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‘What is it with that man? He’s always here; wittering on about some shite TV show or what he used to do when he was a kid just after the war had devastated our country. You know the one, lad. The one we can never get rid of, who’s always hanging around like a kipper nailed to the underside of your shoe.’
The last bit of your sentence goes completely over my head. I have never heard that expression before. The image of it really tickles me though. I cover my mouth with a hand.
‘You know the one, lad.’
‘Course you do. He’s always hanging around. Don’t make me have to spell it out to you, son.’
I shake my head. I haven’t a clue what you’re on about. At first I thought it was cute, my dotty Granddad being that extra bit special but you’ve convinced yourself that you’re really on to something here. I haven’t the heart to tell you otherwise.
‘Course I do,’ I say and feel the air in my lungs rush out in one short burst. ‘But he’s a harmless old codger, isn’t he?’
You squint at me as though you are only properly seeing me now for the first time. I scour your room which is the palest of blues. There isn’t anything distinguishable in this box room, nothing to confirm your identity or your career as a pilot.
‘How do you do it Granddad? How do you live in such a miserable place?’
You consider this for a moment before you shoot me a fantastic grin.
‘Well I’ve got your Nan to keep me company. She always makes sure I keep myself wrapped up warm and sees that I eat at least three meals a day.’
You tap your paunch to confirm this statement. The saddest thing though concerns Nan who passed away six years ago, except to Granddad she’s still as feisty and argumentative as ever.
‘I wish he’d just piss off,’ you say, your voice thin and tired like a frayed shoelace. ‘He’s always there. Every minute of every day and he never takes the bloody hint.’
From somewhere close by, I listen to the frantic sound of cupboard drawers opening and closing followed by moaning. I look at you. You pretend not to hear and simply turn your face to the window smudged with lead-grey clouds.
‘What’s that?’ I ask.
Your eyes do not leave the miserable-looking window as you reply.
‘It’s only Jeanie next door. She’s always looking for her photograph of Alf. He was her husband. Been dead for over a decade now. You’d think an old girl like that would have got the message by now. But she’s as daft as a brush that one.’
It seems ironic that you can easily diagnose Jeanie’s condition and yet you’re in exactly the same position. Your rheumy eyes are once again fixed on me and this time they seem to appeal for something. An answer perhaps. A way through all the fog and confusion.
‘Just tell me one more time Granddad, who is this man?’
‘I don’t know, son. I just don’t know. But he’s here. All the time.’
‘Is he here right now?’
You think for a moment; your turquoise eyes like the clearest of swimming pools which contrasts with the knotted ball of string you have for a brain.
‘Yes, I think he is.’
I walk over to your bedside table and remove the self-supporting oval-shaped mirror which is angled to the ceiling, and tilt it so that your image is reflected back.
‘Granddad,’ I say. ‘That man you keep seeing…that man is you.’
Lauren Bell lives in Birmingham, England, loves rainbows and is often drunk on inspiration. Her work has been published by Firewords Quarterly, Bare Fiction, Spelk, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and Storgy where she is a contributing writer.