When Sidney left school, he went to work in the burger van with his Dad. Together, they would prod at blackened onions and flip burgers, cigarettes dangling out of the corners of their mouths. The van was popular and at two in the morning there would be a queue of glassy eyed customers staggering and slurring at the counter. This was Sidney’s favourite time. He was well practiced and had the process down to a fine art, with perfectly timed flips and smooth, synchronised movements in the small space. He would pretend that he was a robot, the ultimate in burger-production technology, ready to assemble a greasy late night snack in less than a minute.
At home, Sidney’s mother was becoming increasingly mad. Her imaginary friends took up more and more of her time. They would tell her that people were plotting against her, and then she would cry and shout at them in a strange language. Sometimes she would stare at her hands for hours, saying someone had changed them. Other times she would put on her best dress and pink lipstick and sit in a deck chair in the front garden, waiting for the people from Hollywood to come and take her to be a famous actress. They never came, and she would eventually fall asleep, dribbling on her shoulder, pink lipstick smeared across her cheek. Sidney’s father would gently wake her up with a cup of tea, and help her back inside.
When Sidney was not at work, he would watch television. He enjoyed basking in the warm glow of all the bright colours. He could often be found on the old sofa, a cup of tea in one hand and a cigarette delicately poised over an overflowing ashtray in the other. The television taught Sidney a lot of things. He learned that although zombies are deadly, they are also incredibly slow, and he was likely to be able to outrun them in the event of an apocalypse. He also learned that the true purpose of hundreds of years of science and engineering was to achieve a single, epic goal: a really close shave. He sang along to the adverts and laughed, or cried, with the soap opera characters. The television was his world.
One Thursday afternoon, his mother was on the way back from the supermarket when she was hit by a cement lorry and died instantly. A policeman knocked onto the door to tell them. He said he was very sorry for their loss. There had been a small green caterpillar crawling on the sleeve of his uniform.
After the funeral Sidney’s father went into the shed with a bottle of whiskey. When he emerged, the vacuum, microwave and hairdryer had all been dissected and were lying in bits across his workbench. Sidney, meanwhile, had sat in his bedroom and lifted his pillow to his face. Then, rocking back and forth in the muffled, tear-dampened darkness, he wept.