I had found the perfect place to expire. A compact 1-bed flat just off the industrial heart of the city, with rusted bars spiralling upwards from the window-perches, cream walls, subtle furnishings. There were no paintings colouring the walls, the television was small, and the sparse fire crackled hoarsely and burnt small heaps of wood in the corner of the room.
My sole companion, Roger, a three-legged, wearied greyhound, loved lying by the fire, curled up, softly whimpering and flicking his gray eyes sporadically. Initially intended as a race-dog, an infection had attacked his left paw, and he was duly abandoned. I took him in, had the leg amputated, and nourished him through a decent life. He became the only one I could ever truly trust.
In the middle of the flat was the chair where one day I would sit down to die. Its sides were embroidered with faded begonias, and its cushions, their spongy interior now deflated, sunk low. The tattered arm-rests would comfort my limp arms; my eyes would be hollow and at ease, staring blankly at the clutters of photographs perched on the coffee table. I constantly fill the room with the aroma of fine Cubans; those who discovered me would not be met with the cruel stench of a body long given up.
I was a reasonably healthy 64 year old, but the past few years – raucous temper-strewn arguments over the phone, crippling debts from the divorce, and being alone – had taken their toll; I now journeyed the streets, not the hearty poet – the romanticist- of my younger days but a bitter old fool, concerned only with my idleness, and having garnered a severe, contemptuous outlook on the female. I had an understanding that I wasn’t long for the world. My heart was troubled, bruised; I staggered around in a permanent stupor, a belligerent old man, stupid and drunk on bitterness.
I had arrived three summers before, a failed writer, reclusive and bankrupt, all down to a marriage brought to the direst of ends by a woman with an iron heart. She had left on a summer morning, earlier than when the birds arise to sing. All that was left was a note: she was leaving, with another nameless man, and we were to settle the rest through our lawyers. Next to the note lay the pen she had used to write it, and looped through it, about half-way between the top and bottom, was her wedding ring. A shaft of morning sun made it sparkle. I later threw it in a storm-drain and cursed both of them to hell.
As well as my own half-hearted being, the rest of the block was occupied by numerous other vagrants. On the fourth floor, number 17, lived two junkies seen rarely. A scattering of college drop-outs loomed in the upper regions of the building. A small amount of old men, all alone. There was also a couple of horrendous sisters who, when scattering through the long, dingy hollowness of the block’s walk-ways, could be heard jabbering incessantly, their shrill voices, full of chatter, echoing through the air.
Once, while smoking on the veranda, surveying Glasgow’s plethora of jagged, business-blocks, with the sun sinking and burying itself behind a distant hill in the west, I heard one sister stumble to her front-door, shards of broken glass crunching under the weight of her clapping heels. I had just come off the phone with my lawyer; she – for they always become she when they act like she had- was demanding more money. I had slammed it hard into the receiver, before grabbing a cigar.
I spied her through the eye-hole in the door. Her face was flat and without beauty, her parched lips were smudged with thick red lip-stick, and around her eyes streaks of black eye-shadow protruded in small globs. I wanted to hurt her viciously. I envisioned slamming my fist into her stomach, her face, her thighs. I wasn’t like this before. I didn’t blame myself.
In flat 11, beside my own, lived a young woman with fingers as thin as cigarettes. She lived there with a young child, and was, I suspected, mentally unwell. At night she was often found in the car-pack below, furiously pacing the child’s stroller in circular motions, speaking delicately to the child, and, at times, laughing hysterically in the late hours. I didn’t know her name, nor her origins; I presumed she was younger than he wearied face suggested. Her smile, often arising when muttering to the child, was awkward and narrow, her eyes were devilishly alert, and atop her head was a heap of strewn hair, uncombed and unclean. The child was without sound and all I ever saw of it was the turquoise baby-blanket it was always folded within.
And then, one crisp December afternoon, the day after Glasgow’s festive lights were switched on, everything, for once, made sense. I had left the flat early, after failing to coax Roger from his perch near the fire. Upon my rousing of ‘Cmon, Roggie’, he gently rose his head, pondered briefly, flicked an ear and put it back down again. Though slightly concerned by his unwillingness to do what he loved most – an early saunter through the hinterland of Thornberry Park – I hadn’t time to explore his disinterest.
I was scheduled to meet my lawyer at 10:30a.m. I quickly trotted down the moss-topped steps towards the morning busyness of the street. In the car-park, the lady was lost in the routine of her motions. The wheels of the stroller were unoiled and squeaked viciously. I glared, but she simply smiled uneasily, her skin pulling back tight on the sloped indentations of her pointed skull. I left through the main-gate, turning towards the train-station on Wallace’s Avenue.
The train thundered through the tracks to the edges of the city. The shells of abandoned trains long left for dead stood outside the window, their once-sleek exteriors now coated with oil and dust. Flattened Jerry-cans and small heaps of rubbish dotted the areas surrounding the tracks. A whistle hooted, piercingly pitched, and the train’s few passengers disembarked into the rising steam of the platform. The cold air bit hard. I used to have a pair of leather driving-gloves a few years back, but after moving out of the house, I had handed over all items of my past to a charity shop in Wilk’s square.
The meeting with my solicitor lasted only a few moments. She had always infuriated me with her high-brow jargon, and for this I didn’t trust her. Upon tapping lightly at her window-paneled door, she beckoned me in with a beringed finger. Her other hand glistened with a gold, oversized bracelet and tapped lightly across a keyboard. Her bronzed hair was aloft in a tight bun and she wore thick-rimmed glasses that didn’t suit her age. After a few more taps, she looked up, smiled through a contorted glare, and spoke
“Mr. Heeckcock, how do you do?”
“Fine,” I replied, choosing not to correct her gross mispronouncing of my name.
I left shortly after, fleeing down the stairs to escape the building that, through various meetings like this, had brought infinite horrors to my life. Debt and despair was all I now knew. I switched my eyes to the road-side and the chaotic lines of cars racing through the lunch-time rush. If I had guts, I thought, I would throw myself under the articulated truck veering down Penrose Hill, but as it progressed further down the road, I watched it drive-by and out of sight.
As I strolled in the block’s main-gate, I spotted her eying me from the roof-terrace. Her skinny frame was arched, and now, high up above, her two arms flapping down towards me, this peculiar woman looked almost like a young bird about to embark upon its first flight. She quickly fled, her cheap shoes tapping down the stair-well.
I suspected she was in the midst of a panic-attack – perhaps a regular occurrence of this disorder she suffered from – so I quickly brushed past her, making for the stairs.
“What? What the hell do you want?”
“Mister, it’s your dog. It’s been crying all morning. It must be sick”
I paced towards the door, before pushing it open. The repugnant odour of dried vomit arose instantly. Pages lay scattered along the floor. I noted a wet indentation in the corner of the chair – he had bitten it hard. The pictures on the coffee-table were misplaced and there was a dark patch on its side where he had urinated. Roger was on the floor in the kitchen. His eyes were wide, and his mouth, bearing his jagged, broken teeth, was slightly ajar. I lifted his paw – several nails were splintered, but his pad was still warm. I imagined he died only a few moments before.
I sat with him a while, clutching him tight, ensuring that his head, now wrapped in my scarf, didn’t drop against the harsh cold of the kitchen floor. I later fetched a warm blanket from the hot-press and brought it out to where he lay. After wrapping him in it, I borrowed a shovel from the utility-room, and carried both it and Roger to Thornberry Park.
The sun disappeared behind the old Telecommunications building as I finished patting over the earth. Atop the earth mound I placed a heavy rock. Standing there for a while, I smoked a cigar, sending its rich plumes into the evening air, before shambling towards the exit. I wondered how long the rock would lay there, and guessed that in time I would forget the spot where I’d buried him. Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter.
Making my way through the hall-way towards the flat, I was drawn to the woman’s door. The knob glistened oddly as though just shined and the paint was almost a warm red. Mine was gray. I knocked twice. Though the lights in the flat were dimmed, I noticed her shadow enlarging, and finally her physical form come to the door. Looking at her now, her face breaking into the light of the open-door, I was surprised;. she smiled shyly, but her eyes were red as though she had been weeping before being summoned by my knocking.
“I’ve just called to thank you,” I said. “He must have died just before I arrived”
“I didn’t do anything”
I sighed before faking a smile.
“No. It’s Ok”
“Please. There is something I’d like to show you”
Before I could make up an excuse, she had disappeared into the room, and all I could see was her shadow once more. I walked in, shimmying past the stroller that was parked against the wall. A gas fire hissed in the middle of the room. She had trotted into the kitchen.
“Would you like a drink?”
“No. I’m fine”
Near the back-wall, pushed up against an empty book-case, was a poorly-crafted cot. Even without rocking it, one could tell its hinges were unsteady. The child was, as always, without sound, and was now, I presumed, sleeping. I stood by the window, peeking out through the Venetian-blinds. Disjointed clouds hung heavy in the air – at any time, I thought, it would snow. She entered the room, holding two cups in her hands.
“Please, sit down”
“No. I better go”
I unfolded a chair that had been standing against the window-sill and sat. She lightly fingered the rim of the cup. I stared into mine – it was water.
“I hope Simon doesn’t keep you awake”
“Who?” I asked.
“Simon,” she said, pointing towards the cot.
I returned a smile, noting that despite this maniacal woman and her disturbingly accurate routine – a stirring irritant- I had never been infuriated by anything the child had done. Not only had I not seen it, I couldn’t remember ever hearing it either. Who was this rare child, I wondered, and where was his father? Had he fled, after becoming, like I, another throw-away? Had he taken for the hills after feeling imprisoned by this oddity of a woman.
“No, he’s fine”, I replied.
“Oh, I must show you”, she said, aiming for the bedroom.
I saw her disappearance as my opportunity to leave. No goodbyes were needed. I would probably never converse with her again. I regretted even doing so now.
Upon leaving, I eyed a single photograph perched upon a small table. It was the woman, perhaps ten years before, sitting up in a hospital bed. Her hair was a tint of amber and it dropped along her shoulder-tops. Beside her was a young man with a handsome face. In her arms, wrapped in a turquoise blanket, was a child, born, it would seem, only a few moments before. The woman’s face was rounder, and it was only then I noted that happiness can define a person’s beauty, whilst sadness and everything it brings, can take it away. Next to the photograph was a crystal vase with a single drooping lily. I left immediately.
I went into my apartment, daubed a towel in warm water and scrubbed the vomit from the floor. I smoked in my chair. My legs were stiff. Perhaps tomorrow I would walk further than I had ever done before, and after that, some day, I would take up jogging. I flicked the light-switch and took in the silence of the room. The last embers of the fire crackled and died out. I’d clear the ashes in the morning. Through the walls, I heard nothing. Sometimes I believe sound doesn’t exist at all. I glanced out towards the Glasgow night. Lights glinted and down below, the streets were empty. All that was missing was snow
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