I bent down, feeling another spasm in my lower back. After scooping the Chipolata sized dog shit into the black plastic bag I stood upright with a muted groan. I tied the bag with a grimace and headed across the park towards the bin, swinging the bag at my waist. Fin, the Jack Russell cantered ahead of me, almost strutting. He had that typical small dog syndrome; always thinking he was the cock of the north.
I hated these early morning walks nearly as much as I hated the dog. Sandra had deceitfully collected the little rat from the RSPCA without even consulting me. She’d talked about it alright. She’d subconsciously brow beaten me and played a tactical mind game as she did so well and so often. This tended to involve dropping subtle hints about animal cruelty while watching Vet programs on TV, one’s duty of care as a human being and the low cost of dog food.
Of course, I had ended up being the one to take the wretched creature for its early morning constitutionals and those miserable late night, torch lit walks. I did all this through gritted teeth, hiding my begrudging effrontery. Carrying out these tasks somehow made me the better person in some faux Nietchan way.
The icy wind blew into my face, making my eyes water. I could feel the dry skin on my cheeks burning as I bent into the wind and made my way across the sodden dew drenched grass of the park. Fin barked. It was a pathetic high pitched grating sound. I looked up; across the park a lone figure and dog were heading in my direction.
As we drew nearer to each other, towards the zenith of our paths, I realised it was Declan Mason. I knew him by name and reputation only. He drank in my local, The Crown. He tended to drink surrounded by a forcefield of self imposed isolation, seemingly snarling at any fellow drinkers. He gave off the scent of animosity usually reserved for long term prisoners in the sex offenders wing of a maximum security prison.
He walked towards me with shoulders hunched, pulling tightly on a leather handle of a chain lead wrapped around his calloused knuckles. At the far end of the metal leash was sixty pounds of tightly wound sinew and muscle. The Staffordshire bull terrier strained, making a rasping sound, like the death rattle of a mortally wounded soldier. Fin barked again.
The creature at the end of the lead turned from a wheezing dog into a frenzied canine dervish in the blink of an eye. It reared up on it’s hind legs, teeth exposed, viciously snarling and slavering in an attempt to get at the Jack Russell. I suspected had it been able to reach the smaller dog it would have ripped it’s head off with one snap of it’s powerful jaws.
‘For fuck’s sake!’ Mason screamed, now no more than two feet from my face. His suddenly animated head was bereft of hair. His face appeared freshly shaven, his bald skull shone despite the lack of sunlight in the grey overcast morning.
He wore a black vest top, seemingly oblivious of the temperature. His over sized biceps, which were badly tattooed, bulged as he strained against the force of the beast at the end of the chain. The bottom half of his body was clad in shell suit bottoms and scuffed white trainers.
His sudden outburst had taken me by suprise. I leant back, feeling stunned, as Fin wandered away across the park oblivious of his near brush with death.
‘Why don’t you keep yer fuckin’ dog on a lead, eh?’ I could smell his sickly sweet breath, a combination of dehydration and Lambert & Butler. One of his front tooth was missing and I could see the two fillings in his bottom molars. I realised he was waiting for a response.
I fumbled in my coat pocket for the lead. ‘Sorry, yeah. Will do.’ My words came out like those of a scolded child, quiet and high pitched.
I averted my gaze and headed across the park, aware of his cold eyes still fixed on me. When I eventually caught up with Fin I hooked the clasp around his collar, quickly looking over my shoulder. I noted with relief that Mason had continued his walk across the park. I felt a further bolt of pain shoot up my spine as I stood, my eyes watering as I winced.
Dropping the black bag in the bin, I hastily headed out of the park and across the busy main road through the gaps in the early morning traffic. I muttered curses in the small dogs direction as we turned into the side street, intimating the altercation had been his fault.
I dressed hastily, as I was usually forced to, before bidding Sandra a cursory farewell and leaving the house. I half ran to the bus stop, arriving seconds before it arrived. I’d been late for work twice the previous week, causing tuts and raised eyebrows from Janet, my boss.
I spent the morning dealing with paperwork. My actions were robotic, those of a man who had carried out the same task for far too long without being forced to think about why the task was being done. Truth be told the early morning set-to with Mason had unsettled me. He was obviously to be avoided. I wasn’t good with conflict; my nerves really weren’t up to it.
When twelve o’clock came around I headed out of the office in a slightly dazed state. I waited at the zebra crossing considering whether to go for cheese and pickle or cheese and coleslaw. The lights changed, the man turned to green and I stepped off the pavement. As I did so the sound of a screeching of brakes made me turn to my right. A Range Rover had come to a sudden halt inches away from me. I stepped back onto the pavement.
The vehicle began to accelerate despite the red light. I may have raised an irate fist had I not been so shaken. I looked into the drivers door window. I was drawn by the shock of bobbed blond hair of the driver. Bright pink varnish decorated the nails of the hand rested on the wound down window, holding a lit cigarette. A heavily made up face glared down at me through the open window. Thick black eyeliner offset the blusher applied to the cheeks and pale pink glossy lipstick adorned the aggressive yet pouting lips. I could see a floral blouse below the neck line, where a string of pearls hung around the neck.
The car moved away, leaving me standing alone at the side of the road. One foot remained in the gutter, my other on the pavement. I consciously closed my mouth. It was him. It wasn’t my imagination. It was Declan Mason. No matter how hard my mind attempted to compute the whys and wherefores of the situation, it failed.
That evening I decided against my usual foray for a few pints of lager in The Crown, instead I opted for a takeaway with Sandra and an evening of mindless reality TV. She had seemed pleasantly surprised about my change of routine, even fetching me a can of lager from the fridge during TOWIE.
The following morning I headed left out of the house, instead of my usual routine of turning right, Fin straining excitedly at the lead. We made our way down the alleyway behind the estate towards the wooded area. My neck stiffened from the constant glances over my shoulder, convinced he may be following.
The variation in the walk turned out to be fortuitous; I was dressed and ready to depart earlier than usual, even having time for a cup of tea before leaving. The morning at work drifted by, football chat with Ken by the coffee machine. Would The Hammers stay up? Would the new stadium improve their performance? I haIf listened to his enthusiastic babble and returned to my desk without enthusiasm. Looking at the clock I was glad to see it was nearing lunch time.
I headed out of the office and pondered my options. After a moment of static deliberation I decided to turn left down the busy high street and head to the deli. As I approached the doorway of the deli I was conscious of the presence of a slow moving vehicle behind me. I knew it was him before I even turned.
The electric window slowly moved down as the Range Rover drew level with me. I stopped and looked up, a forced smile upon my face.
The blond bob of hair sagged forward as he leaned slightly out of the window. His hand moved up, adjusting the wig slightly.
‘Get in.’ he instructed gruffly, pointed towards the passenger door. I moved slowly around, checking the flow of traffic before opening the door and climbing up. I felt in a dream like state. A hazy feeling swirled around the top of my head like an aura. I pulled the door to and sat staring ahead of me, swallowing hard.
Mason gritted his teeth. ‘If you fuckin’ tell anyone about this, I’ll fucking kill you? You understand?’
I smiled, turning slowly to face his contorted features. I slowly raised my hand to his cheek, feeling the soft foundation under my palm, spread artfully over his slight beard stubble. I could smell combination of the makeup and the leather interior. I felt my cock hardening in my trousers as I leant towards him.
I could smell the sweet smell of cheap perfume and stale tobacco as my hand moved down to his thigh and I whispered ‘You worry far too much, Doll face. Just relax.’
Steve Ward writes fiction because words help make sense of a crazy world – and because he is good at it. He has been fuelling the imaginations of those around him since the age of seven when he invented a new species of alien.
His unique work is a mixture of the weird and wonderful of the everyday, through to the normality of the highly unusual.
Inspired by adventures in far flung places, his work evokes a feeling that anything is possible – and that a crazy world is indeed a good world. An hour spent inside Steve’s head would be an experience.
He lives in Warwickshire and is currently working on a novel set in Mexico, New York and Los Angeles.
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Photo by Tomek Dzido