‘Ear to the Ground’ by Symon Kenny

“What the f…”

“Yo yo yo! Not in front of the kids, man! What’s wrong with you?”

“Oh. Sorry. Sometimes this shit just spills out.”

“Ugh!”

“I mean, why is the price on the can different from the price on the register? They’re hoodwinking their customers in broad effing daylight! I can’t stand for this. I really can’t. It’s not the first time, and it’s not the first supermarket. I can’t take this like a b… I can’t take this lying down.”

“I get where you’re coming from, but you can’t keep making a fuss every time. It’s not like they have a ‘Supermarket Cashiers’ Convention’ every week. Maybe they…”

“Are you sure they don’t? Coz this shit looks effing coordinated.”

“I’m sure they don’t. Look man, let’s just sort this out with her quickly and head out. The kids are hungry.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Madam, which is the right price for this then? Because I sort of had this tight budget, and this item fit perfectly in that budget until this confusing conundrum came up.”

“Sir, the price in the till is the correct price.”

“Well, aren’t you going to apologize for misleading me?”

“Urgh! Let it go, Henry. Look, I’ll pay for it. There you go, madam. See, it’s all sorted.”

“You haven’t solved the real problem here. Imagine how many shoppers like myself are facing this scenario. We could…”

“After the furor you’ve left behind, I reckon they won’t be many more victims, Henry. Why can’t you ever just deal with such issues quietly? Why must you always be a near-embarrassment to all who walk with you?”

“I don’t recall being called an embarrassment when I was asked to accompany you on this family day of yours.”

“You’re my closest friend. You’re like family to me, as embarrassing as you are. Besides, you’re the one who keeps boasting about having thick skin.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s unbreakable.”

“You can handle it.”

“I only pretend. Otherwise it bores me stiff.”

“Having thick skin?”

“No. These family outings of yours.”

“I don’t see you hanging out with your real family.”

“It’s a long story.”

“It’s simply a story you don’t want to tell. I know. I’ve had plenty of time to listen to it, but you never say.”

“It’s really uncomfortable talking about, especially since I have a very petty reason for keeping away from them.”

“Fine. You’ll tell me whenever you’re ready… Jimmy. Get your sister and enter the car.

“Yes daddy. Come, Joanna. Daddy, she’s refusing.”

“What’s wrong, Joanna?”

“I want the other dolly.”

“You already have one at home that you do not use. Don’t you remember?”

“I do, but…”

“Then leave that one alone! You’re a big girl. You shouldn’t be crying for things in public. Okay, we’ll get you one next time, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Good. Now get into the car and we go home to mummy, okay? Man, I wonder how her mother does this.”

“Heh, you can’t handle your own kid’s antics?”

“I’m supposed to be the fun parent.”

“Yeah. Your wife’s a real peach, that one.”

“Hey!”

“I’m just saying. I have no real issues with her. But, I don’t think she likes me very much. Plus, you’re the one that has to deal with her.”

“I think you two should just learn to get along.”

“But I try to be nice to her.”

“Clearly that’s not helping much.”

“But how’s that my problem? She’s your wife.”

“If my wife doesn’t like you, she won’t let us hang out. She currently believes you’re a bad influence on me. And that’s not true. No matter how I explain it to her, she’ll never see it my way. You have to be around her so she can see for herself what kind of man you are.”

“Ah. I see.”

“That’s all I want you to do. Just be cool around her and all will be well. At least the kids like you.”

“I’m not a bad person. I hear kids can tell.”

“I wouldn’t trust the judgement of a kid that much.”

“But it should count for something.”

“It does. They miss you whenever you’re not around.”

“Aww… Stop. You’re going to melt my heart.”

“So that’s what it takes? I wish those bu girls you get yourself entangled with knew. You’d probably be settled down by now.”

“Why do you have this impression that I don’t want to settle down?”

“Do you want to settle down?”

“No. Not yet… But someday I will.”

“Someday. Man, I’m getting tired of hearing that.”

“Then I’ll stop mentioning it.”

“That could help. Say, I hope you’re not in that much of a hurry.”

“I’m not. I’m your prisoner for the day. Why?”

“I wanted to first pass by Daphne’s, after dropping off the kids.”

“Is it that important?”

“Yeah. There’s stuff of hers at my place that I need to take to her. If I’d thought about it sooner, I’d have left home with them.”

“Man, that Daphne’s talkative! And not even the interesting kind of talkative.”

“Don’t I know it? I don’t even know how I got roped into it in the first place.”

“Because you’re the nice guy?”

“Perhaps because they told me no one else was available to do it.”

“Don’t you get tired of falling for that trick every time?”

“It’s a trick?!”

“Of course it’s a trick. It’s the whole ‘bird with a broken feather’ routine. Man, you can be thick sometimes.”

“I guess being her brother-in-law just means I have to play nice, no matter what.”

“I wonder why she even bothers to trick you. Obviously it doesn’t take much for you to run to her rescue.”

“I do what I must.”

“Is the gateman around or should I go out and open?”

“I think he’s… Ah, he’s around.”

“He saved me the trouble. Yay.”

“Alright, let me run into the house real quick and grab the stuff. Jimmy, Joanna, come and we go!”

“Let me come in and drink some water. I’m parched from all that complaining.”

“I was beginning to wonder if you were unaffected by all that.”

“It’s also hot, man.”

“Isn’t it? I was even contemplating going for a swim.”

“Man, by the time Daphne finishes with her greetings, it will be sunset.”

“Oh, yeah. Man, I really wanted to swim today.”

“I think next week it will be just as hot.”

“You know we never plan these things properly. Saturday plot just… Happens.”

“We swim so infrequently these days, Max. There was a time we swam at least once a month. Now it’s whenever we remember and are in the mood for it.”

“We grew up. We no longer have as much free time on our hands.”

“Yeah. Now we just drink. And not even that much. We are aging.”

“I don’t drink as much as you do, for obvious reasons. But, I think we still have plenty of good years left, old friend.”

“Not if you keep wasting that much time going to Daphne’s.”

“That’s a necessary evil. I must be nice to her, or the missus will have issues.”

“How come her other sisters are so nice, and not as talkative?”

“Perhaps all her friends avoid her, on account of her talkativeness. So, she’s left with few people to punish.”

“Lucky are those who flee before it’s too late. Say, what’s that aroma?”

“They must be grilling some pork. It should almost be ready by now.”

“And you almost allowed us to leave without eating?!”

“It had slipped my mind.”

“How on earth does pork slip your mind? Is it because you’re trying to fast that tummy of yours away?”

“I’ve been eating considerably less. So, I wasn’t feeling so hungry.”

“Does Rachael just like to watch you suffer? Isn’t it hard to watch your weight while you’re tempted by such aromas?”

“She won’t mind me having some. But the exercise regime that will follow… It’s intense, yo!”

“I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, man.”

“How do you do it though? You eat so much, yet you stay so slim.”

“I dunno. I guess I have a very high metabolism or something.”

“I was once slim like you, you know.”

“They say men inevitably gain weight when they get married.”

“Hey guys!”

“Hey Rachael. Wassup?”

“I’m alright. It’s been a while. I’ve been so bored! I have no movies to watch.”

“You finished the ones I brought last week?! Already?”

“Yeah. What did you expect? I spend all my free time at home, unlike you.”

“Oh. Yeah, that explains it.”

“Honey, is the pork ready? We are dying!”

“Let me check.”

“Oh, if there’s some avocado, bring that as well.”

“But the rice isn’t ready.”

“Forget the rice. We’ll have just the pork. We have to hurry over to Daphne’s.”

“Oh. Okay, let me bring.”

“Thank you dear.”

“Heh, you guys and your lovey dovey talk.”

“Aww… Does it bother you?”

“Not that much. But … Oh, thanks… Can you save it till after I’ve left?”

“Nope. How else will you get inspired to settle down?”

“Even if I did, I doubt we’d sound like the two of you.”

“I’m sure you would, and you wouldn’t even realize it.”

“Heh… We’ll see when we get there.”

“Eish! As you guys have eaten quickly! Were you that hungry?”

“Yes. Plus, we’re in a bit of a hurry. So, umm, see you later?”

“Cool. And don’t forget to bring my movies.”

“Alright. Come on, Max. Time is of the essence. We need to get the ‘issue’ out of our way as soon as possible.”

“What issue?”

“The stuff to be taken to Daphne’s.”

“Oh, okay. Tell her I said hi.”

“Sure thing. See you later, honey.”

“Psst… So, why didn’t Rachael deliver the stuff herself?”

“Oh… I didn’t think of that. Dammit!”

“For shame, Max. For shame!”

“I should be consulting you whenever I find myself in these conundrums. You have a way of thinking about things that wouldn’t cross my mind.”

“Not really. I just have a fierce determination to avoid disturbing situations.”

“I’m grateful Rachael is not yet a ‘disturbing situation’.”

“You know I don’t hate your wife, right?”

“I have my doubts.”

“Why?”

“You guys don’t talk much.”

“It’s for the best, trust me.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“Nothing. I just feel little inclination to talk to her. I like to keep it short and formal. You wouldn’t want your wife opening up to me about your shenanigans, would you? Next thing you know, I’m her champion for change in your attitude towards her. I mean, I like her, but I’d never take her side in any situation that involves you. And I’d hate the day when I have to choose your side in front of her teary eyes.”

“Hmmm… That’s a compelling point of view.”

“Plus, I don’t want to be one of those scandalous best friends who is extremely close to their best friend’s wife. That’s just creepy. We can be friends, but we ain’t never getting close.”

“I hear you. I’d actually be bothered if you two were very close.”

“And is this not the very thing you were demanding of me not too long ago?”

“I hadn’t seen it from your perspective.”

“Well, that clears it up, I hope.”

“It sure does. Well, brace yourself. The hour is nigh at which I have to indulge the wordy Daphne.”

“Remember to tell her you’re in a bit of a hurry.”

“Aren’t you coming?”

“I thought that by staying in the car, it’d look like you’re in a bit of a hurry.”

“It would be rude. These people tend to keep track of such things. Come on, just be nice. It will be over quickly if we both tell her we’re in a bit of a hurry.”

“Urgh. Alright.”

“Hey Max!”

“Hey Daphne. What’s good?”

“I’m alright. Just chilling here with nothing to do apart from watch series. Hey Henry.”

“Hey Daphne.”

“Here’s your stuff.”

“Oh. Thank you dear!”

“I thought you’d be out there doing… You know, fun stuff.”

“I would have, but my car is in the garage, so I can’t go for any plot. I’m just stuck here at home. I’m glad you guys have showed up. I would have died of boredom.”

“Er… Actually we won’t b…”

“Die of boredom? Impossible! Not while we’re here.”

“Great! So, do you guys want to come in and watch a movie with me?”

“I was thinking we could take you with us. You know, for a drink or two.”

“That would be great! Let me go get dressed. You guys want anything to drink?”

“Do you have juice?”

“I do. How about you, Henry?”

“Soda, please. Umm… You have Sprite?”

“No. Just Fanta and Coke.”

“Is the Coke cold?”

“The maid almost just brought it. I don’t think it’s cold. She took her sweet time coming from the shops. Sometimes I wonder if she has a lot of friends that she stops to talk to along the way. I should start telling her that I’m in a hurry whenever I send her for something. Then maybe she’ll do things quickly.”

“But you have ice?”

“Yeah. I have ice, I think. Does it have to be cold?”

“Who drinks warm Coke? That’s a travesty!”

“A what?”

“It is unacceptable to drink warm Coke. It is an insult to Coke itself.”

“Anyway, there should be some ice.”

“Great. I’ll have Coke, with plenty of ice, please.”

“Awww… Look at you being all polite. Let me bring your drinks.”

“Thanks Daphne!”

“So… What happened to your car?”

“Ah, some taxi guy bashed it. Made a huge dent in the driver’s door.”

“Sheesh! Were you hurt?”

“No, I wasn’t. Thank God. And the guy just drove off. Even before I could see what exactly had happened.”

“They’re always going to drive away from an Audi.”

“I guess. Man, I hate taxis. They’re so careless on the road, especially when you’re driving behind them.”

“Too bad you have to use them once in a while.”

“Yeah. It’s unavoidable. Like today when I had to come from town. It was too hot for me to take a boda, and I wasn’t exactly in a hurry to get home. Strangely, they seem to drive so well whenever I’m in one.”

“That is in extremely rare situations.”

“Well, guess I’m a good luck charm of sorts. Here are your drinks. Let me go and get changed. Be right back.”

“Okay, but don’t take too long.”

“What the hell, man?”

“What?”

“Now you’ve invited her to come along?”

“What could I do? She was alone and bored. Imagine if you were at home with nothing but series to watch?”

“That is an ideal weekend for me.”

“Well, outdoors experiences are good for you. After the last time, I’m not letting you go long periods without being outdoors.”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“Dude, everyone was scared you’d done something to yourself. No one saw you or heard from you for months.”

“I was just going through some stuff, that’s all. It wasn’t that serious.”

“It was. And I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

“Fine. But it’s not the same with Daphne, is it? I mean, hers is not a dire situation.”

“You can never be sure with these things, Henry. Besides, how could it hurt to go out with her just this once?”

“You know how girls like that be. You let her tag along, only for her to call the shots the whole time. They be like, ‘Let’s go here, the music is nice. Eh, the music here is not nice. Let’s go somewhere else. Eh, I don’t like the crowd in this place.’ Honestly, such behavior is tiresome and energy-sapping.”

“Well, let’s give her a chance this time. Oh, here she comes.”

“So where are we going, guys? I know this cool place where they have this delicious pancake chocolate crepe that you guys should try out. I wanted to go there with my friends but they all couldn’t make it.”

“Wait… I thought you said you had plot and couldn’t go.”

“I could have gone, if I had my car. But their plot was boring. I wasn’t in the mood for it.”

“What plot was that?”

“They were going swimming.”

#SSWCIII
#ShortStoryWritingCompetition
#TheGathering

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