Guns and Roses

Max was lying on the bed in their holiday let. Alongside him was an almost empty bottle of whiskey. In all truth, it had been mostly empty before he started drinking, product of a year’s timid sipping, but he liked the look of it: down to the dregs, just like this so-called marriage.

He was not drunk. He was not going to get drunk. They had guests arriving early the next day for all three of the cottages. There were animals that needed tending, bills that needed paying, and all this before he got in his car and hit the road for work yet again. But it was fun to play with the bottle between his hands, to hold it up to the light and squint through the liquid gold. To imagine the glass shatter as it crushed the bridge of Taylor’s nose.

He had paid for that fucking nose. And the tits. Those same fucking tits she whored out to the help, and God knows who else. What was worse? Shagging the young shepherd who helped with the animals, or knocking off some local big shot councillor who lived two farms over? At least the shepherd was young, full of vim and vigour, with no trace of a middle-aged spread. She whored herself for beauty and taut muscles; no shame in a man nearly sixty not being able to compete with that.

But the joke was on her anyway. Slumming it with some shepherd who dressed like scarecrow.

Taylor was in the house with the kids but her voice was here with Max in his head, saying that the kind might dress like a scarecrow, but he screwed like a lion.

Max did not get drunk but he did neck the contents of the bottle and let merciful sleep take him.

He was woken at six in the morning by Alison. She was sitting on the end of the bed, pouting at him with her arms folded.

She said, ‘Not talking to you,’ and very pointedly looked away.

Max lay on the bed saying nothing. He was looking at her tumbling blond locks, and he was thinking of the matching blond curls of her brother.

She looked at him. She deepened her scowl.

‘You didn’t read me my story. You were home, and you didn’t do my story.’

Max did not answer. Before he shaved the remainder of his hair at forty-five it had been salt and pepper, and Taylor was one hundred percent genuine bottle blond.

But the fucking shepherd.

‘I want my story,’ Alison said.

‘Didn’t your mother read you a story?’

Alison scoffed. ‘Mummy’s rubbish. She always stops to look at her phone. I want a Daddy story.’

Max shook his head. He wanted to say that Daddy wasn’t here right now. He wanted to tell her she should walk down to the village. Where the shepherd lived was easy to find, take the second right after the pub that was now named The Olive Branch.

Alison’s face had dropped into sadness. She made her eyes round and big.

She said, ‘Pwease…’

Max began to smile. ‘I have a story…’

Alison’s face split into a delighted grin, and she clapped her hands together.

‘It’s not a happy story,’ Max said. ‘It’s about the shepherd who cried wolf. It doesn’t end well for him.’