When your jugular vein is pumping metallic filings of unknown origin and the do-gooders, for all their efforts, know better than to toast you.
by Chris Mason
Blood is not supposed to hurt, I know. But suppose that’s what happened to Cal? Just suppose he couldn’t endure the cold slicing pain of it all and the only way to stop it, he could see, was to cut it out of him. Suppose, will you, that he wasn’t off his or anybody else’s rocker or depressed at all or at least only as depressed as anyone whose internal fluids were giving them hell. Blood can be tricky I think, you can trust in it too much.
I miss Cal. Do you miss him? What am I saying, you didn’t really know him all that much. I hardly miss anyone. I don’t miss Horse or Ellis or Si, but I miss Cal, so you’d certainly miss Cal. If you knew him.
Past the other building the thinning tops of pedunculate oaks are stripped bare by gusts that carry the clicking of magpies and the low conversations of geese over by the pond. I like it here, scratchy blanket across my shoulders, sitting by the cracked annex window. Better than most guys I know, Cal. Better than the guy opposite, he never shuts up and he’s all bug-armed and everything, what’s the word? Uncanny. Like all about his head and chest, hands hanging limp as he probes himself with the balls of his wrists.
Always sweating and his shirt always bunched, because underneath he used to wear his ceremonial robe stitched together from tea towels he stole or people gave him. I found him the part under his left pit. Always sweating because of the flannel.
We get visits. I don’t, not personally, not anymore. We get a lot of visits from spooks and savages and perverts and Jesus and donors. Sometimes they get a tour, so they can see with their own eyes the shiny new dribble cups their money has bought us. Oh how grateful we are! Then at Christmas every year the donors and savages and Jesus etc have dinner with us. All the bug-eyed and bug-armed, uncanny bug bastards are wheeled into the hall to listen to Dom de Witton, in his brown suit and red crepe paper hat, honour us all with a toast. This one year, two years ago, sweaty Cal sat next to him at dinner and when Donor de Witton stood up to give his speech, Cal pulled down the guy’s trousers and missed pudding. There was a wet patch on his pants too. That was the best thing ever to happen here, any Christmas.
It wasn’t long after that things started to change for Cal. Slow at first, but once they seized the robe the interior pain took over completely. He would still sweat a lot, but cold now. Every so often he’d pipe up about missing fillings, spoon shavings in the soup, invisible needles in the beds, but you could see the poor bastard didn’t really know what was going on, only the feeling. Some of us started a petition on the dorm toilet door, but it was too late, his blood was probably teeming by then. Honest to God it was hard to stomach, seeing him like that. He still managed to see out another Christmas though. Sure enough de Witton didn’t make a toast last year which put a twitchy smile on Cal’s face. De Witton tried not to look as he stabbed at his turkey bits. Christmas is coming up again and I bet even with Cal absent, due to his tricky blood, he won’t make a toast this year either. Even so, I might wangle myself Cal’s seat in case he tries.
I miss him you know? Cal.
Chris Mason lives and writes in Essex. His stories have been performed by White Rabbit and he won the 100 Minutes with Spread the Word competition in 2013.