He had turned up, after all.
He was waiting for me next to the van. He was blowing on his hands, trying to keep warm. He said, “Bad luck. You’re lumbered with me today.”
I could’ve told him that he didn’t have to hang around outside at that time in the morning. Instead, I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get on fine,”
He said, “I’d better warn you. I belch a lot. The doctor says it’s aerophagia. I swallow a load of air.”
I could’ve told him that giving a problem a name doesn’t make it go away. Instead, I said, “I worked with Pete for weeks, and he could have won us gold in the Farting Olympics. I can cope with a bit of burping.”
A few hours later, we sneaked back to the canteen for a toast and bacon sandwich. When we’d settled at a table away from the steam and the clatter, and I was adjusting the timesheets, he wiped a spot of brown sauce off his chin and said, “Things aren’t too good at home, you know. I worry about the kids.”
I could’ve told him to get some help, to talk to somebody. I could’ve told him that he wasn’t alone. Instead, I said, “Give it time. I’m sure it’ll come right in the end.”
He changed the subject, then.
When I first heard what had happened, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know that he owned a gun. How can an ordinary bloke have a gun in the house and nobody know?
I didn’t know that he had a gun, so I couldn’t have guessed that he’d sit on the edge of his cold bed, in that cold bedroom, and put the barrel in his mouth. I couldn’t have guessed that he’d pull the trigger.
At least, that’s what I tell myself.