The thirty-eight seconds it took the elevator to glide to the penthouse was always the worst part of Paul’s day. He furled his fingers around the Ferrari key fob in his palm, clutching it so tightly the metal cut into his soft flesh. It was here, in the cold tin box, under the harsh white light, he felt the most exposed. He held his breath and didn’t release it again until he’d slid his key into his front door. Home. His castle. Of course it was still here. Still his.
Citrus assaulted Paul’s nostrils; the cleaner had been. He slipped off his Italian leather shoes and placed them on the rack inside the cloakroom. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place,’ his mum used to say. She’d be amazed if she could see his house, or perhaps horrified, ‘all this space for one person’ she’d shake her head. The thought of her disapproval made the furrows in Paul’s brow deepen, and he strode across his white pile carpet and took the stairs two at a time.
The wardrobe mirrors sparkled but there was a smear in the bottom left corner and Paul tutted as he wiped it with his tie. He’d ring the agency on Monday. Request a new girl. Insist on an English one this time who could read the manual he’d written. There was no excuse for sloppiness.
He shrugged off his jacket and pulled a padded hanger from the rail. ‘You can always tell a man by the cut of his suit’ his dad said. As if he knew. He’d only had one good suit, ‘for weddings, funerals or court’ and that came from Oxfam. Not like Paul. He surveyed the monochromatic rainbow in front of him, Armani, Hugo Boss, and wondered what his dad would say. If he’d be proud?
His parents had crept into his thoughts a lot the past few weeks. Paul found it discomfiting. It wasn’t that he missed them exactly but he wished they could have seen his success. You could have fitted their whole house into his kitchen. Paul grew angry when he remembered sharing a bedroom, sharing a bed with the brother he no longer spoke to, but he was never quite sure who he was angry with. His idiot brother had repeated his parents mistakes. A tiny terraced house and grubby children who clamoured for attention, sucking the life from their mother who huffed and sighed but pretended she was happy, despite the purple smudges under her eyes. Paul had visited once – he shuddered – never again.
Downstairs, Paul rang his favourite restaurant. They didn’t do home deliveries as a rule but for him they made an exception There hadn’t been time for lunch. He wanted something quick. Quality food. Not the hotdogs his mum used to serve night after night. He’d huddled next to his brother in front of the one bar fire, the smell of gas battling with fried onions, hoping there had been enough money for ketchup. Paul vowed he’d never eat a hotdog again but an image flickered across his mind of staring up at the inky sky as fireworks exploded – red, blue, gold – and Paul remembered the grease dripping down his chin as he bit into the sausage, the sharpness of the mustard, and tears sprang to his eyes. He rubbed them away and fidgeted on the leather sofa he’d chosen for looks rather than comfort.
All this emotion. It was most unlike him. He needed a holiday. He was working too hard. His laptop whirred to life and he searched for The Caribbean. An image popped up of a family on the beach, Mum lying on an orange towel reading, Dad playing cricket with two laughing, freckled children as the aquamarine sea lapped at the golden sand behind them. Paul felt a pang of something but he wasn’t sure what. He was happy wasn’t he? Look at his life. Look at all his things.
The doorbell rang. His meal was here. Paul sat at the polished oak table that seated eighteen, seventeen of the chairs he had never used, and, like every other night, began to eat his dinner alone.
As ever, constructive criticism is welcome, particularly this week as this is the first time I have ever written in third person and it felt rather strange! This piece was written for Streams of Consciousness Saturday. Write what you feel following a prompt and post, No editing allowed. This week’s prompt was the words ‘stuff.’