The Witness

The Witness

It was an incredible morning. Absolutely stunning. The sun was still rising and the sky was calmer and bluer than a dream come true. A scent in the air. Freshly baked scones; from somewhere along our terrace. As I remember it he was standing there with his shirt open; his hairless pale chest fully exposed; trying to convince her to stay out. She stands there un-moved with a big solid impassive grin. Just doing her job. She’s been tipped off by a concerned neighbor. No prizes for guessing who that might be.

Photo credit: mecookie via Flickr
Photo credit: mecookie via Flickr

While attempting to slam the heavy door in her face, the underside of it catches, partially tears off one of his toenails. The big toe toenail.

He tries again, to close the door, I mean – but he’s too deep into agony, he’s so pre-occupied with his toe that he scarcely notices the Inspector just waltz right in. Naturally there is a lag of a few minutes between that moment and the time it took me to put down the binoculars and make it to the front door of the house — so I don’t know what she did or said in that time — but I believe, firmly believe that she was so appalled by the sight and stench of the place, as I know I was when I got down there, that she was rendered speechless.

The light of a single naked light bulb danced all over the disgusting hovel, the end of which dog-eared into a filthy kitchenette. In dirty dishwater floating with sultanas and other bits of food, a head of cabbage covered in half-digested biscuit, bobbed up-and-down, like a discarded buoy in an ocean of filth. Also in that grimy over-flowing sink – a half-submerged chicken carcass with its emaciated body shaking on two thin legs. Outlandish filth is the only way I could describe the inside of this man’s head, I mean house. Outlandish in every sense of the word.

“You live like a pig,” she said to him.

Still holding one end of the chain and swinging the plug she looked every inch the medieval warrior as the plug-hole greedily glugged and sucked at the sickening suspension of gunk in the sink. He was howling and hopping on one foot to a secret location where he thought there might be plasters. But there were no plasters, only more filth and grime – an old ice cream bucket filled with knick-knacks, odds and ends and a few bits and bobs, but no sticking plasters, that’s for sure. An earwig ran up along the back of his hand as he sifted through the detritus.

“Excuse me for just a second,” he replied.

Turning the corner he slumped to the kitchen floor among innumerable plastic bags stinking with refuse which he had refused to remove. His head hangs and he begins to gently weep, sucking in bursts of air. It escalates. All the St. John’s Wort he’s consuming in the vastest quantities imaginable causes his heart to tremble excitedly next to its irregular beat. He already knows. The man already knows he’s in trouble. Every ounce of his wasted figure aches for every morsel of her plentiful flesh. For the first time in forever he is ashamed, utterly ashamed, of the state he’s in.

“I’ll need to see the rest of the place,” she says, ignoring his absence.

Crows crawling in the back garden spit fury. Time beats furiously on its tiny drum. Children shielded from the world stay in their rooms playing ludo. The man is paralyzed now with shyness. His dirty fingernails are suddenly running up and down his shirt front to hide what had already been seen and could not be unseen. The earwig was on his upper arm by this stage. When he was finished with the buttons he stood up straight and zipped up the flies on his distressed denims. Their eyes locked in. I took the time to make a detailed mental note of her appearance.

Green eyes, containing minute black dashes; imbued with a steel that intimidates into an instantaneous admission of guilt. Possesses no facial expression of any kind. Her body composed of two distinctive parts: a bottom half of enormous legs that bulge beneath her lavender skirt; a tiny upper body culminating in a head of closely cropped oily black hair. The movement of this body – a strange phenomenon, a jerking of bottom half against upper half in rocking motion that could only be down to osteoarthritis of the hips.

“Do you want to try upstairs first?” he asks.

Rather than say what is obvious, something she has always despised in others, her watchful eyelids assume the shape of a butterfly and flutter around her stationary eyeballs. It was beautiful the first time; less so thereafter. Flutter-flutter; then stationary for a while. Then flutter-flutter again. Then stationary, for a while. She approaches the backward moving crab-like creature and offers him a facial tissue. She feels pity for the pitiful creature.

“I didn’t mean it to sound…you know,” he says with cheeks aglow.

A very long silence. It’s as if she has been sucked – clean out of her body – like a mollusc shell on the edge of a dinner plate. Her reaction is a long time coming because she can visualize the benefit-to-risk ratio of her words as if they’re giant dollops of a sticky unguent. In the back garden, visible enough, a field of lollipop-like dandelions sway majestically in the breeze, waiting for one good blow to disintegrate. A dog urinates on a parked car. An old woman re-reads a newspaper article for the third time. The weather is starting to turn. The smell of scones is fading – along with my interest in these nitwits.

“No, I don’t know what you mean – what do you mean?” is her best response.

The pitiful creature has been caught in a net of his own design. See how he struggles and gets more tangled up. It’s too much for my delicate sensibilities: so I listen instead – my face masked by the palm of my hand. Through the gaps between my fingers I see him point a remote control and turn on the television to gain a bit of time. A foothold in the world. But oh no, oh no. It’s the worst thing he might have done. There’s a sexually explicit cookery program on with a saucy, full-bodied chef:

Reduce your heat and stir me with a spoon, allow me to come gently to the boil and then simmer me on a low heat. That’s it spice things up with a handful of capsicum lovingly chopped with your favorite knife. Lick it suggestively from your fingers and then grab a cucumber and peel back the plastic covering. Rub it under your chin and then hit it repeatedly with a wooden hammer. To finish, pull the head off a cauliflower and slowly peel the skin back from these erect spuds. 

Eyes protruding, stalk-like; the poor crab-like creature crashes through the walls of his hovel and flops to the floor like a wet towel falling from the rack. While slowly falling he brings a big bag of sultanas with him – they spill all over the tiles. They look like the droppings of some small desiccated animal. His tongue unravels from its oral cavity to seek them out, one by one.

“I presume this is the way,” she hollers, nodding toward the stairwell.

She turns on her high heels in a very slow and very deliberate motion. It could have done with a bit of music; a brass-section – horns – maybe a full orchestra; instead she begins to climb the stairs with languorous rolls of juicy rhythmic movement in each buttock. Accompanied by a deafening silence, the very best kind of silence if you ask me, she reaches the mezzanine level, probably the cleanest part of the house, and stops to catch her breath. She puts her nose to a flower in a vase. Nothing: it’s made of plastic. The earwig is now on his shoulder. She takes off again and reaches the upper landing. Hear her footfalls on the exposed floorboards.

“Dear God,” she exclaims, before, “Get up here, you dirty dog!”

“Yes of course,” he whispers, gesticulating ineffectually.

The woman is standing in the doorway of the pitiful creature’s bedroom. Toilet roll everywhere. Great swathes of it stuck to walls and ceilings. But the amount of pornographic magazines stacked, in stacks…incredible! All the way back to 1977 amassed at a cost to both his humanity and his wallet. She flicks through the close at hand copies to admire the photography and the planting arrangements (this was not your common garden variety of pornography – this was the weird shit – every single copy of Gardener’s World Magazine since time began) and something happened inside of her. Something inexplicable. Something wonderful: like a Piss-in-the-bed (Taraxacum officinale) opening its petals at the first sign of sunlight.

The man was standing behind her, almost entirely eclipsed by her shadow, earwig creeping inside his ear, wondering how this day could possibly get any worse. Quite predictably something incredible had happened to the woman and with no lead up or foreshadowing of any kind whatsoever. Every twist of her torso was suddenly filled with moths fluttering and pixies snorting dust and ponies dancing up on two legs, their tiny manes billowing, reins slapping suggestively. You really never know when the mood will take you, I suppose.

By that I mean the man and the woman had already fallen on each other – like wildly exotic flowers exchanging pollen. Her stamen was especially coagulant while his phloem was more like xylem to be honest. I made a half-decent recording of it on my camera phone. Not to feel completely left out I sprinkled hundreds-and-thousands down on top of them in a multi-colored shower of sweetness and I think I even hummed along to some of the most romantic songs of the last twenty years; but this was not captured on the video so I am reluctant to say for certain that I hummed – or maybe I hummed just to myself and not out loud.

Naturally they asked my good self to be a witness on the occasion of the blessing ceremony. A proper ceremony in a church was completely out of the question: he had at one time practiced as a marriage counselor – she had already been married four times. I also witnessed him go down on one knee very close to a dog turd and ask her to be his wife but that was after I had recovered from the cataleptic state I had slipped into after their love-making and before the blessing ceremony that I not only witnessed but also recorded, again on my mobile phone camera.

That beautiful loving couple now have two fine well-bodied children and live in a precarious looking home built on stilts. Just last week I called over for a cup of tea, to inquire about their business and generally make a bloody nuisance of myself. They wouldn’t answer the door. From time to time I drive slowly past their stilt house, usually in the dead of night and wonder at how it worked out so well for these two very different people. Sometimes I park the car quietly down a nearby lane-way and hike back through the thick pine-forest to their stilt home. There is a ladder in their unlocked shed which allows me to access their bedroom window and their curtains are very rarely fully closed.

Warms your heart doesn’t it. I said, warms your heart! No. Your heart. You know the thing in the middle of your chest – where all the blood comes out of and goes into. That thing. It warms it – is what I said; but make no mistake, if either of them step outside of the boundaries of common decency or try and bend the law to suit their unusual needs I will not hesitate to report them to the relevant body and bring them both back down to earth with a thud.

That’s all I wanted to say.

Brian Coughlan

Brian Coughlan

Brian Coughlan has a Masters Degree in Screenwriting from National University of Ireland Galway. He has published work with The Bohemyth, The Galway Review and Southword. He is currently writing for a television drama series with Florence Films, an Irish-based Production Company. He lives and works in Galway, Ireland.

Brian Coughlan has a Masters Degree in Screenwriting from National University of Ireland Galway. He has published work with The Bohemyth, The Galway Review and Southword. He is currently writing for a television drama series with Florence Films, an Irish-based Production Company. He lives and works in Galway, Ireland.

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