Holding the phone to his ear, he counts the rings. Claire answers on the fourth.
‘Is your mother still there?’ He doesn’t wait for a greeting.
‘She’s taken the kids into town.’
‘So that’s more free childcare for you.’
‘She offered,’ Claire draws a breath.
‘I’d look after your children anytime.You know I would. I’ve asked often enough.’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ Claire exhales and he guesses she’s taken up smoking again.
‘When your mother gets back, can you give me a call?’
‘Fine.’ The line goes dead.
‘Fine.’ He returns the handset to its cradle.
Sitting in the armchair, he stretches his legs. Settled for the afternoon, he watches the grey belly of sky through the window and he gropes behind the curtain. Finding the bottle he swirls it, watching the whisky lick the sides. There’s enough to keep him going, for the rest of the day at least. In the tumbler grimy with fingerprints, he pours a large one. Titling the glass, he savours the peaty smell and his nose tweaks at the prospect of a good, steady slug. There’s a nub of anaesthesia as he swallows and his shoulders relax. Smacking his lips as he downs the last drop, he nurses the glass between his fingers.With his eyelids sagging, the tension drifts.
The trill of the telephone wakes him but he doesn’t answer. Instead he talks to the darkened room.
‘Call yourself my daughter? You’re a bloody bitch – you’ve been one since the day you were born.’
This piece of flash fiction currently appears on the National Flash Fiction Day website. National Flash Fiction Day is held on 16 May 2012.