[Flashback Week] The Air That I Breathe


It was retro-week on Snazz Fm and, from its picnic blanket perch, a tinny radio issued the dreamy intro to The Air That I Breathe by 20th Century popsters The Hollies.

If I could make a wish, I think I’d pass. Can’t think of anything I need…

She grinned, beyond her large, white-rimmed shades, scooping a handful of chocolate hair away from the breeze, so as to better examine her husband.
“You know, Al,” she gleamed, mischief evident despite the obscured eyes, “you’re getting pudgy.”
The object of her accusation squinted. He said nothing, just lie on his checked nest and ran an idle gaze over her features. Her teeth were as white as the clean edges of her glasses. Gods she was beautiful.

At the lack of verbal response, the woman’s grin slid into an affectionate smirk. “Hmm?” She prompted.
Alex finally offered his verdict. “I bloody am not ‘getting pudgy’.”
“Oh really?” She reached over, and squidged a small portion of slightly softened belly.
“Oi!” He sat up. “I’m coming out in sympathy with you.” He brought a gentle hand to rest on her floral dress, affectionately rubbing the bump beneath.
She chuckled. “It’s ‘cause you’re happy…”

Al winked at his wife then turned to the littl’un.
“Bingle!” The teeny little boy announced, pointing at their newly acquired dog. It was digging nearby, sending showers of earth into the air.
“No darlin’, ‘Beagle’.”
The little one giggled irresistibly, causing Al to laugh, himself.
“Bossy ain’t ya?” Alex rolled onto his back and held the boy aloft, inducing more giggles. “Y’get that from your mother.”
“I’m right here!” She whacked his leg.
“Bingle Bingle Bingle!”
Al slid his eyes to Jess, mid-bub-bounce. “Is he naming him?”
She shrugged and finished a mouthful of sandwich. “Think he might be.”
“All right little man,” Al looked into his son’s dark blue eyes. “Bingle it is.”

As if on cue, the muddy dog bounded up the hill and into the family’s carefully set out picnic. There were paws, scotch eggs, and giggles everywhere.
“BINGLE!” Alex complained, trying out the pup’s name. Its answer was to flomp over and lick his face.

Once order was restored, the little one fell asleep on Al’s chest, and the pup snuggled into his side. He looked up at Jessica who was biting her lip.

She lie down next to him and took his hand. They gazed at the sky and, as they listened to puppy snores, Alex decided he didn’t want anything to change, ever.


His face was downcast. “I love you.”
“Then why do you keep doing this!?”
“…” His voice was so quiet she couldn’t hear it.
“… I don’t know.”
“You’re pathetic.”
He nodded his agreement.

After a while he got up. “Want a cup of tea?”
Jessica’s eyes narrowed. “No I do not ‘want a cup of tea’” she spat, mimicking his voice.
“Bloody hell, Alex. You think that’s it? You think you can just shrug, pout a bit and it’s all okay?”
He stared, not knowing what to say.
“WELL!?” She screeched.
“Don’t tell me to shh, you d*ck.”
He winced at the barbed sentence. “Darlin’” he tried softly “… the kids.”
“I am NOT your darling.”
He sat back down and wrapped his arms around her. “Yes, you are.”
She dug her nails in. “Get off!”
“No. You don’t want me to.”
“I do want you to.”
He kissed her neck. “No, you don’t.”
Instead of melting into his embrace, she smacked at his head.
“Whoa, whoa, okay, okay.” He let her go and moved up the sofa, giving her some room.
“People who love each other don’t do what you do. With SLAGS!” She yelled the last word.
“Jess, please, I only just got Jada off to sleep.”
“I don’t care!”
“Fucksake” he mumbled, massaging his face. “... They don’t mean anything.”
“How would you like it if I went out and shagged half the town?” A sneer. She seemed ugly when so scornful. He grimaced at the raised syllable.
“As long as you did it quietly...”

She got to her feet. “I’m going to my parents'.”
“Please Jess, I’m so sorry.” He followed her to the kitchen. “… Please.”
“Just p*ss off Alex. I hate you.”
He was taken aback. Ow. “You don’t.”
She snorted.
“You love me…”
She snatched the fruit bowl from the counter and hurled it at him. It exploded against the wall sending glass and fruit everywhere. “How’s that for love?” The enraged woman began throwing plates and cups.
“Jessica, stop it.”
The baby monitor burst into life, Seren was sobbing.
Alex shielded himself with an arm as a mug narrowly missed his head. “That’s ENOUGH.”

Jess crunched over the broken crockery towards him, brandishing a shard of plate, shaking.
Alex held up a calming hand. “Hey, c'mon, it’s gonna be okay.”
He nodded.
“Liar!” She lurched at him, slashing the sharp segment through his white t shirt and the taut skin over his ribs.

She ran out, leaving her husband bleeding, and two tiny infants crying their hearts out.


Alex treated the wound and settled the children back to sleep, forcing himself to be calm and happy, solid and reassuring. He wasn’t going to let that crazy cow mess them up.
Once they were asleep he cleared up the mess. Then he comforted himself, with a few Jack Daniels and Cokes. After four, he ditched the Coke.


Several days later Jess still hadn’t returned. He’d tried calling but her parents blocked his attempts. It was no good trying to email, Jess didn’t ‘do’ emails and she’d told him the way he wrote was ‘retarded’ anyway. She had no idea of his literacy struggles, or the fact that he relied on computers and devices. He even got a weekly paper delivered, and would pretend to read it over Saturday breakfast.

The bell went, bringing him back to the room. It was Saturday today.

“Hello Mr Solvey.” The blonde girl beamed at him. “Here’s your paper.”
“Its, uh, Solvay.”
“Sorry Mr Solvay.”
“S’okay. Thanks.” He took it and began to close the door, but she piped up again.
“Your wife normally answers...”
“Oh, yeh, tip.” He rummaged in his dressing gown pocket for a dollarpound, there was only lint. “Sorry love, ain’t got any change. I’ll get some.”
He padded back into the house and grabbed a coin. He started, to see the girl had followed him, and was examining a photo.
“Your kids are gorgeous.”
Alex smiled. “Yeh. They are. ‘Ere’yare.” He offered the coin.

She made no attempt to leave.

Alex shifted uncomfortably. “Uh, don’t you have papers to deliver?”
Her eyes drifted, and he self-consciously snapped his dressing gown closed.
“Can I meet them?”
He cleared his throat oddly. “Who?”
“The kids?”
He frowned. “Why?”
“I babysit. Thought maybe you might like my help.”
“Ah. Thanks. They’re at my dad’s today.”
She nodded. “You want my number?”
It was a loaded question. Alex scrutinised her for a moment. “… Yeh.”

As she slid the scrap of paper along the counter she put her hand on his. “I’m not surprised your kids’re gorgeous…”
He swallowed.
Jess had said “I don’t know why sluts want you anyway, you’re not even that good looking.”
Instead of pushing the hand away, like he should, he let it rest awhile.
“How old are you?” He asked, finally.
“Nearly seventeen.”
He turned his hand over and closed it around hers.


Several years, affairs, and drunken goings on, later.

“Daddy, daddeeheyy.” The two tiny voices mingled in a tangle of sorrow like nothing Alex had ever heard.
He kneeled before them, the loves of his life, fighting tears which screamed to escape but would disturb the little ones if they did. “I am so sorry.” He could barely speak.
He glanced at the cruel reason for his departure. She was breaking his heart out of some kind of sick, selfish revenge. She sneered down, smug, enjoying his pain.

He pulled the kids into the most painful cuddle of his life. He’d rather break his collarbone than this acid covered spanner wrenching at his guts.
“Haven’t you got a shuttle to catch?” Jessica barked.
He sat back, quickly wiping his eyes with his sleeve. “Yeh.”

“Gaggy, peease down’t go.”
Oh Gods, Jada.
He cleared his throat and took their hands.
“I love you very, very much, and I will be back as soon as I can.”
“Always come back, don’t I?” He left out the part about not being supposed to.
A small, sincere, nod from Seren. “Pwomise?”
“I promise.” His voice was a thin whisper.

Three Million Years Later

There’s nothing left to be desired…

Alex rolled on his bunk, torso aglow with the ruthless pain of regret and cruel, cruel injustice.
“I promised” he whimpered, choking on Bluey’s stale recycled air. “I promised...”


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