12. Enough Rope
"We could lose the house."
"You're getting hysterical. Calm down."
"You're jeopardising everything. Don't tell me to calm down. It's so patronising."
"I'm not well."
"Well, why don't you go back to the doctor and get another sick note then?"
"Now who's telling who what to do? Now who's being patronising?"
"Don't be so ridiculous. I've been so supportive of you while you've been unwell."
"Yes, and now you're acting like I'm doing it on purpose. Like it was deliberate."
"I know you didn't mean to get sick. I am sorry. I am sympathetic. But you have to be responsible too."
"I can't face it. I can't do it."
"You don't have to go back to work yet if you don't feel up to it, but at least see the doctor."
"What am I going to say? I feel the same as I did a couple of weeks ago."
"Say that. You need a sick note if you're going to keep your job."
"It's such utter bullshit."
"Everything. That job. This fucking treadmill. Our whole pointless existence. Working until we die."
"You know I can't pay the mortgage on my salary alone. How are we going to avoid reposession? How are we going to pay the bills?"
"I can't think about that stuff at the moment. I can't deal with it."
"All you need to do is go and get signed off work for another couple of weeks."
"I can't do it anymore. When's it going to end?"
"We can't do anything if you don't play by the rules. You'll get fired and you won't even be able to claim benefits."
"I don't want to be on benefits."
"I know, but how are we going to pay the bills if you're not working?"
"I don't know. Don't you think I worry about this stuff too?"
"It doesn't seem like it if you can't be bothered to go and see the doctor."
"It's not that I can't be bothered. I just can't face it. I can't face anything at the moment."
"Look, I'm sorry you're sick, but you're going to have to man up over this. It's already been two days since your sick note ran out and they're expecting you back at work."
"They shouldn't expect me back. I'm not well. I feel terrible."
"Well go and tell that to the doctor."
"How ridiculous. Expecting me to have to go to the doctor when I'm not well, to get these stupid pieces of paper to send to work. How can you expect that of a sick person?"
"That's the way the system works. Deal with it."
"I dealt with it for years. I kept this roof over our heads while you went off to university. I've been responsible. Now I'm sick. Somebody else needs to be the responsible one."
"I phoned in sick for you didn't I? I've had to answer all the questions your boss and your work colleagues keep firing at me. I'm sticking up for you. You just need to do this one thing."
"I can't do it."
"Fine" said Lara, storming out of the snug and up the stairs to the bedroom.
Neil slumped back down onto the sofa. They had both risen to their feet in the heated exchange. Neil thought about switching on the TV, but instead he just sat slowly stroking his eyebrows and staring blankly into space. His mind was locked on a single thought: "I can't".
Everything had ground to a halt at home. Neil barely washed, he never cooked, he never cleaned, he never left the house, he had switched his phone off and avoided all social contact. Lara didn't resent having to do everything on her own, because Neil was quite neat and tidy, but she couldn't understand why he wouldn't go and get another sick note from the doctor.
"He's driving me mad, mum" Neil overheard Lara say loudly from the bedroom above the snug.
"He's not well my love" Lara's mum said at the other end of the phone.
"I know, mum, but he's going to lose his job pretty soon" said Lara.
"Try to be supportive. It must be hard for him."
Lara made a noise of annoyance.
"I have been SO supportive" Lara replied through gritted teeth.
"Look dear, it's late. Let's speak another time" said Lara's mum, sensing that the conversation would soon descend into an unpleasant argument.
"OK mum. Bye."
Lara hung up her mobile phone and let her arm flop down to her side on the bed next to her. Her grip relaxed and the phone slipped from her hand and dropped onto the bedroom floor. Lara's eyes remained glazed and impassive, fixed on the ceiling with an unfocussed stare. She exhaled very slowly, letting the air noisily blow through her lips as if she was deflating.
It would be impossible to force Neil to do anything, but why would she have to? It was obvious what he had to do. The rational course of action was indisputable. The negative consequences of inaction were inevitable.
He hadn't come to bed by the time she fell asleep but when she woke up in the morning, he lay next to her fully clothed, asleep. She wanted to wake him up and resume the discussion but she couldn't; she had to get up and get ready for work.
Before she left, she looked back into the bedroom at his face. At that moment he seemed so untroubled, calm, relaxed. It was infuriating, enraging even, that he appeared unperturbed by a threat to their financial security, that he could easily solve.
What did he even do all day, when she was at work?