By Desiree Reynolds
He was sitting on the sofa, staring at the TV. He turned to look at her and struggled to get up. She thought she could hear his knees.
“No, no, it’s alright don’t get up.”
She sat in the armchair opposite and tried to pull her skirt down. She started to skin up. It was the only thing that was keeping her from running.
“What you watching? Oh it’s not on”
“Don’t need it, pictures in here”.
He took one of his short fat fingers and tapped his head. They were the shortest fattest fingers she had ever seen, with thick grey brown nails at the thumb. Just the shortest and fattest ever.
“You’ve got very strong hands”, she was transfixed by them. Imagined them twisting a chicken neck, swinging a bat, beating a drum or squeezing a woman’s throat. That was the talk on the estate. His wife was still naked and warm when he squeezed all the breath out of her. He spent 15 years in prison and when he was released he slept rough, until he was given this place. That was the talk.
“Steady as a rock”, he held up a hand but a tremor started so he used it to rub his head. Brown meeting black and grey.
“Oh yeah”, she humoured him, he knew it, she knew he knew, all a part of the game.
He looked at her long, bright fingers, curling the papers over the dark brown tobacco and bright green weed, her tongue, small and pink, licking the edge of it. She put it in her mouth and lit it, catching his gaze as she looked up.
“Want some?” She held it out to him, maybe he wasn’t so stiff after all.
“Me?” He looked shocked, “oh no, no, dat ting will mess you up dat will”.
She chuckled, “dat’s the point.”
“I don’t now why people do it.”
Her eyes darted across the room, she was looking for the spotlight she suddenly felt under.
“What you’ve never done it?”
“No,” he was proud.
“What never, ever? Big man like you? What’s dat about?”
“I didn’t mean to…” he rubbed his head, “sorry”.
“It’s alright you know, I’m cool”
“Stop saying sorry!”
“No, um, I’m sorry. I don’t know why…”, she let her voice drift away from her, too tired to catch it back.
“Why I do it. I don’t know why, it makes me happy.”
“Yeh, you know. Like nothing matters, everyting cool, you know”.
“Yeh, but it’s nice to feel like it doesn’t.”
“Did you man tell you dat?”
“What do you mean?”
“Dat nutin matters. When he mean nutin matters ‘cept him. Everyting matters. You have to feel everyting, everyting. And when you know dat, you can live straight.”
“What? Like live your life widout killin people?” She felt misjudged, who was he anyway? She looked at him and saw shame.
“Anyway”, he continued, fighting the silence that fell between them, “it’s bad for you”.
“I don’t do it cossa Jay”
“Bad for you health”
“Every thing bad for you doh, innit? Too much of anyting is bad for you”
“And he don’t mind?”
“Who? Jay! Fuck no!”
“I’d mind.” He stared at his slippers
“If, you know, if I cared about you, if you was my friend, I’d mind.”
She didn’t now what to say. Words gathered in her mouth and rested there.
“Him wake up?”
“Who? Oh, oh yeah, he’s up. Jus getting dressed. Er um. Thank you for putting us up, we didn’t have anywhere else to go”.
“Really, thank you, we’re very grateful”
“I’ll put on di kekkle”.
“No, let me” she floated up out the door towards the kitchen.
“I mean it Mordacai, you’ve given us your bed and everything. Thank you. I don’t know what we would’ve done if we hadn’t met you. Couldn’t go back to our old place, too many scopers, yuh get me? So, you live by yourself then?”
She didn’t know why she kept this up. Everybody knew he had no one. That’s why they were there, cos he had no one. No one should have no one, she thought, every one should have some one. She suddenly felt tired, small and stupid. Why was she here? Why wasn’t she at home? They wouldn’t let her stay there by herself, they wouldn’t let her in the hospital with her mum and when they grabbed her, held her down by her wrists and ankles, so they could take her Mum away, she cried, longer and harder than she had been alive. She cried in all the homes she stayed in, she cried when her foster parents kicked her out, she cried when a boy first kissed her and then slapped her, she cried when she had her first abortion. Then she stopped crying.
She was talking too much but the weed was making her tongue loose. She shut her mouth and put the kettle on. She realised she was still holding her neck. Her own hand made her jump. When she looked up he was standing in the doorway. Smiling, it looked like smiling. He was showing her his teeth. Crooked and lonely. It looked like his face wasn’t used to it. She thought she could push her finger through the lines under his eyes, that the skin would envelop her. She wondered if he liked her, the way he looked at her all the time. She wondered if she liked him, the thought of his naked, short, body made her drop the cup.
He eyed her suspiciously, as if he knew what she was thinking, ”lucky, it didn’t break”.
Desiree Reynolds started her writing career in London as a freelance journalist for the Jamaican Gleaner and the Village Voice. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Leeds. She is a member of Inscribe, a Black writers group based in Leeds and Black Butterflies, a female Black writers collective based in Sheffield. She has published poetry and short stories and articles in SABLE LitMag, The Suitcase Book of Love poems, any anthology published by Suitcase Press and Toaster for Smoky Laughter, The Inscribe anthology, In Our Own Words – A Generation Defining Itself, MWE Enterprises in the USAShe is the Black Consultant Editor, for Writeangles, Arts Council, Yorkshire and is currently working on a collection of short stories. She has also been awarded a grant from Arts Council, Yorkshire to develop her first novel, which will be published by Peepal Tree Press.