Living well is the best revenge, or so they say, apparently. And, for most of my life, I did live well – very well – once I’d broken free of Seatown’s umbilical cord, which had been strangling me like a noose.
Fame. Money. Drugs. Travel. Fast cars. Faster women. All of the above.
And it felt good. Bloody good.
Or, at least, it used to.
The taxi crept along the coast road, past the worn-out Bed & Breakfasts, half-empty amusement arcades and deserted kebab shops. A shabby looking Santa Claus pissed against the side of a mangy looking Christmas Tree that stood shaking in the wind outside the public toilets.
“Do you get home much these days, Mr Stroud?” said the crumpled tissue of a taxi driver with the big, bushy eyebrows.
“Not so much, these days,” I said, half yawning.
The radio was playing a medley of Christmas carols at a volume so low it was sending me to sleep.
“Bet it’s a fair bit different to life down the smoke, eh?” said the taxi driver. “Bright lights, big city and that.”
He slowed down as a raggle-taggle group of rat boys staggered across the road.
“Vive la différence,” I said.
The taxi pulled up at a red light. It was early evening and allegedly rush hour but there weren’t too many cars on the road. The granite sky was filling with black storm clouds.
I gazed out of the window at Booze n News, Seatown’s popular chain of newsagents and off-licences. Booze n News had been the brainchild of Frank Griffin, a local Conservative Councillor and father of Nigel, my childhood tormentor and font of all of my bile.
Outside the shop was a familiar looking woman being hassled by a whining toddler as she struggled to put a buggy into the back of a Renault Espace. Karen Griffin, Nigel’s wife.
Once she’d been the glam of glams but now she was looking more than a little shop soiled. I smiled to myself with satisfaction. This is what I really came “home” for. Bathing in the misery of the people that had caused me so much unhappiness during my youth. Taking pleasure in seeing any spark of life that they’d had dampened by the drab hand of domesticity.
Karen locked eyes with me and smiled but I just turned away and looked at the torn billboard outside the shop.
In red marker pen it proclaimed:
“Best-selling thriller author Julian Stroud to host Rotary Club Christmas Charity Lunch”.
“Bet it’s gone downhill since you came here last time, eh, Mr Stroud?” said the taxi driver.
“Plus ça change,” I said, as I slowly let out a silent fart.
“Aye,” said the taxi driver, winding down the window.
I used to lay awake at night thinking of my childhood humiliations. How much I was ridiculed. Laughed at. And over the years I let my hatred marinade. And congeal.
And then the doctor told me about my body’s uninvited guest. The plague that crawled through my veins. And then I had an idea.
“So, you never heard about Fast Eddy then?” said Karen Griffin.
She downed her fifth Baileys with a gulp. Her face flushed red and her eyes sparkled.
“No, I hadn’t,” I said. I looked out of the Carvery window. Out at sea, a fishing trawler adorned with Christmas lights bobbed up and down on the waves.
“They say he met a lass on the Internet. Was getting on really well, too, until he sent her his picture, that is, and then she blocked him,” said Karen.
I remembered Fast Eddy and could understand the girl’s consternation. He was once described as being like an uglier version of Shane McGowan. Without the charm.
“And what happened?” I said, almost interested.
Karen was looking good, I had to admit. She’d dolled herself up pretty well. Her idiot husband had apparently been in a drunken sleep on the sofa and hadn’t even noticed her sneak out.
The fatigue was behind her eyes, though, and I almost felt sorry for her. I was starting to wonder if I could go through with this nasty little plan that I’d hatched.
“Well, he had an idea of where she lived. Some village in Scotland. And so he started to spend every weekend going up there on the train and walking around the place looking for her. Until he got picked up by the police for being drunk and disorderly. Thing is, though, he’d got the wrong village, anyway!”
And then she laughed.
Karen Griffin’s cruel cackle hauled me back to my teenage years and the agony of just living. And made up my mind for me.
The motel room was dimly lit. Outside, I could hear the heavy bass of an old Public Image song. I finished my brandy, popped a Viagra and crawled into the bed.
“Speak French to me Julian, you know it really turns me on,” said Karen, as she pulled me towards her.
I took out a condom that I’d earlier pricked with a pin, and put it on.
“Le Petit Mort,” I said with a smirk.
Well, Christmas is a time for sharing, after all.