Lost for wordsI heard he had been ill but wasn’t prepared for the figure that opened the door. I should have known something was wrong when I heard the shuffling in the corridor, then the fiddling with the door handle. I waited as the curses grew louder, then it opened. An eye peered at me in the darkness.

‘I didn’t mean to disturb you,’ I muttered, ‘I was looking for Terry.’

The eye focused, the door opened wider and the figure ushered me in. I stepped forward nervously, glanced at him and tried to smile. He pointed at me.

‘In there,’ he barked.

I moved forward into a large lounge. It was barren and empty and the dim light cast shadows on the walls. He shuffled past me, sat down on an old, threadbare armchair and fumbled in his pockets. He produced a packet of cigarettes, pulled one out and manoeuvred it into his mouth. He lit a match but his hand shook so violently that he couldn’t direct it. I watched him struggle, then stood up, took his wrist and pushed it forwards. The tobacco ignited, he sucked in with all his strength, then lay back imbibing the smoke. He held it for a while, then blew it out. It spiralled upwards, circulated around the fan then dispersed to the far corners of the ceiling.

 I looked at his face, withered and sallow and at his fingers almost stripped of all their flesh. He was wearing an old, striped dressing gown, frayed at the edges and stained with remnants of his last meal.

 ‘How are you?’ I asked stupidly.

He stared at me.

 ‘Could be better, I suppose.’

‘Been a long time,’ I asked, ‘How’s Maddy?’

He sucked in hard, leaned forward and stubbed the cigarette out repeatedly in the broken ashtray. He didn’t answer.

 ‘I was passing through. Thought I’d drop in.’

 ‘Drink?’ he asked.

 I nodded. He pointed to the cabinet and I rose and opened the glass door.  The hinge was broken and it leaned forward precariously as I opened it. I pulled out the half- empty bottle of whisky and two glasses and placed them on the table between us.

 ‘Fill it up,’ he stuttered, his tongue moving across his lips like a snake ready to strike.

 I leaned forward, emptied the bottle and passed a glass to him. He took it, his hand shaking.

 ‘Cheers,’ I said, clinking the glasses together and downing mine in one.

 He held his tight, tried to bring it forward then stopped and hurled the glass across the floor. It bounced off the wall and shattered in to tiny pieces.

‘Life’s shit,’ he said, ‘pointless.  What’s it all for? This!’

I rose, tried to put my arms around him but he just pushed me away and started to cry.

I waited a while, hoping it was temporary and would pass. But it didn’t.

I rose, nodded and headed towards the door. I turned.

He suddenly stopped crying and looked up.

‘I’ll always remember the good times,’ I said, ‘you were so kind to me. I’ll never forget those days. It meant so much. I don’t know what I would have done without you both.’

He stared at me and nodded.

© Graham Walker 2012

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user adam_jones

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