Stewart Devitt was born in Belfast, worked and played there and in Dublin, donning the jerseys of Instonians and Bective Rangers rugby clubs. An experienced training professional, specialising in communication and personal development, he now lives in Auckland. New Zealand and enjoys being able to devote more time to writing, a lifelong hobby and pleasure.

Troubled waters

By Stewart Devitt

“I’ve put the mince pie in the fridge. It’s ready for eating just needs a little heating up in the microwave or oven. There is a sirloin steak and some sausages in the freezer, and there is enough ice cream to keep you satisfied. Best to keep the butter and milk in the fridge during this hot weather. You can pull your greens from the garden, to ensure you get your iron intake; the spinach and broccoli are ready to eat, although remember to get rid of the whiteflies first. I’m only away for a couple of nights, so I think you should be able to cope. Oh, and there is plenty of bread. You don’t need to finish it all, and I don’t want you overeating, you need to lose some weight. I’m back early on Monday morning; Donald is on the same flight so he will give me a lift home. Maurice, are you listening to me?”

Maurice gave a little jump as the raised tone brought him out of a mild and pleasant hypnotic trance. “Yes, yes, that’s great; don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine”.

Hopeful that his somewhat bland reply would suffice, he looked at his watch. “What time is the flight? 2.30, did you say. We best get going then, you know what the Friday traffic can be like.”

The rest of the afternoon passed quietly, and the successful completion of the cryptic crossword, 12 across “Finding yourself in a secluded domicile” (4-5), from last Sunday’s paper provided a sense of self-satisfaction. Around six o’clock, he eased himself out of the lazyboy chair, splashed some cold water over his face, ran his fingers through what was left of his hair, before strolling two blocks towards the town centre, to call on Martha.

“Oh, hi Martha, sorry to bother you, but Laura has just gone away for a few days, and we seem to be out of sugar. Could I borrow a wee cup of it from you? I do like a sweet cup of tea.”

“Of course, you can love. But don’t stand out there; come in and have dinner with us, there is plenty to spare. We don’t want you going hungry at home; Laura would never forgive us.”

By the time he arrived back home, with a rosy glow on his face, the sun had set. There were no messages from Laura on the voicemail, which he interpreted as everything having gone to plan. He deleted a couple of cold calls, asking him to please ring back to discuss car insurance and to take up yoga. Then as he listened to Brenda’s message, inviting him over for dinner the next day, a little knowing smile crept across his face. Apparently, she had heard from Martha that he had been left to fend for himself and she thought he might appreciate some company. Ignoring the lateness of the hour, he quickly rang back accepting the offer. No sooner had he hung up when the phone rang; it was from Derek, Martha’s brother, inviting Maurice to join the boys for golf early in the morning, and then have breakfast. It was Aeron’s birthday, so the breakfast was on him.

With a social weekend quickly developing, he moved into the kitchen, cut two thick slices of bread, spread them liberally with mayonnaise and onion, before adding a couple of layers of cheese. Then, clasping his late night snack, he headed into the lounge, to watch a replay of the Rugby World Cup final. Within minutes he was fast asleep on the settee, with most of the filling of the sandwich oozing its way between the cushions or his toes.

The early morning golf outing again demonstrated his ability to perfect air shots, both hook and slice balls, miss unmissable putts and destroy lovingly prepared turf. At the breakfast debrief, as the boys were analysing each other’s shots, Jane passed by, all kitted out to compete in the women’s handicap tournament.

“Maurice, I’ve been trying to contact you. Don’t you ever answer your mobile?”

“Em, no. I leave that to Laura, but she is away this weekend, and when I try to answer it just seems to cut people off, unintentionally of course”.

“I might have known! OK, right, well it was just to invite you round for a B-B-Q early Sunday evening. I knew Laura was going away, so I thought you might be lonely. Just having a few friends and neighbours around; I think you will know some of them. Come around seven”.

It was an easy decision to skip lunch, and the settee was ever so inviting. However, bits of it did feel unusually sticky. In an effort to stay awake, Maurice opened the local paper to start the Quick Crossword, although had just time to write the answer to six across, ‘an afternoon nap in Spain (6 letters)’ when darkness enveloped him.

A refreshing shower, and a change of socks, was all that was required as preparation for the night. Suddenly he remembered that he hadn’t yet fed Eric; he must have squeezed under the garden gate and wandered off last night. Standing at the back door, he stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly, then relaxed when the dog jumped over the back hedge and began pawing at his legs.

Opening the freezer, he took out the steak and the sausages and put both in the microwave before pressing the defrost button. When nothing happened, he kept pressing different buttons until the machine began to whirl. After a while, he opened the door to gauge progress. Steam floated out to greet him, and the meat had an acceptable light brown tinge to it. He wrapped the steak in a piece of kitchen foil and put it back in the fridge, before running the sausages under the cold tap. Taking a nibble out of the top of one of them, he confirmed they were edible. The next step was to cut them up and put them in Eric’s bowl, fill a saucer with water, lock the door and head off to Brenda’s.

Sunday’s walk with the dog had to be cancelled when in the morning, Maurice found the animal lying listless at the back door. Beside him, a dried-up pile of vomit, consisting mainly of pieces of sausage meat. Unsure what to do he rang the vets out of hours hotline, and was told to do nothing, just observe and give the dog plenty of water. If no change within the next twenty-four hours then bring the dog round to the clinic.

Deciding he should do some tidying before Laura’s return on Monday, he went around the house gathering up any spare clothes and stuffed them into the washing machine. Satisfied with his morning’s work, he went outside to water the garden. However, this activity was abruptly brought to an end when he tripped over a heavily chewed tennis ball, falling awkwardly on his left ankle. Struggling back into the house he looked at the swelling gradually increasing, as it enveloped his entire foot. This time he dialled the doctor’s out of hours service, and surprisingly got straight through to the locum. The advice, to wait twenty-four hours, and if no improvement pop into the surgery, sounded somewhat familiar. Frustrated, he shuffled back towards the settee.

It was nearing lunchtime when he came around, swung his legs on to the floor, forgetting his earlier accident, and collapsed in a heap. Mumbling some Shakespearean type oath, he gently eased himself back to his feet and moved into the kitchen. Hunger gnawed at him, and he was exceedingly grateful and relieved when he remembered the mince in the fridge. Unsure now of the workings of the microwave he decided to eat the meat cold, and spread it on apiece of toast. Pouring himself a large glass of milk he eased himself slowly out on to the deck, using an old discarded hockey stick as a crutch.

He felt energy creeping back into his bones, as he sat on a heavily cushioned chair and began eating, only to be disturbed by the persistent whining of Eric.

“Feeling better, are you? Want a share of this? Why not?” And with this, he scooped out a liberal helping of mince on to the floor. The dog devoured it in seconds, before sitting up, choking and then propelling a stream of mince over Maurice’s feet. Maurice scuttled back into the kitchen to grab a tea towel and then came back to mop up the mess. Leaving the towel over a chair to dry he grabbed a couple of sheets of newspaper and spread them over the damp bits that remained.

The rest of the day speed away at a pace; an attempt, while sitting, to chop some wood for the winter supply, long-distance watering of the fig trees, and blowing the leaves behind the garage, again from a sitting position. Having made himself another bumper cheese sandwich, using up what remained of the mayonnaise, he sat down ready to resume yesterday’s crossword, only to realise the relevant page was now covering the remains of the dog’s dinner. He scrambled out to retrieve the page, and on the way back poured himself a glass of red wine to help relieve the stresses of the day. Back in the lounge, he was ready to catch up on the rugby final. However, fate was against him, as he had unintentionally deleted the tape the previous night; instantly, he could hear Laura yelling at him, querying his ability to do even the simplest of tasks. Nothing for it but to sit back, munch on his sandwich and sip his wine.

The sound of the phone woke him with a start. It took a few moments to catch his breath, and re-orientate himself, although not before he kicked over his glass with the remains of his sandwich rolling on top of it. Another Shakespearean oath, as he looked aghast at bits of cheese floating in the red liquid, forming a little trickle along the carpet. Ignoring the ringing of the phone, he moved as quickly as possible out of the room, grabbed the tea towel from the deck and went back in to try and undo the damage to the carpet. An hour later, he was still on his knees, dabbing hot soapy water on the stains and using rolls and rolls of kitchen paper to absorb the water. Feeling reasonably satisfied with his efforts of damage limitation, he pushed the settee forward a few inches, to help negate the visual impact.

Looking at his watch, he realised it was time to head off to the B-B-Q. He knew if he went empty handed, and Laura found out, he would be in big trouble and open to a robust verbal reprimand.  Going back to the kitchen, he took the steak from the fridge and stuffed it into his back trouser pocket, at the same time grabbing a bottle of pinot noir that was just under three quarters full. He phoned Uber for a taxi and, waiting for it to arrive, wrote in the answer to five down (unforeseen mishaps, 9 letters).

Arriving at Jane’s house, he was met with a barrage of sympathy, with Jane’s neighbour, Sally, a retired nurse, insisting on having a look at and treating his injured ankle. Ten minutes of pleasure, as ice eased the ache, followed by the massaging in of some anti-inflammatory ointment, and then the expert application of a bandage and Maurice felt he was in heaven. When Jane offered him a bed for the night, he had no hesitation in accepting, and by the time the last of the guests had left, he was already curled up fast asleep.

Laura thanked Donald for the lift back, gave him a peck on the cheek, and headed for the back door. Such was her desire to get back to peace and quiet, after a weekend looking after the grandchildren, that she clean forgot to ask him if he wanted to come in for breakfast.

Not far away, Maurice opened his eyes, yawned, stretched and sniffed the smell of freshly fried bacon and eggs. Out of nowhere came the answer to nine across, (situations fraught with difficulty 8 -6).