I get out of the house to catch some air before the dinner under the pretense of needed broccoli. Passing the supermarket on the edge of town I keep walking into the centre, I follow the decline of the hill because it’s easier to go down than up. My head aches like I’ve used my sore legs to churn it into pink butter. There is a new and distinct ringing in my ear. It’s like Morse code. A frantic S.O.S signal spelled out by a lonely man on an island with a broken torch and a water-sodden Morse dictionary. The ringing flared up last night but has evolved over the course of the day. I pass the clinic. I don’t look at the revolving doors.
The first coffee shop I come to I enter and order a flat white and mix in six sugars. I sit facing away from the window. Across from me are a young couple with half-eaten chocolate muffins on the table in front of them, they are staring at their phones but they hold each other’s spare hand. Maybe they are talking. “Nice muffin?” “Nice muffin,” on and on, all day, with carpal fingers and a numbing tongue. Could they be candidates for my next feature after the disappointment of Ruth? Not likely.
I’m imagining walking over to them. They both stare at me blankly whilst numbers and acronyms flash over their sub-conscious. The young man lost his virginity when he was sixteen to a girl who wouldn’t let him touch her, bullied at school he developed a complex of insecurities masqueraded with bravado until he found his calling for – for carpentry, at the age of twenty-one. Fancies himself a messiah of wood-work. Built a bird bath for his Mum. It’s rotten. (The boy. Our baby. What could it have been? A carpenter? I’ve never built anything and Kit hates sawdust.) The young woman is stronger willed and eats his bravado for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the company of others she is quiet, even dull. A resting angry face with slightly down turned mouth, even now her tongue protrudes from between tightly haughty lips-
I jump at the gruff voice. A man has appeared at my arm. He has a sleeping bag draped over his shoulder. There is orange paint on his shoes but the originally orange high-visibility jacket he has tied around his waist is a rusty brown. Grizzled face, scabbed cheeks.
“Hey,” he says again, “any change?”
I look around for a staff member. The shop is busy, they are occupied at the counter.
“Hey, man, do you have any change? You could call me a scouse bastard, I don’t care, I just want a –“
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure. Sure. One second. I think – oh, just card.”
In my pocket I can feel the two pound coin enclosed in my fist. It is burning and sweaty.
“You sure man, you look a little on edge, a little wild. You sure you’re okay?” he asks with genuine concern.
I stutter, “Y-yes.”
“Sure man, sure.”
He backs away slowly as if I’m a wild animal. The coffee unfinished, I leave the shop.
I need to lie down.
In front of me a young girl is carrying a dead fish in a sandwich bag and it sways with her as if a tiny tide pulls the fish corpse to and fro. My vision spins as I watch the fish, a golden smudge on the grey street. A stench of cigarettes and the black acrid smell of exhaust fumes, spicy Mexican food and the dulled scent of the fresh fruit turned brown in the smoggy air. My nostrils are stuffed, there is foam in my ears, I’m sticking it in there at the dinner table and my Dad picks up the tweezers and has to pull it out, out comes blue pills, the red and white strawberry-cream sucking-sweet in my throat, and it’s choking and in the distance I can see the man in the white coat, the faceless man, his arm outstretched and –
The horn snaps and I jump to alertness. I’m standing in the middle of the road. I’ve misjudged the traffic island, “Out the way, buddy,” shouts the taxi driver, muffled behind glass. I walk forwards and lean on a bollard. Some people are staring, but they forget quickly. I am just another crazy. Two weeks ago if I had seen me I would have passed by, so they pass, faceless, ambiguous shapes –
I need to go home.