Wake-Up Call



The phone rang in the hall outside, and Steve rolled over and fell out of the overcrowded single bed with a loud thud.  He swore loudly, extricated himself from the duvet, threw it back onto Maggie, and rubbed a hand over his face to help him wake up.  She turned over and pulled the duvet back into place just as Steve opened the door and grabbed the phone in the hall outside.  He shivered as he realised how cold the hall was, right next to a front door with a gaping hole that the landlord had called the letter-box, and a back door which didn't quite fit.  There was a gale blowing through at thigh level, and Steve was wearing nothing but his underpants.

He grabbed the phone and pulled it back into his room before picking up the handset.  "Hello?"  He found his eyes closing again, and yawned involuntarily.  During his yawn he managed to miss whatever the man at the other end of the phone said.

"Sorry, what was that?" he asked, trying desperately not to yawn again.

"Stephen, is that you?" came his father's voice.

Steve shut his eyes tightly and took a couple of deep breaths.  He looked at the radio alarm clock by the side of his bed.  It was eighty-thirty.  Eight-thirty on a Saturday morning.  He took another deep breath and said "Yes, father."

"I didn't wake you, did I?  It is eight-thirty, you know."

"Yes, father.  I mean, no, you didn't.  I was just..."  He paused, trying hard to get his brain into gear.  "...in the bathroom.  I had to run to get to the phone."  Steve thought back to the party the night before, which had only ended at three.  After that he had returned with Maggie, and they'd been awake until five, or sometime around there.

"Good.  Well, I was just ringing to let you know that your mother and I will be coming over today on our way up to see your sister.  We thought it would be nice for you to have us stop by."

Steve thought for a moment before remembering the response his father wanted.  "Yes, that would be great."

"Good.  We'll see you at ten, then.  Bye."

"Bye" said Steve, putting the phone down, wondering why he hadn't had the presence of mind to lie and say that he was busy.  He remained, sitting on the floor with the phone on his lap, for a minute or so, still trying to wake up.  Maggie turned over again, flinging an arm over the edge of the bed.  The arm moved about slightly, and she made a confused sound before opening one eye.  She raised her head an inch off the pillow, flicked her head back so her long black curls fell behind her face, and squinted at Steve.  He made a kissing movement with his mouth, and she smiled.  She dropped back onto the pillow and stretched out a hand, inviting him to return.  He stood up and then remembered the phone in his hand.  He looked down at it, and then around the room.  There was half of Maggie's wardrobe strewn around, her notes for the last couple of courses, during the time they had been together, and Maggie herself.  Steve woke up instantly.

"Maggie, you've got to get up!" he said, suddenly frightened that his father would discover how he had been living.

"What?" she said, still half asleep.  Her hand, which had been held up and out, flopped down onto the bed again and quickly withdrew under the duvet.  Maggie was quite short and could stretch out and still remain fully covered by a single-bed duvet; an ability of which Steve was extremely envious, especially in a room like his where the gas heater was set to "Oven" or "No effect" only.

"Come on, Maggie.  You've got to get up."  When Maggie showed no sign of agreeing with him, he continued in a plaintive, moaning voice "Please."

She threw the duvet down and looked out at him.  "You're still going to deny that we're sleeping together, aren't you?"  She frowned.  She slithered up and sat up at the end of the bed, resting against the wall.  She folded her arms on top of the duvet.  Steve looked down at her bare freckled shoulders, and then looked up again at her frowning face.

"Maggie." he moaned again, like a young child trying to convince his mother that she's being unreasonable.

"Steve." she replied, suddenly becoming serious.  "When are you going to tell him?"

"Not today.  Oh, come on, Maggie.  We've only got an hour and a half."

"You've only got an hour and a half, you mean.  You want me out, I'll get out, but I'm not going to sit here and hold your hand while you wait for him."  She leant over the edge of the bed, hair streaming down to the floor, as she searched around for her clothing.  She found a couple of bits and quickly pulled them on.  Steve watched, until Maggie looked over at him.  "But you've got time enough to gawk, have you?"

Steve walked over and put the phone back on its little cabinet out in the hall, and then found his jeans and pulled them on.  He grabbed a new T-shirt from the chair where he'd dumped his clean washing the week before, and searched around for a couple of socks.  He sighed as for the first time he realised the mess he'd been living in.

Maggie got up, grabbed her jeans from the floor, and struggled with them for a few moments before finally getting them on and zipped up.  She grabbed her trainers, a sock neatly inside each one, and put them on.  She was breathing heavily, and Steve knew better than to say anything to her.

He finished dressing, and looked around the room to find somewhere to begin.  He had just decided to start by gathering up all the dirty clothes and putting them in a black bin-bag when Maggie stood up and walked towards the door.  "Bye, Steve." she said.

"But... hang on, Maggie."  He walked over to at least give her a kiss, but she opened the door and walked resolutely out into the hall.

Steve caught up with her just as she was opening the front door, and put a hand round her.  She didn't respond, and she moved her face away as he tried to kiss her.  He released her, and she walked off down the path, heading back to her little red Fiesta, which was covered in ice.  Steve felt like offering her a hand scraping it, but neither felt his offer would be accepted nor believed that he had the time.  He shut the door, feeling suddenly very depressed, and decided to go to the kitchen and put the kettle on so that he could at least have a cup of tea to help him wake up.


An hour later Steve was sitting, exhausted, on the bed in a room almost completely dissimilar to the one in which he had woken up.  Maggie's stuff was all hidden in a cupboard above the wardrobe, his washing was in bags in the cupboard, although he wasn't absolutely sure that he'd separated the clean from the dirty completely.  The room had been vacuumed, despite the groans from the other rooms in the house, and Steve had moved a kettle into his room so that his parents, who fortunately always had their tea black, would not need to see the kitchen.


The doorbell rang, loudly, and Steve suddenly leapt out of the chair, unsure whether he had been asleep or not.  He ran out into the hall and opened the door.  His parents were standing, side by side, outside the door.  For some reason Steve's first reaction was to look down and check that his jeans were done up properly.  "Morning, son."

"G'morning, father" he said, suddenly aware of a really strange taste in his mouth that he always got when he slept during the day.  He leant against the door and felt a compelling desire to fall asleep again.

"May we come in?" asked his mother, stepping forwards slightly and squinting at her son.  "Are you alright?"

"Yes, fine.  Just a little tired, that's all.  Yes, come in."  He stood aside and motioned for them to go through into his bedroom.  They walked through and stood awkwardly in the centre of the room, waiting for guidance as to what could legitimately be called a chair.

"Sit down," said Steve, pointing at a couple of strangely bent pieces of black metal which were the only pieces of furniture he'd ever bought.  His parents sat down and sat with their knees together and their hands folded on their laps, and their backs straight, and Steve's slump back onto the bed made him feel very uncomfortable.  He took the excuse of making some tea to get up again and move about.  When he sat down he sat on the edge of the bed with his back straight for a few moments before he slumped back again.

His mother talked for half an hour without respite about the state of the rest of the family, and about what she and 'your father' used to do when they were at University, and a few other topics that Steve paid little attention to.  As they were finishing their second cup of tea and Steve was just becoming paranoid about the state of the bathroom should either of them wish to use it, the doorbell rang again.

"Excuse me," he said, and slipped out of the room.

He opened the door and Maggie stepped past him.  "Mind if I come in?" she asked, walking into his room.  "Oh, hello," she said to his parents, walking straight into his bedroom.  "You must be Stephen's parents.  He's said so much about you."

"Oh, God," said Steve quietly, and then silently asked God for forgiveness for his blasphemy.  As he stood with the door open he wanted to run out of the house and hide.  He heard Maggie sit down and begin chatting with his parents.  He took a deep breath and walked back into the room.

They were discussing a small village in the north of Scotland.  Steve was left out for the next fifteen minutes as they compared notes on several places to spend a week.  Eventually Maggie turned to him, winked, and said "So, have you got my notes you borrowed?  I need them for some work today."

He thought about what notes she meant, and then remembered that they were near the back of the cupboard which also contained most of her clothing.  She stared at him as he looked, appealing, back at her.  "Can I get them for you in a few minutes?  I'll have to look around for them."

"Oh, don't let us detain you," interrupted his father.  "We've imposed upon you for long enough.  We'd better be getting along now.  Very nice to have met you, Margaret."

His mother also said how nice it had been to meet her, and she came to the door with Steve to show them out.  As he was standing at the front door seeing them off he felt her right hand in his back pocket.  He shuddered slightly and wondered whether his parents could see.  It was the first time her equivalent of an arm round him had made him afraid rather than secure.

His parents drove off, and he shut the door and turned to Maggie.  She withdrew her hand, turned round, and walked back into the room.  "Don't mind if I find those notes, do you?"

"What was that all about?" he asked, trying hard to turn serious.

"All that what?  Oh, that.  Well, I went on holiday up in Fife a few years ago, and your parents took you when you were little..."

"Not that," he said, getting genuinely angry.  "You turning up here.  You knew my parents were going to be here."


"So I don't want them to know."

"I'd noticed."  She turned again and started rifling through the cupboard.  She grabbed a couple of things and put them in a carrier bag she took out of her pocket.  "Nice to be appreciated."

"Come on, Maggie.  It's not that.  It's just that they wouldn't understand."

"You've tried, have you?"

"That's not the point.  They don't like that sort of thing."

"They didn't mind with your sister when she was living with Pete before they got married."

"That was different."

"I realise.  Pete was the rich son of an aristocrat.  Not an engineer from Glasgow."

"Maggie, that's not the point at all.  I just don't want to..."  He paused, trying to work out a way of saying what he had to say without making things worse.

"You don't want to tell them and let them realise that you're not the little boy they packed off to University two years ago.  You don't want to stand up to them and live your own life.  What are you going to do at the end of the year, Steve?  Are you going to go back home and live with them again?  Are you going to let them control your life for the next ten - twenty years?"

"No!" he said, suddenly realising that was exactly what he had, without thinking, expected to do.

"Well tell them.  You don't agree with them.  You don't share their beliefs.  If they never speak to you again because of that, they weren't worth talking to."

"It's not that simple."

"No, Steve, it is that simple.  It's you that's making it complicated."

"Maggie, please.  I can't tell them.  It's not the right time."

"Well perhaps I'd better leave until you find the right time.  Or the right girl."

She walked past him and out of the house.  He put a hand over his face and wanted to sit down and cry.  He heard the door slam, and there was a groan from the next room as Andrew, who lived upstairs, was woken up by the noise.


Steve ran out into the street and shouted after her.  "Maggie!  Stop!"

She was at the bus stop at the top of the street, and was just about to get on.  He ran up and stood with one foot on the bus and the other off.  She walked to the back of the bus.  He fumbled about and found some change, only then remembering that he'd forgotten his key.  He paid the standard maximum fare, which at the time was 45p, and the bus driver shut the doors and the bus started to move about.  Steve stumbled along the bus, and sat opposite Maggie.

"Maggie.  I need you.  Don't go."

"Then tell him."

"Alright.  I'll tell him," he said, his eyes shut.  He felt her hands slipping behind his neck, and she pulled him forwards and kissed him on the forehead.


He looked up at her.  "Where is this bus going, anyway?"