Ed stumbled more than walked to his dressing room. He felt beat up. The sight of Jack Marley was enough to make this cocky self-sure man lose his grip on enough reality to doubt where he was and what he was doing. Shakily, he leaned into the wall with his hand to steady himself as he wandered down the hall.
Closing the door behind himself, Ed hurriedly slipped out of the jacket and, more important, the tie he wore tonight. He sat down heavily, and took a deep inhale, and held it for a count of five, then slowly exhaled.
There. Much better. It must have been an hallucination. That's the only possible explanation. Yes. He'd been working too hard. When other hosts were already off, for Hanukkah or because their kids were on break, he'd worked right up to Christmas. Overworked and stressed. That must be it. Maybe he was coming down with something, too.
He slowly rose out of his chair, and stepped across to the small chest of drawers opposite the mirror. On top was a bottle of scotch. He took a paper cup and poured out a small amount. And then a little more. And then filled the cup. He gulped it down in two mouthfuls, then collapsed again into his chair. His big comfy chair. And drifted off to sleep...when he felt the cup being taken out of his hand, and crumpled up.
"Barb? Is that you?" Ed struggled to clear his eyes, bleary with the tiredness. When he looked up, he saw a nattily dressed young man, with bright red hair, and a tam.
"My name is Ian. Jack told ye to expect me, didn't he? Well, here I am, but let's see where ye've been shall we? Now don't be afraid! Yer a good little shaver, I wager." And with that, and a click of his heels, the room dissolved away.
Little Eddie Hughes rode his Huffy bicycle up and down Doral Court in Levittown, a new development in suburban Long Island, racing past the row of cookie-cutter houses that seemed to spring up and multiply overnight. It was nearly 6:30 this winter night and Dad would be home any second now.
Life seemed safe and happy. Mom, dressed in a pearl choker, with a Bobbie Brooks blouse and a skirt from Sears, had dinner on the table precisely at 6:30, when Dad would walk in the door, dressed in his suit and tie from Robert Hall, a slim leather briefcase in his right hand.
Dad would leave his job at Con Edison as a manager in the billing department precisely at 4:30, ride the subway to Penn Station, and hit Toots Shor for a drink with his buddy, leaving just enough time to hop on the 5:20 bar car. He'd disembark the train, and detour from the parking lot to O'Reilly's to have one last beer before driving the 2.2 miles to Doral Court.
Life had regularity. You could use it to time eggs.
Mom always made sure to have his martini waiting on the table in the vestibule. She actually made the big shaker full of them, the one they brought out for parties, but then transferred the leftovers to Dad's special shaker after pouring his one.
And her two. Something to ease the pills down her throat.
Christmas was coming soon, and Eddie knew if he wasn't home before Dad, he would be warned about Santa not coming because he was a bad boy. This message was usually reinforced with a boxing of his ear, or a knuckle rap on the top of his head by his dad.
Corporal Hughes had been a low level clerk assigned to the quartermaster's office in Devon, England, where he listened all day long to the monotonous staccato of rubber stamps, not gunfire, although the fight with Germany was over already. There, he met Miss Fiona Weldon, a pretty English girl for whom Americans were both a mystery and frightful, noisy and dull. Except for John Hughes, of course.
They married shortly after it was discovered that Miss Weldon was carrying Eddie. Such marriages were frowned upon by his superiors, but the Weldons held a small private ceremony in their church, with tea afterwards in the rectory, so little notice was paid by the Allied command.
Within a year, the war in Europe was well over and all American personnel had shipped out, and the Hughes' were heading to New York. Although they struggled those first few years, John took advantage of the GI Bill and got a college degree and a GI mortgage, buying one of the brand new houses that Arthur Levitt was building on an old potato farm on Long Island. A ranch! It even sounded exciting!
Ten-year old Billy never really knew of want or need. In fact, his parents did so well, they often bragged of being from Westbury, an affluent community the next town over, rather than associate with the working classes of Levittown, the plumbers and carpenters and factory workers. It didn't hurt any that Mom's Southwest English accent, with its hint of Welsh, gave an air of aristocracy to his family. How little Americans know about dialects. It branded her as just a farm girl to be fucked and left back home, much like a country hick accent in America would be treated.
Eddie wheeled his bike around and sped home from the corner when he saw a pair of headlights float down the road towards him. He dropped his bike in the driveway, and ran inside, when he heard a crunching noise, and the immistakable voice of his father growling "Aw, motherfucker!"
Eddie's bike was in ruins, crushed under the wheels of the Mercury. He blanched as his father stormed up the driveway, and started yelling, "You fucking moron! What's the idea leaving your bike in the driveway? Hah? What is your fucking problem? Answer me!"
Eddie started to burble out an answer, when John's hand flew out of the darkness like a beige bat and smacked him across the ear. "You wanna cry? I'll give you something to cry about!" Eddie sobbed back his tears as best as he could, but as scared and angry as he was, he finally lost the battle: "I...was..*gasp*...WAAHHHHH!"
John turned Eddie around and smacked his behind five times, hard, then told him to go inside and get in the living room. As John entered, he pulled his belt off.
Ian turned to Ed. "There's more, innit there?"
Ed nodded. He remembered this day well now, after he saw the bike.
To Chapter Six