Alb and I always call in for a pint after work on a Friday, our ritual to celebrate another week’s work. I mean nobody likes a dead end job in insurance sales but times are hard and money’s tight. I was glad to get this even though it meant a move to the city. It’s something to be gainfully employed these days and Alb’s a good mate — the only one I’ve found here.
In the pale evening light, I saw the resident beggar crouched beneath a street light in the tree-lined square. He looked like nothing so much as a misplaced garden gnome; face set with submission and ingrained with grime. The fur collar of his great-coat which he wore like a kind of aloof dignity, was turned up against the frost and he played high and forlorn notes on a battered flute. It was his only possession, his only mode of expression; a random kind of music made of loneliness and cold.
I was acutely aware of him, perhaps because of the promise of snow and so I asked Alb because he knows everything round here. “How did he end up like that anyway?” I said, digging into my pocket for the usual change and finding none. “Drink, I suppose?”
“Ah, Cromer Daily — he’s a bit of a legend here in the Cube,” Alb said. “Used to be someone. He controlled Cube Corporate.”
“The main bank? Controlled it?”
“General Manager. Never a day off. Work, work, work. That was before the accident.”
“Nope. One night he went home early and accidentally walked in on his wife and his best friend — then he accidentally shot them six times and turned the gun on himself. It made headline news.”
“Did he do time?”
“He suffered an acute memory loss afterwards and couldn’t stand trial so he spent years on a psych ward. They closed the hospital and he’s been in community care ever since.”
“Is that what they call this?”
“He’s never spoken a word since that day. Just keeps playing tuneless tunes on that flute. It’s as if there’s nobody home, you know? Well, in a sense there isn’t. You can go right up to him and stare him in the eyes and you get no reaction whatever. Try it.”
I did. Those eyes were disturbingly vacant; deep as the universe and like a shallow grave. Poor soul! I took a large note out of my wallet and stuffed it into his pocket. Time was all he was doing anymore.
I told Alb I’d take a rain check and called my wife. Told her I’d be home very soon, any minute in fact and that I was taking her out on a date so be ready.
“Hell – it’s only money,” I said.
Sometimes I think about Cromer Daily when I’m fed up mid-week and about how it’s a pity we so often measure our happiness by other people’s misfortunes.
Oonah V Joslin is Managing Editor at Every Day Poets. She has 3 Micro Horror prizes, an honorable mention in The Binnacle’s Shorts Poetry comp 2009 and 2011. Inclusion in several anthologies, A Man of Few Words, The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and 2009 and Toe Tags. Read her at Static Movement, The Shine Journal, A View From Here, The Ranfurly Review 10FLASH Quarterly and most recently in New Rising Sun — a Red Cross book for Tsunami victims, Twisted Tales and Ether Books and Writewords’ own Anthology Pangea. You can find links to these at Parallel Oonahverse. Oonah reads some of her poetry here. Other work including her Novella, A Genie in a Jam, can be found at Bewildering Stories. The list is updated in The Vaults at Parallel Oonahverse and on her Facebook. Oonah’s ambition is to have a book published.