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A LUCKY MAN
The day began badly for Kevin. The shower made the usual rumbling and sputtering sounds. But this morning it gave up the ghost and shut off. Shampoo ran into his eyes and he stumbled to the bathroom door and shouted.
“Linda, Linda I need a jug of water. I’m covered in suds and my eyes are stinging the hell out of me. Hopping from one foot to the other and grabbing at a towel he shouted again.
“Will you hurry on woman? I’m going to be late for work.”
Linda was puffing when she arrived and quickly poured the jug of water over Kevin’s head. The house seemed to shake with the sound of his roars.
“That water was freezing cold. Have you lost your mind?”
Linda retreated quickly to finish preparing breakfast. Kevin managed to shave and dress in record time as the smell of coffee wafted temptingly from the kitchen. Gulping down his first mouthful of toast he glanced at the clock.
“Have to go,” he shouted and ran out the door. Linda was ushering the children into her car. With echoes of ‘bye Dad’ in his ears Kevin put the key into the ignition and the car hummed into life. A grinding noise signalled that Linda was having trouble starting her old Ford. She got out and shut the car door with a bang. Two red blotches stained her cheeks as she approached.
“It’s no good. You’ll have to drive them to school. I’m sick of it anyway. Every morning it’s the same thing. Will it start or not? I’ve had it with that car.”
Linda’s blue eyes were wet with unshed tears as she glared at him; she ran back inside and banged the front door behind her.
“Amy, John, come on. I’ll take you. I’m going to be late now anyway. What’s another fifteen minutes?”
At the office Kevin hoped to avoid his boss as Jim seemed permanently stressed lately.His luck was out. Jim stood there rocking on the balls of his feet, pointedly tapping his watch.
“Late again I see. That report was due yesterday. Make sure I get it today.”
“Of course. Car trouble.” Kevin muttered as he scurried to his desk. A jackhammer was going off in his head. The incessant ringing of the ‘phone didn’t help and the paper mountain in front of him was becoming insurmountable. Loosening his tie, he forced himself to concentrate and the hours slipped away.
At half past one Kevin grabbed a much needed coffee from the machine and avoiding Jim’s path headed out into the park across the road. Plonking himself down on a bench he sipped the coffee and replayed the morning’s earlier events.
Negative thoughts besieged his mind. The broken shower, the cost of the repairs on Linda’s car; they were only symptoms of his real worries. Half of the office staff had been made redundant already and everyone feared for their job security. He was never going to make the numbers on that report add up. Inevitably he would have to face the music. His stomach gave a rumble reminding him of his half eaten breakfast.
The red and yellow banner of the food stand caught his eye and he ordered a hot dog. Closing his eyes Kevin savoured the intense smoky flavour. He took an even larger bite and dripped ketchup and mustard sauce all down the front of his white shirt. Swearing loudly he began to dab at the stains with the napkin. The hot dog fell from his hand and landed in the dirt. “That’s it. That’s the final straw.” He put his head into his hands and felt like weeping. Instead he forced himself to pick up what had been an appetising hot dog now reduced to a sorry mess. He dropped it into a litter bin.
The dregs of the cold coffee tasted bitter as Kevin pondered his predicament. He could not go back to the office in the stained shirt. Going home to change would take forever. He decided he just wouldn’t go back to the office at all that day. A black cloud of despair began to settle over him as he thought about the Mortgage arrears, the maxed out credit card and the bills with the words FINAL DEMAND in mile high letters on their brown envelopes. The only thing that wasn’t in arrears was his Life Insurance Policy. It was only a fleeting thought but it started to germinate in his mind; darkness began to overwhelm him. Out on the lake the ducks were dipping and diving for scraps of bread.
A blur of pink caught his eye as a little girl with blonde curls ran past him like a whirlwind. The fall of ground gave her a momentum which carried her at once over the edge and into the lake. A woman’s scream rent the air but Kevin focussed on the exact spot in the lake where the child had fallen. Tearing off his jacket, he pulled at one, then another of his shoes and ran into the lake. Soon he was knee deep but still could not see the child. He waded further out scanning the inky water. Panic thumping in his chest, he ducked down and spotted her lying on the bottom. As he lifted her up bright red blood streamed from a cut on her head. Her face was waxen. Back on the bank, Kevin turned the child on her side and she began to cough up the dirty lake water.
“Chloe, Chloe darling please wake up.” The mother cried over and over. Kevin moved aside and grabbed the mobile from his jacket.
“The ambulance is on its way,” he said.
Placing his hand on the woman’s shoulder, a feeling of helplessness began to settle over him. Chloe opened her eyes in response to her mother’s voice but drifted once more into unconsciousness. The distressed woman refused to be calmed. By now a crowd of onlookers had gathered. At last blue flashing lights announced the arrival of the Paramedics. They worked quickly and revived Chloe. Her mother climbed into the ambulance beside her and the yellow and green van disappeared in a welter of wailing sirens.
Kevin stuck his feet into his shoes and watched as muddy water trickled down his legs. He squelched his way to the car park and drove to the hospital as fast as he dared. Scanning the crowded Emergency Room he easily spotted Chloe's mother. He realised that she was an extremely attractive woman, tall and willowly. She paced the area by the double doors and combed her fingers through her long blonde hair. He elbowed his way through the people until he reached her.
“Sorry, I don’t know your name. I’m Kevin. Is there any news of Chloe?”
“Mel”, the woman said as she clasped his hand. They're working on her now.” She nodded in the direction of the double doors.
“Do you mind if I wait with you?”
“No. Not at all. You were marvellous back there. If you hadn’t acted so quickly who knows what would have happened.” Tears pooled in her eyes and spilled onto her cheeks.
“It’s probably just concussion.” Kevin patted Mel’s arm.
“Is there someone I can call for you; Chloe’s Dad maybe?”
A choking sound came from the distressed woman. She spoke through her sobs.
“No, there’s just the two of us. She’s the light of my life. She is my life.”
Fresh tears rolled down her face. Kevin stretched out his arm, cradled her shoulders and let her cry. The doors opened and a nurse invited them to take a seat in the corridor.
“The doctor is still with Chloe. We’ll keep you updated on her progress.”
Time had no meaning now. Every minute could have been an hour. Phones rang and were answered; staff bustled past intent on their duties. Mel and Kevin fell silent. Mel was calmer now but picked at the paper tissue in her hand. White specks floated towards the floor until the tissue was entirely shredded. Kevin got two cups of coffee from the nearby machine and they sipped the vile tasting brew. At last a doctor appeared in front of them and he smiled.
“Chloe is awake and asking for her Mummy. As far as we can tell she hasn’t suffered any lasting damage but we’ll keep her in overnight as a precaution.”
Mel ran ahead of the doctor and Kevin followed slowly. He should go now he thought but he needed to see the little girl for himself. Mel was stroking her daughter’s face and hair as he walked softly up to the room. He stood in the doorway and watched; for the first time since they had met, he became aware of Mel’s stunning beauty as she smiled and laughed. He cleared his throat while at the same time knocking gently on the door.
“Mind if I come in?”
“Of course not. Come and meet my little angel. Chloe, this is the man who jumped into the lake when you fell in. He pulled you out and called the ambulance.”
“Thank you” said Chloe in a small voice. He could feel the tension leaving his body as mother and daughter hugged.
Kevin got up to leave just as the nurse announced that Chloe should get a good night’s sleep.
“I want Mr Bear.” Tears sprouted from the child’s eyes.
“I’ll go get him for you darling. I’ll be back in no time with your pyjamas and your new hairbrush.”
Mel stood to go, kissed her daughter once more and uttered reassurances. In the corridor she stood still.
“I don’t have my car. I’d forgotten. It’s still by the lake.”
“Don’t worry; I’ll drop you off there on my way home. It’s no trouble,” Kevin assured her as she made to object.
As they exited the hospital in the dark, he was oblivious to the crowd of people gathered at the door. He realized that he had totally lost track of time. Scrabbling in a pocket he retrieved his phone. He had switched it off on arrival at the hospital earlier. There were 13 missed calls from Linda. She must be frantic and furious. He wondered how she had managed to collect the kids from school. Pushing his way through the crowd his thoughts were completely focused on his family and the fractious events of the morning.
Kevin and Mel hardly spoke on the journey back to the park, each lost in their own thoughts. Mel was insistent that she get his name and address. She promised to get in touch in a few days with an update on Chloe. Then she started up her jeep and drove off.
As Kevin pulled into the driveway outside his house, he killed the engine, closed his eyes and laid his head back against the head rest. Chloe’s little white face was there behind his eyes. Then it morphed into Amy’s, then John’s. He remembered the look on Linda’s face that morning. He remembered her wet blue eyes. Maybe the office had contacted her. He shook his head remembering his wild thoughts earlier in the day. His hand trembled as he put his key in the lock.
“I’m home.” He called out and two children ran at him and clung to his legs.
“Oh, Daddy, Daddy, you’re famous, you’re famous,” Amy sang out.
“What are you talking about?” He was trying to gauge the look in Linda’s eyes as she entered the hallway. Before she could say anything he jumped ahead with his apologies.
“I’m sorry I’m late but I got delayed and I know I didn’t answer your calls, but…well… it’s a long story.”
“I know, said Linda, “We’ve just seen you on TV. They called you a hero, the brave man who rescued Melanie Marlow’s child from the lake.”
The look of confusion on Kevin’s face prompted her to continue.
“Melanie Marlowe – the Melanie Marlowe – the Supermodel.”
“Oh, is that so.” He let out the breath he had been holding. Amy was tugging at his jacket.
“Are you really a hero, daddy?”
He could hear the wonder in her voice so he squatted down until he was at eye level with his daughter.
“No, sweetheart; I’m no hero but I am a very lucky man. I have you, John and Mum as my family. Who could be luckier than that?”
Lifting her, he stood, tousled John’s hair and whispered to Linda. “So they called me a hero then- and brave?
Linda just smiled at him. “And a bit of a grouch in the morning.”