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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Stories

•Denis Quilligan
Nathan is somebody I’ve always liked. He’d frighten the crows the way he looked but there was always a gentility about him.


He told me once about coming between a pair who were in the process of whacking each other senseless. The police arrived and immediately arrested Nathan. It was the obvious thing to do he said and smiled with resignation. We both agreed that the police were acting in the best interests of the public. How could they not arrest somebody who looked as he did and was in the midst of it all.
Not surprisingly, I suppose, some would give him a wide berth. When I said hullo to him one time in the presence of Liz she remarked on the strange people I knew. And where does that leave you Liz I thought. And me.
But how could she know, how could she judge.

‘Hey geezer’ was Nathan’s common greeting for a long while. I’d hear it as I cycled past the shops. I’d pull in and shoot the breeze with him. He’d know how Arsenal were doing but rarely went on about it – local affairs were more his line of country. And few knew the goings on better than Nathan. I spotted him last week as I made it into the home strait just before the shops. He was moving slowly, a crutch to either side and his legs looked thin.
‘So how’s it going?’ I asked as he pulled over to let the urgent ones pass.
He jogged his head in response. What it said to me was ‘I’m putting up with things but it isn’t easy.’
'I was just down the High Road trying to get through the crowds, you know, where the 16 bus stop is. And this kid bangs right into me. I pull back like this and hold the crutches to the front to stop me falling over. So I’m stuck, can’t go forward or back and I’m fuming. I stare hard at the kid but of course he doesn’t apologise, couldn’t care less. Why? Because he has back up. His old man is in the frame, looming up behind him. He looks at me and says:
‘ You hit him and I’ll hit you.’
‘What? So how am I supposed to hit him, propping myself up on a pair of crutches, eh? I can barely move.’
‘You hit him, I’ll hit you’
'He starts mouthing off proper and then turns away. So I called after him:
"Come back here and do it. Forget about shooting your mouth off. I can’t stand people who talk about it, but don’t follow through. So come on. Don’t mind about the crutches. Do it. Let’s see you. Come on." And I went like this.'

He showed me. He shifted his weight onto the left crutch and let the other one fall against it. He grimaced as he made the manoever but was now able to get to his pocket and stick his hand right in. I recognised the move and have always thought it a smart one. How is anyone to know if you have anything there or not. But it takes nerve. Nathan fixed me in the eye and didn’t let go. Quick as a flash his hand shot forward and I caught sight of the steel. I could feel a cold sweat trickle down my back. It was no con. There in his hand was a brute little knife with a short wide blade. He pulled his arm in a wide arc. His voice was steady, almost reassuring. ‘So come on then. Do it. Do it, come on. Or fuck off out of it.’
‘And did they?’
‘Yeah but he kept it up even as they took off.’

Almost as quick the knife was stashed and he reached out to grab hold of the spare crutch, lurching forward as he did, ready for the off. We stood there silent looking into the traffic.
Gradually my breathing slowed down until it felt it was back to normal. He looked beyond me at the pub on the corner and said:
‘Yeah that’s how it is these days. See that place. I don’t even go in there anymore. I stay at home now.’
He was silent again.
‘I was sorry to hear about Sean. God. Man he was young.’
‘Forty nine.’
‘Forty nine, huh. That’s far too young.’
Again we stood there.
‘It was good to talk to you.’
And he smiled.
‘You’re alright geezer. Look after yourself.’
He headed forward slowly careful not to let the right foot take his weight when he got to the kerb. I turned away and got on my bike.

The leaves were falling. Winter wouldn’t be far off. 

© Denis Quilligan September 2012

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