A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

Confused and Vulnerable

Confused and Vulnerable

His hands trembled at his side then, in an instant, they were at his face, picking at an imaginary scab. He nodded and then spoke eloquently to someone who he alone could see. He turned and walked to the back of the room and continued his conversation with the wall, then, spun on his feet and rushed back to me. This had been the pattern for most of the day. He got like this only once in a while but the drinking increased the likelihood of it happening. Forty-five years old; he looked like an old man in his seventies. His trousers, although not stained, appeared to be colored with urine. He had a ripe smell about him but not the ripeness of fruit ready to pick and eat. Rather, it was the ripeness of fruit which had just dropped from the tree and had been lying on the ground for one day to many. Fermenting; on the edge of rotting. Taffy was a strange combination of friend and mentor, though lately he had become more of a pet project. And now he had been accused of molesting. At first I couldn’t believe it of him and then I had seen the muttering, the face picking, the evidence of hallucinations. Then I had guessed that I had not known him as well as I thought I had.

Taffy lived alone in a ramshackle shack by the sea. Unheated, unlined, unpainted, and unmanaged, it was everything that one would think a bachelor’s habitat would be. But Taffy was none of these things. He lived a solitary life but he preferred his own company.

It was said of Taffy that he had once famously swum the length of inland New Zealand. He had been enamoured by the Burt Lancaster character Ned Merrill in The Swimmer. Ned swum back to his home through the neighbourhood swimming pools and Taffy decided that he would do the same but on a much larger scale. Of course, just as Lancaster never swum from one location to another without getting out and walking a ways, Taffy planned to do the same. He realised from his wanderings that most small towns and country schools, like their larger counterparts, had swimming pools. It was Taffy’s intention to travel form Bluff to Cape Reinga via this route with a little overland wandering between waterholes. He never realised that this feat would attract the imagination of the people of the land. But then Taffy never thought anything much of what he did would be of any interest to anyone else.

He had asked to be buried without any fuss. He didn’t want the ceremony to overwhelm who he had been. Just a simple casket, no flowers, no music. He wanted his body to be cremated and the ashes spread in the three harbours in the South Island. Bluff, where he had watched many an oyster boat bring in his favourite food. Otago, where the hills reminded him of all the women he had lusted over in his long life. Akaroa, where he dreamed of life in France and all the possibilities of living in another land. Although he had asked for this, he thought that his wishes would never be honoured. His sole surviving relative was a son, long neglected, and unvisited. His son (according to Taffy) was a born-again, do-gooding, bloody meddling Christian, who had never done a decent days work in his life and was unlikely to do anything that could be construed as worthwhile for his ageing father. I think that I had become a surrogate son. He called me ‘Boy’ and was constantly laughing at my efforts to emulate some of his feats. And now this.

The new, politically correct, world had been particularly hard on men. They are reviled by hard-nosed, rejected women who think that they are cesspits of violence and sexual perversion. Men cannot be trusted to be alone with a women or small children in a room because they will surely tear off their clothing and violate any bare flesh in the near vicinity. Their leisure time is taken up with looking at pictures of naked women and children and when they sleep, their dreams are filled with body cavities screaming out to be filled with a penis. Taffy didn’t tell me the details of what he had been accused of – I had to get that from the kindly social worker who, although well-intentioned, had already lost the respect of Taffy.

“Bloody woman. All she wants to know is how my Mum and Da treated me when I was a kid. When I say that it was fine, I was happy, everything was fine, she just shrugs her shoulders and rolls her eyes, then sighs. I don’t think she believes one word. Stupid bloody woman. What does she think I am? Some kind of nutcase.”

Actually, the bloody woman did think that Taffy was disturbed and his curious behaviour did not dissuade her from that opinion. However, she did think that he had committed the offence with which he had been charged.

“They get so they can’t control themselves any more. They have these feelings which they know are wrong, and, for years they suppress them. Its like a rage. They bottle it up and the bottle just gets to small for all that rage. One day it starts to crack and on that day they commit their first act. It might be small. It might be just looking at a child and imagining what it would be like. It might be buying a book and looking at the pictures and it might be enticing some child into letting him fondle them. That’s what Taffy did. Got this little girl in a playground and then started in on the fondling.”

I blanched at her story but I could not get my head around Taffy doing something like that.

“That’s what the ones closest always say. He couldn’t harm a fly. He was such a nice neighbour. He was a pillar of the community. Then they find all the pornography and the filth and suddenly they re-evaluate how they judge people. Its tragic that these people slowly erode away our faith in others.”

I wondered what her role was in this. Was she there to help Taffy or there to extract some damning evidence? I asked Taffy but he couldn’t answer the question. He was also silent on the accusation itself.

We went swimming that afternoon. I dived into the pool and worked out my tired shoulders with two quick lengths. The water was full of chlorine and my eyes stung. I watched Taffy. He lowered himself gently into the deep end of the pool and swam, crab-like for a length before he assumed his familiar breast stroke that had taken him from the bottom of the country to the top. His arms looked terribly old. The skin on the underside had begun to sag and you could tell where the muscle had once been strong and rigid and now was a little flabby. His stomach had that old man look about it, still muscled, but now stretched to the side as though his insides were slowly leaking out. His wet hair showed the bits of pale white scalp beneath were the covering was starting to thin and when he reached me after ten lengths he was quite out of breath.

“I didn’t do it you know,” he said between breaths. “They have it all wrong. The little girl will clear it all up. I know she will.”

With that he stretched out and swum to the side of the pool, pulled himself out, and disappeared into the changing room. I followed him onto the changing room. He was sitting in the corner, slumped over, staring at his feet. I touched him lightly on the shoulder and he looked up. His eyes were glassy and a tear slowly ran down his stubbled cheek.

“I can’t remember. I just can’t remember what happened. One minute I was sitting there talking to her and the next I was alone. I just know that I would not do something like that.”

I put my arms around his shoulder and he stiffened and drew away from me.

“Old age. It’s a terrible thing.”

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