‘How can you forget where you left it?’ Samantha demanded, shooting Michael a withering look before closing her eyes and counting to ten. In a moment she would let out a deep sighing breath and give Michael her best, why do you insist on embarrassing me stare before ordering another drink from the bar and forgetting the subject altogether.
‘I mean really Michael!’
Michael blinked, confused as to where the last 6 seconds had gone and why she hadn’t ordered a large glass of red wine. She wasn’t following the natural order.
‘It’s a bench!’ Samantha spluttered. ‘You cannot misplace a bench! Especially not one of yours! They’re massive and made of wood. WOOD MICHAEL! WOOD!’
Everyone else in the pub had fallen silent now, the hum of conversation dying as all eyes turned to stare at the couple having the argument. Or rather, Samantha yelling at her bemused husband since Michael rarely said two words to anyone about anything.
‘I could understand a nail or two, perhaps even your level metre, but misplacing a bench is on a whole other level.’
Michael fixed his stare on what was left of his pint as Samantha continued to berate him for losing the garden bench he had made on commission, for Miss Appleway’s new patio. He really didn’t understand why she was so concerned; he would remember where it was and then collect it. Forgetting the rest of his pint he stood up from the table and headed for the door, leaving his wife purple faced and furious.
Hailing a cab he climbed in, sat down, and nodded when appropriate to the driver’s chatter. He didn’t notice the manila folder sticking out from beneath the front seats until he was almost home. Ignoring the driver’s comments on the weather Michael ducked down, and yanked the folder out.
There were three sheets of paper inside, all gibberish and slightly crumpled. There was nothing to say who they belonged to, or what they were about, just block text and narrow margins.
Rolling the folder up, Michael stuck it into his jacket pocket. I didn’t fit of course, but it stayed where he’d put it. In the morning he’d ask around the town and see if anyone had lost three sheets of nonsense.
‘Here we are mate!’ The driver said cheerfully, throwing a grin back over his shoulder as Michael clambered out of the taxi. ‘Nice looking place!’
Pulling out his wallet Michael paid him, watching him drive off before diving into his trouser pocket to search for keys. His house was one of row of terrace building, set back in tiny manicured gardens with box-hedges and gravel paths. What set his and Samantha’s apart from the rest was the array of strange wooden carving dotting the lawn and perching in the hedge.
‘Excuse me Sir?’ The voice came from an older gentleman stood beside the garden gate.
Michael acknowledged sadly that his house keys were not in his pocket and turned to face the man approaching him instead.
‘May I ask where you found that document?’ The man pointed at the folder sticking out of Michael’s pocket.
‘Taxi.’ Michael responded, gazing up at the front of his house and wondering how long it would be before Samantha got back. She’d probably be late home, thinking that it would punish him for abandoning her.
‘Did you read the content?’ The man asked, glancing at the folder in a way that would seem to suggest he was about dash in and snatch it.
‘Utter nonsense.’ he told the man.
The man in the suit sighed. ‘I’ll take that as a yes then. I am terrible sorry for this, but you never can be too careful in these situations.’
Michael nodded, assuming that whatever the man had said required his agreement, he had been more occupied with the splintered window ledge on the second floor.
It would take Samantha another three months before she noticed it, and then another five before it was fixed.
“No it fucking won’t,” I snap, leaving the withered old prune of a woman showing the whole bus-stop her knackered teeth. Eighty-four, arthritic and clean for fifty odd years. She was lucky, had a girlfriend who dragged her out of the crack house and to a hospital before the heroin overdose could kill her. Didn’t mean I wanted her telling me that the fags were going to do me in. It would be like me telling her that the number thirty-eight would have her on her back next week and no amount of emergency response would get her heart going again. Except in her case I’d be right and people tend to be a bit touchy when you tell them the deadlines on its way.
“Sorry,” I tell her. “Job’s starting to get to me.”
The ‘o’ shape of her mouth is now some puckered version of what once was a pretty impressive scowl. Still is to a certain degree, but you get use that after a hundred years or so.
“Humph,” she says, and that’s it. I suppose she doesn’t think I’m worth the time, or the energy. She’d have taken a swing twenty years ago, the sixty-year old with brass knuckles in her pocket.
“I really am sorry,” I say. “It was uncalled for, I shouldn’t have said that.”
She nods. It’s surprising how easy it can be to turn someone around with only a few words.
“I’m D,” I tell her. “Don’t ask what it’s short for, the whole back-story would take well too long to explain.”
I stick out a hand which she takes. Tough grip for an old bird, but like I said, brass knuckles in the right-hand coat pocket.
“I know your sort,” she says. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing here.”
I grin at that, they’re always trying to pin you into some box or another. “I thought I was waiting for the bus,” I tell her, putting a little pull into drawing my hand back. She kept it wrapped in hers.
“Not wearing that face you’re not. Normally your kind are a bit smarter. You must be new, or at perhaps you just thought my brain would have rotted away enough for me not to recognise an old face?”
“Old face?” I ask. You’re told that if one recognises you that the best thing to do is act innocent. But that can be a problem when your whole face has a tendency to light up the colour of tomato soup on those rare occasions when have reason to panic.
“D? I don’t need to ask what it’s short for,” she tells me. “I’ve been dodging you since that night fifty-three years ago. I hear your kind don’t like to be proven wrong.”
Conrad taught us to distrust our own minds. Caught up in the spin of some imaginary turmoil; he forgot that the rest of us were placed within his reach, waiting for some reassurance that this was not how it ended. Confirmation was never his strong point. Convinced we were the enemy, it became locked doors and unanswered phone calls. Coleen visited once a week only to find the casseroles she baked still cling-filmed at the back of the refrigerator. Considering it was twenty years before the funeral summons; I didn’t expect to cry when we carried him into the church.