The Window Bow
by Mark Connors
Jason Sellars walks briskly back towards home after nipping down to the local Tesco Express for some cigarettes. He’d considered driving but he’d had a few cans to wash down an insipid meal-for-one, which was supposed to be a curry of some kind, so he decided to walk rather than take the risk of being over the limit.
“Jason!” He turns to see a figure at the bus stop. “Alright?”
He thinks about just waving but he decides to walk across to say hello to whoever it is. It’s not as if he’s in a rush to get back to his empty house.
He knows the man’s face but he can’t recall his name. He gets the feeling it won’t be a good idea to ask as he may take offence.
“Hi,” says Jason, noticing the can of beer in the man’s hand and a carrier bag full of more cans to the right of him. “Freezing night,” he says, confirming this by exhaling a plume of vapour. “How’s things?”
“Not too bad. Just getting out of the house. I’m back at me mother’s. I’m doing her ‘ead in so I thought I’d pop out for a walk, a few cans an’ that. Not a big fan of pubs these days. Too many wankers about. I’ll only end up chinnin’ someone.”
“Right,” says Jason, wanting to be anywhere else but here now he’d established that this man is at best a little edgy and at worst, a violent thug who can’t function well enough in the world to go into a pub without being able to resist decking someone he doesn’t like the look of.
“No one gives a fuck, mate. I used to drink in a few pubs in town. There was always someone to talk to, but now – I don’t know – people are very uncomfortable around me for some reason. You are now. I can tell. And I’ve known you since we were nippers. It’s written all over your face, Jason. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Jason is unsure how to react to this sudden aggression and fears he might just get chinned himself. “I’m not uncomfortable around you at all, mate. I’m just knackered after a shit day at work and relishing the fact that I get to do it all again tomorrow.”
“No. Just had a couple of cans.” Jason takes the cigarettes from his pocket, unwraps them, removes the gold foil and offers one to the man who he still can’t remember the name of. He takes a cigarette for himself and lights them both.
“That’s what I mean. People like you wind me up. I grew up with you, man. You barely remember me. You speak all differently these days, like you’re someone special. But I know where you came from. You know my face – you’ve seen me around often enough and we’ve said hello, but you don’t remember how close we were as kids. It’s a real shame. Do you want a can?”
“I really should be getting…”
“Go on, fuck off then. Your wife will be waiting for you. Nice looking woman. I’d do her, if you don’t mind me sayin’.”
“Actually, I do mind. Watch your mouth.”
He laughs. “And what exactly are you gonna do about it?” He offers a
can to Jason, chuckling. For a split second, a rush of anger floods through
Jason but it soon dissipates. “Let’s start again. My name, if you give a shit,
is Shaun Wilson. We went to infant school together for three years and
junior school for another two till me folks decided we were moving. We
used to play with your soldiers on that big window box in your front room
that your brother painted like a battlefield. You kept all your other stuff
inside it. Toys. comics an’ that. I fuckin’ loved that window box and I loved
playing at your house. And you had a games room in your attic with a dart
board and a little snooker table. I used to love coming to your house, man.
Love it. Me dad was a total cunt, drink an’ that, and me mam weren’t much
better. She’s alright now, like, but she was horrible to me as a kid. Never
stuck up for me with ‘im. I used to love coming to your place to get away
from all the shit. That window box, man. Fuckin’ brilliant. .Don’t you
remember? You had all these little green soldiers and all these like grey ones
and we’d set ‘em all up on that battlefield your brother painted with trees,
minefields and fences and shit, on the wood like. Painted it all on the fuckin’
wood. Fuckin’ brilliant. You had British and German air fix planes as well and
we’d do bombing raids and shit. …are you fuckin’ listening to me?””
Jason takes a drag on his cigarette and a long pull on his beer and his childhood comes rushing back to him in an instant. Shaun Wilson. He pictures him as he was then, a scruffy, dirty little kid with blonde hair. How can this be that same kid? He’s nodded hello to this big bald bruiser more times than he could remember since he moved back to the area after a good ten years in London but he had never realised who he actually was, nor had he cared enough to enquire. His was just another face of many he recognised, just another face he knew. He knew lots of faces around here. It’s where he’d grown up. He nodded to people he vaguely knew every time he left the house, and some he knew better than others. But he did know Shaun Wilson. And he remembers his parents and his sister, and his house, the scruffiest on the street with the messy overgrown garden and the rotten window frames. And he remembers his very own window box that he hadn’t thought about for many years.
“Didn’t you have a sister?” Jason asks.
“Oh, funny you remember me fuckin’ sister. Not surprising. She was pretty fit at one time, our lass, even if I do say so meself. Not that I’d… you know what I mean, but mates an’ that, they had a pop at her. Never got anywhere like. She thought she were fuckin’ special an’ all, just like you. Went to fuckin’ university. Nice house, husband, kids, dog, fuckin’ goldfish and gnomes int garden. Have you got gnomes in your garden, cunt?”
“Is it really necessary to call me a cunt, Shaun? I’m not a cunt. In fact, I’m just a normal bloke giving you a minute or so of my precious time when most people would walk right past you thinking you were either a pisshead or a psycho, or maybe both.”
“Watch it, cunt. I’ve got a short fuse and…”
“Shaun, you called me over to talk to me. If you want a civil conversation, even a trip down memory lane, I’m happy to oblige but if you’re just going to insult me I’d just rather be on my way home.”
“Mrs waiting for you, is she?”
“No, she’s not waiting for me. She’s gone, If you must know. She left me. Feel better now?”
“I’m not being funny Jason but I always thought you’d punched above yer weight with that one. I’ve seen you with her, loads of times. She’s a looker and no offence but…”
“Offence taken.” says Jason, and they both laugh.
“You know, maybe you’re not such a cunt after all?” says Shaun. They laugh again.
“Wish I could say the same for you,” says Jason, laughing, but Shaun isn’t laughing.
“You calling me a cunt?”
“Shaun. For fuck’s sake, I…”
“I’m only messing with yer, Jason. Lighten up for fuck’s sake. No wonder your wife fucked off,” says. Shaun, laughing. Jason isn’t laughing.
“And where’s your other half tonight, Shaun? What’s she up to? Sorry, I forgot. You still live with your mum who probably can’t stand the sight of you, just like your ex-wife.”
“Watch what you’re fuckin’…how did you know I even had an ex-wife?”
“I’ve seen you with her. We’ve been living in the same place since we were kids. I may have gone away and come back but I never forget a face. I might have airbrushed any friendship which we might have had as children out of history but I know your face and I dare say I’d know the faces of your wife and little girl if they were to walk by now but I guess you don’t see too much of them these days.”
“I’m fuckin’ warning you, shut the…”
“What happened Shaun? Did you turn into your Dad? Did you turn into a nasty drunken cunt, like your Dad?”
“ Then why did they leave, Shaun? Why are you still living with your fuckin’ mother?”
“Are you…do you want me to fuckin’ lay you out, you…”
“We’re just chewin’ the fat, mate. We’re just havin’ a chinwag.”
“Are you alright, Jason?”
“No I’m not fuckin’ alright. I am far from fuckin’ alright.”
“Take the weight off. Sit down, okay? It’s alright mate. You let it out. You let it all fuckin’ out. Sorry about what I said about your wife fuckin’ off an’ that. You just let it out Jason. I fuckin’ loved that window box. .Think about that for a bit. Think about your window box.