What's 70p Between Friends?

by Steven Davenport

"How long are we gonna be d'ya think?"

"Not long. I'm not staying in this craphole any longer than I have to."

Debbie sighed as she unbuckled her seatbelt. It flew back into it's place, and the plastic hit the plastic of the holder with a clunk that was unheard by everyone but Debbie. Her parents were about to argue again, the telltale signs were starting to creep in. Her father had a vein showing in his neck, and was turning a rather amusing shade of puce. Her mother had brushed her hair away from her face, as if to get a better look at her opponent. The most amusing thing, however, was that they weren't aware that they were going to argue yet. Dad maybe, but mum was definitely unaware. She was getting prepared subconsciously, but as of yet, Debbie could see she had no idea that the question of how long their day excursion to York was going to last was set to turn into yet another raging argument.

"What do you say to four hours?" Mum asked innocently

"I say fuck off!" Dad yelled back. "I'm not staying in your goddamned town that long!"

"Well no, but to be safe" Mum pleaded back, realising far too late that this was about to become a major incident.

"If we take four hours, it'll cost us an extra 70p!"

"Oh come on!" Mum groaned, forgetting all about avoiding the argument, and suddenly determined to win. "Are you seriously that tight? What's 70p between friends?"

"I'm not made of money. It isn't just this 70p is it? 'What's 70p in the car park?' 'What's 2 for the more expensive meal?' 'What's 10 for some crappy art thing I didn't want to see?' Why don't you pay, then we'll see how much of the extra shit you pay for!"

Debbie slammed the door of the car, and sighed a second time, unseen to either of her parents, who were entwined in the fury of their pointless argument. As ever it had progressed to money. Every argument, it seemed, was rooted in money. How was it she had heard it put? 'Money makes the world go round, but love makes it worth the ride.' A sentiment that Debbie would echo completely. Her parents, it seemed, were only halfway there. The one thing Debbie had observed (with gratitude, but little surprise if she was honest) is that the arguments had never been about her. She supposed this related to the fact that the only reason she could imagine that the marriage was still running was for her benefit. If she had the bravery, she'd tell them to stop kidding themselves and get the damn divorce already. They all knew it was coming, whether they wanted to admit it or not. Debbie was fifteen now, and she felt sure that the constant arguments were doing more mental damage to her, and her parents for that matter, than the stress of a divorce ever could.

She leaned against the car gently, and waited for the argument to end in Dad's favour, as it inevitably would, and they invariably did. Then they would put the money in the machine for a three hour stop in York, and go away.

Standing at a dainty five feet one, with long pale brown hair, and brown eyes that seemed to want to twinkle, but gave instead only a dull glow, Debbie looked to be a very boring, average girl, at first glance. But on closer inspection the pretty girl under the surface could almost be seen, pulsing, pushing, desperate to force its way out, and stamp her own stunning attractiveness onto Debbie. Perhaps, one day, when the inevitable divorce out of the way, and a single parent future well and truly sealed for Debbie, she might see her way to releasing this beautiful girl upon the world, which would doubtless be a better place for her. But for now she was perfectly happy to be dull, boring, Debbie, the lass who you wouldn't look twice at in a crowd.

On the surface at least.

The decision had been made, and as predicted, they had decided against the spending of the extra 70p. Darling mother had grudgingly accepted that decision (With the obligatory "If we get a fucking parking ticket, don't you go crying to me!" of course.) They wandered off to find something to do. This lack of forward planning while on holiday was probably the one thing that annoyed Debbie nearly as much as the arguments, and was another thing she had learned to accept with quiet contentment (she could at least take consolation in the fact that she had more common sense than both of her parents combined.) What annoyed her further was that the lack of planning would invariably lead to another argument, when they couldn't find anything to eat, or anywhere with space to accommodate their needs. And already they were starting to reach that stage. Predictable as hell, Dad had once again pushed nothing into an argument, with almost determined rage. Debbie used to be scared of him when he became so desperate to argue. She grew older, and wiser however, and now she was merely bored by the antics which apparently still held some kind of pointless pleasure for her father.

"Come on you dozy cow! It was your idea to come to this meaningless little town, think of something do!"

"Can't we just walk around and admire the scenery a little?"

"Well we could" Dad began, surprisingly calm. Debbie let out another little sigh, in a spooky tandem with her mother. They both knew what was about to come. "But we've been doing that for an hour and a half!" he exploded. Debbie stifled a snigger at the colour he was beginning to turn. She knew full well that turning that shade of red wasn't healthy, and the only thing that would prevent a heart attack within the next ten years, was an end to the arguments. She didn't need to waste her time with a doctor to know that the real prescription would be a good dose of divorce, taken as quickly as possible.

"Fine" Mum responded, in contrasting calmness that would have impressed Debbie, had she not known that the sole target of it was to enrage Dad further. And, regular as clockwork, it worked a treat. The puce colour on dad's face darkened, and he screamed again, this time sending sharp glances his way from all passers by. "FIND ME SOMETHING TO FUCKING DO THEN!"

A child nearby, no more than three, probably a young boy though it was still at the age when it was tough to tell for sure, began to bawl at he top of his (or her) lungs. The noise was nothing to the scream of Debbie's father moments before, but still upset Debbie deeply. When their parents upset passers by it was the only time Debbie allowed herself to get upset about their antics. She had no doubt that he arguments were doing some kind of deep seated mental harm to her, or would do if they continued much longer, but for now at least, they only really affected her when they affected other people.

The mother of the child shot Dad such a dirt look that for a moment Debbie was sure the piercing glare would bring the two together, and that the mother would turn violent on him. The glare quickly petered out, and some fear entered her eyes instead. She gave the child a sharp tug on the wrist, and hurried him (or her) on their way. Debbie imagined that she was (rather wisely) deciding to move along and leave this moron to it. He'll be dead in a few years anyway, Debbie could almost hear the mother thinking, just look at the shade of him. Rush, rush, rush, I've got a heart attack due in five years time, and I want to annoy as many people as I can before it arrives.

"Ooh look." Mum said with false enthusiasm, pointing at a board advertising boat trips. "How about a nice boat ride up the river Ouse?" Debbie braced herself. She felt a sudden, and mercifully brief, pang of disgrace in her mother. She couldn't care a toss about a boat ride, Debbie knew that, Dad knew that, Mum knew that. Hell it was so obvious the woman with the small child could probably tell that. Mum just knew that Dad would absolutely hate the idea. And for a moment, just a moment, Debbie became convinced that Mum was deliberately trying to drive Dad to a heart attack. Murderer. One word, and she hated herself for even thinking it. She'd accused, all be it in her head, her mother of attempting to deliberately kill her father, and that was unfair.

Probably.

To Debbie's surprise, and she guessed Mum's as well, Dad had suddenly turned back to a normal (or at least healthy) shade, and accepted without any trouble. And so they walked down to the river, and found the trip which left in ten minutes time. They went to get on, and a young pretty blonde lady asked them how many they wanted on.

"Two adults and a child" Mum said pleasantly. The lady, who was dressed in a kind of red uniform, began to note down what mum had said on her clipboard, and she glanced up.

"How old is she?" the lady asked, pointing her pen, a red biro, at Debbie dismissively for a moment.

"Fourteen" Dad lied quickly, cutting Mum off before she could answer with the truth. Debbie knew why immediately, on the board they had first seen the boat advertised on, as well as the one they had passed on their way along the river to where the boat was, the age of a child was advertised as three to fourteen inclusive. And an adult cost an additional two pounds.

The lady gave Debbie a final, suspicious glance, before nodding, apparently convinced (or at least deciding she couldn't be bothered to argue) and noted some more down on her clipboard. Debbie wondered briefly what exactly she was writing, and then dismissed the thought, deciding she didn't really care. As they got onto the boat, paying the lady as they did, Mum whispered something to dad, which evaded Debbie's hearing, but she presumed it would be something to do with how Dad had lied to save some money. Dad whispered something back, which again Debbie missed, but presumed it would be along the lines of "I'm not made of fucking money!"

Debbie rolled her eyes, and considered her parents for a moment. Both short, like Debbie herself, her father rather round around the stomach (the years of unhealthy eating and boozing taking their toll) and balding (the years of arguing taking their toll.) In contrast her mother was still very pretty, with twinkling eyes, and shoulder length blonde hair. If they were to divorce, Debbie was into no doubt as to who would find it easier getting a new partner. She hurried to catch them up.

Debbie took her seat on the boat, at the left hand side of the upper deck. The boat was quite impressive, consisting of an upper deck, which was nice in the warm august weather, and a lower deck, which was probably over warm, but contained a bar. The Boat was red all over, matching the foul colour of the uniform the lady who greeted them wore. From the top deck however, the colour of the boat wasn't visible, and so it wasn't bothering Debbie too much. They set off, and Debbie looked over the side. The ripples in the water turned the reflections of the buildings on the banks into unusual looking hybrids. Bits of building seemed to come detached and float along separately to the rest of the building. Soon they were past the buildings, and the trees did similar things. Torpedoes of tree reflection ran parallel to the boat, before melting into the whole overstretched reflection, and new torpedoes formed. Debbie watched this with something approaching awe until the boat stopped to turn around, then watched it all the way until the buildings started again. Back in the town some rowdy teenagers yelled abuse at them from the banks, and were ignored by everyone on board. Chances are these were local kids, whose abuse was ignored on a daily basis. Quite why they didn't learn was beyond Debbie. Soon they had once again left the buildings, and the trees were again being dissected by the ripples of the boat. They went along, before turning again, the "cruise" having been going for over an hour by this point, before Debbie finally got bored with looking at the reflections. She thought about listening to her parents bicker, as they had been doing almost non stop since they got onto the boat. She decided against that, on the basis that she could do it whenever she wanted. Nothing else to do then, she went back to enjoying the dissected reflections until the boat arrived back at the start point.

The three of them left the boat, looking (but not feeling, at least in Debbie's case) thoroughly bored.

"That was nice wasn't it?" Debbie said cheerfully.

"Bollocks was it. Total needless shite if you ask me." Dad responded gruffly.

"Oh stop it you miserable git. Why don't you just fuck off. Fuck off back home to mummy." Mum cut in tartly. Debbie winced immediately. She understood that mention of Grandma, at home with an incurable cancer, had crossed a line that she never imagined would be crossed. Dad went beyond puce immediately. "Oh Jesus, honey, I'm sorry, I forgot." She cried out, and Debbie felt sorry for her. The line had been crossed, but Debbie believed that it had been crossed innocuously, as part of the general argument.

Such logic would have been lost on Dad had Debbie attempted to vocalise it, as were the pleas of Mum. He looked for a moment as if he may just explode there, in a shower of blood, brains and flesh. Instead he tried to calm himself down. He failed.

"SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT MY MOTHER BITCH!" He cried, his face getting closer to purple. He swung his arm, and hit Mum around the face with a semi-clenched fist. Debbie looked on with shock. Yet another line had been crossed. Debbie was disgusted by what just happened, but she was also encouraged, in a way. There was no way they could avoid the divorce now.

Mum screamed, and staggered back, but stayed determinedly on her feet. She put her hand to her nose, and saw blood on it. This time it was Dad's turn to apologise.

"Oh my god. Baby, I'm so sorry" He said, in an almost pleading voice.

"Shove it." Mum said, and flew at him like a runner exploding out of the starting blocks. She shoved him hard with both hands, and he flew backwards, the base of his spine hitting the bar that prevented young children falling into the river with a sickening crack. He toppled backwards over it, and his neck hit the brickwork with another crack. He fell down, in slow motion. Debbie couldn't believe what she was seeing. It was as if she'd accidentally wandered into a move halfway through. She saw and felt herself rush to the edge, but she didn't think she was actually doing it. She thought she was watching herself do it, from outside of her body. What she saw was her father sinking to the bottom of the river, making no attempt to swim. That didn't surprise her, but she let out a startled cry anyway. He sank down, and the world seemed to haze over. Debbie felt as if she was not only watching herself as an inactive third party, but was doing so through lightly frosted glass.

Debbie and her mother watched in silence for a moment, the situation having got the better of them. The passers by began to mill around, none of them breaking the silence. For a few moments the atmosphere was filled with a glassy silence, as Dad sank out of the view, and into the murky depths of the river. Suddenly the silence was shattered, as a passer by broke into action.

"Oh God, She's killed him!"

That broke everyone into a panic. Some of the people who had taken to milling about the area ran in a blind panic, apparently terrified that this strange woman was ready to kill them all. Maybe she had a knife, or even better a gun, strapped away in the little black handbag she's carrying. Some of the more sane looking people were scrabbling at mobile phones, trying to alert the emergency services to the incident. More still kept their glassy silence, apparently unaffected by the panic around them.

Mum, the instinctive illogical part of her brain apparently taking hold, decided this would be a good take to make a run for it. She grabbed Debbie's wrist with no warning, and began to run. Debbie was dragged away from the side, and felt herself pushed back into her body. She no longer felt as if she was observing from outside. She was inside. She was involved. This was her, just as much as it was Mum, and Dad, and the passers by on the street. This was her just as much as the idiots who ran away, and the lesser idiots, who all phoned the emergency services. Actually it was much more her then them.

"Stop them! They're getting away!" one of the assorted idiots yelled melodramatically.

The cobbled streets Bounced underneath Debbie's feet as she tried in vain to match her mother's stride. If it wasn't for the strength of her mother's grip she would have fallen on more than one occasion. But she didn't concentrate on where they were going. If she had done so, she would have noticed that they were running in circles. She saw the cobbles bounce by, and she began to hear the screaming sirens of the ambulance, and the police cars, and for a moment she spotted a police car speed by them, not giving them a second glance. It was at that moment Debbie realised they'd been running for about fifteen minutes, without really finding out where they were going.

But Debbie was too busy thinking. This was her fault. Hers. She had been the one to start off the conversation. "That was nice" What in the fuck had she been thinking? If she hadn't said it, maybe Dad would still be alive. He might still be anyway, she couldn't be sure he'd died. But nobody tried to help him. Why did nobody try to help him?

"NOBODY!" Debbie cried in anguish. She was ignored. Nobody cared. She was just another screaming child in the town. Just another annoying screaming kid, albeit one that was terribly overgrown. People just got on with their shopping as usual.

As they left the cobbled streets, and ran along a road that Debbie recognised as being the way back to where the car was parked, Debbie thought as something else. In her mind she'd as good as accused her Mum of being a murderer. Now she was. What if her thoughts had made Mum a murderer? What if Mum had felt the thought, and acted upon it?

Debbie tried to dismiss the thought as ridiculous, which of course it was. But it wouldn't go. It stayed, a barbed thought that refused to leave her head. She didn't believe it was true, she didn't believe it could be true. But still it stayed, nagging away at her.

Suddenly Debbie recognised the yellow machines, and red and white bars, which marked the entrance to the car park. They had made it back. They'd get out of here, make it out of the country somehow, and they'd begin a new life. It was all going to be okay.

Mum suddenly released her grip on Debbie's wrist, again with no warning, and Debbie stumbled forward. She felt her ankle twist slightly underneath her, and a sharp shooting pain shot up her leg, but she stayed on her feet. Mum kept on running, and ran behind some cars out of sight, and Debbie limped after her.

As she caught up, just next to the car, Debbie saw that mum was laying on the floor laughing. Bemused at this, an extra twist after everything else that had happened, she limped up alongside her, and stooped down.

"Luh-luh-look" Mum forced out, pointing in the direction of the car, now in fits of ridiculous laughter. Debbie looked, and broke down into gales of her own whooping laughter.

They hugged each other, tears of laughter streaming down their face. The sound of a siren could still be heard in the background. Thoughts of escape had left their minds. They would stay her until the police found them. And if they didn't find them, then they would go to the station so that Mum could give herself up. Debbie realised that she didn't care. And she didn't care what was going to happen to her. Every time the laughter started to subside, they looked up at the car, and they would break down into tears once more. Numerous people gave them funny stares as they walked past, but neither of them cared a toss.

Fluttering slightly in the wind, there was a small yellow piece of paper on their windscreen.

They had been given a parking ticket.

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