All Jed P. Horton wanted was a job. If anybody had bothered to ask him, he would have said he’d do anything, collect rubbish, stack shelves, walk your dogs, pull your teeth out, absolutely anything, but please would somebody employ him. He was a good guy, and at eighteen, young enough to do almost anything.
Jim, his best mate of years, had started at The Friendly Chippy a couple months back. And already he’d landed a pay increase after winning the ‘Best Fryer in Town’ competition. Which, admittedly, hadn’t been too hard to achieve, considering Jim had been the single entrant and, originator of said competition. And while Jed had laughed with Jim over this, there was still a deep-rooted niggle over how Jim was earning, and Jed was not.
Jessie, his other mate, had suggested his unemployed state lay smartly at what he wore. Jed had not been pleased. For as far as he was concerned, tight jeans, leather jacket, red Doc Martens and, coiffed black hair were all just fine thank you very much. And anyway, he’d reminded her, if Jed Parsons, his rock ’n roll hero, could dress like this, then why the heck couldn’t he.
The trouble was though it was 1981. And in 1981, his peers preferred shoulder pads, colourful leg warmers, and of course big hair.
It was fair to say Jed didn’t do himself any favours. But there again, it would be fair to say, he really didn’t give a toss.
Jed had been up the town for some time, mooching up and down the High Street, dodging past shoppers with string bags and baskets, busy inspecting fruit and veg and other wares the many market traders were pushing. Usually, he spent a good half hour at the record stall with its many battered, brown boxes of vinyl and cassettes, picking out LP’s and, wishing he could buy them all. Today though it was different, and as the town clock chimed the half hour, he cocked his ear and wiped his top lip.
He’d been stood outside the job centre, in the oddly named town of Leighton Buzzard, for close on thirty minutes. But as yet, he’d not mustered up the courage to walk in. Instead, he stood at the window, staring at multiple rows of cards outlining jobs. Occasionally he frowned and nodded, hoping his feigned interest was enough to disguise nerves that had sent his stomach churning, and diminished his ability to read. He felt completely useless and envied the people who’d strolled in amiably applying for jobs, while all he’d managed to do was root himself to the ground. Petrified.
Reminding himself of how pathetic all this was, Jed clamped his jaw and, ever so slowly and deliberately ground his teeth while deciding on what was worse, standing outside the jobcentre all day, or going home defeated. His mum wouldn’t be annoyed, or she’d said that she wasn’t. Then she’d sigh, which was as good as saying she was anyway.
A group of lads, not all that much older than Jed, barged past him, and in doing so, shoved Jed towards the door. Jed bristled, elevating his chin and, readying himself to deliver a punch. He glared at the boy closest.
The boys’ eyes were wide. “Sorry, mate, sorry. You goin’ in here?” He grappled for the handle. “Here, I’ll hold the door for you. Sorry.”
Jed nodded and, before he knew it, took a step forward and in, followed by the lads who were soon scattering to either read cards or join queues. He suddenly found himself alone, wondering what the hell he was supposed to do now. Yes, there were desks, signage and arrows for enquiries and applications; however, the arrows, words and desks all seemed to be out of sync. Chances were he’d be in the wrong queue for hours and end up looking like a right old berk.
He scanned the centre for a friendly face and was rewarded with none. Once again he felt his feet rooting and, if that wasn’t bad enough, sweat was building in his armpits as his heart began to race. When he heard the sort of cough used to attract attention, Jed turned to see if it was aimed at him. He was right. It was the receptionist.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist said, tapping orange painted fingernails on Formica. She was a young woman, probably only a couple of years older than Jed. He felt her eyes running over his body and he prayed the sweat running down his chest hadn’t soaked into his t-shirt.
“Well?” she asked, the tapping increasing. “Are you delivering something or using my office space as a way of getting out of the cold?”
Jed stared as he struggled to speak. It was maddening that he was unable to come back with a sharp response. He closed his eyes and told himself to pull himself together. All he needed do was explain what he was there for, and then she’d direct him on. He clenched his fists and opened his eyes. “No. I, err, I wanted to speak to somebody about a-” He paused and swallowed. This wasn’t going as hoped, he sounded like a three-year-old afraid to ask for a drink. “A job,” he blurted.
The receptionist smirked, flicking her hair from her face. “Really? And do we have a CV?” She pulled herself up and arched her back, accentuating her breasts. “You do know what a CV is?” She didn’t wait for a reply, raising her voice to draw attention to the situation, intensifying Jed’s discomfort. “It is a curriculum vee-tie. And if you don’t know what that is, it’s a document that outlines your work and education levels.” Her forehead creased, “You have been educated, haven’t you?”
By now, several other job applicants were staring at Jed. He felt his ears burning and he began to shake. “Yes. I do have one, just not on me.” He wiped his nose with his sleeve. “I thought I could-”
The receptionist held her hand up to silence him. She winked and beckoned for him to come forward. Jed edged towards the desk and leant towards baby-pink lips. He could smell perfume; it was floral, not something his mum would use. He felt her warm breath on his neck as she whispered into his ear.
“Sweet-pea, I didn’t see adverts for Jed Parsons look-alikes on our boards..” She paused and sniggered. “At least that’s who I think, you think you are.” Her fingers were at his jacket, pulling him closer until her lips brushed his cheek. “So why don’t you stop wasting my time and go find yourself a freak show position instead?”
Jed recoiled and bolted. As the door slammed behind him he tripped over a rubbish bin, sending the contents into the road. He tried to grab the bin to prevent it rolling away, but instead slipped and fell to the ground, landing heavily on his wrist. He winced and pulled himself up, cradling his arm. And as he did, he saw the receptionist and several of her colleagues, laughing and pointing through the window. He felt close to tears, so when a young mother came to help him up, his anger spewed and he swore and pulled away. When her mouth dropped open, Jed knew he should apologise, but instead he ran, shoving people out the way until he reached his battered old mini.
Slumped in the driver’s seat, Jed held his hand. His fingers were badly swollen and any wrist movement sent a shooting pain towards his shoulder. He would have done anything to have his mum or Jim drive him to the emergency room. But finding either of them right now wasn’t an option and, knowing he needed medical attention, Jed groaned as he fiddled with the key until the car came alive. The drive wouldn’t be easy but having driven one-handed before, admittedly when he was drunk, Jed was confident he’d reach the hospital with nothing more than a damaged wrist.
The emergency room was reasonably quiet, and Jed sat near the back waiting his turn. He fiddled with his cigarette packet and put a cigarette to his lips. A passing nurse coughed and pointed at the non-smoking sign, so he sheepishly removed it and placed it back in the packet. He tried to browse through some dog-eared magazines but quickly became bored. He turned his attention to counting the tiles on the wall. When he reached four-hundred-and-eighty-five he heard his name being called and followed an orderly to a medical room. He smiled nervously at the nurse and followed her instruction to sit on the bed. She ignored his attempt at pleasantries and kept her head down as she questioned why he was there.
Jed dubbed her Sister Happiness. If ever there was a contradiction, this was one: She seemed about as happy as a man with boils on his balls, and her face was about as pleasant to look at as a dried prune with mould. At one stage he nearly kicked her in the shins when she smirked and yanked his wrist to test its capacity for movement.
“Not broken, badly sprained,” she snapped at Jed.
Jed nodded. “Will I need plaster?”
“Hardly. A tight bandage will suffice. Don’t move, I’m going for supplies.”
Jed hoped she’d trip and crack her head open and then the pretty looking nurse at the desk would come back and bandage his wrist. But he was not in luck; Sister Happiness returned. She yanked his wrist once again and began bandaging. Before he could stop himself he screamed, “Fuck that’s sore.” Sister Happiness smiled and yanked even harder.
Jed left the emergency room, scowling. In his pocket was a pot of strong painkillers that he was told not to drink alcohol with. Fat chance, he thought and headed for his mini.
End chapter 1
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