Here is Tuffin occupying the best seat in the station waiting room, near the gas fire on Sunday so no trains are expected so no one is here. He puffs on his pipe and makes smoke like a train.
A blind man and a dog come in. The blind man sits opposite and the dog sits with Tuffin and leans his head on Tuffin’s lap but Tuffin likes dogs and this one is a fine one. Tuffin is not sure if the blind man knows he is here so he stays very quiet so as not to startle him. The blind man farts so Tuffin puffs on his pipe a bit more. The dog drools on Tuffin’s lap.
Tuffin dare not move despite the fart and the drool. As it is Sunday no one else is likely to want to wait.
- The blind man takes out a book. He doesn’t look at the book at all but he turns the pages one at a time and reads out loud.
Tuffin wishes he had bought a book too.
- The blind man takes out a plastic bag and eats the sandwiches and biscuits.
Tuffin wishes he had a biscuit.
- The blind man removes his shoes and stretches across several seats.
Tuffin wishes he could remove his shoes and put on his slippers like he would later.
The dog scratches.
The blind man scratches and makes a pillow with his bag and falls asleep and snores.
So does the dog.
…Now Tuffin goes to the door and leaves the waiting room.
…But he waits at the platform puffing on his pipe and making smoke like a train.
A train stops and the blind man gets on without the dog, with the book and with the bag but it’s Sunday.
Tuffin goes back to the waiting room and the dog is occupying the best seat by the gas fire and he is awake.
Tuffin’s garden was a square like everyone else’s. He planted only green and leafy and bushy and tall things, no coloured flowers at all. He put a path around all four sides just wide enough for him to walk round, and used a ladder and a plank and a spirit level to clip everything very straight and flat and to keep them from growing too tall and annoying anyone.
The garden grew into a giant and dense and green cube.
Tuffin knew how to squeeze into his garden without disturbing a single thing. Inside everything was clipped to perfection making a square room with leaf green walls and a leaf green ceiling and a grass green floor. The floor was painted green as the room was dark and real grass did not thrive.
In his garden Tuffin would do all the usual garden things. He would hoe and water and weed and take tea at a table and as he worked he would hum and whistle along to the wireless. He set up a tiny badminton court to pop pop on and set the mower blades high enough that he could mow the grass in stripes and make the clickety clickety noise quietly.
Tuffin’s garden was the same in the day and the night. Birds did not nest in the trees and local cats did not litter. Butterflies passed by and bees and wasps did not bother. Neither the sun nor the moon ever shone and rain never fell. It annoyed no one.
Tuffin’s house was new, when he was new, and now both of them were 60 years old.
At 11:15pm on Thursday he sat in his chair in the sitting room.
He knew that beneath his feet was a red rug, a brown carpet, grey linoleum and wooden floorboards.
He went to the tool shed. He selected a jemmy and a claw hammer.
He moved his chair, lifted the rug, rolled up the carpet and peeled back the Lino.
With the jemmy and the claw hammer he removed a small area of floorboard.
He exposed the joists and the brickwork but it was dark.
Tuffin went to the tool shed again and collected a torch.
With the torch he was able to see down beneath the joists.
Beneath the red rug, the brown carpet, the grey linoleum and the wooden floorboards a thick layer of grey dust covered a concrete floor.
Embedded in the dust were several fresh footprints as finely wrought as the finest filigree.
Tuffin waited for ten rings. No answer.
He dialed another number. “Tell me a story.” He said. “I am sorry?” He heard. “Tell me a story.” He said. …Silence.
Tuffin tried another number. “Tell me a story.” He said. “Hello who is this?” He heard. “Tell me a story.” Tuffin replaced the receiver.
- Three calls each sitting.
- Four digits per call.
- Never repeat the same four.
He was alone so it was easy to remember.
Then one day, after hundreds of digits.
“Tell me a story.” He said. “Very well” said the woman.
So she began.
When she had finished Tuffin replaced the receiver. He looked at the telephone on the table in front of him and the photograph beside it.
He knew it was her.
Here is Tuffin taking a red bus on a foggy Saturday at 5:00pm in December.
At 5:25 pm, at the railway station everyone gets off leaving the top deck empty. All the windows are steamed up and most are smeared by hands and cuffs and gloves and handkerchiefs but the wide window at the front is untouched. Tuffin moves to the front. He can just about see his misty face reflected in the glass.
•He has 20 minutes.
He removes a pencil from his top jacket pocket. The sharp end is no good but the rubber end is perfect. He traces his face through the mist onto the glass. He draws his mouth and nose and ears and hat. With his nails he forms lashes and with his fingers he makes eye-holes so that the dark outside looks in.
•He sits back.
In places water drips, making the picture weep. This amuses him, but his face floats in an expanse of nothing – and that doesn’t, so he draws the background as fast as he can.
•He is wet and steamy and hot.
He draws a jungle and monkeys and toucans and tall trees and everything. Fresh mist from his breath feeds the grasses that grow taller and stronger and creatures swing and climb and crawl and fly about. From his face a lion with a straggly mane springs. It peers back through the drips at the bus. He works until every bit of the canvas is filled with his touch.
•At 5.45 pm he stands and rings the bell.
Here is his stop. Here are the village shops lit with Christmas. Here is the lion glowing green, the toucans glowing gold, the grasses glowing blue, the monkeys glowing red and here is Tuffin’s face, pink and wet and glowing and stepping off the bus and walking home.
A flat fish lay on a cold slab looking up. Looking down was a woman and a child. The child crinkled its nose and made a disgusted noise. The woman bought the fish and the three of them went home. Later that day the woman went to cook the fish but it had gone. She went to ask the child if she had seen it, but she had gone too. The woman returned to the shop and asked the fishman if he had seen the fish. The fishman said he had not, but that he had seen the child. “Like you, she asked about the fish.” He said. The woman returned home and telephoned the Police. “Someone stole a fish from my house.” She said. The policeman asked her if anyone else was there at the time. “A girl.” Said the woman. The policeman asked the woman to come to the police station. At the police station the woman was shown some pictures. The pictures showed a fish on a cold slab looking up.
- I waited for ten rings.
- I tried another number. “Tell me a story.” I said. “I am sorry?” I heard. “Tell me a story.” I said.
- I tried another number. “Tell me a story.” I said. “Who is this?” I heard. I replaced the receiver.
Three calls each sitting.
Four digits so as to stay local.
I never repeated the same four.
It was easy to remember.
Then one day.
“Tell me a story.” I said. “Tell me a story.” I said.
“Tell me a story.” I heard.
Tuffin’s salary was paid into his bank account every month. Every fourth Friday afternoon he would go to the bank and take out as much money as he could in penny coins. He would carry the coppers back to work in a strong leather bag and then, at the end of the day, he would take them home and decant them into the bath.
Every day, in the evening he would have his bath. The water made the coins quite shiny. He made them shinier still by stirring them round for several minutes so that they rubbed against each other. Those that were still dull he scrubbed with pumice. This made the bath cold and gritty, just how he liked it. He was ‘as clean as a new penny’ and smelled of metal.
For twenty years he shared his bath with the pennies. He liked to wiggle his feet into his heap until they disappeared. Sometimes he would pile a selection of the shiniest ones into towers to make a castle. Once he had collected enough coins, he would bury himself in them so only his head was sticking out. When he got out of the bath he admired the shape of his bottom cast in the coppers. Every bath time he felt like he was on holiday.
Over the years the amount of water he could fit in the bath grew less, until only a puddle spread across the bed of coins.
On the evening of one Wednesday, Tuffin was forced to acknowledge his bath was full and there was no room left for any more pennies. He went to bed dirty.
- Next day Tuffin went to work as normal. At his desk he wrote a letter of resignation, which he left for his boss and then went home.
- Even though it was not the fourth Friday, the next day Tuffin went to the bank and closed his account, taking the remaining balance in cash. Not in coppers though.
- On Saturday he bought a car and a steel bucket. He used the bucket to empty the bath of pennies and fill the boot of his car.
- On Sunday he drove his car to Deal and emptied his coppers onto the shingle beach. During the day he built a magnificent castle using every penny.
- In the evening he removed his trousers and buried his legs into the shingle, smiled and bathed in the cold seawater. Just how he liked it.
- Afterwards he admired the shape of his bottom cast in the shingle. He was ‘clean as a whistle’ and smelled of the sea.
Then he went home.
That night the sea washed his castle away.
The sea still stirs and shines his pennies. Now they are the size of sixpences.