Fucking Freak

by Dave Early

Eight doors down on the other side of the road, that’s where he lives. He hobbles along with his ankles on show below the turn-ups of his jeans. The waistband cutting into his chest. And he stops outside the wrought iron railings of number 22, opens his cigarette case and lights up.

It’s always between 2pm and 3pm. Every day. The same old routine.

I observe him from across the street. Gazing down from the third floor window. I don’t like my room to smell of smoke so I lean out as far as I can, though the window won’t open all the way.

He holds the cigarette daintily between his first finger and thumb. Thick clouds blast from his lips. I don’t think he inhales. Physically he must be in his forties. The top of his bulbous head unprotected from the elements by a few reluctant strands of hair. Occasionally he’ll vacate his trance and glance up. Whether or not he sees me, I have no idea. If he does, I wonder what he thinks.

I wonder if he thinks he’s crazy. I wonder if he thinks I think he’s crazy. I wonder if he thinks I’m crazy… the guy always leaning out his window staring down across the road.

There’s a woman too. There are plenty. Her body, like his and the others, has lost its youth. Her face is scrunched like those pensioners in those seaside postcards, collapsing in on itself just for the camera. She wears a single plait down her back, the hair on her head pulled tight making it difficult for her to blink. And her clothing… bright, elaborate and ill-fitting. Her gait is ungainly. She walks with her shoulders, up and down the road, stopping every now and then, fixed to the spot, to one particular slab of pavement, swaying slightly as if searching for the will to carry on.

Ten feet, no more, separate them. He, with his back pressed up against the railings, faces the road, unspeaking. She, nearer the kerb, stares past him along the pavement in the direction of their home. Both sets of feet shuffling from side to side, adjusting the weight.

She talks to me. When I’m on my way back from the shop or a long walk, she speaks. There’s no greeting. There’s no eye-contact. But she knows it’s me. I have no idea what she says, even though she says it loudly. I wonder why she chooses me when the only other person I’ve ever seen her talk to is herself. Probably coincidence. Probably I catch her when her soliloquy begins. But I feel I should stay until she’s finished.

Some decent folk step around them, holding back for a good ten paces before glimpsing over their shoulders. Curiosity without judgment. Decent folk. Then she lets out a rasping cackle, a couple of garbled expletives and carries on her way. She passes her neighbour with the large head. He shouts a greeting and waves his hand with the enthusiasm of a child kneeling on the backseat and waving a fond farewell to Grandma through a car’s rear window. She says nothing in return. Eyes front, focussed elsewhere.

She only talks to me.

He drops his cigarette to the floor, covers it with his foot, checks the sole of his shoe and draws his cigarette case from his pocket. He lights another. Holding it at arm’s length between drags.

A trio of boys, teenagers, anywhere between fifteen and nineteen years of age, come strutting up the road. Their voices carry. Windows to my left and to my right close. They can’t miss a second of their TV and radio programmes.

He pushes his heels tight against the railings to let the boys pass. They slow down and stare at him. He shifts his weight from foot to foot and avoids their curious eyes. Whether this is intentional or not, I couldn’t say. He is, after all, an unusual character. Grotesque even.

The boys trickle by, laughing at him. But they don’t stop. There’s no knowing what he might do. But still they produce their sticks and have a good prod. Laughing all the while. He presses himself between the railings and does well to ignore them. There’s no telling what they might do. One final prod and they’ll be on their way. One final salute, “Fucking Freak,” and a hail of laughter and they’re fit to pass.

It’s part of the order of things.

The man who stands by the railings eight doors down from where he lives in order to smoke two cigarettes is undoubtedly anomalous.

The boys, on the other hand, slot casually into the norm.

Dave Early cannot be summed up in one sentence; one word perhaps, but not one sentence.

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  1. #1 by Jennifer walmsley on March 14, 2011 - 8:13 am

    Wonderful characterisation. I was there with the narrator, looking down on the street.

  2. #2 by S de Assaf on March 14, 2011 - 8:28 am

    I found my throat was tight when I finished reading this. You described so well the pathos of some peoples lives. The terrible modern lack of compassion for those who didn’t win life’s battles. Yet we all know todays sniggering teenagers will one day weep alone in the dark hours of their lives – for yesterday we were them. What goes around comes around.
    Great writing.

  3. #3 by Sandra Davies on March 15, 2011 - 9:31 pm

    Excellent writing, teasing us into taking a stance before turning us around and making see how mistaken we are. Again.

  4. #4 by fiona campbell on April 1, 2011 - 9:36 pm

    beautifully written.

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