I flip the calendar page over. The big red cross is in sight now, but we still don’t use the garage. 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 nerves.
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, mind.
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 back. 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 stone.
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 the microwave.
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 garage.
© S.J. Townend
Winning Story: Contest #4
The following stories are the Outright Winning Entries for the Monthly Short Story Contest
March 2020 onwards