It’s a Bitter Winter, Chapter 1


Lee pressed the Intercom button, and answered tersely, “Who is it?”

“Hello, I’ve got a delivery for Alison,” sounded a posh man’s voice through the microphone.

Lee pressed the button to unlock the door into the flat complex, then looked out onto the carpark below. A small, rather oldish bloke wearing a mask was just heaving a cardboard box out of his boot, making heavy weather of it. Alison, who was half dressed, slipped on a pair of jeans and trainers, opened the door, and stepped into the hallway just as the old fellow arrived, puffing and panting after his ascent of two flights of stairs. He obviously intended to park the box in the doorway, but Alison went to grab it from his hands, thanking him as she did so.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. He looked at her warmly, smiled and said, “Enjoy it!” then went on his way.

Alison turned around and stepped inside, suddenly aware that the box was heavier than she expected. Lee quickly stretched out his arms and rescued the contents from a quick descent onto the carpet. “Wow, that was close!” she said.

“Well, we’ve just met Mr Muscle himself. What a guy!” said Lee. “I bet he’s never wondered where his next meal’s coming from.”

Standing up straight with her arms folded, Alison retorted, “Hey, just look at you! Still in your pyjamas watching TV. At least that old fellow’s up and about and doing something with his day!”

“Yer what?” cried Lee angrily, “It’s not my fault I’ve got made redundant, is it?” And, as so often of late, he remonstrated about how unfair it was. The Government had neglected the economic health of the nation for years. They’d only been interested in Brexit. The rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer, and the pandemic had made it worse still…

The hotel where he was a chef had furloughed him but then, four weeks ago, said they were ‘unable to sustain their current levels of employment.’ In other words, they kicked him out. Alison was still furloughed from her job in retail. Her payments and his fast-tracked Universal Credit weren’t enough to cover their bills. They’d had no choice but to ask Fairtown Foodbank for help.

“Aren’t you going to help me unpack it, then?” asked Alison. Lee trudged wearily into the kitchen and sighed. She looked him up and down, then gazed appealingly into his eyes.

“Lee, you’re going to have to do something to help yourself. I know you feel you’ve been kicked in the teeth. But you’ll just shrivel up if you carry on like this. Come on, mate, I can’t do all the home schooling on my own. It’s not rocket science and you’d be a lot better at the maths and science than me. And these kids need exercise. What about taking them to the park with a football?”

“Okay, okay, stop preaching at me, will you?” answered Lee. “It’s just – no job. Can’t go to work. No freedom. Can’t see me mates. No money – can’t afford to fix the laptop. And so on.”

“If only you could do something like that old fellow,” said Alison. “You’d feel so much better about yourself.”

That did it. Lee seized one of the eggs out of the box, opened the window, and hurled it against the wall of the flats opposite on which it exploded into a sticky yellow mess. Then he yelled,

“Haven’t you forgotten? We can’t even afford to mend the ******* car!!”

The same evening, Alison went around to her parents’ house. She tearfully described the morning’s upsetting events. She loved Lee but hated what he was doing to himself. An hour later, her parents hugged her goodbye and she came out, armed with a proposal. And when she arrived home, she found that Lee’s anger had given way to a deep sense of shame.


A week later, Lee presented himself at Fairtown Foodbank ready to take a load, driving his in-law’s car. They’d arranged for him to be a named driver on their insurance policy.

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