Archive for July, 2009
“You have been in a bad accident. Your car hit another car at high speed. You have been bought to the local hospital in Alexandra. It is Tuesday. The accident happened on Sunday. Do you understand?”
I saw her through a fog. She had beautiful eyes, but what she was saying didn’t make complete sense. All I remembered was that we were on holiday.
“Where is my wife?”
The fog swirled and I saw her recede back for a moment and brace herself.
“Your wife died in the accident. From her injuries I can say with some certainty that she died instantly.”
The photo was in black and white, almost sepia. As I rolled to a more upright position, I marvelled at how I had managed to capture the soft light of the morning and highlight all her natural beauty. She was seated in a low chair with the morning sun coming in over her shoulder. Part of her face was in half shadow but the other half was lit brightly. It accented the small moles on her cheek and neck and the soft down of hairs on her face. She was looking off into the distance with a melancholy expression, as if half awake but also aware that she was being photographed. The soft rays of light highlighted dust motes as they swirled in the air. To the back of the photo the tall, narrow, shuttered windows lent a prison like quality to the photo. I had taken it in black and white because I had become bored with colour and I had a spare camera I could keep loaded with a special new film that could be developed using the colour process. The photo must have been taken a few weeks before she died.
I am usually an emotionless man. My few friends describe me as ‘stable’ and ‘secure’. Yet, this has thrown me. I have gone from that state to being in limbo over the course of twenty dramatic seconds. Twenty seconds that have changed my life forever. I have lost my partner. I won’t get corny and call her my soul mate but we shared twenty years of life together and it’s as if an internal organ has been wrenched, still beating, from my breast. I watched her die. In saw her take her last breath on this earth. She was looking at me at the time and it was almost as if she smiled as the life left her. I remember I was trying to touch her hand at the time but my legs were trapped beneath the dash and I couldn’t wriggle my body over to her side of the car. If I had known at the time that I had irreparably damaged my left leg so that it would have to amputated a week later I would have taken the risk and just torn through the remaining muscle and skin and made that last, final, gesture. But I was also suffering a head injury and wasn’t thinking straight. In fact, this morning, looking at her picture is my first morning of fully realising what has happened.
The doctor spoke in clichés.
“It could be worse. Tomorrow is another day. After the rain comes a rainbow. Cheer up, it’s not the end of the world. At the end of the day, life goes on. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and think of the positive things that could come form this.”
My head hurt, and not only form the accident. What I wanted was for her soft touch, her soothing voice. I wanted a cool hand to touch my forehead and tell me to close my eyes. I wanted the sound of screaming brakes and tyres, twisted metal and the smell of hot blood to leave me. When I look back on it, I wanted out. I wanted to die. I looked over at the photo again. I was glad it was black and white. The world beyond the shuttered window swirled with a thick mist that bunched around the top of the hills. The occasional patter of rain could be heard on the roof of the hospital. The world seemed to have gone to sleep.
As I woke the next time, I could hear the sounds of early morning traffic. In a past life, I would have been gently shaking her awake, asking if she wanted tea before we showered and made our way to work. The single bed not only felt foreign, but an insult to the last twenty years. A bird, imitating the sound of a telephone, shrilled for a number of seconds. A truck rolled past, vibrating the building and reminding me that life, indeed does go on. The clichéd doctor appeared again.
“Leg still hurting? Pain is nature’s way of telling you, you are still alive. Chin up.”
I rolled over, away from the photo and the inane whine of his voice.
Sunlight streamed through the open window. I must have slept through the morning. I felt my leg but then, remembered that it had gone. I felt the pain of its presence and absence. I closed my eyes. I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the day.
I had rehearsed what I wanted to say. I had gone over and over it, in my mind, s if committing it to paper. It was to be my supplication.
There are many problems facing health care today and each is worthy of its own six pages of news column space, letter to the editor, or more, but I have four minute, four minutes of your one hour ward round, so I must choose my one problem, for this one day, for this single utterance, while my weakened voice and intellect lasts, and until my two hands and now one leg allow me to summon all my communication skills, so alone in this hospital and now, in this world half-a mile north of the road that leads to my own little world make my one plea, and that one request, this moment, this interview, this instance, will be the that someone talks to me as if I am a human being, a human being who has lost his wife, who has probably murdered her in a moment of distraction, who has lost part of his own body, who needs someone to stop talking to him as if he were a child.
They arrived. Eager young eyes bristling, reading the grisly details of the accident, reading, and looking at the ravages done to my body. The cliché-ridden doctor explained my case. I started to talk – to give my speech.
“Well,” he interrupted, staring into my eyes for the first time, “ Tell us how you feel.”
“Look about half of households in the country do not have a dining table. Many children have never had the experience of sitting around a table and eating, talking, and interacting with their families or those they live with. Which brings up the fact that some don’t even experience what a family is. No father, no mother, changing mothers and fathers, the list goes on. People eat when they feel like it. They find whatever is leftover in the fridge or freezer and then heat it up (if they can gather sufficient enthusiasm to do so, the microwave being second only to the fridge as a mechanical aid). Nothing in the fridge? – – then pop down to the supermarket. The street is as much their dining room as any room in the house. It also doubles as there social entertainment. Have you ever been to a supermarket on a public holiday? Literally crowded with people not actually buying things. Just hanging out. And when you live and eat alone, and since it is so difficult to cook for oneself alone, is a powerful stimulus to prepared-food industry.
To cook requires regular practice. That, and a brain. It requires both a routine and a discipline: a willingness to forego other activities for its sake. It means placing external and internal limitations on one’s options, which is precisely what modern man, in his egocentric search for complete free-floating freedom, is so reluctant to do. A man who wants to be entertained every moment of his waking life, and who is desolate without constant entertainment, is unlikely ever to be a good cook.”
He shifted his attention from the lecture to the thin, young assistant beside him. For one moment, it looked as though he was preaching to the converted. Then he saw that characteristic glaze in the eye, the slight head tilt, the perpetually slumped shoulders. He knew he was swimming with the enemy. Here was a product of the meat on a stick, mystery meat and fries, and double whammy with extra mao, generation. He wouldn’t know a bernaice from a hollandaise.
He had another attempt.
“It is more true to say that inside every thin man there is a fat man trying to get out than the other way round: for inside every human being, there is the one who wants to be entertained constantly, and to be able to indulge his appetites all the time. He is the inner child, the child of the sixties.”
He slipped the spatula under the perfectly formed omelette and gently folded it over the bed of slightly warmed and herbed mushrooms.
The “battered husband” is acknowledged in the historical record (Underdown and Underdown) and a matter established in folklore tradition (Barrett; Steinmetz; Steinmetz; Underdown and Underdown). In the UK, as in the rest of Europe, a tradition dating back at least as far as the 1500s signified a previous social acceptance of such a husband and social approbation for him, his wife and even his neighbours (see George, 2001). “Riding Skimmington” or “Skimmington” was the social vehicle used by the communities of towns and villages of England after this fashion to exert obedience to a norm that a husband should control his wife, and wives should show deference to husbands (Underdown, 1985a). Indeed, text (e.g. the Lutrell Psalter: twelfth century) and icons representative of the husband-beating wife and battered husband can be traced back in England to the Middle Ages. A thirteenth century stone carving (Speake, 1983) shows a woman hitting a prostrate man with a cheese skimming ladle, from which the word “Skimmington” derives. Another example from the very early 1600s is the plaster frieze depicting a wife beating her husband and a “Skimmington” procession. This is still in existence today at the great house at Montacute in Somerset, a part of England where such ritual processions were particularly evident according to the historical record (George, 2001).
In his detailed account of the customs of “Riding Skimmington” and “Riding the Stang,” Barret, in a paper presented to the British Archaeological Association in 1895 (Barrett, 1895), noted that “Riding Skimmington” or just “Skimmington” was the particular and elaborate custom intended to satirise and deride the husband beater and scold and punish the beaten husband. The remarkable aspect of “Skimmington” in its various regional performances was that it could not only be visited upon the hapless husband and husband beating wife, but also upon neighbors. Thus, Barrett quotes a sixteenth century reference as follows: “1562, Shrove Monday, at Charing Cross, was a man carried by four men, and before him a bagpipe playing, a shawm, and a drum beating, and twenty links burning about him. The cause was, his next neighbours wife beat her husband; it being so ordered that the next (emphasis original) should ride about the place to expose her.”
These customs can also be found to have occurred in other parts of Europe (Barrett; Davis; Shorter; Steinmetz; Underdown and Underdown) founded upon ancient customs of “Charivari.” While they took various forms and were used to admonish a range of social improprieties, the custom was at its most elaborate when dealing with the “domestic disorder” and the transgression against sex roles of the beaten husband and husband-beating wife (Barrett and Shorter). They included forcing the beaten husband to ride a donkey backwards in some continental customs (Davis, 1971). Citing earlier references of these customs in France, Shorter (1976) stated “In old regime France, where women were prized for their size and strength, it might well happen that a strapping peasant woman would shove her husband about with the result that a `Riding’ for the husband and sometimes the wife would ensue.” Such was the power of shame inherent for men in this, apparently, wives had little trouble getting their husbands to leave the bastion of male sanctity, the bar, voluntarily given that these wives were “ordinarily a little quick to strike out” according to contemporary report. In summary, it was noted that, whilst the subject of these rituals has received little academic attention, there is evidence for their existence, pre-nineteenth century, from New England to Bavaria at the very least (Shorter, 1976).
A host of male film actors have built their careers around the portrayal of violence, linked to masculinity, as seemingly reflective of the wider society in which men’s use of violence is accepted as “normal” and is legitimated by the attitudes of men generally (Archer,1994). This perhaps started with roles played by such actors as John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart in films immediately before and after the Second World War and has continued. Few realize, however, the irony or the reality, that despite their portrayals of a “Macho” masculinity in film, both John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart suffered violence from a wife in real life. John Wayne by his second wife, Conchita Martinez. 2 Humphrey Bogart from his wife, Mayo Methot, who was described by contemporary observers as having a vicious “right hook” (Bogart & Provost, 1995). The heroic and manly screen personas they portrayed arguably became icons of mid-twentieth century masculinity, which is a stark and manifest contrast to their actual life experience as one time “battered husbands.”
Henry is a quiet, home loving man who dotes on his wife. He is so kind and considerate he gets up his wife’s nose. So, every few months, she punches him in the face and breaks his nose to teach him a lesson. (Police, The Voice of the Service, February 1995, p. 28)
She was extremely aggressive. She had bitten her husband all over his body and broken his skin. She had scratched and cut his face to pieces. (Police Sargent Sue Reed quoted in Cosmopolitan, UK, February 1995)
Men were recruited through newspaper adverts and the survey found that 50% reported their female partner used a weapon in assaults upon them; 25% had been stabbed; and 33% had been kicked in the groin. Kicking, punching, scratching, clawing, biting, and burning with cigarette ends were amongst the assault methods described. One-third stated they had been suffered assaults when asleep, which included assaults using such items as knives or a hammer. Sleep deprivation was also commonly reported along with other forms of nonphysical abuse. Police officers were particularly identified as being unsympathetic to these male victims.
He not so much as jerked awake as rose from the dead, screaming, sweating, and gasping for breath. Vividly, he recalled the donkey under him, he facing backwards. Excruciating, he recalled the wooden ladle striking his bare buttocks, over and over again, until they streamed with blood. Horrifically, he recalled the gloating visage of Emma, as she vigorously went about her work. Thank God, it had been a dream. Then, he looked down at his naked body. His slight, pale, thighs were crisscrossed with angry, red welts. He saw that his pubic hair, once bushy and prolific was now but stubble. He saw the spreading bruise down his right leg. He shook his head feeling like a Labrador dog emerging from water, and tried to form a memory of hos this had happened. He remembered the pre-bed hot chocolate and the near instantaneous sleep. He had been drugged! She had done it again. Drugged, branded, shorn, and beaten.
‘Forgive me father for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last confession’
T leaned back against the wall of the confessional box and tried to put those weeks into focus.
‘Go ahead my son’
‘I have taken the name of the Lord in vain. I have twice stolen. I have hit another man’
That was somewhat of an underreporting of what had transpired but the church didn’t need to know everything yet. Wait until the big one went down before asking for contrition.
‘Tell me my son. Is there anything else you wish to confess to?’
The silence was indicative
‘Very well. You must learn from these mistakes and avoid situations that lead you into sin. Say twenty Hail Mary’s each night and ask the Lord for forgiveness’
T bustled out of the box anxious to avoid the eyes of those waiting. The church and the confessional box were a necessity, his last grasp on normalcy.
Puddles of exhaled vomit litter the streets amidst discarded fast food wrappers, cardboard drink containers with bent straws, and carefully posed half-empty beer bottles signifying their former owners’ good intentions or bad memory. The smells of bread baking, bacon frying, coffee brewing, mingle with the salty smell of the fresh morning as the city awakens. A helicopter passes overhead, the chook-chook-whoop-whoop drowning out the roar of a BMW accelerating down a deserted, early morning Wellington street.
He wheeled the Jag down the narrow streets by the waterfront. The next visit was to his doctor. The waiting room, dark; a radio played top 40 hits; the seats covered in disposable sheeting like the examination table. Did doctors have any training in how they set up their waiting rooms or did they just make it up as they went along? An air of hushed anticipation hung in the air as the other patients waited for their delayed appointments.
The balding doctor, ten or fifteen years T’s age poked his head around the door.
T entered the room and made the journey to the chair placed beside the doctor’s desk. He felt, then noticed, the shaking in his hands, the cold place in his chest, the dizziness.
‘Well T. How have you been since the last appointment?’ The doctor didn’t even wait for the reply and ploughed on ‘the results of your tests are back’
T felt the cold place turn into a dark tunnel from shoulder to groin.
‘Well the picture doesn’t look good. See this elevated figure here, and here, and here, and this substance. Put together they mean that there is something seriously wrong with your kidneys and liver. They are just not removing the poisons from your body the way they should do. The symptoms you described of tiredness, nausea and ………….’
The doctors voice slowly faded out of T’s consciousness. So it had finally caught up on him. He snapped to attention again. The doctor had moved on.
‘I’m also worried about your blood pressure and I want to refer you to a cardiologist and a neurologist to check out your heart and to have a look at whats happening to your brain. The failure of the kidney and liver need to be investigated separately but lets get a thorough view of what your body is up to. I have to talk to you about lifestyle changes but lets leave that until we get some more results in.’ He reached for the telephone while asking if there were any questions but T knew what this all meant.
Later: High over the bay he looks down over the harbour, bordered by rich green eucalyptus tress and the stark, gleaming monoliths of Government and corporate buildings. Ferries large and small ply their trade across the harbour and the adjoining strait, while the ubiquitous jet-skis and yachts flutter like butterflies in their wakes as they put to sea. The silence of the early morning has given way to the all-day hum of the city which will build to a crescendo as darkness falls again, the salt smell will be replaced by the sweet mix of petrol and deisel, and bodies that have slept all day will rise to inhabit the night.
Last stop of the day.
‘Gidday. How are you ?’
‘Oh pretty good. No worries’
‘What you got today then T?’
‘This, this and these. Should be worth at least five hundred’
T pulled a couple of camera’s, a portable computer and a nautical sextant from his totebag.
‘I can take the cameras and the ‘puter but no call for whatever that other thing is. Looks like it should be in a museum.’
T thought of the struggle with the man in the dark room and the feel of his fist catching cheek and nose before he managed to break loose and get out the door.
She was sitting at the airport table. She was hunched over, squashing her breasts against the plastic tabletop. Her tongue hangs out the side of her mouth and her eyes squeeze inwards as she concentrates on pulling up first one, then her other, sock. Her vacant gaze searches out her carer buying chips at the café. Her stubby fingers now stuff the fiery hot potatoes into her mawl. Her head, inclined to the right, her shoulders hunched she seems impervious to the burning. Twenty-two years ago she was born suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. She is my daughter. Her mother died after she was born, unable to give up drinking, unwilling to change her life.
Katarina glanced over at the table where the blond woman and her husband were supposed to be dining. There was only the woman tucking into her third vanilla slice. People like that disgusted Katarina. She had stuck to her Greek salad and she had only really played with that while the others ate their courses. It reminded her of her second to last assignment in the Aegean. It had gone particularly badly and, once again, older sister Mia had to come to the rescue. Katarina had killed the woman but her lesbian lover had fought back with a vengeance that bordered on the insane. Katarina had taken a knife wound to her upper arm and had been savagely kicked in the throat. Barely able to breathe, let alone talk, she had autodialed her cell and within seconds, Mia was through the door and onto the lover. She quickly disarmed her of the knife then drove her nasal bones into her brain. One minute she was standing there, the next, she wriggled to the floor, convulsed, then expired. Katarina was nearly unconscious from the pain, when they doused the dismembered bodies in acid in the hotel bathroom. Sulphur fumes made her eyes water, but Katarina marvelled at our her older sister’s dedication and cunning. She also despised her for her success. Here she was tonight, dressed down in a denim suit, designed to look cheap, but Katarina knew that it cost the best part of $2000. She dripped with diamonds and gold, making her look like a queen to Vasili’s king. Vasili, poor Vasili. He dressed like a king, but like his brother Joe he was a three-time loser. They often worked as a foursome, husbands and wives enjoying a holiday together, reunited from the old country. The men did little though and only formed an image. They talked of the old days and got canned. Already, they were on to their forth double bourbon and cokes and had dropped close to $500 on the casino. Katarina and Mia stuck to orange and tomato juice. Katarina looked enviously at Mia’s plate. She had put away the grilled trevalla with fries and a plate of marinated calamari rings, and now she hungrily eyes the dessert menu. Mia looked up at her dowdy sister. Plump, fake-blond, dressed in a frumpy gray dress she looked less like her sister than her mother. She whispered across to her. “I think the death-by-chocolate. Most appropriate don’t you think.” and she gave a sinister little laugh.
At the adjacent table, Madge adjusted her watch which doubled as a highly sensitive listening device. It was a little on the blink tonight and she only picked up the beginning of the death by chocolate reference form Mia. Special Ops briefing said that these two Russian sisters were the business. They had been sent here to kill the NZ man who had a block of Huoun pine in which was a test tube containing the deadly SARS virus. He travelled the world trying to sell it to the highest bidders and sop far had been successful in China and Canada. He was supposedly here in Australia and NZ to put a halt to Asian immigration. He usually travelled with his wife but although Madge could see her, she couldn’t make out any 99 kg six foot New Zealander. The blond woman was now ordering another vanilla slice and another bottle of junk wine. Possibly she as drunk because she kept talking to the empty chair opposite her. What was she saying? Something about ‘at least try another glass of water dear, you’re fading away’.
Trang put down her the forth vanilla slice and bumped into the back of Mia as she did so, safely depositing the tracking device amongst the jewellery. She saw Madge glance over at her but the Australian Secret Service were four steps behind in this particular game. But where was the husband? She saw a faint shape shift in the chair opposite the blond woman and there was a smell of ketone in the air. She shrugged and moved back behinds the servery.
Jules & Jim
Two hundred feet below them the Pacific Ocean crashed against the barren rock that was their home. Jules looked out over the wind blown water to the mainland. He could just make out the twinkling lights of Aradine but the storm must have rain in it because they kept disappearing. The mighty light of the Aradine lighthouse cast its Flashing White light every ten seconds warning mariners that they were too close to the reef that extended out from the coast. Jules chipped the last patch of rust off the top of the staircase that led from the light-keepers accommodation at the bottom of the tower to the light at the top and put down the double edged pick. He wiped his rust stained hands on the muttoncloth that hung form his waist and stood back and surveyed his handiwork. A good afternoons work. If the lazy bastard Jim was up to it on his shift he could have the whole structure primed and topcoated by the end of the week and in time for the weekly stores and inspection visit by the lighthouse service. Then again, maybe not. Jim had been in a bad mood since the last visit when Jules had to submit his report. It had simply read ‘ He, (the Assistant Keeper, James Hall) grabbed me by my shirt and drew back his hand and said he was going to, quote, Knock your bloody block off.’ Jims account in the same log had said, ‘He (the Principal Keeper Jules T Holdsworth) had been on my rag for a month, continually complaining about my dress and language. He accused me of being a dullard, and a proll. I pushed my hand into his chest and warned him that this couldn’t go on.’ The Inspector had, of course, believed Jules version. Jim had a rather unfortunate and colourful history in the service and was lucky to have been appointed to the Aradine light. His last position at a northern lighthouse had ended when he was found drunk on duty. This was his last chance to redeem himself. If he failed here he was out of the service.
Jules, in some ways, felt sorry for him. He was physically powerful and that suited him for the job but he was stupid and unadaptable On top of that he had some questionable personal habits and he was a loner. Working on lighthouses you had to be able to get on with others. Often two to three weeks could pass before another human being would arrive. They worked two months on, one month off and the air could get fairly thick if some degree of rapport did not exist. Jules had tried to get him interested in some of his hobbies but Jims reading stopped at Westerns, his music taste was confined to musical adaptations of Banjo Patterson poems, and his political opinions were just to the right of Margaret Thatcher. He continually accused Jules of using fancy words that I can’t understand to try and make me look stupid. Jules inwardly smirked that that wasn’t hard. Jules made his way down to the accommodation.
Jim was in the kitchen and Jules noticed that the pot on the cooker was boiling over. He moved over to move it to the side of the hotplate and Jim suddenly jostled him aside but not before Jules noticed a large chicken in the pot.
“I thought we had run out of frozen chickens Jim?” he started off then he realised that indeed they had. “You haven’t bloody killed one of the laying hens have you?”
“I’m not eating bloody tofu stew again in my life and the old bitch had only given us a couple of eggs a week anyways.” Jim muttered under his breath and picked up the wooden spoon and carving knife in a threatening manner.
Jules thought it through and decided that it wasn’t wise to pursue the point. Jim had a distinct odour of whisky hanging about him and his flushed face gave evidence that his off watch afternoon had not been spent sleeping.
“I’ll have to put this in the log Jim. You know that drinking on the job is not allowed.”
” I’ll throw you off this tower if you make up more stories about me you …..” Jim left the sentence unfinished.
“If anyone is thrown off any tower it will not be me.” Jules said. Jim looked quizzically at him and cocked his head to one side as he tried to decipher the inner meaning in that.
After a few minutes of deliberatrion Jim lurched out of the room. Jules decided that he would finish reading that Sartre play before he caught up on his sleep.
Dirt in the Ground
June 10, 1899. From where Jamie stood it just looked like any other quite space near a park. A lone tree provided shade from the sun, although it was nearing dusk as he stopped to look at the place. From the corner of his eye he saw a movement and then, another quicker movement off to his left. He focussed again on the space and it seemed different to the rest of the area around him. He checked back again and saw the young woman coming toward the tree as if it offered her some protection. Then he saw that it was not protection she was after but, rather, a place to lean and be available. From her clothing and garish makeup he surmised that she was one of the oldest profession and she was probably looking for business. He drew back into the shadows and, then, saw the flicker in his vision off to the left again. Suddenly he knew what he was looking at and his eyes automatically went down to the things side. An object flashed and even at this distance, Jamie could see that the dark shadow was a man; a man in his thirties; a man who was wielding a knife; a man who was rapidly closing in on the young woman. Jamie watched aghast as the man walked up to the woman and plunged his knife into the white flesh at the top of her dress. She looked stunned; as though she couldn’t work out what this sudden intrusion was. She seemed unconcerned as he withdrew the knife and plunged it in again, lower. It suddenly dawned on her that she was being stabbed and she staggered backward and put up a hand – a pathetic attempt to stop a further attack. The man struck again and again until she slipped hideously to the ground. Jamie was transfixed. He wanted to rush forward; he wanted to say something at the top of his voice; he waited to help; but he was paralysed. He slipped back into the shadows as the man, task completed, looked around and then slipped off into the shadows.
January 1956. The place was now near the centre of the city. Where there had once been trees and open ground there was now asphalt and shop fronts. Street markers and signage adorned the footpath and cars rumbled by emitting clouds of smoke and much noise. The two men stood toe-to-toe, arms extended, yelling loudly at each other. Passer-by’s looked curiously from a distance but crossed the road to avoid being involved in the confrontation. One brave man did walk past them and was rewarded with abuse from the taller of the two. They started shoving each other and then one threw the first punch. Afterwards, the two witnesses’ couldn’t agree on what had happened. One said that the taller of the two had been the aggressor and the other slighter man, an innocent victim. The other witness told the opposite story. The sad fact of the matter was that both men were dead and it was purely hypothetical who had started what and who had ended it. The place had two white chalked body lines around it for several days and people walked delicately around the two body shapes until someone scuffed at the area and the shapes gradually lost some of their form. By the end of a couple of days, the shapes had gone and people were walking through the area again, oblivious to the deaths and the history of the place.
November 2001. It was benefit day. Benefit day and perhaps the day might also be spiced up with something else. He had Sue drive him to the place and he was squirming with anticipation as she parked. It was early in the day, past the nine o’clock rush and too early for the daytime shoppers. The place was virtually deserted apart form the odd solitary figure glancing in shop windows. As he alighted from the car, he looked back at Sue and at his young son in his car seat in the back of the vehicle. Even though he had his problems, he knew that his life was back on track again. He felt the oppressiveness of the place and how it had seemed so cold in the car and at his house that morning but it was hot and close here. He smelt a mix of car fumes, garbage, and cigarette smoke but something was mixed in with it that made him think of meatworks and tanneries. He heard a slight sound behind him and then he was falling forward. He smashed his nose on the street sign that stood by the gutter, and he landed heavily on his shoulder. He lay there and thought what might have happened. He was suddenly kicked hard in his side and he involuntarily rolled into a foetal position. Another blow landed and then he heard that voice.
“Give us the drugs smartass. I know you’ve got them on you. Give us the drugs or we’ll blow your fucking head off.”
He looked up and saw his nemesis, the man who had done this to him before. Since straightening out, he had been on the methadone program and he went to the chemist every day and got his supply. Twice before this man had tried to get him to give him the small amounts of methadone he had on his person. He had assaulted Sue once and he had threatened him with some additional muscle if he didn’t come through with the methadone. He saw that he was a little more serious this time. He held a sawn off shotgun which hung loosely from his left hand. He thought it strange that he was remembering details like this as he lay, bleeding in the gutter, not a few metres from his infant son and wife. He raised his hand, gave the man the fingers, and saw the shotgun level out. He felt, rather than heard the blast and that was the last thing that Shaun Armitage heard on this earth.