I flip the calendar page over. The big red cross is in sight now, but we still don’t use
Nearly ten years we’ve been here, Keith, his dog Rusty, John and I. Rusty’s a funny
old beast; born with one eye blue, the other green. They’re like glazed marbles now.
He must be on his last legs.
Keith felted the dining room table up back in ninety-six so we could play Texas
Hold’em for coppers or match sticks. None of them can read me for custard. Proper
poker face. I keep my match sticks in a Tupperware box I found next to the sink.
He’s a good egg is Keith, terrible cook though. We met outside of Currys’ Electricals
back in the winter of ninety-two. I had a terrible case of frostbite. He’d shared his
blanket in exchange for some rolling papers. We stayed in touch, on the front-line.
We’ve a four-ring hob now, a power shower and a large television with five
channels. Makes a change to have the sound up and I can’t say I miss watching all
the shows at once through the glass. I took the master bedroom. The boys were
more than happy to share the spare. I say boys, we’re all in our fifties now.
Jack pretty much keeps himself to himself. I’ve had more words out of the dog than
out of ‘e. The fridge has got more to say. I’d forgotten how lush a chilled beer on the
patio was in the heat of the summer. Hums like a rascal, that refrigerator. Instead
of moving on down the street though, I just move into another room if it gets on me
It’s funny how things turn out when you look back over twenty odd years. And they
have been odd, for me at least. I’m the first to admit I made a mess of my youth.
The bottle, red wine that is, never brought me said promises of unoaked, full bodied
essence of the Rhone valley, just a divorce and the sack. I spent my forties in the
stairwell of the NCP. Still chain the old coffin nails like it’s going out of fashion,
We have our happy routines: Job Centre on a Monday, Wetherspoon’s on a
Thursday, kebabs on a Friday at the start of the month, then beans with a flipped
egg to garnish when the giro runs dry. The boys keep the kitchen clean and I do the
lounge. The bathroom is no man’s land; it’s functional but you wouldn’t want to be
trapped in there for longer than needs be.
In and out.
I’ve fixed the place up a treat – put an extra bolt on the front and panelled up the
When I first arrived, his bed was off the ground. Pine slats, medium-to-firm
mattress and he had those Egyptian cotton sheets – the ones that hold the heat in.
They were in need of a wash though, even by my standards.
As soon as I was in, I did what I needed to do, tossed my old sweater and jeans on
the floor and used his shower gel. God, that water felt like liquid gold compared to
the public toilet three-point sponging.
Washed away years of street life under the power-jet head, I did, that first night. It
went cold at the end though - woke me up a treat. Penance for my sins I suppose.
Slept like a log after.
He was a man of habit; I’ll give him that. He even folded his under-crackers. I’ve
taken to a clean pair each day now we’ve figured out the washing machine. Once I’d
got out and dried off, I bundled my old clothes into a ball and stuffed them in the
bin. Then I slipped into something fancy; cashmere the label said, from Marks and
Spencers. I had a good rummage in his wardrobe, my bottom half needed covering
too. I remember thinking, given all that freedom of a job – an office worker of some
sort perhaps - bricks and mortar, money, why would anyone choose five identical
pairs of slacks?
Six foot on the nose I reckon, thirty-four-inch waist, on the right side of thirteen
A good size for a grown man. Felt it too. Nearly did my back in when I moved him.
He drank good coffee; mind and his freezer was full of those ready meals you put in
Couple of weeks later, once I’d worked my way through his comestibles, I had to
nip out and get more supplies. Found a twenty in his wallet so I came back fully
loaded, brought the boys back too. They’ve been here ever since.
When it arrives, I always open the post. It’s my gaff so I do the admin. Just a quick
check, make sure the direct debits are still being collected.
Keith found a stash of notes in the bottom of the wardrobe - must’ve been about
three grand or so. Old Roy must have been saving up for the apocalypse or
something - should’ve used a bank, silly old boy. Since having a roof over my head,
getting an account was easy as pie. Got me one of them cards too now mind. One
with a pin-code.
We always make sure one of us is in. There’s honour among thieves, see. John
doesn’t go out much anyway which is handy because Keith and myself love a brew
or three down the Ring O’ Bells. One of us is always locked in. Just in case anyone
snooping catches wind.
I keep looking at the red cross and I’m wondering which of them legal beagles I’m
going to let handle this case. Got a few cards from my last trip downtown, I have.
Put on his smartest suit I did, fits me a treat. Looks like royalty in it, I do.
We’re both size nine and a half so he gifted me some lovely leather penny loafers
which are perfect for driving in. It’s my yard, so the boys and I’ve agreed - I get the
Aston Martin and I’m keeping the keys to the garage. No questions asked. When I
do nip out for a spin, I take his black leather driving gloves and waxed jacket from
the hall and a handkerchief to hold over my nose - just to get it out of the garage.
No photos anywhere when I first arrived, except a sepia one in the hallway. Looks
old as time, must be his parents or grandparents. Poor old chap can’t have had any
family. That, our measurements and our schooling are the only similarities we’ve
got, I guess. No one’s come after him anyway and he’s still paying all the bills.
He was a mean man and he died with little, yet he still had more than I. I saw him
often, with his snide glares, passing me as I sat cap-in-hand outside of County
Stores. Never gave me the time of day. We’d sat side-by-side at school, Roy
Sneddon and I. We sat side-by-side in the register, so we were sat side-by-side in
the class for five years at least. Five years of Sneddon’s sneaking eyes running up
and down my answers every day. It was enough to drive a man crazy.
Following him home had been a doddle. He seemed oblivious to my presence. In
fact, he seemed unaware of anything but his chest which he clutched like a wild
rabbit as he entered his abode. Key in nook, I saw his humped frame launch
through the door, as he fell into the hallway. I stood and watched.
Do I feel guilt I expect you’re wondering? Not at all. Death comes to us all, some a
little sooner than nature intended. Carpe diem - our old school motto. If I hadn’t
seized this opportunity, it’d just have rolled into the hands of the state.
Nearly ten years ago, from behind the hydrangea, I crept, carrying my worldly
possessions on my back. Not another soul was watching as death swept his away.
A rind of moon clung onto the midnight sky that night, smiling at me, giving me the
signal, the go-ahead. I lunged over his sprawled carcass which lay blocking my new
front door. The moon slid behind a blanket of cloud. I stood and I waited for total
darkness to take over then I dragged him through.
Seventeen days and the law says this’ll all be mine.
I took the cane for him on more than one occasion; he always copied my
schoolwork. Thing is, I was never a grass.
There’s a big red cross on the calendar this month and we still don’t use the
(c) S.J. Townend