Taking Your Chances
by Dan Melvin
In the betting-shop Charlie reads the headline on the front page: RBS Reports Record Loss. He ignores the article and turns to the racing pages, reaches inside his jacket pocket for the cigarettes he promised Lizzie he’d given up smoking and considers stepping outside. Instead, though, Charlie stands, checks for his wallet and, once reassured, removes from his ring finger his wedding ring which he stuffs inside it.
A man seated in front of Charlie fists the table and shouts, ‘Result.’ Charlie knows him It’s Dougie, mate, come to me if you need some bunce and watches him collect his winnings at the counter. Charlie acknowledges Dougie with a nod. Dougie has a tattoo all the way across the back of one of his hands, a woman’s name. He doesn’t return Charlie’s nod. Charlie imagines needle on bone. Lizzie once complimented Charlie for having piano player’s fingers.
The TV monitor shows men and women in long white overcoats walking dogs towards the traps. A dog in a red jacket struggles on its leash outside trap number one. Charlie finds the name he is looking for and writes out, Romford, 2.40pm, Beautiful Feeling, £__ to win. He moves to the counter and gives the girl at the desk money from his wallet. Lizzie bought him the wallet as a birthday present before they were married, from Aspinal of London, and had it personalised with his initials.
The bell sounds, the hare is released and in a minute’s time the TV announces the result. The commentator speaks in a neutral tone. Dougie pushes back his chair and walks over to the counter. Charlie stays in his seat. He touches his ring finger, forgetting. Dougie closes his fist around a wad of notes. A dog in a black jacket is being paraded around the track on the TV monitor. Dougie looks sharply across at Charlie. He has hard level eyes and a narrow stare. He is a big man. Dougie has other tattoos: up from the one on his hand, on his forearm, there are the straight lines and curved ‘S’ of the US Dollar; on his bicep, a black axe. Charlie looks away.
He doesn’t have the money.
* * * *
Charlie finds a pile of unopened letters on the table when he gets back. He can hear Lizzie making a noise upstairs. Fred, their black Scottie, runs over from the fire, whines, and licks at his shoe. Fred The Shred, Lizzie called him last week, when he chewed up her slippers. He hasn’t been for his walk yet. Charlie pours himself a glass of scotch. It is four o’clock. He can hear his wife upstairs. He takes his drink into the conservatory. He removes from his wallet his wedding ring and replaces the ring on his ring finger. He lights a cigarette.
‘Darling, is that you?’
Charlie sits back in one of the large wicker chairs in the conservatory and looks through the French windows at a raven picking over a worm in the rain. Its black beak jabs at the worm’s pink body, cutting it into two writhing lumps of flesh.
‘Darling, did you get Fred his dog food and sort things out with the bank?’
Charlie sips his scotch and makes no reply.
‘Yes, yes, I’m back now. I didn’t manage to get to the bank, no.’
He hears her steps on the stairs, finishes his drink and puts his glass on the floor behind the chair.
‘Oh, you’re in here.’
She is wearing an old T-shirt of his and has been dusting.
‘Yes. I ran into Dougie while I was out.’
‘Has he paid you back that money yet?’
‘Good. I hope you won’t go lending that man any money again, darling. We’ve got to…’
‘Yes, Lizzie, yes, I know.’
The raven has a piece of worm between its beak. It flies a short distance to the tree at the back of the garden and feeds the severed worm to another bird that is making a noise there. The ravens sharing the worm in the rain irritate Charlie.
Lizzie sits down opposite Charlie on one of the wicker chairs.
‘Darling, I wished you wouldn’t…’
Charlie gets up and walks back into the house. He takes his time pouring himself another scotch.
‘Charlie, what are you doing out there?’
He drinks it down and pours himself another. It burns in his throat. When he comes back Lizzie is standing by the conservatory windows, facing him.
‘Can you tell me how much Dougie still owes you?’
The raven reappears and pecks at the remains of the worm. Charlie can feel his heart beat inside of his shirt.
‘I’ve got most of it.’ Charlie turns and turns again the gold band on his ring finger.
‘How much is most of it?’
Just then Fred comes into the conservatory wagging his tail. He jumps up onto the chair opposite Charlie and barks.
‘Fred! Get down from there!’ Lizzie shouts, crossing the room. Charlie stands up.
‘He needs his walk, Lizzie. I think I’ll go out with him now. Come on, Fred. Walkies!’
Fred barks again and Charlie goes inside to find his leash.
‘Charlie! You can’t take him now. I want to talk to you.’
‘I won’t be long, I promise.’
‘But Charlie, it’s raining.’
‘I think I’ll take my chances.’
Charlie closes the front door and steps outside into the rain.