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.