The end of Cromwell opened out into the Downville estate. The barking of dogs hovered in the air and the autumn chill took occasional nips at Mike’s ears. The high-rise flats cast a shadow over the terraced housing and heightened the sense of despair that pervaded those four blocks of Council owned property. Mike halted for a moment and turned up his collar against the cold, shaking an envelope to drop the address into the clear plastic window. Thin plumes of steam escaped his parted lips, rising and gathering in a wide column before washing away in the breeze.
No small parcels of handwritten letters here – just official looking envelopes: court summonses and reminders of outstanding bills. At Number Eleven, Mike struggled to open the gate that clung to its single hinge and had scratched a quarter circle of blue paint across the pavement. He tip-toed over the car parts littered across the garden path and throughout the knee high grass. He recalled the day, two years before, when the Astra had arrived on the driveway in need of a minor repair to a headlight. Over the subsequent weeks, the car was stripped bare and it became apparent that the youths who had undertaken the project had little idea of how to reconstruct the jumble of rusting metal.
Mike lifted the flap on the letter box and passed the envelopes into the mouth of a Staffordshire bull terrier sat patiently inside. From his experience, the dog was the most well mannered resident of the house. He retraced his steps to the gate with care. The scrape of metal on concrete was echoed by the angry shouts of a woman admonishing a young child for spilling an ashtray.
* * *
Andrew had travelled only half a mile before slowing to a crawl. He foul-mouthed the old man behind the wheel of a Nissan Micra stranded in the yellow box and preventing the flow of traffic. But Andrew knew he should be castigating himself; fifteen minutes earlier there would barely have been a car on Cromwell Road. the red Micra lurched forward a little; Andrew breathed as his large BMW used every millimetre of the gap. He revved his way up through the gears trying to make up for lost time.
* * *
Mike eyed the furniture in the garden and surmised there was more upholstery n front of the properties than inside them. The foam spilling from the torn arms of sofas, on which residents had spent balmy summer evenings downing super strength lager, was now soaked with autumn damp and sprinkled with black spores. Every third or fourth house presented well trimmed hedges, well kept lawns and sparkling windows; Mike felt a surge of sympathy for some of the older residents stuck at the bottom of a ladder, frantically clambering to maintain a sense of dignity in an ocean of misery.
Inside the door of the high-rise flats, many of the pigeon holes had not been emptied in months. He struggled to squeeze fresh mail between unanswered debt-collection notices and flyers advertising taxis and cheap pizzas. Two young men aged beyond their years were slumped on the bottom stair. They mumbled to each other in a tired slur as they crumbled resin into a small pipe. Mike’s eyes remained fixed on his task, but his ears wandered across the lobby.
“Your bruv still got that dog, John?”
“Yeah. the bitch is still fuckin’ shit. Loves digging up rabbit warrens. Got a real taste for the little ‘uns. She got hold of one the other day up on Mayew Common.”
“She kill it?”
“Nah. I managed to get the poor thing out of her chops, but it was proper mangled, like”
“You put it put it out of its misery, John?”
“How d’ya kill it?”
“I buried the fucker alive”
A brush of palms punctuated the words and confirmed the creature’s demise. Mike chuckled – a recognition of the absurdity of the situation but a temporary betrayed of his love for animals.
Even his high visibility jacket had not alerted the young men to his presence, but the faded police tape flapping near the door, and the incident marker requesting information about a recent stabbing made him glad to be leaving the building.
Mike shifted his satchel, much lighter now, higher up his back, and crossed the main road to the large expanse of green. He walked at pace towards the the entrance of the park, glancing sideways through the tightly spaced railings at the shaven – headed man walking his monstrous dog. The image jolted like a cine-reel out of sync with the projector shutter, and the young man moved in a series of jerky motions – a stickman walking on the spot, never leaving the page corners of a flick book animation. Seventeen frames rolled before the man stopped and reversed the film. Mike turned his head towards the road but his eyes had become unaccustomed to the normal, seamless movement of the early-morning traffic – a hint of nausea rose in him.
copyright Damon King 2014