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Andy Naylor Spoken Word

DUMBO

 

I can’t remember when it changed from a one off into a routine, I suppose that’s true of anything. At four o clock every afternoon I make a point of saving whatever I’ve managed to type that day, yesterday it was “this is shit, this is shit, this is shit” for thirteen lines, and brace myself for the door to fly open. Today he’s a little late which is soon explained by the fact he has a fresh hole in the knee of his trousers and the hint of a bruise under his eye.

 

“How many words?” he says, not bothering with an apology for kicking over the cup of tea thats stood by the door since about half ten this morning.

 

“About a thousand” I sigh

 

“Bullshit” he retorts, throwing his bag into the corner of the room and flicking on my little telly whilst sliding a bag of cheesy puffs out of his pocket. The orange crisp munching privacy invader is called Alfie, I have been renting a room from his Mum Kim for the last seven months after the collapse of my marriage. I’d like to say that we grew apart but basically it was all down to me, my rapidly failing mental health and my inability to tell the only person who cared about me what was wrong.

 

Alfie is an interesting character, a fifty year old used second hand car salesman trapped in the body of a twelve year old boy. At least that’s my theory anyway. I am a writer, well that’s what goes on my tax return, a tax return that i will be able to fill out on the back of a stamp next April. I managed to publish one book five years ago and signed a contract promising to deliver another three. Sadly, since then I’ve managed to do very little writing, spending most of my time staring out of the window or reading awful things people say about me on twitter while trying not to think about how much I miss my wife.

 

At least Alfie’s here.

 

“Fucking hell Simon, this room stinks even worse than normal. I’m 12 and I wouldn’t live in a room like this. You’re gross mate.”

 

This is quite offensive but nowhere near the top three staggeringly hurtful things Archie has said to me over the last three months. Coming in at three after I showed him a picture of my soon to be ex wife:

 

“Oh my days, what was she doing with you? She’s well fit and you look like a hairy ghost”

 

Number two when he caught me taking a lingering glance at his Mum in her gym clothes:

 

“No way Simon. Even if you had a chance with my Mum, which you aint. You’d definitely fuck it up because you’re such a loser.”

 

And top of the pops was when we were watching a bit on the one show about regional accents:

 

“The thing is with you Simon, you have a posh accent and you sound like you should be reading the news or living in a castle or something but you rent a room off my Mum for fuck all and you can’t afford an iPhone on contract. That’s pretty sad mate.”

 

Now you might be wondering why I don’t just lock the door or simply tell Archie to fuck off. The truth is, despite all his bum fluffed chin bravado I feel intensely sorry for him.

 

In an age when some twelve year olds have six packs or 80,000 instagram followers, Archie is a throwback to a simpler time. His face is a join the dots drawing of stray hairs or pus filled spots. He has a protruding belly and the most enormous ears I’ve ever seen on a human. As he rocks back in the chair he brings to mind a footballer from the 80s, who hit the booze in retirement and now struggles to walk to the shops without having a heart attack.

 

It’s not a look that makes things easy for a teenager and it certainly hasn’t for Alfie. Every other day that we’ve had this uneasy understanding that he can come in and watch telly in my room, he has a new bruise on his cheek and a tear in his coat. We rarely talk about it but occasionally he’ll mutter about a boy called Fontaine, who sounds more like a French prince than a nasty little toe rag from Abbey Wood. I’ve seen lads taunting him outside the house a few times and I’m ashamed to admit that I just retreated back into the sanctuary of my room and pretended that I hadn’t seen it.

 

Very occasionally I will catch sight of Alfie in mid cheese puff chew and see his eyes welling up with tears as he thinks about what tomorrow will bring. I notice that he’s doing it now and without thinking I say

 

“I know the feeling Alfie boy”

 

He turns around and with a withering gaze he says

 

“You are fucking weird mate”

 

The next day at around four when I hear some commotion coming from outside my first instinct is to totally ignore it. Then, realising that I am one of the most pathetic people ever to be born, I pull back the curtains to see a boy at least six inches taller than Alfie laying several kicks into his back and ribs while he is curled up into a desperate ball.

 

I open the window and yell

 

“ Stop that, stop that now”

 

to which the boy, who I assume is Fontaine, looks up at the window and laughs snarling

 

“Fucking pussy, what are you going to do?”

 

before giving Alfie another really generous boot up the arse. I rear back and think I’m going to be sick for a second before forcing myself together and making my way down the stairs. I am terrified of this 12 year old monster and worried that he will sense this as soon as we are face to face.  I realise the situation is bad as soon as I step outside and see Alfie, nose dripping with blood, give me a look that actually contains some genuine emotion. Fontaine has stepped back from Alfie now and is taking me in with a sneer

 

“Fucking Harry Potter to the rescue”

 

It’s a really lazy comment as apart from wearing glasses and being white I am nothing like Harry Potter.

 

“Why are you doing this” I say my voice breaking like I’m accepting an Oscar, not asking a perfectly acceptable question to a boy who two years ago probably still had a set time to go to bed.

 

“Because he’s a pussy, a big eared batty man. Fucking Dumbo”

 

Harry Potter? Dumbo? I feel like I’ve gone back in time.

 

“How do you know about Dumbo?” I ask him, genuinely interested “that films about 35 years old”

 

“There’s a live action film coming out” mumbles Alfie while lying prostrate on the ground.

 

“Oh right” I say

 

Fontaine has obviously had enough of this bizzare discussion and cracks me round the face with an open handed slap. He gets me right on the ear and it really stings. For the first time in my life I act on pure instinct and throw a limp punch at his chin. To my absolute amazement two things happen. First, Fontaine collapses into a heap and I almost look around for someone to high five before realizing that I’ve just assaulted a child. The second and most surprising part is when he gets to his feet and I see that its pointed at my head. My first reaction is to laugh. This is so farcical that part of me assumes Ant and Dec are going to pop out of a bush in disguise.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” I stammer and then realize that the only person who looks more uncomfortable than me in this situation is Fontaine the gun man. Alfie has dragged himself to his feet and is stood behind me now with his arm on my shoulder.

 

“Put I down man” he says, a real gentleness to his tone that I’ve never heard before. Sadly it seems that all it took for me and Alfie to bond was a shoot out at high noon, or four o clock or whatever. Curtains are twitching now and I’m pretty sure someone would have called the police. Even so I take my phone out of my pocket with a shaking hand and dial.

 

“What, what you doing” says Fontaine “Don’t snitch on me” sounding more and more like a 12 year old kid as this sorry episode goes on. I’m about to ask for the police when Alfie pushes himself past me and launches himself into Fontaines stomach head first like he’s been launched out of a cannon. This causes Fontaine to drop his left arm and fire the gun straight into my foot. For a few seconds I feel nothing before an agonizing pain kicks in and then everything starts to cloud over, I recall Fontaine running off and Alfie sobbing as we were finally joined by various neighbours offering tea, towels and their various opinions on how to combat youth crime.

 

I came to in a hospital bed a few hours later with a bandaged foot and Alfie and Kim sat beside me. Alfie is more or less back to his old self, telling me that “most people shot in the foot don’t get kept in overnight, it’s only cos you passed out like a pussy”

 

He does give me a grin when he says this though and the gives me a fist bump before heading off to a vending machine with a couple of quid to remove all the cheese puffs he can find. Kim leans over and takes my hand and tearfully mouths “thank you” before planting a kiss on my cheek.

 

I don’t know whether it’s the morphine, the first human contact I’ve had in a long time or the fact that I cant get access to twitter in here but I realise that I’m the happiest I’ve been in ages.

 

I should definitely get shot at more often.

Mustard Boy

I sat flicking sugar at a red sauce container shaped like a tomato when I first saw him. You know the ones they used to have in every cafe? I mean, not that that’s the important part of this story but still, the devils in the detail.

He was absolutely beautiful. Big brown eyes and a mop of shocking ginger hair like a gorgeous muppet, and that smile. A smile that made me deliriously happy and at the same time absolutely terrified because it confirmed once and for all what I was, how I felt, what I wanted but what I’d always been too scared to reach out and take. It was part of the reason I’d picked this cafe, a non descriptor builders, burly men sipping sugary tea and laughing away the aches and pains of life over a fried egg. I stood out in here but not for the reasons I feared. I stood out in here in my suit and with my brown leather suitcase, a gift from my Mother on my first day at the bank. My initials engraved on the handle, a lovely gesture but one that made me feel like she was always watching me , sat on my shoulder and rolling her eyes like a condescending parrot.

I envied him so much that day, how carefree he looked moving from table to table with such effortless grace. Sliding breadcrumbs and misplaced cigarette ash into his hand and making it look like he was on a catwalk. I was transfixed by him as I absent mindedly chewed my beef and mustard sandwich and ordered my third tea of the hour just to stare at him a little longer. My colleagues had long given up on including me on the Friday lunchtime drinks. The boisterous chat about the secretaries that would “get it” and the needling and non stop insistence to prove who had the biggest cock never being a game I excelled at.

So it was twenty to one on a Friday in March in 1989 when my life changed forever. As I slipped on my coat and waited for the crowd of lads to noisily push through the door he caught my eye and caused the skin on my face to burn with an intensity I’d never felt before or since. He smiled as he came over to the table and with a gentle touch reached out with a paper napkin to brush at the side of my mouth.

“Mustard” he said “mucky pup.”

And with that he was gone, towards the back of the cafe and behind the counter before I could workout what had happened. I sat there for about another five minutes, partly to let my erection subside and mainly because I was too stunned to think.

I came back again and again. Sometimes on my lunch but usually at the end of the day as I knew it would just be him there locking up. I was engaged by now to a woman, a nice woman called Rebecca whose Mother played golf with mine. We’d eat Sunday lunch with my parents and I’d think of him, we’d walk around Allied carpets, Tescos or home from the Indian restaurant, watch Sunday night telly, make love with the lights off or drive out to the country and all the time I’d think of him, of Mark.

A dancer, a painter, a poet working in his Grandads cafe, living life on his terms not like me. I never thought of him more than when we were together, in the back of the cafe, in cheap hotels, in the park or in the back of my car, peeling each others clothes off and making each other whole.

The years ticked by and everything changed but not for us. He flourished on the arts scene and dated extensively while Rebecca and I grew more and more haunted and miserable as we tried unsuccessfully for a child that would never come. We never fought Rebecca and I, we didn’t have the passion for it. I was so chewed up internally by the guilt of it all, wasting the best years of both of their lives that I tried to kill myself. Waking up having had my stomach pumped, Rebecca sobbing in my Mother’s arms in the hospital cafe, my Father leant over my bed and sneered

“I know what you are, you disgust me. You cant even off yourself properly.”

Mark came in the quiet of night, a friend of his who worked as a nurse letting him forgoe the usual visiting restrictions, red eyed and with a higher hairline but still every inch the beautiful muppet.

Rebecca left two weeks after I was discharged. I watched her pack up in sadness, no energy left to hate me. She wished me well and left her front door key on the coffee table saying that she didn’t want anything else from me. I saw her in a park years later, throwing a little boy up in the air as he laughed and laughed and it made me happier than I’d been for a longtime.

The happy ever after? Yes, this would be a good place for it to come. I was free wasn’t I? And yet Mark and I still dealt in snatched weekends and cloak and dagger meetings. He was so angry with me, in a long term relationship himself now. His lip would turn up as I packed my suitcase at the end of another night in holiday inn sheets.

“Back to reality now eh Mustard boy? If you’re not careful you’ll feel something one day.”

Because I never told him till it was too late, I couldn’t. How can you express love when you loathe yourself as much as I always have?

But still we didn’t stop. So many times he told me to leave him be, to disappear and never come back but still they came, the phone calls, the texts, the whatsapps. The passing of time enabling me to speak to colleagues in Asia, America and Europe on the same screen but not to tell the only person I’d ever loved,how much he meant to me.

Until a week after I turned 45 we met and I knew straight away that something wasn’t right. The swagger was still there but for the first time he looked vulnerable, dented almost.

Cancer he said. A lump on his neck that wouldn’t go away. A prognosis of six months, this was for a dancer in his prime. I couldn’t take it in and again I retreated like I always had, pushing him away because I didn’t want to feel.

That April it was my turn to sneak in under the darkness to a hospice. A place full of people in their 70’s rasping out their last breaths and him, my Mark, my muppet.

He could barely raise his head the last time I saw him. I shuddered and sobbed and clung to him telling him over and over again what he’d meant to me since that day and forever since

“I know mustard boy” he whispered, the blue veins straining out of his shorn skull, no red hair left now, life leaving him but still he drew me in.

“I’ve always known.”

I took early retirement at 50. I thought about killing myself a lot for the first year but I felt the least I could do in my pathetic life was to live a little longer for him. So now I visit places he talked about as he rested his head on my chest and I played with his curls. I sit on the decks of boats, on hotel balconies and deserted beaches and I think of him. I watch people live and laugh and shout and cry and I miss him. I wish he was still here dancing round everything in his path with grace.

But most of all I wish that I’d had the courage to live.