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Friday short story time: "Thank You For Watching"

Morning. This week’s story was written after I drank some port and developed a strange fever. That’s my excuse, anyway. Also, I’m trying to challenge myself, so the style is perhaps a little different from usual. Yes, that is another excuse.

As ever, feel free to read the backlog. Some of it is about zombies.

Thank You For Watching

By Nick Bryan

Ralph, as ever, had a quiet day. Get up, go downstairs (that took fucking ages now), go to the toilet (so did that) and turn on the television (still pleasantly quick).

Then, for half an hour, he channel-surfed, before even changing out of his slightly rank pyjamas. To be honest, he was stalling, because that would also take a bloody while. But it wasn’t just that, he refused to be one of those old people who just stuck whatever on the TV as background noise.

His high standards for distraction had caused problems back in the dark days of only five terrestrial channels, but nowadays, with his digital box installed, he could be a damn sight fussier. He’d buy some ludicrous cable package if he could afford it, simply for additional choice. Sometimes he churned through all the free options, and still had to turn it off on principle.

But for some reason, Julia refused to accept that the full Sky Entertainment package was part of her duty to give her old Dad a comfortable retirement. He hadn’t directly asked, but surely there had been enough hints?

That failure tasted especially bitter right now, because once again there was nothing bloody on.

So he glared at Julia’s family portrait above the fireplace. The kids had the full Sky Family package, even though she claimed they never watched it, being too busy running around, attending after-school clubs and the like. He hoped she was lying to impress him, otherwise that was a tragic waste of transmitted content.

By the time Julia arrived at four o’clock for a visitation, there was still nothing on. Ralph had gotten up, made some food, changed out of the nasty pyjamas and organised a few photographs, but his grudge hadn’t faded.

‘So, did you see that new medical show on Sky One?’

‘Hm?’ Absent-mindedly, Julia plonked down a bottle of something on his coffee table. ‘No, must have missed it. This is from Liam, by the way.’

That was the husband, rather than one of the kids, so the red colour meant wine rather than Ribena. He had to make this deduction himself, since it wasn’t labelled. Did they get this stuff from the back of a lorry?

‘Oh, me neither.’ Ralph nodded, ‘I don’t get that channel.’

‘Right.’ She sighed, and he thought he saw exasperation, but it was brief. Come on, he sighed. Just cave in like a good girl and buy the damn subscription. Surely he hadn’t raised her to be this inconsiderate?

Still, plenty of time. He grabbed one of his larger wine glasses and filled it from his new bottle. This was a long game.

Child Number One, or “John” if you prefer, was glued to the television, which at least stopped him breaking anything. And one of the poxy terrestrial channels; more proof they did not need that expensive Sky package at all.

Sighing, he took a quick gulp. ‘Want some, Julia?’

‘I’m driving, thanks,’ she muttered, not sounding thankful. Had she always been so utterly rigid? Or was it the husband’s fault? ‘Are you sure you should be drinking that so early in the day? I mean, it’s not…’

‘Ah, quiet,’ Ralph tutted her down, ‘I know what I’m doing.’

And he did. He drank, he laughed, he complained that the kid wasn’t called Ralph Jr. Of course, to tell the truth, he understood the reasoning. After all, Ralph was the name of the retarded kid on The Simpsons. He enjoyed that show, but it had rendered his name unusable to future generations.

After a while, the child got bored of television and went outside to play. Ralph downed his third glass of red stuff and began to flick channels again. Time had passed quicker than he thought, it was almost primetime. There was a strange burning in his stomach, spreading upwards into some kind of fever, and that liquid was richer than he expected. Had he been drinking port, rather than wine? The old taste buds weren’t what they once were.

Julia hadn’t squawked for a while, presumably supervising whilst her son ate insects in the garden. At least that would stop them nibbling his plants. With a satisfied smile and another glass in his hand, he sank back into his chair. Maybe there was nothing on any channel because he’d seen everything already? That was a nice way to think of it.

His fingers were getting stubby, usually one indication that he might have over-done the drinking. After more scrabbling with the remote, he finally dropped it. But it seemed like the channels were still flickering, though. It seemed hot in here, didn’t it? And loud.

Stupid pop video layered over unfunny sitcom, the wisecracks melted into each other like ironic ice cream and Ralph couldn’t entirely tell if that car was on TV or outside. Some moron had let a bunch of “experts” loose to redecorate, and he didn’t need to look at the results to know it looked shit compared to his own house. Was that his heartbeat, or was the music still on?

Doctors screamed at patients, lawyers screamed at each other, an unusually impassioned voice screamed ‘Dad? Dad?’ with the rhythm of the EastEnders cliffhanger beat, and finally the austere newsreader tapped his papers on the desk and said ‘Goodnight, thanks for watching’.

If I ever collect these into any kind of compilation edition, this one will go at the end. Copyright me, don’t steal, email me to discuss authorised stealing, et cetera.


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