Johnny came downstairs. It was the COVID pandemic. He was at home with his mum and he had no job. Johnny put the kettle on and put the instant coffee in the mug. He stood there and waited for it to boil; his eyes were barely open, he was barely awake from all that booze last night. His mum—Claire—walked in.



“What you doing today then?” she asked.


The kettle boiled and Johnny poured it in the mug, then he got the milk out of the fridge and poured in a smidge. He took it into the lounge, sat down, and looked at his phone. He didn’t know why he looked at his phone; it was just something he’d got in the habit of doing. There was nothing worth looking at. He scrolled down—“Man Eaten by His Own Dog,” “Earthquake in Japan,” “Secret Basement Party Raided by Police”—he kept looking for some reason. Claire walked in and stood in front of him.

“Have you found a job yet?”


“And why not?”

“They’re all shit.”

Claire walked out all in a huff and Johnny just kept sipping the coffee. Then he finished that coffee and he got up and made another one. He sat back down and decided to look on the website. He scrolled through all the jobs; each one hit him like a death sentence when he read them. Just the thought of having to do those jobs: call centre, construction labourer, KP, recycling operative. It scared the shit out of him. He reached down and gently sipped the hot coffee. There was one—market research (from home)—he clicked on it and applied. He slapped shut the laptop, got his shoes on, took his coat off the hook, and went out the front door. Johnny walked up the road and headed for the centre of town. Check out what’s going on. He walked along the pavement with all the shops and people walking around. It was a good day, sunny and warm. Johnny went around the back of the takeaway place, the alleyway round the back, opened the gate into the yard, and knocked on the door. One of the guys answered. He knew Johnny because he was mates with Mark.

“Y’alright, is Mark there?” Johnny asked.

“Yeh, I’ll get him for you”

Mark came out and offered Johnny a cigarette. Johnny took the cigarette and Mark lit it for him. Then Mark lit his.

“Busy?” Johnny asked.

“Nah, it’s Monday; it’s not bad.”

There was a pause as they both sucked their cigarettes.

“Mum’s getting up my arse again,” Johnny said.

“Yeh? I keep telling you, you can have a delivery driver job here if you want it.”

“Thanks. I think I got something else coming up, though.”

Johnny finished his cig, dropped it to the ground, and crushed it with his foot. He walked back out to the street and Mark went back inside. Johnny tried to think where to go. He couldn’t think of anywhere. He decided to walk back home through the park and walk slowly and think about things. There was a line of old ladies sat at the bus stops leaned over their Zimmer frames. They all watched him walk along the pavement. Across the road, there was a group of kids on their bikes, hoods up, all in black. They watched him go as well. Johnny got to the park and started walking. There were groups of mums walking their prams with kids running round their legs and laughing. Johnny thought about the last time he’d laughed, had a good proper hearty laugh like that. It was when he quit his last job at the hotel and drove home giving everyone the finger. Johnny smiled when he thought of that. He came across a bench and sat down. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his last cigarette, lit up, and sat back. Johnny suddenly had the thought: I’m going to die. He kept thinking it over and over. I’m going to die. He thought about Mark at the takeaway, about his little brother gone away to university, about his mum working at the computer, about people he’d known a couple years ago and who he didn’t know anymore. He sucked down the cigarette and looked at the trees. I’m going to die, I’m going to die.

He didn’t care as long as he could live on his own terms in the meantime. Johnny stood up and flicked his cigarette away. He walked home slowly, waiting for something to happen. That was the thing. Nothing ever happens, he thought. All the years he’d lived here, those same old ladies at the bus stops, those same kids on their bikes, they all just change faces over the years, but they never leave; it’s all going ‘round in a circle. Before he got to the house, he said it very quietly to himself: “I’m going to die.” He felt good after saying it, he felt somehow free. Like something had come loose and he moved around more loosely. He stepped out to cross the road and a car slid to a stop and beeped. Johnny smashed his fist onto the hood of the car and gave the guy the finger, then carried on walking. God, he felt good. That walk did him good. He got in the house and shut the door behind him. He felt his phone buzzing in his pocket. He pulled it out and answered.

“Hello,” Johnny said.

“Hi there, this is Trevor. I understand you applied for a market research job with us?”

“Oh…aah…yeh, that’s right.”

“Do you have some time to talk for a minute?”

“Yes,” Johnny didn’t know why he said that.

“Well, first things first: why do you want the job?”



There was a pause.

“I don’t,” Johnny said finally, and hung up.

Claire came out of the front room.

“Who was that?” she asked.

“No one”

Johnny took his coat off and put it on the hook.


When Johnny woke up, it was dark outside. He looked at his phone: 7pm. The match had finished. He fell asleep watching football. It must’ve been a terrible game. He got up off the sofa and walked to the fridge. There was a beer left over from last night. He pulled it out and cracked it open, then walked back to the sofa. He put some music on his phone while he gulped down the beer, then he wondered what Mark was up to. He called him up. He waited while the phone dialled—BRRRRRRRRP…BRRRRRRRRP. No answer.

Johnny got up and looked at the DVDs that were stacked up under the TV. He picked some out, looked at them, and then put them back. Claire came in and Johnny was crouched down with his back to her.

“You’re gone,” she said.

“What?” Johnny turned around.

“You’re out of this house. I want you gone by the morning.”


“Enough. That’s the end of it.”

Claire walked through to the kitchen and started making something to eat. Johnny turned back and began looking through the DVDs again. He decided they were all crap. He went upstairs to his room and fished out his old rucksack he used to use when he was a kid. The one he took to his dad’s at the weekends. He found it down the side of the bed. It was a big rucksack. He started pulling his clothes out of the drawers and flung them into the bag. He picked up a book from the bedside and put it in there as well; Bartleby the Scrivener (Melville). There was something about that book; he had it everywhere he went, on holidays, to work, to school, it stuck with him. He brought the bag downstairs and left it in the hallway. When he walked into the kitchen, Claire was working with the pots and pans and chopping up potatoes and carrots and things. Johnny saw she was crying, she had tears coming down her cheeks, but her face stayed like stone. Blank. Johnny didn’t really care. He didn’t care about anything anymore, really; he half-expected this would happen sooner or later. He went and sat down at the table, and pretty soon, Claire put the meal in front of him and watched him eat. They both sat there silent until Johnny finished the meal. Then he got up and walked to the hallway where he picked up his bag, Claire following behind, tears still coming. Johnny had his coat on, his shoes on, his bag on…he turned around and kissed his mum on the forehead. Neither of them said a word.

Johnny opened the door and walked out. I’m going to die, he thought again. He turned and walked up the road, smiling.