Reggie sat on his chair in the corner of the room. He looked like a lump of lard half slumped over the table, elbows and hands holding the weight of his large head. He was reading his evening paper. Occasionally he lifted his head to watch the TV.
Every night he sat there, always the same place, his place, I had never seen anyone else sitting there.
I was sitting with my brothers and sister, 4 of us around the table and I have my back to a cupboard. There is a open coal fire with an oven and hot plate, on the other side of the small room and in winter we would roast as we waited for our tea. We are watching the black and white images on the 27” TV screen that sits on a cupboard at the other end of the small room. Above the table are a pair of Canaries are in a cage. Ever so often they start singing to one another, no one seems to take any notice.
Outside it is freezing, the puddles from the rain that fell yesterday are frozen over. The ducks that were on the pond at the end of our street have flown back to the river a mile away. Even the small patch of lawn outside the back door, is like a furry ice rink. We have had Christmas, that was over a month ago. The nights are long, slow, cold, the days short and grey overcast affairs, with little relief from the numbness that inhabits us until Spring .
It was a Tuesday night so we were getting sausages beans and mash. Those big juicy fat pork sausages that spit in your eye when you drive the fork down into them. Reg would be served first, he has two slices of white bread buttered with margarine, a cup of strong dark tea with a dash of milk and two sugars. His face would light up in a smile as Mrs Mac put the plate of food in front of him. Reg liked his food. He eats like a single man. No airs or graces, he has no one to wait for. He knows there were hungry visitors waiting for their turn.
I heard his plate of food arrive, I looked around to feast my eyes on the sausages still sizzling as Reg slowly picked up his knife and fork. I could hear the knife scrap on the plate as I turned back to the TV. Rin Tin Tin was action aplenty.
The next time I turned my head to see Reg’s progress, His head was resting on his plate. The side of his face was lying on the sausages and beans. I could see the end of a sausage poking out from his face, just under his right eye. His left eye stared at the table cloth unblinking. His colour was grey like the TV screen, his cheeks showed his jaw under the five o’clock shadow. I had no idea what had happened, I nudged the arm of my older brother who was sitting next to me. He couldn’t see Reg I was in the way. He leaned around me and I could hear him gasp. I think he knew straight away what had happened.
Just as he jumped up to tell Mrs Mack, the front door opened and closed, away down the hall way. We both looked at the door to the passage. It would open in a minute and Mr Mac would walk in. Mrs Mack heard it too. She came out of the kitchen. My brother and I we are looking red faced and embarrassed. We had seen something first and we were dumbstruck. By now Reg’s head had made a proper mess of the baked beans, they had started to fall off the side of the plate.
Mr Mack opened the door and came in, he smiled at me and my brother. We tried to smile back, I thought we could pretend all was normal and act surprised when the adults saw the disaster lying on the table. I heard Mrs Mack start to shout, she swore at Mr Mack,
“ Shit Stan what has happened to Reg?”
Mr Mack hadn’t seen Reg, he was still greeting us. He looked across at his brother slumped on the table. My brother and I fell back onto our chairs as Mr Mack pushed past. He steadied himself on the table edge. His face had also gone grey. Mrs Mack was trying to lift Reg’s head, the bangers and beans was making a bloody mess of everything.
I felt stunned, my younger brother and sister had now caught on to what was happening. They looked annoyed that they couldn’t hear the TV due to the high pitched crying coming from Mrs Mack. Mr Mack had managed to get Reg’s head off the plate. Reg was now flopped back against the back of his chair, his head falling to the side, despite Mr Mack’s attempts at holding it up.
Mrs Mack looked up, her eyes were cloudy, she knew she had to get us out of this small room. We were no good to anyone being there. She ask my brother to go next door and ask Mrs B to call the ambulance.
“Tell her umm, Yes tell her Reg needs the ambulance. Don’t say any more than that.”
“OK” and he was off, so fast, he tripped on the edge of the hall runner and had to jump up again and rubbing his knee he went as fast as his legs would take him.
The rest of us were told to go wait in the front room. The front room was never used except at Christmas and special days. There was no heating and it was as cold as sin. But we did as we were told. We could hear Mr and Mrs Mack , they were shouting and crying. I think it was then that I knew the worst had happened. I realised that Reg was dead. I had never seen or even known anyone who had died. Except of TV.
Peter came running back, he banged on the front door. I opened it and before I could step aside he was pushing past,heading down the passage to the back room.
“Mrs Mack, Mrs Mack” He could barely contain himself. “The ambulance is on its way, Mrs B wants to know if you need anything, bandages, cloths, anything, she said anything. She is coming over now.”
“No Peter, you go straight back and tell her, thank you very much, just the ambulance, that is all we will be needing.”
Then Mrs Mack lowered her voice, and said.
“Peter, Reg has died, it must of been a heart attack. He has just gone a died.”
I couldn’t see how Peter had taken this news. But I did hear Mrs Mack say,
“Now don’t go telling Marge next door. Just tell her, thanks for the phone call and then come straight back.”
He ran back down the hall, I could see the grim determination on his face, it was too soon for tears, he just needed to be grown up about it.
I stood behind the door to the front room. I started to cry. My whole body seemed to embrace the grief. It wobbled and crumpled. Jim and Pip, came closer and we all held hands. We didn’t know what to do except stand there, holding hands, waiting for the ambulance.
I could still smell the sausages, but there would not be any Bangers and Mash tonight.