The Final Straw by Ted Tayler


The following spring and summer were taken up with mock exams and then the real thing. Several children suffered badly with nerves and a couple threw up as soon as they were seated in the main hall to sit an exam. Others went out in large groups and persuaded older lads to buy them cheap booze so they could go and get shit-faced in the park. There were floods in the girl’s toilets; floods of tears as more and more pupils realised that instead of watching TV or standing on the street corner chatting to their mates, they might have been better served doing a little revision.

As June drifted on summer breezes and warm sunshine towards July, Colin was walking down the school drive on his way home to an empty house after a maths exam. It had been an easy paper (with calculator) which had been stretched out to an hour and a half, heaven knows why, as he had completed it in an hour and spent thirty minutes looking at the students in front of him catching up on some sleep or doodling. He had answered every question; most of them had flicked through the pages of the question paper and made a stab at a couple then given it up as a bad job.

“More tears in the toilets and more cans in the park” he thought as he strolled towards home and the prospect of making beans on toast for tea, plus a quick flick through the 1982 bumper Christmas edition of ‘Boobs Unleashed’ before his mother crept into the front room so as not to have to talk to him when she got in from work.

“God that was hard!” said a voice “I hate sums don’t you?” It was Karen with her first words to Colin since last autumn.

“Not so bad” he replied, hoping she would be satisfied with that and leave him to get off home to his magazine. “Get you!” she giggled and walked alongside Colin with no sign of wanting to leave anytime soon.

“How did you know it was my birthday?” asked Colin. Karen looked at him and wondered at how he still remembered that afternoon last year. She hadn’t given it a second thought since. Surely, something must have happened in his life since then? “Our Susan works with your Mum at Graceland’s. She gives her a lift in that clapped out old car of hers and Susan said they stopped at the garage on the way home so she could pick up a cheapo card for her useless son.”

“Oh” said Colin.

“Do you want to know when my birthday is?” asked Karen.

Colin wasn’t sure. He was almost at the crossing where he could leave Karen to head off to the Greenwood estate, while he hurried to the outskirts of town and the sanctuary of his bedroom. Karen was resigned to the fact that Scott and Charlotte would be screwing their way through the summer holidays and she would be stuck with little to do except mooch about at home, trying to avoid the chores her mother would put her way, so she didn’t wait for Colin to answer.

“It’s next Friday” she said. “You can take me to the pictures, if you want?”

Colin was still unsure. Then he suddenly remembered his mother talking on the phone the other evening and was certain a handful of middle aged cast-offs like his mother would be descending on the front room on Friday night. Fat chance of any TV for him then! So he blurted out “Yeah! Definitely, okay I’ll meet you outside the Palace.”

Before Karen had a chance to change her mind, he shot across the zebra crossing just as the lights changed and almost got wiped out by the 432 bus. As he glanced back to see the driver using the time honoured hand signal suggesting he played with himself a bit too much, he spotted Karen waving, but as more traffic spilled across the gap between them, he pretended not to notice her and hurried home.

Their final exams were out of the way over the next couple of days, but their timetables didn’t coincide again, for which Colin was extremely grateful. Karen made no attempt to contact him, nor did he her. As the days ticked ever more quickly forward to the Friday Colin was growing more and more tense and nervous. Why had he agreed to go? Why couldn’t he have walked around town while his mother was entertaining the bible class, looking in bedroom windows on the nearby estates in the hope of a glimpse of carelessly exposed flesh? He’d done that on more than one occasion.

Friday duly arrived and Colin decided there was nothing for it but to get to the Palace cinema at half past six and tell Karen he could only afford his own ticket. With luck she would be expecting him to pay, it was her birthday after all and she’d stomp away in a huff and he’d be off the hook. There would be no recriminations at school as neither of them would be going back except for final assembly.

Colin got to the cinema a few minutes early, to try to calm his nerves before the storm that he envisaged when Karen learnt he wasn’t going to treat her. It was too late. Karen was already there and as soon as she spotted Colin she waved two tickets for the balcony and said “My treat. I used the birthday money from my Nan. If you can buy some sweets and crisps for us to share, that will be brilliant!”

“Damn” thought Colin “I’ll have to go through with this now.”

Colin was dragged through the swing doors by the birthday girl and up the stairs to find their seats. Several other couples were scattered around the auditorium and Colin sank lower into his seat as he recognised some of them as kids from school. Scott and Charlotte were about four rows in front and another two pairs of pupils were also awaiting the start of the main feature, but Colin noticed they appeared more interested in who it was that Karen had brought with her.

He imagined they were saying. “Who is that? Never seen him in here before.” Or even “Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him!”

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Genre – Crime / Thriller

Rating – 18+

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