by Louie Richmond
Down the bank they had fled, three boys in a shopping trolley swilling his wine and laughing. Laughing at him crouched there in a cave, mattress flames dancing on his stricken face, the first man. They came in the night sought trouble and found him. He remembers them tossing his wine bottle about, he in the middle, a clumsy old fool yelling unintelligibly, candy from a baby? More like a wine from a drunk, even easier and he needed it more. God, he needed it now. He spat at the dirt and took stock, bags, gone, trolley, gone, mattress, gone. The crumbs of a fire smouldered in the corner, wire mattress springs coiled out, skeletons of the flame.
He stood up, nothing more to lose. His legs were unsteady, a grey man clutching a piss coloured sheet like it was all he had left. It was. A giant napkin, smeared with his stains. He gathered the sheet in his arms, his only friend, he cooed and rocked it slowly, rocked it gently, smelt himself amidst the folds. Then he turned and left his hovel under the highway. Scaled the bank on all fours, pushed through the scrub and out onto the road, his hands on his hips, his sheet a toga, a roman bum. A friendly young couple offered him a ride into town, he stretched his tired legs across the plush white seat of the sedan, soothing jazz funnelled from the speakers, a soft caress. Not really. He walked the five miles into the city, trudged with contempt, snarling at the shiny cars. Drifted down that road, swaying his sheet behind him. Eyes averted behind petrol coloured windscreens, impassive faces, empty stares, children’s waving hands slapped down. He waved back. A hopeless mess, A rambling shadow in Dunlops. They left him those at least, who wants an old man’s shoes?
He lay on the grass in the town square, the toga parted. Open curtains revealing his truth. The yellow light filtered through his eyelids, the grass freshly shorn, he breathed in, the smell of school carnivals. Running, jumping, winning. His smile broadened, red wine lips and Tic Tac teeth, orange flavoured. He pushed off his shoes, foot over foot, dexterous toes peeling away each sock. His long-toed feet curled into the cool grass and soft earth beneath. An old man writhing on the grass like a new grub.
“What do you think you’re doing, you can’t lie there, find somewhere else to do that.”
So again, he marched, from gallows to gallows, bundled his sheet around him, hiding his mouth and nose, just a pair of soft sad eyes peering out at the world. And then it rained. Drizzle first, small flecks across his grimy toga, his head tilted to the sky, an inaudible gummy call; him daring the heavens. Challenge accepted! The rain teemed down, each crash of thunder hastened the squall and thickened the drops. Puddles formed at his feet, water seeped between his toes and crept up his naked ankles. He looked down at his shoeless feet and cursed. On he went, raw feet slapping on concrete, thirsty now that all was wet. Into the city centre, the bustle hushed by drumming rain. He sat in a doorway and looked out on the world, sheltered in a shutting shop. Behind him the sound of a sliding door.
He didn’t turn, just got up and stepped into the street.
Round he spun to face their ire. In the doorway stood a portly man, barber shop stripes across his apron, his red cheeks and cherub lips pursed in a smile. A chubby hand poked out the end of his billowing white sleeve. On his palm that pointed skywards rested a brown paper bag, small trails of steam curled from its folded edge.
“Please take it, I baked it myself.”
The baker nodded at him and further extended his unwavering arm. The old man was tentative at first appraising this man and his gift. Then, snap! He snatched the pie, tore off the oily paper, shoved it down his throat as quick as its heat would let him. Hot gravy burned his throat, he oohed and aahed, gurgled in delight, rapturing in its warmth. All the while the baker stood, arms crossed and beaming in delight. When he’d finished the pie, he smacked his lips together and rubbed his stomach. He faced the baker, curled up his lips and smiled, showing him his teeth and gums, caked in pastry. Then he turned and fled, belly full and merry fed, the rain not cold but cool.
About the author
Louie Richmond is a Hobart based writer who spends the summer months in Tasmania and the winter months travelling the globe searching for the perfect place to write. He has previously been published in Flash Fiction Online, Just100Words and The Bright Light Cafe.