-by Nigel Best
The moment had me putting on an extra thick sweater, boots and coat, and heading outside into air that is still late-winter crisp. My breath can still be seen on today’s cold.
In the early, peeking green leaves of tulip plants there is the anticipation of warmer air coming up with spring’s arrival.
The pub, a ploughman’s lunch, and a pint of beer is the goal as I close the garden gate and pull the scarf that is around my neck a little tighter against this chill.
Walking down through the side roads takes me out to the path that winds past the stream that runs down to a small pond. My friends and I as children would swim there. That was until the day we had set off there only to find Hawkin’s brown body swinging slightly in the breeze at the end of a rope. I can still recall in my mind those silent, staring eyes, the elongated neck, and his feet pointing at the ground as he dangled rom a branch overhanging the gurgling waters of the stream.
Soon after someone rerouted the stream so that the pond drained, and, as boys, we had to find other ways to enjoy the summer days. Some of us rode our bikes for hours and then lay in the farmers’ fields pointing out the animal shapes the clouds made. Others found there was more fun in petty criminal acts and causing headaches for the local police.
Turning now onto the main street into town. It used to be a busy road until the highway began taking the traffic away from the local area. The lack of traffic brought less people passing through, and the economy began to wither away. With less money, a lot of the businesses moved to the regional mall almost 50 miles away.
Maybe the lack of money is why there are so many holes one has to navigate in this sidewalk. A senior could easily break an ankle in one of these. But, one pays ones taxes, I thought, one expects a decent return from the town.
Is that too socialist an idea, I huffed to myself?
I’ll take that up with Norton who is bound to be holding court in his usual seat at the pub. He’s a Republican with some interesting ideas about all of these things, though my boots will be full of his bullshit once we’re through.
Now past the church where congregations listen to sermons culled from King James’ bible. The irony of King James keeping a harem of young men for his pleasure as his ministers were writing his bible always brings a smile to my face.
Past the park where I had my first kiss. It’s also where I got drunk for the first time in my teenage years. Cider it was, a drink I still cannot stomach to this very day.
Into the town centre and its cenotaph. Stopping for a moment to look at the names that have heard 75 years of people never forgetting gives me the pause for thought that time really is out of mind.
I shrug off the thoughts just as I notice Mandy coming out of the food bank door. She’s carrying two bags of groceries and trying to navigate her child’s stroller into the street. Used to be not so long ago, five bags of groceries could be fetched from the food bank. I think of her unpacking what little she has, making a decision about what food her youngster can eat and when.
As I watch her walking away, I wonder if Stevens is right now saying something nasty in the pub about single mothers even though it is he that put her in the family way. He’s never acknowledged it, but everyone knows.
Finally, the warmth of the pub, and sure enough Norton has a seat at his table for me. I order as I take off my winter coat, scarf and gloves. I mention that I have just seen Mandy and her child.
“She needs to keep an eye on that baby,” sniffs Norton. “You know Democrats want to eat babies?”
Here it comes, I think. Norton’s conspiracy theories. I decide to beat him at his own game.
“Norton, people have been eating babies since the middle of the 1700s. It’s not just Democrats. Have you never read Swift’s Cook Book published in 1729? It outlines how to stew, roast, bake or boil a child for the table. The book even outlines how to use the hides of the children for clothing and shoes, This idea is nothing new.
“It was written because of the overpopulation of youngsters at the time, and as a way to prevent women having to have abortions. As a Republican, you should be happy that children are being eaten,” I said as my food and drink arrived.
“I did not know that,” he said, and I could tell he was now contemplating the idea in his mind. “Three hundred years of this. Who knew?”
“Less of a burden on society,” I offered.
As I raised my glass to my own cheekiness, there came a commotion from one of the booths at the far end of the establishment.
“The people will never forget spilled blood.” a loud voice announced.
“Ah! Penny is here?” I asked, nodding in the direction of the words.
“Indeed she is,” said Norton. “Though she’s been fairly quiet up to now.”
Penny had recently returned from two tours of Iraq with a severe case of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Unfortunately, her parents being old, she was unable to get to her psychiatrist in Hull, five hours away, as often as was required. As one imagines, there were no local mental health support services in town.
So, her outbursts were generally brought to the surface by vodka, gin and missing her medication times. Her hands would begin to tremble, her arms would flail, her tone became more aggressive and hostile, and we all would avoid her arguments until the force of her anger was spent. That’s when we knew we could arrange to get her home. Her tears would fall from her feeling ashamed of her own actions.
“You know we had communists in town here once?” came her loud voice. “They brought in dead dogs and hung them up from the overhead wires. Someone got ‘em though. Shot the bastards on the outskirts of town, but not before they’d had a chance to throw some Russian cheeses.”
It took forty more minutes of her loud utterances before her brother arrived to take her home.
Norton and I had, through Penny’s raging, had our own differences aired out over a number of pints of ale.
“I just have to say,” Norton began in conclusion, as I began to put on my winter clothing in preparation to leave, ‘maybe the world is just an illusion. Maybe the world is flat. Or a triangle. Have you ever considered that?”
“Would it matter?” I asked. “You Republicans are still just confidence men hoping someone like me will turn into a confidence voter. I ask you though, name one piece of legislation your type has ever voted on that has enacted a positive change for the poor of this country?
“By virtue of their just having being born, you consistently keep the poor crawling toward early deaths. Until that changes, Norton, you run the risk of revolution.”
I turned to leave. Putting a hand into a coat pocket, I felt the seven coins I keep in there as a talisman.
Outside, heading home, there was a smell of war on the air.
The afternoon breeze seemed to whisper the voices of those who wished for the past as well as the words of those who were trying to hang something onto a future.
I walk home in the present.