“Are you gonna finish that slice of peach crumble?”
Bradbury looked up, bleary-eyed. “What was that?”
“You heard damn well what I said. Are you or aren’t you going to eat your crumble? You paid one-ninety for it. And it’s just sitting there. Look at all that sugar. All those peaches. You know what I call that,” his father leaned in, “I call that waste.”
Eric Bradbury snatched the paper plate away from the younger Bradbury’s side of the table. Never looking away from his only son, the surgeon picked up his plastic fork and cut into the crumble with the knife-edge precision of his trade. Each mouthful rose decisively up and in between his teeth with swift little bites.
Bradbury frowned. “Hey, I paid for that!” Not that he really felt it mattered, in the long run. When he set up shop with Mel, he’d have all the crumble he wanted. Maybe even every day. Typical of dad to take him somewhere like this, a greasy spoon where the seats were damp and everything came with sauce.
“I don’t care what you paid for. It all comes out of my money anyway,” his father grinned viciously, “and you weren’t fast enough. Do you know why that is? Eh?” he jabbed Bradbury’s arm with his fork. “Any ordinary young man would’ve wolfed that thing down in the time it takes to masturbate.” Flecks of pastry and peach flesh glistened between gnarled old teeth. “But you’re a dope-head. Your reflexes are dull as cottage cheese, so you take too long. What I’m trying to teach you with the crumble, it applies to life too. No son of mine is working in loose-change forever.”
Bradbury ran a hand through his long stringy hair. Not good, man, intensely not good, and in fact many heads were being turned in this stained little coffee-house because a clean-cut middle-aged type was laying crisply in to his grubby, unshaven son. He should have hidden the weed in the sock-drawer. Dad would’ve never looked in the sock-drawer. Instead he’d looked under the bed, hoping to find porn, and instead delighted to find evidence that, at least to his mind, showed that his son was going out with a reprobate.
“It’s not menial labour if it’s going somewhere, is it? I told you, running a coffee house is what I want to do.” He reached over for the plate. “Ow!” this time, dad’s fork left little red welts. “Jesus, Dad, what the hell?”
“What I want to know,” Eric sighed, completely ignoring him, “is why it had to be your sister that got all the talent. Absolutely insipid when she was a little girl. Look at her now. Five-figure contract in the bank, a five-year deal with Bloomsbury. You know that awful little book she was working on got published? The one about sex with a merman? People actually paid for it.”
“I didn’t,” Bradbury admitted, playing with the ripped end of a folded napkin. “I thought that was teen romance anyway.”
“Hmph. Perverted is what it is. And impractical. Fish don’t reproduce through coitus.” Dad turned the fork around between forefinger and thumb. “Still, at least she remembers to visit. You’re barely around anymore, except on the weekends. What does your girlfriend do, exactly? If she’s as far gone as you are then it can’t be anything spectacular.”
“She’s working at a Wholefoods outlet on the market.”
“A Wholefoods outlet?” As an established and respected surgeon, his father passionately hated food that claimed to be more than it was. Good. This next bit would really piss him off, then.
“A wholefoods outlet, yeah. And don’t talk about it like that. We’ve been working out what we both earn. Pretty soon, we’ll have enough to apply for a shop.”
“A Wholefoods shop, I’m guessing?” Dad bared his teeth. “And you think you’re in there, do you? Handing out dried red lentils to cretins while Izzy’s off badger-baiting with J. K. Rowling?”
Before his father could react, He lashed out with his fork and skewered a juicy bit of peach. Thick and syrupy, crackling with pastry and crumble. All around them, people were chowing down on grease and meat and sugar, weak dirty coffee, tea with too much milk. It was dad’s favourite place to eat.
“Wrong. It’s a coffee shop. An alternative one. We’ll put fairy-lights on the walls, there’ll be a veggie dish every other day, the coffee will be strong as all hell, and when legalisation comes along, it’ll be the first place where you can get bombed out your head and no-one will care.” He grabbed the plate and stood up. “I’m taking this with me, so you’re not finishing it. It’s rude to steal other people’s food, you know.”
“You’re an idiot,” his father told him warmly. “I used to know people like you back in the sixties, and they were all idiots like you. We’ll disinherit you, and in ten years’ time you’ll be living off your sister’s money.”
“Fine with me. If everything falls through, I’ll milk that book until it runs out.”
“You’re wasting your life.”
Bradbury smiled. “See you around, dad.”
There was a small green bin in the parking lot. Bradbury threw away the oily paper plate. In truth, the crumble hadn’t been that bad. When Mel’s kitchen got furnished, he’d make better.