Great stories, beautifully told
Voicing His Fears
by Kevin Cheeseman
‘Gottle of geer,’ said Kenny. ‘Great gig gottle of geer.’
‘Say it properly,’ said Rich. ‘You’re making me look stupid.’
‘You don’t need my help.’
Rich swivelled Kenny’s head towards the audience and pushed the eyebrows up. He let the laughter roll around the theatre and subside.
‘Right,’ said Rich. ‘That’s enough of your nonsense. Say goodnight to the ladies and gentlemen.’
‘I’m not going back in that sodding suitcase,’ said Kenny. ‘It’s dark in there.’
Rich felt a piercing pain in his stomach. He grimaced and took a deep breath.
‘Okay, Kenny,’ he said. ‘Not tonight.’
He walked off, waving with his free hand, leaving the suitcase gaping expectantly centre-stage. The uncertain applause told him the audience had spotted the change.
‘Why didn’t you do the business with the case?’ hissed the compère as they crossed. ‘I wasn’t ready.’
Rich mumbled an apology.
Maggie was waiting outside his dressing room.
‘What happened?’ she asked.
‘Nothing. I just felt sick for a moment.’
‘Again? Don’t you think…’
‘It’s nothing. I’m fine.’
‘You can’t keep pretending. You should see someone.’
‘Christ, Maggie, stop fussing. You’re my agent, not my mother.’
* * * *
‘I thought you said you were seeing the doctor. Who’s this kid?’
‘Don’t be rude, Kenny’ said Rich. ‘This is Doctor Cave.’
‘Really? He looks like he should be in school.’
Rich hoped he hadn’t gone too far. But it was Cave who had asked what was in his suitcase and he seemed like a man who could take a joke.
‘I really am a doctor, Kenny,’ said Cave, ‘and I have something to discuss with Mr Rivers now, I’m afraid.’
‘Don’t mind me,’ said Kenny. ‘I won’t tell anyone.’
Cave’s expression indicated it was time to get serious.
‘Well, we’ve got the results,’ he said, ‘and it’s not good news, frankly. The biopsy…’
‘Has he got cancer?’ said Kenny.
Cave looked at Kenny, then at Rich.
‘The biopsy confirmed that the lump in your colon is malignant,’ said Cave. ‘So, we should discuss…’
‘Is he going to die, Doc?’ said Kenny.
Cave’s eyes probed Rich’s face but it remained impassive. Doll-like.
‘Surgery is usually highly effective,’ continued Cave, ‘assuming...’
‘So, he’s not going to die,’ said Kenny.
Cave addressed Kenny this time. ‘As I was saying, there’s every chance…’
‘Just tell him straight, Doc,’ said Kenny. ‘He’s shitting himself. Or he would be if his colon wasn’t fucked up.’
‘Behave yourself, Kenny,’ snapped Rich. ‘I’m sorry, doctor. I don’t know what’s got into him.’
‘No need to apologise,’ said Cave. ‘I expect he’s anxious for you. It’s only natural.’
* * * *
Rich sipped his whisky and contemplated the two photographs on his mantelpiece, one monochrome, one colour. The first showed him building sandcastles with Mum. She was laughing, unaware she was already nursing the tumour that would kill her. In the second, Rich posed awkwardly in his new school blazer and Dad, mistrusting the self-timer, frowned at the camera.
The harsh ring of the doorbell brought Rich back to the present. He opened the door and Maggie slipped wordlessly by him into the flat. Rich followed her into the living room. She turned and stood with her face close to his.
‘I could tell on the phone that you were fobbing me off,’ she said. ‘Now tell me what the doctor said.’
Rich told her. He felt calm at first, repeating Cave’s carefully chosen words. But the more he reiterated the doctor’s caveats and cautions, the less reason there seemed to be confident and he was suddenly unable to prevent his voice from failing him.
‘Oh Rich, love, come here,’ said Maggie, hugging him to her.
Rich’s father scowled at him from the mantelpiece.
‘Stop your blubbing, Richard,’ he heard him say. ‘Boys don’t cry.’
He closed his eyes, pushed his face into Maggie’s hair and let her comfort him.
In the morning, he was woken by Maggie bringing him a cup of tea. She sat on the side of the bed and stroked his hair.
‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ she said. ‘First, we’ll draft a statement. Get the facts out before the tabloids start making stuff up. We’ll release that as soon as we’ve called the promoters.’
‘Why do we have to call them?’ said Rich, sitting up.
‘To cancel the summer tour, of course,’ said Maggie. ‘You can’t possibly work while you’re having treatment. And you’ll need time to recuperate too.’
‘No way,’ said Rich. ‘I need those bookings. We have to keep this quiet.’
He jumped out of bed and shut himself in the bathroom. By the time he emerged, five minutes later, he’d made up his mind.
‘I want you to leave,’ he said. ‘And I forbid you to tell anyone anything. The sodding newspapers can mind their own business. Come to that, so can you.’
‘Come on, Rich,’ said Maggie, ‘don’t be…’
‘Just go,’ said Rich. ‘I should never have let you in.’
* * * *
‘That’s enough nonsense from you. Say goodnight to the ladies and gentlemen.’
‘I’m not going back in that sodding suitcase. It’s dark in there.’
‘Don’t be silly, Kenny,’ said Rich. ‘There’s nothing to be scared of.’
The audience was already laughing in anticipation of the next line but it didn’t come. Rich shook his head and stared blankly into the darkness.
Then Kenny spoke.
‘Nothing to be scared of?’ he said. ‘Oh, that’s good, coming from you. That’s fucking rich – Rich – coming from you.’
A tear rolled down Rich’s cheek as Kenny snarled at him.
‘Which one of us is really scared, eh? Tell the ladies and gentlemen that. Are you afraid of being shut in the dark case, Rich? Are you?’
The audience fell silent save a few scattered, hesitant laughs.
Kenny spoke again. His voice was different now, firm and authoritative. ‘Stop your blubbing, Richard.’
Rich dropped to his knees, sobbing.
‘Boys don’t cry,’ he whimpered. ‘Boys don’t cry.’
Copyright © 2019 Kevin Cheeseman