The art of manipulation
He looked across at Natalie Garman with the innocence of a child, though in Austin’s case innocence wasn’t something he’d had for a very long time. Even at five he knew how to lie well. However, the second part was right. Being a child was very much Austin’s forte.
‘You see how it looks on the books, Mr Stapley,’ Natalie was saying.
‘But of course,’ Austin added suitably demurely. ‘But then how was I to know my mother would be rushed into hospital.’
‘You could have phoned to let us know.’
Natalie swallowed. ‘No, after it happened. Or at least as soon as possible. Not turning up for an interview…well, that…’
‘Yes, yes.’ Austin was getting fed up with this. He’d already been sent away once because he turned up too early for his damned Job Centre appointment. Too early, for goodness sake. They wouldn’t let him wait. In fact they were quite rude about it. There was no pleasing this bunch of half-wits. Now because he’d bailed on an interview with some logistics company (moving things from one place to another, let’s not get fancy about it), he was being threatened with withdrawal of his Jobseeker’s Allowance. Okay, his mother hadn’t really been rushed into hospital. He’d actually been having a lie with the magazine with the brown paper cover marked ‘maths’, at the page of Anthea. He’d had a heavy night at the King’s Head wallowing in self-pity and he needed comfort not another grilling about his previous track record with jobs by some toffee-nosed prospective employer.
Austin’s mother had her uses. She cooked his meals from a limited menu (nothing foreign, though the dishes themselves often looked alien), and washed his clothes. She was easy to wind up, which could be tremendous fun as long as she didn’t have hold of an offensive weapon. And she came in useful as a reason for non-attendance at interviews. However, Austin was running out of legs she could break, arms she could fracture or fires in the kitchen. He needed to do something because it wasn’t only the Job Centre on his back. Stella Stapley was demanding money with menaces, namely housekeeping, or she would stop cooking.
Austin hadn’t the guts to admit to his mother that he’d lost another job and was currently unemployed. There were only so many nights he could stay out (he’d been a night watchman). It was time to have a new job, to make something up. He’d have to back it up somehow, but Austin was used to winging it. Now what did he fancy doing? A fishmonger? No, his mother would expect cheap fish. A car salesman? No, he’d never managed to pass his driving test. She’d suss that one, though it might make her worry about the Austin A30 malingering in the garage. His father’s pride and joy which only saw the light of day at weekends, and then only on the driveway, despite it being bequeathed to him after his father died. He couldn’t go there right now. Besides, Natalie was trying to get his attention. She’d been in the process of calling over the security guard because Austin hadn’t moved in several minutes and she thought he was having a mini stroke. When his head shot up she cried out in shock, or was it relief?
Austin assured her he was alright. ‘Worried about mother,’ he said.
‘Of course.’ The sympathy was back in her voice. Austin revelled in that for it wouldn’t be seen again in a long time, if at all.
‘I thought I was going to have to write an obituary to my poor dear mother,’ Austin went on.
‘Well, she’s making a recovery surely?’ asked Natalie in concern.
‘You can never tell with mother.’ One true sentence in a whole lot of lies. But it was at this point that Austin had a brain wave. He would be a reporter to the local rag. He’d always fancied himself as a writer, and this held a certain prestige that his mother would like to brag about, and unsociable hours he could play with. As Austin eased himself out of the chair and out of another tight situation he caught his smile in the window of the Job Centre. It wouldn’t solve his money problems, this non-job, but he’d work on that while he worked on his mother. He passed Greg, the obnoxious security guard, on his way out and he gave him the finger.