The Kent House

A dull, dull street, rows of close-packed terrace houses, a grey drizzle in the Garden of England, before you reach the last house, taller than the rest, apart that is, from its adjacent twin. Come on! Follow your eyes, walk down the narrow alley. Up a step, push on the large front door you are like the writer inside now, a ghost at the banquet.

First floor, first door: rat-tat tat! "WHAT!" An angry shout leaps from behind the hardboard door. Richard is seventy years old and a grump. He's just pulled off his boots caked with mud, pushing his specs up his nose, he has been interrupted. His silvery hair slicked back. Rrrring!!! The pay phone is ringing again. He opens the door in a flash, his hands toughened from sheep husbandry, yes a farmer lodged in the town, and he grabs the receiver. "Yes!" he grunts. He listens a moment. Then he yells up the stairs, "WAYNE! WAYNE!" He makes it sounds more like, "PAIN!"

Prostrate on his bed, languid, listening to "Tijuana Lady" playing on the stereo, he hears "Wayne". His name echoes through his loft room. The bed built into a structure above the stairs, as if he were asleep on the ceiling. Tall and slim, this bony blonde lands like a long-legged fly on the soiled and detritus-strewn carpet. "OK, I'm coming, hold on, mate," he yells out. He leaps down the threadbare stairs, a flight at a time. Only dressed in his designer underwear he reaches the telephone receiver discarded on the nearby shelf.

Almost choking on the smoke, Colin lights a cigarette in his basement room, battery extracted from ceiling detector. The white walls are stained by years of yellow smoke. His change from a day's worth of fares is spread over his bedside table. He lays his palm across a pound coin, which he drops into the slot. The half-light is alleviated as his lamp ignites, the dust burns on the solitary bar heater. Though it is still autumn, Colin feels the cold like an old foe returning. He does struggle, overburdened with his belly, to climb the few stairs to the hallway, brushing past Wayne. Breathless, he wipes his bearded chin as he enters the kitchen.

Young Rick is cooking a microwave meal for his slender girlfriend, who hovers, fusses but is no help. Flipping burgers all day at Burger Royale, they are the king and queen of chicken supreme in the evening. Rick is intense and in sharp focus, makes cooking a microwave meal into a culinary tour de force. His girlfriend, Sabina, out of focus, not even a name, rations her smiles as carefully as she dispenses French fries to her hungry customers. Colin is amiable for a change. "What are we having tonight, something nice?" he asks with a wink.
"Pasta, with creamy chicken sauce..." Rick twangs back, "...grab hold of this, babe." His attention never slips. He slides his hand around her waist pushing her towards the open door, pasta in hand. Colin's deep fat fryer sits in forceful defiance of doctor's orders awaiting a use; it will remain unused.

Richard and Colin sit like two smoking gargoyles at opposite ends of the kitchen table. These two are lonely characters unattached, but settled, as they chew on their meals. Wayne passes through the kitchen to use the shower, metered by the landlord at ten pence a go. "Tijuana Lady" Wayne sings from the shower.
Rrrring! "That bloody phone again" Richard angrily belches. Rrrring!
Colin replies, "Bound to be for Wayne."
"I'll get it, don't he know it's for everyone's use." Richard picks up the receiver.
Colin mocks Wayne's conversation from his seat, "Hello, mate, yes, mate."
"Wayne you want, he's not here, he's gone out... goodbye." A chuckle constrained by his west-country tones.
Wayne emerges from the shower, his spiky hair flattened. "Did the phone ring?"
"It was for me," Colin, who hasn't moved an inch, gives a wink to Richard, over Wayne's bare shoulder.

Rick jogs down the stairs, grabbing the receiver, he garbles into the mouthpiece. "Hello! Is mum there? Put her on."

Upstairs, Wayne has created an alternative kitchen on an old rickety table in his room. Boiling the kettle for tea, he propels the drawstring teabag like a catapult through the open window. It hooks on the branch below joining the other perforated bags that festoon the branches. His mobile phone comes to life. Its illumination cuts through the attic room gloom. Buzz! Buzz!
"Hello! John."
"Wayne, where are you?"
"I'm at home."
"I rang before. Your mate the farmer. He's a bundle of joy. He said you've gone out."
"He's a bastard; let's forget that fucker, what's the plan for tonight."
"No plan. That's what I tried to tell the old git. I'm not coming over tonight, bloody fog closed the bridge. It took me two hours to get back to the Island"
"Really, mate. OK, but I'll call tomorrow, mate."
"OK, Goodbye."
"OK, Goodbye."
Wayne drifts to sleep. He wakes with a start. The milk is left on the side; he jumps down and puts it away. He climbs back into bed. He dreams. Whack! He feels the sting of his mother's palm across his neck. "Wayne, how many times do I need to tell you? PUT THE MILK AWAY." A drawn and cornered woman grows darker. She picks up the half-full bottle of milk and pours it over his head. "How many times... clean it up." His sister looks on halfway to a giggle. "What's so funny?" the mother yells.

Richard is drifting off in his chair. Out of the house by six every day is taking its toll. The farm devoid of its farm house ceases to be a home. It is just a workplace. Screech! In his dream he can sniff the burning rubber. His farm long time ceased being a home. The damp road was greasy with oil that dark night. His wife was already apart from him. That bike a pile of burning scrap. His only son not a live troublesome boy but a corpse laid across the road. His dream's last flicker burnt out. It was twenty years ago but it felt like yesterday, which is an agony deep down in his chest. Richard wakes himself up. Staring at his face in the mirror, he splashes water on his face, the cool water a pleasant shock.

Through the dirty window pane, Richard can see Colin. He makes small steps into a taxi cab. Not his own, strange, he thinks. He takes a deep breath; this is Colin's last ride. A week later, his wife, yes, he had a wife; she turns up to pick up his things. The only thing she leaves is the door stop, a triangle of wood on which he had scrawled his name in felt tip ink, she takes a broken-down radio, dirty laundry and even the deep fat fryer. Some people prefer a plaque on a park bench. This door stop is his only memorial, kicked about the kitchen, each dent in its surface representing time spent in this space. She leaves a card saying "How much he liked the people he lived with; his friends!"

Discuss this in the Forum      Обсудить это на Форуме

Copyright © 2003 by Melvyn Dresner
Back to English/Russian Prose Index