Yay, I'm back from the dead! Or the almost-dead, anyway. Sorry, I haven't been around delivering new fics, but uni was hectic for a while, and then I got hit by a car, and my head gets very addled sometimes from the injury (which is also, conveniently enough, my legitimate excuse for if this fic completely sucks.) I started this fic on New Year's Eve, and it's taken me til now to actually get any of it up, which shows my total laziness. It is, for the first time in quite a while, NOT related to At the End of the Day in any way, shape or form. I haven't abandoned that universe, and am still working on several fics for it which I shall try and get up as soon as possible, but in the meantime, here is a bit more of a lighthearted, less attempting-to-be-meaningful fic. I promise lots of Joetina, if you're patient.
The Beginning of the end
Martina's stomach was what made her jolt awake, growling quietly, twanging painfully, until she at once wanted to double over and stretch out with the unpleasantness of it. Oh, she was so bloody hungry, and now this hunger was taking its toll on her sleep time too, meaning when she arrived at work, she had heavy sore eyes and very little energy along with the usual headache that accompanied her. She twisted and thrashed, trying to get herself into a better position, one which squashed her stomach against the mattress in an attempt to quell the hunger pains, but to no avail. The instant she moved, the last of the blankets had rolled over with Shifty and merged into a snoring, rugged-up scroll, and she was left not only tired and hungry but freezing as well.
She lay on her stomach, her head turned in her leech lover's direction, cheek against her pillow as she squinted at him and let her mind wander. Shifty snored on, completely oblivious to her discomfort, as if he found it a piece of cake to sleep easy at night. As if he had a right to.
It wasn't his fault, of course. It was never his fault, the blame always falling onto the bastard government, the over-friendliness of his mother, the uncontrollable demon that resided in him and urged him to steal things. His exes. The Boswells. Her. By the time she'd gotten him out of the police station, several hundred pounds poorer and, totally humiliated, dragged him home, the fault lay on anyone and everyone within a hundred mile radius but Shifty himself. Somehow, despite being responsible for breaking into the car, for driving it who knows how many miles and eventually making a wreck of it around somebody else's vehicle, his gob would go on and on about how it still wasn't- and couldn't be- his fault. And so, naturally, by Shifty's way of thinking, it also wasn't his fault that she'd nearly bankrupted herself paying his bail, and hence was starving right this minute.
It was all right for him. He didn't feel the effects of near-poverty. When dinner-time came around and she duly announced that, due to his shortcomings and the fact that her pay packet hadn't come yet, there wasn't anything to eat, he'd responded with an oh, well, and the reassurance that she wasn't to worry- he could go and eat with the Boswells. And so he'd gone, problem solved, never mind about her. Never mind that, in saving him from gaol, she'd put herself into a position where she was suffering from lack of food. Not even an invite to go with him to the Boswells'- not that she would have accepted it, but the token wouldn't have gone astray. For all he claimed he loved her, he didn't care if she stayed here, alone and broke and starving, while he went out and gorged. He just didn't care.
She'd thought letting him move in with her had been a good idea at the time- she'd envisioned hot baths, long kisses, sitting together and chatting and a flat full of love and everything domestic life should be And, just like every other time she'd been daft enough to think something nice could finally happen to her, she was wrong. Shifty didn't enrich her life, he ruined it. Oh, she could give him a shove right now, she really could. Shove him right off the bed, she would, if she could, then take all her blankets back and let him suffer for once.
But she hadn't the energy. All she'd managed to scrounge up for herself tonight was a Cup-A-Soup, and there was little energy, let alone nourishment, to be gained from a bit of hot water and a few rehydrated vegetables. Especially as, what with already being behind on the rent, and unwilling to spend more money than she had to, that had been all she'd had all day.
All Martina could do was lie there, quietly resenting him, and this she did with as much vigour as she had left, until the night slipped away and dawn broke.
'Snuff,' said a voice in his ear. A warm, slobbery sort of breath caressed his neck. Something hairy brushed against his face.
One of Joey's arms emerged from the sheets, and he decided, as he came into contact with a wet nose and an even wetter tongue, that either Mongy had come to wake him up, or he'd gone to bed with a very frightening creature indeed.
He cracked an eye open and confirmed, to his relief, that it was the former.
'Hey there, son,' Joey whispered. The dog replied by licking his mouth, and Joey spluttered and hastily wiped it on his arm.
'Ugh, okay, okay, Mongy! I'm up!' He stretched his arms over his head, taking in the sleeping form of Adrian, and a very dishevelled Billy, who must've returned sometime in the middle of the night after yet another failed reconciliation with Julie. He looked over at Mongy, and then at the lead the dog had dropped on the floor beside his bed.
'All right then, tactful,' he murmured, dragging himself out of bed. 'Just a quick one, all right? I need to have an early breakfast so I can get down the DHSS when it opens.'
Outside on the street, a gentle rain pattered against the pavement, drumming on his Jag and rendering his thorough clean of it yesterday pointless, but the weather didn't deter Mongy in the least. He bounded along, yappy and energetic, leaping at random front doors when the mood took him, and pulling other people's papers from their letterboxes.
'Steady on,' Joey moaned, struggling to keep up without scuffing his shoes. 'Wait for me, Mongy!'
The dog took no notice, and Joey felt himself being dragged further from home, speed picking up as they hurtled down the hill towards the river. For a creature that had to be nearing old age by now, the dog was incredibly sprightly today, and Joey felt his spirits lifting as he gave up restraining him and ran with him, letting out a childish yell of delight as they careened down the slope. His insides seemed oddly light, the worries that had plagued him yesterday gone for a moment. For just a few seconds, in the fresh air and acting a fool, he could forget that Aveline was gone, that Nellie didn't know how to cope with that, that Jack still wasn't back, and hadn't turned up for his sister's wedding, and that he was once again in Roxy's bad books. All the stress of being Joey of the Boswells, and the responsibilities and duties that came with that name and that bloodline, were as little insignificant fly-specks in the back of his blissfully empty brain.
'Oh!' came a voice, and the noise hit Joey's ears just before he hit the woman.
'Ah, Celia!' He wasn't particularly interested in impressing Celia Higgins, but he had a reputation, and thus had to try to restore his image. 'Greetings! Didn't see you there, I just, er, lost control of the dog…'
Celia laughed, a sound Joey didn't think he'd ever been privy to before.
'Oh, you don't 'ave to explain anything to me, Joey. It's nice to see you lookin' 'appy- you haven't for ages now.'
Joey squinted. 'And how would you know that, then?'
Celia just gave him a sad, knowing smile.
'I live next door, love. And you would keep parking your car in front of my 'ouse. I get a good view of your face when you're getting out of your car right in front of me front window…'
Ah, yes, she had to bring that up. Since she'd moved in, they'd had a merry old war about who owned whose parking space of late- as far as Joey was concerned, he was winning, and a not-so-subtle comment every once in a while wasn't going to make him change his mind.
'Well, the thing about that is, sweetheart,' he said, 'you've been here how long? Six months now? I've 'ad the car for five years. The Jag was here long before you, and she's used to bein' parked in that space. As far as she's concerned, that is her space.' He bowed, sidling around her and tugging lightly on Mongy's leash.
'Come on, son. Let's not bother this nice lady any longer.'
And he continued on down the street, Mongy prancing along in front of him and Celia undoubtedly glaring from behind him.
Hmm. What bounty would the cupboard yield today? Pot Noodle, instant soup, and oh, good, if it didn't look like more Pot Noodle.
Utterly sick of the sight of cheap alternatives to decent food, Martina slammed the kitchen cupboard and took her frustration out by abusing her percolator, slamming her fist against it before realising that, in her addled, sleep-deprived, other-things-on-her-mind state, she hadn't put any coffee in the filter (and what was more, she didn't have any, either) and shutting it off again. Well, there went her last chance at staying properly alert, or getting into something that even vaguely resembled a good mood.
And when Shifty wandered in, dishevelled but showing obvious signs of having had a good night's sleep, her temper went from foul to worse.
'Oh, if it isn't me good luck Leprechaun,' she said bitterly. Her lover paused halfway to the table, a sheepish look creeping across his face. From her position at the other end, her head only partially raised from her arms and her eyes only open enough to resemble letterboxes, Martina watched him go through the phases of realising she was angry with him: the smirk and scoff denial phase, followed by the hoping-to-be-let-off smile phase, and then, to complete the sequence, the turned-down-eyebrows annoyance phase.
'Aw, Sweet Mother of- oh, why are you looking at me like that? What have I done now?' He stalked past her towards the cupboards. 'What's there to eat? Oh, what, Martina? I can feel you lookin' at me! Why am I in the doghouse now, for goodness' sake?'
'I 'ope you like Pot Noodle,' she growled over her shoulder, ignoring his other questions, 'that's what we're reduced to.'
She turned in her chair, leaning her arm against the back and watching as he messed up her nicely ordered shelves in his search for something that wasn't there.
'Oh, I can't eat this,' he said, taking one of the containers in his hands, 'I can't eat this! I'd rather prison food, I would!'
This last comment pushed Martina over the line.
'I wish you'd told me that sooner!' she snapped. 'You could've stayed in there and 'ad all yer gourmet meals provided to you fer free, and saved me the last o' me rent money and grocery budget on yer bail!'
Shifty spun around, the Pot Noodle still in his hand.
'Are you sayin' it's my fault you can't provide a decent meal?'
Oh, Martina wanted to strike him, she really did.
'What d'you think I'm sayin'?' she thundered. 'If it weren't fer you- you and your habitual stealing- and don't give me that face,' she added, as Shifty started to pull his stealing, who, me? expression. 'I've 'ad it up to 'ere with cleanin' up after your messes!'
Shifty gave a grunt of irritation, putting the container down by the sink rather than back in the cupboard, which only served to infuriate Martina further, and storming back towards the door.
'I'll go 'ave breakfast with the Boswells, then! At least they won't point a little mental gun at me 'ead because of the state of their pantry!'
'Oh, yeah, go and dine in the luxury of the Grand 'All o' Kelsall Street!' she yelled after him. 'Well, if you'd rather eat with them, you may as well move back in with 'em and be done with it! Let them feed yer and put up with yer for a while!'
The door to the flat slammed. Martina removed the hands that were holding her head up and let her face fall into the table.
The sight that greeted Joey when he finally turned Mongy around and headed for home made him howl with laughter. One of the Boswells' precious (and also rather dubiously acquired) traffic cones had been picked up, and plonked rather untidily in front of Number Thirty-two. Joey shook his head, continuing to roar and, releasing Mongy's leash and allowing the dog to scamper home and scratch upon the door, bent and placed the traffic cone on the pavement. With a grin foreseeing the mischief he was about to perform, he pulled his car keys from his pocket and strode towards his Jag, parked in its proper place outside his own house.
You can't outwit a Boswell, sweetheart, Joey thought as he started the engine and put the car in reverse. You can't outwit a Boswell.
'And why not, I ask ye?'
'Because THAT-IS-JACK'S SEAT!'
'Heh hem,' Joey cleared his throat. His Mam, and Shifty, who had apparently waltzed in while he was out on his walk, paused their argument to turn and acknowledge him.
'Greetings!' Joey said, sauntering over and taking his place at the table. 'And what brings you here this mornin', Shifty? Haven't you got a home to go to?'
He said this in jest, a smile on his face and a laugh in his voice, but Joey's last comment was only partially meant as a joke, and inside, he couldn't chase away a little niggling feeling of annoyance. For all Shifty's saying he'd built himself a 'little independent dinghy', that he didn't need their services or their free food anymore, he was round there so often it was as if he hadn't left there at all. There was no food in the fridge, or he didn't fancy what Martina was cooking, and he was back round here. He had a row with Martina, and he was back here, and leaving socks all around Grandad's living room. He fancied 'a bit of peace' and they'd find him lying on their sofa with his feet up. It was Billy and Julie all over again. At least, though, he conceded, Shifty was residing a bit further away than over the road, and Martina, being far less brash than their lovely Miss Jefferson, wasn't as inclined to come storming over after him and subject them all to a shouting match in the front room.
Then again, as soon as he crossed the threshold of either their house or Grandad's, Celia went on the rampage, which was just as bad…
If only he'd just go back to Martina's and stay there, Joey found himself thinking far too frequently. His Mam had enough on her plate as it was, what with Jack's supposedly imminent return (that was taking a dreadfully long time), coping with the fact that Aveline was now in wedded bliss with a Proddy preacher, and still having to cook and clean and take care of the lot of them as she always had. And so did the others- what with the Billy-and-Julie saga, Adrian's newfound artistic temperament and all the rest of it- Shifty was just adding another burden to an already heavy load.
But as soon as he'd had this thought, he would immediately shake his head and retract it. He wouldn't wish that on Martina. Poor girl had suffered enough. He could only imagine what life with Shifty full-time did to someone who looked like she was on the verge of cracking on the best of days. She probably needed the peace, too. Probably valued the time to herself.
With that in mind, Joey pushed away his resentment towards Shifty being here. He could cope with his cousin for a little while- they all could. They'd done it before- and he was family after all. They couldn't begrudge the man a bit of food and company, nor his partner the occasional relief from him.
'There was only Pot Noodle for me over there,' Shifty was saying now, as he overrode Nellie's wishes to have Jack's chair saved in case today was the day he returned, and seated himself in it anyway, 'and I can't live on that! She budgets all the time, does Martina- that's what I have to live with, you know! Thinks she's going to go bankrupt, she does- it's maddening, I tell you, maddening…'
'Yeees, I can imagine she's going bankrupt, having to service your every need!' Nellie snapped, unwittingly voicing Joey's exact thoughts. The word 'bankrupt' had worried him- he might have to have a quick word with his cousin later today about that, ascertain exactly what was going on. He may not know Martina all that well, but from what he did know, she wouldn't be saying something like that without good reason. If things were really as bad as all that…
'And that,' Nellie was saying again, 'is JACK'S-SEAT!'
'Mam, Mam,' Joey raised his hand. 'Jack's not back yet, and if he hasn't rung to say he's even on his way yet, then I don't think he'll be needing breakfast today. Okay?'
Nellie would undoubtedly have said more, but Billy chose that moment to return from his latest sojourn over the road, and that soon put an end to any conversation that didn't involve marriage, babies, divorce and solicitors.
Walking to work did nothing. Getting out in the fresh air didn't do anything to clear her head, despite what all the clichés said; a bit of exercise did nothing to cheer her up. How could it? How could anything do anything for her anymore?
Martina wasn't even sure what made her bothered enough to drag herself up off the floor, let alone out the house and along to work, where the clamouring clients and foul-mouthed scroungers were bound to add extra misery to her already woeful state. She would have been perfectly happy to just lie on the kitchen tiles until she died- but then again, thinking practically, she wouldn't have even been able to do that, after what had just…
As if this morning hadn't been bad enough, with no food, no Shifty and the knowledge that there was no money in her bank account either, the post had had to come. Martina had already been at bursting point, a hair's breadth away from tearing her hair out and kicking a hole in the wall, and the envelopes had come thudding through her front door like the footsteps of doom, bringing with them the piece of paper that would completely destroy her, make her fall to pieces.
And Martina had had to get up and go and pick it all up. She'd had to open her letters, finding an electricity bill and a water bill she knew she couldn't pay for. And she'd had to rip open that third envelope and read the death sentence it contained.
She'd been worried about it, of course. But she'd thought she'd had more time than this, a chance to get a couple more wage packets and get a little less behind on the rent, to redeem herself somehow. She'd thought she had time, she'd thought she had hope, at the very least.
And, as usual, she'd been fool enough to think there was anything good in this life. She'd opened that fateful envelope, and read those two fateful words- EVICTION NOTICE.
And a few seconds later Martina had come to on the floor, the letter beside her, not a dream after all, but real, a signal that it was all too late. Her life, teetering on the edge of ruin anyway, crumbled into dust before her. This was it- she'd really hit rock bottom. She no longer had a home. And it was only a matter of time before her landlord came to bundle her up and throw her out into the cold.
Well, that was it, then. It was all over.
Martina might as well have stuck her head in the oven and ended it all there and then- and yet here she was, walking to work in a trance, turning corners and crossing roads automatically, as if nothing else had happened. She just kept on going, as if putting miles behind her and covering ground would do something to change the situation, but she knew, in a deep, slightly less shocked corner of her brain, that there was no point. Even if she worked today, even if she did get paid when she was supposed to, it wouldn't make any difference. The damage was done. She'd already been evicted. The fact remained that she didn't have a home, and once she'd had a setback like that, she knew, it was nigh on impossible to claw her way back up to normality.
Everything had come crashing down in a heap over her head, and there was no chance of her climbing out of the rubble again.
She was doomed.