The Weight of Things Removed | Novel | Milo
Chapter 2 (Part 2)
Leonard had been busier than usual as of late, because his little family had been planning to go on a holiday. It had always been a dream of his to visit a theme park as a youngster, and to have had a vivid memory of seeing the mascots as living creatures and not people in costumes. Indeed, Leonard had a childishness to his character that disposed him kindly to being an engaging father, but also made him ill-suited to long term planning, saving and budgeting his income. Moreover, whilst Mariana was a skilled accountant and managed a team of trainers and an even larger database of clients and contractors, she was as equally oblivious when it came to their financial affairs. As such the two had made an agreement that they would save up, book some time off of work and take Marley to Disneyland Paris in the summer. As Leonard finished off his third commission of the day, and twenty-first of the week, it was incredibly tempting to buy himself a new pair of jeans for his troubles. However, whilst he couldn’t bring himself to do it, he similarly couldn’t entirely surrender this rogue thought and so indecisively closed the tab on his browser, without taking the jeans out of his virtual basket. He checked the time and realised that Marley would be finishing school shortly and so he dashed outside of his house and into the car to pick up his son. As he drove through the familiar route, he found himself both enjoying and despising the sedate pace of family life. It bothered him to know that every day at two fifty-five he would be in this car racing to pick up his son from school, and that every day his son would skip into the front seat to which he would ask:
“How’s your day Marley?” To which his son would then reply,
“It’s ok, but the maths was hard,” and then he would look at his son with that same curious mix of bewilderment that he could create a living, breathing creature that looked strangely like himself but also like somebody else. He loved his son greatly and also felt proud of the boy he had brought into the world, but the routine, the obligation, the responsibility? There were times when these things both terrified and horrified him in equal measure. His son reached into the glove compartment and pulled out Leonard’s phone, and within seconds he was already playing a game. Leonard smiled a half smile as he took his son home.
Once they had had arrived back at their apartment Leonard started cooking their dinner as soon as his coat was removed, and this was because he had received a text message from Mariana saying that she would be leaving work earlier than usual. Consequently, he grabbed a few slabs of gammon, and a couple of fish fingers for Marley, from the fridge and popped them into the oven before filling a pot with water to cook the peas, broccoli and cauliflower. He fingered the salt and pepper before applying them generously to the pot, and in a sudden fit of remembrance, he pulled out the gammon stakes and coated both in a mix of soy sauce and honey. He carefully adjusted the knobs on the cooker to make sure that the water wouldn’t boil too quickly, before deciding that he had done enough for now and could turn to other activities.
“Marl, do you have any homework?” He called to the patter of feet, as he son ran to open his bedroom door.
“Do you have any homework?” He asked to a deafening silence from across the walkway, “well?”
“Reading,” he replied absentmindedly, and so Leonard walked around the kitchen counter, towards his son’s bedroom.
“Let’s get started on it now whilst the dinners cooking, it’s going to take a while so it should give us enough time. Grab your books and come over to the couch,” Leonard requested to which his son obliged happily enough. They took turns reading a page to each other, taking much joy in pulling faces and speaking in weird voices for each of the different characters. It eventually became a contest as to who could make the other laugh more, and who could pull the ugliest faces and make the most bizarre noises. By the end of the story all that could be heard were barely intelligible grunts, and it was at this point that Marianna returned home. He rose to hug his wife and kiss on her on the cheek, before she then nestled next to Marley to ask him about his day and what he had been up to. Leonard felt an intense contentment as Marley perfectly recounted the story they had just read, before grabbing their plates from the kitchen and stacking them with their hot, steamy dinner. As he brought over the plates to the couch, he was forced to pause due to the look of confusion plastered on Marianna’s face.
“Len, where is the table?”
“The table, where is the dinner table?” She asked once more, and in response Leonard rested the plates down on the kitchen counter so that he could gesticulate properly.
“Oh well you know how it kept wobbling because the third leg was chipped at the base? Well when I was taking a break from writing I figured I’d try to fix it permanently. I cut down each of the other three legs and sandpapered the bottoms so that it would sit flatly on the floor, unfortunately my measurements were a touch off so I had to keep cutting the legs to make them even…” however he was too embarrassed to say anymore and so he looked towards the TV, and Marianna’s eyes followed his own to find their TV sitting on a “brand new” coffee table.
“Really Len? So how are we going to eat dinner?”
“Easy, we can just sit around the kitchen counter! And if you think about it, this is a nice way for us to talk for a change instead of sitting in front of the TV-”
“No!” Marley cried before tilting his head in submission due to a look of admonishment from his father. Eventually Marianna warmed up to the idea and they sat around the kitchen counter, with their meal accompanied by the scratching of cutlery and the arrhythmic patter of small talk. Once they had finished eating Marley ran off to his bedroom, leaving Leonard and Marianna alone in the living room area of their apartment.
“Are we boring Leonard?” Marianna asked as she lifted a cup of hot chocolate to her lips, and took a generous sip. Leonard eyed her enviously as his was still too hot to drink, however he allowed the feeling to pass in order to think about her question.
“I was thinking about that today as well.”
“So are we?”
“I think we might be Mary, just, we’ve found our rhythm now haven’t we? We seem to be at a point in our lives where living requires zero initiative. I’ve written close to fifty essays over the last two weeks, and that could easily be five, it could easily by five hundred. It’s the same shit really isn’t it?”
“You’re telling me! I had another scuffle with Jeremy today and it was like I was watching myself argue with him, and on one level I really didn’t care. I was only doing it because bickering is what we’re expected to do.” She took another sip of her hot chocolate, and in response Leonard tried his before singing his tongue. He imagined it to throb and glow like a cartoon characters, as he held it between his lips in order to allow the sore tip to receive a bit of cool air.
“How are you able to drink that? Mine just burned my tongue?” He asked petulantly although Marianna waved him off with a flick of her right hand. They sat in silence for a few minutes as they were both caught in this sense of jaded complacency, and they both sought the right words to make this conversation exciting.
“I finished writing that commission,” Leonard uttered after they had spent the last few minutes in a heavy silence. The change in subject matter piqued Marianna’s interest, and he felt her shift in weight as she moved to better look at him.
“That was quick! So how do you feel?”
“Unsatisfied, like it’s unfinished.”
“Great, that means that you can tell me about it, and don’t skim over your place in the story either.” Marianna demanded and Leonard let out a heavy sigh as that last request prickled his skin. He had spent the entire day extracting himself from the case of R Vs. Ayodele and yet in a single sentence Marianna had reattached the rope.
“Where to begin? I guess it makes the most amount of sense to start with the beginning. Alright then, so back when I was in sixth form college I was very good friends with a girl called Marta, and she was one of the schools teaching assistants; she worked primarily with the children who were falling behind in their modern languages. I was pretty good at French back then and so we got to know each other very well through the Languages Club.”
“What was the Languages Club?”
“It was a half hour afterschool club led by the Head of Languages Mr. Morgan Ayodele. Good old Mr. Morgan, he was a very popular teacher back in the day. He had the right balance between firmness and friendliness, and he also let the sixth formers call him Mr. Morgan which made him one of the 'coolest' teachers at school. Anyway during Languages Club sessions, myself, Marta and a few other students would take a table of six kids and assist them with their homework; we also practiced speaking the language with them as well. The only rule was that English was not allowed. Now Mr. Morgan’s son, a boy named Paulie, was also a member of the club and he was preparing for his GCSE’s at the time, although I can’t remember if he was in Year 10 or Year 11? Anyway he was a bit of a quiet boy, which was made more unfortunate by the fact that he was extremely lanky, unbalanced and covered in acne. And Mr. Morgan would just tear into him constantly, everything he did wrong, everything he did right, everything he didn’t do and everything he did too much of was criticised relentlessly. Needless to say he was picked on by the other children in the club as a result, however myself and Marta always did our bit to support him. She always said he was a sweetheart and he really did open up around her, I thought they had a connection…”
“Hold on Len I’m a bit confused, how do these people fit in with the case you were investigating?”
“Oh sorry, long story short a few years later Paulie kidnapped Marta’s son, and locked him in his basement. Whilst he was in there, he had an asthma attack and died.”
“Gosh, wow, so you did know these people then didn’t you?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying, and it’s crazy because yes I did know them. I knew Marta up until my second year of university because we went to the same place, however she graduated a year ahead of me. I believe she’s a full time teacher now, or at least she is if her Facebook profile is anything to go by. In any case we lost touch shortly after her graduation, and so I remember hearing about her son’s death from mutual friends.”
“Ok so why did Paulie kidnap Marta’s son?”
“According to the court documents, it was because…” Leonard paused as he rubbed his forehead, attempting to iron out the stress and embarrassment, “Mr. Morgan emotionally abused Paulie, and well Paulie blamed Marta for not doing anything to stop it. He also claimed that Marta had a fling with Mr. Morgan and so not only did she know about his mistreatment, she also witnessed it.”
“Are you ok?” His wife asked uneasily because Leonard’s eyes had started to water, and he furiously rubbed the liquid away with a mild sense of irritation.
“We all knew about the jokes Mary, we all shared the rumours. We knew that Mr. Morgan was too friendly with Marta, and we knew that he was also too hard on Paulie and we just turned it into gossip. Gosh maybe that’s why this commission has caused me so much anxiety? Am I in some small way responsible for what happened Marianna?”
“To who? To Paulie, or to Marta’s son?”
“I was actually only thinking about Marta's son, but if I had a hand in one crime then I must have had a hand in the other. Maybe I am somewhat responsible for both? Maybe it doesn’t matter either way?”
“Or maybe you need to find out.” Marianna asked as she placed a hand on his shoulder and he peeked through his fingers sheepishly.
“Investigate the case more thoroughly and figure out how you fit into it. In any case it’s something to do isn’t it? And I quite like the idea of being a femme fatale in your hardboiled criminal investigation.”
“Hard boiled? Femme Fatale? You’re taking a bit of a leap on how exciting this is going to be aren’t you?”
“It can be as exciting as we want it to be, and at the very least it’s something new to do isn’t it?”
“That it is, alright then I’ll do it. I’ll find out if I’m responsible for what happened to Marta’s son,” Leonard reiterated as he hiccupped an odd sort of giggle, before embracing his wife warmly and wholly.
"How could I ever think that our life was getting stale?" He asked rhetorically before finally taking a sip of his now too cold hot chocolate.