The Stretcher

Adrian, a sprightly, short, sixty year old, is a stickler about his appearance; he thinks of himself as dapper favouring open-necked pastel coloured sea island cotton shirts, Paisley patterned cravats, double-breasted, shiny buttoned blazers, cavalry twill trousers and brown suede shoes that he calls brothel creepers. His coiffure is of particular concern to him; his hair is thick, curly white and in need of constant care – his wife thinks he looks like a senile golden retriever; she is not fond of him, or he of her. He was once a potter and is now the Principal of the School of Art. 

His daily timetable is meticulously kept. He enters his office at precisely 10.00 am and makes himself a cafetiere of coffee that he drinks black with a teaspoon of Fortnum and Mason’s multi coloured granulated sugar. Thereafter he deals with correspondence from the local authority and meets his deputy, Richard Whiteheath, for mutual bullshit and ego polishing. At 12.00 he walks across the road to the Manhattan Bar where he quaffs his first G&T of the day.

But, today, after three handsome G&Ts, there’s no more time to dally with the barmaid, the delightful big bosomed Brenda, as he blows her a kiss and sets forth for the hairdressing salon on the top floor of Binns for his bi-weekly haircut.

In the office in the basement of the School of Art the telephone rings. Sam, the caretaker, answers the phone, Yes, oh … has he? … Again? …Okay, give us ten mins and we’ll be right over. 

His assistant, young Jack, laughs, Again?

Sam sighs, Again. You, lad, pop up to the staff room and let ‘em know, will you?

Ten minutes later, those staff who aren’t still in the pub, are assembled on the top floor, in the conservatory where plants are grown and stored for students to draw. Five male staff stand on the wooden shelves, amidst the plants, to get a better view through the windows of the adjacent empty plot of land that acts as a temporary car park. 

There they are! Ray shouts.

Sam, Jack and Adrian wait at the Pelican crossing, although Adrian is unaware of this delay – he is asleep on the stretcher that Sam and Jack carry.

Slowly they weave their way through the parked cars to raucous cheering of the staff in the conservatory.

Minutes later Adrian is laid on the chaise longue in his office where he will slumber until wakened by Sam and told to drive home. 

The wood and canvas stretcher stands in the corner of Sam’s subterranean office – ready for future us.

In the staff room, Alan, a new member of staff, expresses his surprise at what he’s just seen.

Just think of it as performance art, Ray comforts.

It’s no way to run an art school, Alan objects.

He doesn’t, Ray replies, We do.

God

Simon is lonely, but how could he have a companion living, as he does, on the street. He uses a metal dog’s bowl for donations because he likes the sound coins make when they fall. There have been no coin sounds, so far, today; the bowl is empty. 

It’s a winter’s morning as he sits in his wheelchair in the shelter of the Stonebow arches holding a hand made sign – ‘For God’s sake’. The leafleting Jehovah Witnesses, who share the same space, ignore him – they know who God wants – and it isn’t him. They feel no need to share their vacuum-flasked tea with someone like him: in their terms a worldly failure, and, as such, deserving to be cold, hungry and a beggar. 

He is known. He’s done no harm – just an eyesore. He’s been on the street for nearly two years, sleeping rough in an NHS wheelchair. He can’t walk because of his swollen ulcerated legs; the bandages could do with being changed and the ulcers dressed. He wears a woolly hat and all the clothes he owns to keep warm. At lunchtime, a friendly PSCO brings him a hot coffee and a cheese sandwich and tells him, apologetically, that he’ll have to move on. He counts the money in his bowl; not even enough for some chips and a small bottle of vodka to keep out the cold.

By ten o’clock he’s back under the shelter of the arches, parked out of sight in a dark doorway. The High Street is noisy with young men and women out on the town. At eleven a group of five drunks arrive under the arches and one of them starts to piss. Simon, from his wheelchair, protests. 

Look what we got here, the pissing man shouts, a fucking cripple. Within seconds their laughter intensifies as the men dump Simon out of his chair and give him a good kicking. One of them gets into the chair and another pushes it as they race off into the night cheering. He crawls to the roadside – it takes him twenty-three minutes.

Two hours later he’s in A&E in another wheelchair; he’s grateful for the warmth of the welcome given to one of their regulars. It’s almost like the old days before he fell from grace, when he was respectable, had a job and a house. He’s always known that he, like everyone else, is but a hair’s breadth from the fall. But somehow he never imagined he could go this far down.

Simon sees blue flashing lights through the window and two police officers enter. 

Excuse me, Simon says, as they walk past him. Are you looking for my chair? Some lads nicked it.

They laugh. Call 101. 

I was attacked. They stole it. It’s an NHS chair.

They walk on. He hears them, their words going back and forth. 

Serves him right. 

Fucking asking for it. 

Lazy bastard, should get a fucking job. 

Who does he think he is? God?


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

Barking Mad

Poe is asleep and dreaming.

A telephone bell rings in the large hall of an Edwardian house. As Poe picks up the black Bakelite handset electric light casts his shadow on the faded vermillion wall behind him. With the receiver against his ear he hears an incomprehensible voice distantly babbling from somewhere unfathomable. What are you trying to say? Poe asks. 

The babble continues. Poe slams the handset back in the cradle as a Westminster doorbell chimes. He opens the front door. An elderly man, gallows white, stands shaking in a roaring wind. Dad is that you? Poe asks. The man’s ragged Harris Tweed overcoat flaps, cracking in the gale to reveal blue and pink striped winceyette pyjama bottoms held up with a length of sisal. His chest is a dense jungle of curly jet-black hair and his metre length Rasta beard whips and lashes all about him in the storm. He opens his mouth to speak; his lips move in silent slow motion. An elderly woman bursts out from the open flies of the old man’s flapping pyjama trousers as the wind whisks him away into the night. 

The woman is no more than four feet tall with fiercely permed white hair, brown eyes, rouged cheeks and bright red lipstick. A fluffy caramel coloured, poodle-like knitted coat reaches down to her tiny shiny brown court shoes. She smells of paper and frantically chatters like toy clockwork teeth. 

A small, white, barking dog, a Westie, scurries into the hall past the old woman who enters, and tries, but fails to slam the door behind her as a pack of barking Westies rush into the hall. The hall shudders. The front door bangs incessantly in the wind. The dogs bark.

As Poe struggles to shut the door against the wind another elderly woman, identical to the first, appears. Another materialises, identical to her predecessors. The woman duplicates. Replicates. Now there are five of them. The old women keep reproducing until the hall is full of them, their deafening chatter, and the barking dogs; the front door is invisible through the raucous throng. 

They all smell of paper. Paper? How can that be? Terrified, Poe struggles for breath as he seeks to escape. 

A sudden silence. Poe is alone in the hall. 

The front door is now a red telephone box and within it a telephone rings. Poe enters the box, picks up the Bakelite handset and dials 999.

Poe awakens. Stares.

An elderly woman, carrying a Westie, stands at the end of his bed. She taps it on the end of its nose. Bad boy, your barking just has to stop. Look, now you’ve woken Poe.

Mum, what are you doing in my bedroom? 

You were having another of your night terrors.

Why do you smell of paper?

You’ve forgotten, haven’t you, Poe? It’s the dog, love. It’s not me. It’s Arkwright. It’s not paper you can smell – he’s stuffed.

As his mother’s carer, he thinks, That’s two of us.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.


 

White Chairs

The white waiting room chairs in A&E are bolted together in sets of five or ten, in lines. They are no longer new, nor are they comfortable, and have a 1970’s Habitat look with round holes in the metal seats and backs. Some chairs carry word-processed notices: Please don’t sit on me I’m broken. There is no irony in this, nor is it a metaphor, it’s merely a statement of fact. 

 During the day the chairs that are not broken are always fully occupied. Often, when there are no vacant chairs, patients lean on the walls, sit on the floor or loiter outside for a chat or a fag.

At night, this A&E is closed. In the dark, unanswered telephones monotonously ring and ring, sick with tinnitus. No people suffer. No people are in pain. No parents panic. There is no blood. All is spick and span. No doctors fight to save lives. No nurses tend the ill with compassion and care. No one gasps for air. No broken bones needing repair. Sounds echo from far off-stage, safety lights faintly glimmer – a theatre without a play. 

The noise of an electric floor-polishing machine grows as Janita pushes it into the waiting room. As she polishes, she sings to the white chairs as if she wants to cheer them up from their loneliness, All you need is love, love, Love is all you need. She looks out through the windows.

Heavy rain falls in sheets through the radiance of high car park lights. A car skids to a halt. A middle-aged man leaps out, opens the rear door of the car and helps an old lady out. He protects her with his coat and helps her stagger to the doors. He rattles them. On the inside, Janita tries to let them in. Outside, the man pounds the doors with his fists and shouts, It’s my mother. Janita shakes her head, there is no way in. She shouts, Try the main doors, and points in their direction, Round there, round there. She stares at the car, the driver’s door is still open. She waits. 

Rain falls. The man and his mother return to the car. He helps her in. The car drives away. Janita, unable to sing, weeps as she continues to polish the floor.

In the deserted car park, Austerity, the Grim Reaper, watches.


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Remember, I publish a new story every Sunday.
Please feel free to pass them on to others you know who may be interested.
You can read previous stories from “Behind the Plague Door” here >>>More

© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.