The Old Man and the Sea

This is a very short short I wrote yesterday afternoon. Just click and the pdf will miraculously appear: The Old Man and the Sea

Alternatively, here’s the oddly formatted version:

The Old Man and the Sea

He preferred the blunt simplicity of New York. Walk. Don’t Walk. It was simple. Here, however, the red man simply recommended that one remained stationary. Jaywalking was not a term the populace of North London understood, let alone refrained from. Lionel tutted under his breath, shaking his head imperceptibly as a young mother pushed her child between two parked cars and into the road. The screech of brakes, the scream, the shouting, the cunting this and cunting that, and Lionel knew the child’s fate. It may have been wrapped in blankets to guard against the cold of November, but there was nothing that could be done to protect it from the sheer stupidity of its mother.

  • What you lookin’ at, heebie?

Cried the woman, stick thin and gaunt, spitting her hatred in his face.

Lionel didn’t reply.

  • Well fuck off then, yid.

She had seen the shake of the head and maybe even heard the tutting, but in truth she was simply deflecting her guilt onto the nearest available hate figure. Lionel didn’t much mind. He wished for a better class of hate, however – the vitriol he received from such insignificant, idiotic people was habitual hatred. He much preferred the opprobrium of the educated. It seemed so much more proper. Being despised by those for whom the pushchair was designed to stop traffic for their benefit was almost embarrassing.

Lionel was somewhat past middle-aged, and at 5 feet 3 and weighing sixteen stone, he was hardly what one would call a fine figure of a man. He limped slightly from the gout which was his primary inheritance from his father, and carried a cane to support himself. Winter, to Lionel, was something of a double-edged sword. The cold suited him, as he would sweat and wheeze in his suit during the summer, but the occasional patch of ice made him wary of walking too far in one go.

The green man lit up, and Lionel walked slowly across the road, ignoring the cyclist’s expletives as he almost barrelled into him after ignoring the red light, and the cars which thought that when the lights flashed it was ok to edge threateningly towards the broad, behatted figure as he traversed the final few yards to the pavement.

He walked to the park’s entrance, and held the gate open for a woman pushing a big, old-fashioned pram. Nana Goldberg was the daughter of an old family friend, and greeted Lionel warmly.

  • Shalom, Lionel.

  • Shalom. Beautiful day for a walk, Nana. How is your dear father?

  • Not so well, Lionel, not so well. He must visit the doctor again this thursday.

  • More tests? Ay.

  • More tests. You off to town?

  • To the bookstore. I have some business to attend to. Regards to Manny.

They parted. Lionel carried on walking. Past the empty pond. Past the derelict play area, avoiding the dogshit which peppered the pavement. As he looked up he caught sight of them. The three youths who had almost run him down on the pavement earlier in the week. He had shouted at them. They spat in his face and cycled off, laughing. This time they were sitting on a bench, smoking and drinking cider, their bicycles sprawled over the pavement in front of them. The two boys leaned back aggressively, arms and legs apart, and he approached. He heard one of them hawk. He heard him spit. He stopped. The mass of sputum landed a foot in front of him. He began to walk on.

  • Not so mouthy now, eh, old man?

Sneered the elder of the two. The girl sat next to him pulled a line of chewing gum out of her mouth, winding it round her finger and then starting to chew it again. She had her other hand on the youth’s thigh, just below his crotch.

  • Yeah, stupid old fucker. Not so mouthy now?

It was this lack of imagination that he deplored more than anything.

  • Can you boys not think of anything more original?

  • Wot you fuckin’ say?

  • I said, can you boys not think of anything more original?

  • Piss off, cunt.

They laughed.

  • You see, that’s where you go wrong. Petty, foul-mouthed, pig-ignorant child that you are, you’ll be in prison by the time you’re old enough to vote.

  • Who d’you fuckin think you are, fucking jew boy? Fuck off back to your own country.

  • Ah, would that I could, would that I could.

Lionel picked his way through the bicycles and carried on walking. He heard the sound of breaking glass behind him. Raised voices.

  • Didn’t you fucking hear me, yid fucker?

Lionel carried on walking. The boy suddenly appeared in front of him, his bike skidding round and coming to a stop in front of him.

  • I said, Didn’t you fucking hear me, yid fucker?

Lionel stood still.

  • I’m sorry, I’m a little deaf.

  • You’re fuckin thick, that’s what you fuckin are.

  • Now why don’t you go back to your bench and drink some more cider.

  • Because I’ve drank it all, cunt. You give me all your cash and maybe I will.

  • Maybe?

The boy put his face directly into Lionel’s

  • My dad says you fuckers should all be sent to fuckin Yidland, let the arabs fuck you all up.

  • He sounds like a thoughtful man, your father.

  • Don’t you fuckin take the piss, or I’ll fuckin cut ya.

The boy took a paring knife out of his pocket and waved it in Lionel’s face. Lionel doubted he had ever cut so much as an apple with it before.

  • Now fuckin give me yer cash. My dad says you lot are fuckin minted. My dad …

  • Your father certainly has a lot to say for himself.

The boy was beginning to go puce by this point. He pressed the knife into Lionel’s throat, just where his too-tight collar met the increasingly saggy and sallow flesh.

  • Ok, ok. I’ll give you my money already.

Lionel found it helped if he spoke like a comedy jew. It always seemed to diffuse the situation.

  • Haha. Listen to the pathetic cunt!

Lionel reached carefully into his coat’s inside pocket, and pulled out a calfskin wallet. The boy snatched it from his hands, tore the notes out of it and threw the wallet to the ground.

  • Pick it up, yid.

Lionel did as he was told. He had to get down on one knee to do so. As his hand reached out, the boy’s foot clamped down on it.

  • Call it the yid tax.

He laughed. Spat on the ground and walked off. Lionel turned round to watch his antagonist. The girl hung off her hero’s belt as he swaggered off. The second boy pushed the two bikes.

  • Disgusting. I can see their bloody underwear.

Lionel said to himself as he levered himself up off the ground. A blackbird burst into song in one of the bushes. The sun, which had been hidden behind clouds, burst out and bathed Lionel in its glow.

  • Well, I’ll probably find him dead tonight on the way home, overdosed on heroin. No loss.

Lionel walked for half an hour. Along the canal, through the shopping centre, and eventually to the row of shops that was his destination. The bookshop had been on this corner for as long as anyone could remember, and in its time had always supplied something more than just reading matter to its clientele. It was dark and a little dingy. It was difficult to make out people’s faces, let alone the book titles in the rows of close-packed shelves.

Lionel pushed the door open. It was a little stiff, but gave in as he applied more pressure. A bell positioned above it rang out as he did so.

Lionel looked at his watch. It was 11.13. He walked through the shop to the back, lifted the trap door in the counter, and stood by the till. He picked up a bunch of orders and began to flick through them. The doorbell rang out once more and a ravaged looking man with sunken eyes walked to the desk.

  • You’ve been holding a book for me.

  • Oh, yes, of course. Mr, er …

The man hesitated.

  • You’re not the usual man.

  • No. He’s ill.

  • I want the usual man.

  • He’s ill. Mr …

  • Smith.

  • Ah, Mr Smith. A first edition of The Old Man and the Sea. A delightful addition to any collection.

  • Yeah.

He growled.

  • The book. And hurry.

  • Of course.

Lionel reached under the counter and brought out a large packet. The man began to open it. Lionel interrupted.

  • Not in the shop, if you please.

  • Whatever.

He grunted.

  • Oh, and Mr Smith?

The man stopped and looked at Lionel.

  • What?

He sounded aggressive.

  • I have a message for you.

  • What?

Lionel reached into his inside pocket, brought out an automatic pistol with a silencer, and calmly placed a round in the centre of the man’s forehead.

  • We don’t like your sort, Mr Smith.

Lionel took the packet, checked that all the money was there, and placed it in his coat pocket. He pulled the body out to the back of the shop and disposed of it. Then he walked home. In the park, he passed the youth lying on the pavement in a pool of his own vomit.

  • Each to his own.

He said.

And walked on.

© Pete Langman 2011

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