The Manchester Review
Jenn Ashworth
Same Old
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IT WAS THE SATURDAY BEFORE THE START OF SCHOOL. Barbara turned off her vacuum cleaner to listen to another news broadcast about the unusually cold weather.
        Donald had been in a strange, restless mood that morning too. Barbara had given him a roll of toilet roll and sent him wandering about the house mopping the condensation from the inside of the windows. He dabbed with wads of toilet paper that left fibres sticking to the glass and the mess agitated him even more. I remember him rubbing at the glass with the cuffs off his shirt, and yet even he was caught by the special broadcast and had drifted towards the front room to watch it with us.
        Gordon, wearing what looked like a ladies’ mink coat and matching hat, stood on the bridge over the Ribble and talked about climate change and global warming as the camera zoomed in on the lacy frill of ice working its way across the river from either bank. Baffled ducks skated along the rim and plopped into freezing, fast-flowing water that was brown and opaque. Things protruded from the water: trolleys, old bikes and prams, dented traffic cones wearing wreaths of twigs and slime. On the far bank, a mattress had been wedged against the bare earth by a broken wheelie bin, half filled with mud. The top part of the mattress bent forward, as if bowing to its invisible audience. In the morning, Gordon had said this was the coldest winter on record for eighty years, although in the afternoon his researchers had revised the figure to eighty four, and there were pictures of yellow trucks moving slowly along the emptied motorway spewing salt and grit behind them.
        ‘But it’s not all doom and gloom,’ Gordon said, and grinned.
        Barbara leaned on the vacuum cleaner and wound the lead around her hand, catching it expertly on her elbow in a series of swift, jerky movements that never caused her to take her eyes off the screen.
     ‘He’s had his teeth fixed again, hasn’t he Lola? A polish, at the very least. What do you think?’
        I was draped over an armchair, pretending not to see, not to be interested, although secretly hoping for the school pipes to go, for the holidays to be extended and school to be cancelled indefinitely.
        ‘Indeed, the young ladies of our city will be most pleased with an unexpected side effect of this cold snap,’ Gordon said.
        Barbara leaned forward.
        ‘The spate of unpleasant incidences that have been plaguing our city’s parks, gardens, train stations and other remote places,’ he went on cheerfully, ‘seemed to have dried up. While our Friends in the South may make jokes about the Lancastrian Man’s famed tolerance for the cold, it seems for the time being, our girls are safe. The weather is a touch too nippy even for the most prolific pest our city has ever seen.’
        ‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Barbara – suddenly grumpy. She turned the television off.
        ‘I’ve no problem with that flasher staying at home in front of his radiator,’ Donald said. His hand reached through the air, bumped my shoulder, and squeezed, ‘no-one with a daughter would.’
        ‘He’ll be at it again, come the spring. You can guarantee it. Him having a Christmas holiday isn’t the same as him being caught and having his –’ she stopped, looked at me, coughed, ‘people like that – they’ve not got a choice about it. There’s something wrong with them upstairs.’
        Barbara clattered the vacuum away into its cupboard and emerged without her apron and tying her hair back with an elastic band.