, to stand. His greasy hand holds onto the mantelpiece, and he lets out another ripple of applause from his arse. “Ooh,” he groans.
+++++“Darlo needs to sort their shite out,” he mutters and switches channels. Game shows, Corrie, Emmerdale; his lifelong drinking companions.
+++++He rubs his belly. “What are you on about our Simon?”
+++++“He’s coming home. I think we should at least get ready for him.” Davo makes an attempt to get through to Fred. “Something happened to him. Mum hasn’t come out of her room in two days, man.”
+++++“It’ll be alreet, man,” Fred says with a dismissive wave of his hand: sweat, fat and the cabbage odour of farts whirls around the room. Davo manages to exit before the smell overcomes him.
+++++He wanders into the kitchen and turns on the light. It illuminates an image of disregard and neglect. Rebecca hasn’t picked up the mantle and continued what her mother left.
+++++Davo charges upstairs, two at a time, and tests his mum’s bedroom door handle. It’s silent and he opens it a fraction. His mum sits on the bed, cross-legged like some child at morning assembly. It doesn’t look like mum, the creature in the darkened room, she was a proud woman aware of her own appearance.
+++++He ventures gingerly into the room. “Mum?”
+++++She looks up. The pain in her eyes frightens him. He holds her.
+++++“David. I’m scared, son.” Ivy looks at him. Mascara has run and dried down her cheeks; the tear trails are old.
+++++“What’s up, mum? What’s wrong?”
+++++“It’s Simon,” she sniffles. “He’ll be home soon, where he belongs.”
+++++“So? Why aren’t we celebrating?”
+++++“He won’t be the same way you saw him last…” She buries her head in his shoulder, erupting in shuddering cries.
+++++The noise of the door breaks their embrace and Davo runs out. “That’s him.”
+++++“David. No!”
+++++Davo bounds down the stairs.
+++++“Davo! Get the door,” Fred shouts.
+++++Davo straightens his t-shirt, pulls up his jeans and sweeps back a lank of hair. He recoils at the second rap of the door.
+++++“Davo!” That was Fred’s shout before a good kicking.
+++++“I’ve got it.”
+++++Davo holds his breath and opens the door. He blinks into the windswept street: empty, dark and uninviting.
+++++“You gonna help me or what?” The voice is calling from below his eye level. Davo looks down to the man in the wheelchair.
+++++“Simon? What are you doing in a wheelchair?”
+++++“Grab my bags, will yer?”
+++++That couldn’t be Simon, Davo cannot see this. He looks closer at his older brother; both legs are missing.
+++++“Yeah. Have a good look, Davo. I have to stop myself sometimes. I still think I have them. It takes a while to get used to.” Simon’s voice lowers slightly.
+++++Davo holds on to the doorframe and fights the urge to be sick. “Mum’s expecting you…I’ll go get her.”
+++++“You gonna give me a han..”
+++++In an instant Davo disappears into the house, to get away from the thing on his doorstep.