“I’ve had a bad week,” says Wendy, as she swirls her car keys around and around her finger. “It’s because I was stressed. Work cut my hours on Monday.”
Gasps and tsks and murmurs go up from the group.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t afford to be working less. I think I’m going to have look for a new job altogether, and I’m not looking forward to that because I’m shit at interviews. Anyway, that was just the start of it.
“Boss called me into his office first thing Monday morning to tell me the news. And then at about half ten I got a phone call from our lad’s school. He’s been suspended. They wanted me to go in and take him home. And I can’t – cos I’m working, aren’t I? I mean, boss has always been good about letting us have time off for family stuff, but we don’t get paid for it. And with my hours being cut I need every penny I can get. So I rang my mum, see if she could do it, and she said she couldn’t ‘cos she was booked in for a pedicure.”
More tsks and mutters from the group.
“Exactly. I said, your feet are less important than my ability to put food on the table. Go and pick him up. And she refused. So that turned into a whole blazing row and I think my ear’s still ringing from her screaming down the phone at me. In the end I left work and went to pick up my little bastard of a son.
“D’ya know what he did to get suspended? Smoking in the toilets. Smoking. Where’s he get the money for fags? The teachers are telling me it’s unacceptable and asking me where he’s managed to get cigs from at 14 years old – like I know – and insinuating that I’m a terrible mother and not keeping an eye on him. Which, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not, because he’s a grumpy little git who bites my head off whenever I try to talk to him.”
The group stays silent, but a few members share knowing looks.
“So, as I drag my lad out of the school gates and take him home, we do nothing but bloody row. He hates my guts, I hate his, blah, blah, blah. When we get home, I tell him to go to his room, then I think better of it. I go up there and remove his PlayStation and take his laptop and his phone off him, and I tell him to get his school books out and do some homework. He looks at me like he could kill me – I’m telling you, there was pure bloody murder in his eyes – but he says nothing. So I close the door behind him and leave him to stew.
“I sit down and watch a bit of telly and have a look online for job vacancies. All is quiet upstairs. I’ve won, I think. I’ve put him in his place. It gets to lunchtime, so I make some sandwiches and take them up to him. I even put a Wagon Wheel on his plate because I know they’re his favourites. And I’m all set to make amends and talk it over and be the nice, kind mother who tells him sweetly that smoking will make his lungs go black, but when I go in his room the little git isn’t there. His window’s wide open. He’s run off.”
The group breaks out into mumbles and grumbles once more – “giving him a good hiding” comes up more than once.
“I’ve had it, by this point. I have just had it. I’m not even angry, I’m just exhausted. Drained. I’m tired of arguing with him. I’m tired of worrying about him. I’m sick to fucking death of chasing after him whenever he sneaks out. So I just think: fuck it. Fuck. It. All. Because I know exactly what will make me feel better.”
The group holds its breath.
“I grab my purse and my keys and I get in the car. And I drive into the city and just knowing what I’m going to do lifts my mood. Just thinking about it makes me happier. And when I pull up to the place I feel as though my heart could burst, do you know what I mean?”
The group looks to the floor, but a few nod.
“I’ve always wanted an Audi.”
“An Audi? You’re out of your mind. You can’t afford an Audi, you’ve just had your hours cut!”
“Don’t you think I know that, Sue?” Wendy snaps. “That’s kind of why I’m here, isn’t it?”
“We’re Shopper’s Anonymous,” Sue says with a shake of her head. “We splurge a couple of hundred quid here, a couple of hundred quid there. Clothes. Holidays. New phones. Buying a brand new Audi is a little bit out of our remit, don’t you think, Yvonne?”
Group leader Yvonne simply shrugs, though she looks a little peaky.
“It wasn’t brand new,” says Wendy. “It was a couple of years old.”
“And how much was it?” Sue asks.
Wendy glares at her, then she scans the group. Everyone is watching her intently, waiting to hear how badly she messed up in order that they can mark their own week’s indulgences as saintly in comparison.
“Nineteen,” Wendy mutters.
Wendy nods. The group winces.
“You’re unbelievable,” Sue scoffs. “How have you paid for that?”
“I part-exchanged my car for a deposit, the rest is on finance.”
“You’ll never keep up those payments. How irresponsible. No wonder your kid’s acting up, you’re probably struggling to even feed the poor lad and then you’re driving around in a sodding Audi.”
“Fuck off, Sue! So much for a support group.”
“You fuck off! You’re a bloody stupid cow, you are.”
“Are you going to let her speak to me like this, Yvonne?” Wendy says indignantly. “You’ve barely said a word the whole time.”
Yvonne looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. She wants to tell the group to simmer down. She wants to offer comforting platitudes to Wendy. She wants to advise her on how to manage her new debt, or how to return the car to the dealership and reverse her rash purchase. But she can’t.
“Sorry, guys,” she says quietly. “I’m not quite cut out for advice right now. I’ve had a rough week myself.”
The group take in her mournful face and they begin to panic. If Yvonne can’t keep her spending under control, there’s no hope for them.
“I’ve spent more than Wendy, this week. I’ve spent somewhere in the region of twenty-five thousand.”
The group really gasps, then.
“You know how I take all your credit cards from you when you first join? For safe keeping until you’re in a good enough place to take them back?”
The group nods. Stomachs turn.
“I… I’ve been using them.”
Bloodthirsty screams ring out through the village hall, and they echo down the street.