I stare down at the gelatinous egg on its bed of thickly buttered glistening white toast. After a minute, I realise my sister, Pat is still hovering by the door. I look up at her from the bed.
“Maybe you’ll come down a bit later, Colin, if you’re feeling up to it?” Her tone is hopeful, artificially bright. “The kids would love to see you.”
I snort in response and she leaves the room, defeated for the moment, the door clicking to behind her.
I really can’t imagine that anyone would love to see me at the moment. All I can feel is the crushing weight of shame in my chest, the desperate need to hide myself away. These haven’t left me since last Monday morning, when I was called to the bosses’ office at about half past ten. One look at her face and that of the assistant manager sitting beside her, one glance at the pile of ledgers open on her desk and I knew it was all over. You’re lucky we didn’t get the police in, they told me, lucky you’re not looking at a prison sentence. I suppose they thought it would be bad publicity, more than anything. I was escorted from the building while my colleagues, people I’d known for ten years or more, men and women I’d drank in the pub with every Friday night, sat still as statues at their desks, just watching me in silence, as though what I had done was too low even to need comment. It would have been easier, somehow, to leave to boos and jeers.
The last thing I feel I can face just now is going down to my noisy inquisitive nephew and niece in the sitting room. Suppose they were to ask me questions about why I’m here? How much have Pat and Dave told them?
How much has Helen told our daughter, more to the point? No, I can’t think about that. The hardest thing was having, finally, to tell my wife the truth, tell her that the nice new car, the Edwardian-style conservatory we’d had put in last year, the holidays to Florida and Thailand weren’t the result of my hard work being rewarded with pay-rises, but from ten years of my systematically fiddling the books at the office. Now it would all have to be paid back, straight away if I wanted to avoid gaol.
She didn’t take it well and who could blame her? Not just losing all the nice stuff, but the shame she felt on my behalf, her own behalf. Helen has a responsible job at the Council; how will it affect her at work when it inevitably leaks out that her accountant husband was sacked for fraud and embezzlement? They’re both in Nottingham now, at Helen’s mam and dad’s. We communicate via solicitor’s letters.
So I’ve lost my wife, my kid, my good name, my house, my job, everything. I prod my cooling breakfast with my fork, wondering if I’ll ever feel like eating again. My sister has added a bright blob of tomato sauce to the edge of the plate for me to dip my egg in, which somehow makes things worse.
There’s a scratching at my bedroom door, low, imploring woofs. It’s my old terrier, Charlie; he knows I’m in here, but I can’t face getting up and going to the door to let him in. I know Pat or one of the kids will walk him later. Meanwhile, all I can do is lie back on these polyester sheets and face the fact that I’ve lost everything.