I read about that naked man who bit the face off another naked man and growled at a policeman. The policeman, taking umbrage at being growled at then shot him a few times. Moods are strange, so is the word umbrage – I should check it means what I think it means, but that story cheered me right up. No matter how bad things are at work at least I’m not naked and getting 75% of my face eaten by a guy off his face on drugs. It was like somebody flicked a switch. I had that cigarette and then I hit the shop. I was clicking my fingers when I walked, silently, but that’s the tell tale sign I’m in a good mood. Finger snapping.
I rocked over to Paula – that’s another thing, when I’m a good mood I don’t walk places, I rock there, although really it’s just walking – because I’m actually pretty sociable deep down.
“Take that fucking stupid thing off,” I told her, amiably enough.
Paula was surprised I was talking to her. “It’s really annoying,” she sighed rolling her upper body. “I have to keep it on though.”
“Nah, doctors don’t know what they’re on about. It’ll get worse in that thing, I’m telling you.”
Doctors don’t know what they’re on about. You go to a doctor with a sore leg from running and they’re going to tell you not to go running. That’s bullshit. Things get better quicker when you exercise them. I’d explained this to Paula countless times. “Seriously, it’ll be fine. If it was bad they’d keep you in hospital.”
Another reason I hate doctors: A while back I really hurt my wrist. Really bent it back opening a door wrong and it killed. I went to the doctors and he told me to go and buy a ‘cock-up splint’. This isn’t even a joke though it sounds like one. I said to him, “that’s a joke, right?” But he hadn’t been joking and was quite serious. I didn’t think he was joking because he was a doctor and humourless. So leaving the doctors I went to Boots and asked for a ‘cock-up splint’, and of course the woman laughed right in my face and asked if I was an apprentice and I said no and she started calling over all the other staff members and told me to ask them and they all laughed until I left. Eventually I went to a proper medical supply store and bought one without being laughed at. It’s a thing that goes around your wrist and cocks your hand back. I liked wearing it as it made me feel like a boxer without a glove. I didn’t like trying to buy it, though, and I hate doctors and it didn’t even work, I still get a pain in my wrist if I push a door wrong.
Eventually I got Paula to take the neck brace off. I went behind the counter, dodging the splats of fallen sausage meat and pastry which I thought were a poignant reminder of how Paula got injured in the first place, and I helped her by standing behind her and undoing the Velcro. It was sort of intimate – too intimate – and so after I undid it I hot-footed it around to the other side of the hot food counter. Paula was holding the brace on with a hand under each ear.
“Do it!” I told her confidently. Paula was looking into my eyes and slowly removing her neck brace. It was a bit fucked up and I had to look away, to give her some privacy. When I looked back Paula’s head was set between her shoulders. Her neck had gone, it was like her body was trying to absorb it. Like a scared turtle. She looked like a Russian doll. I stared, my throat suddenly dry. “Is that better?” I croaked.
With no neck to speak off she still couldn’t move freely. She still had to move her entire upper body to look around. “Yeah, that’s a bit better,” she said showing me her limited range of movement. It was like she was doing really bad drunken robotics.
“Actually, you should probably put it back on,” I told her as casually as I could but I was feeling anything but.
“Yeah, I’d put it back on.” I urged. Paula sighed and grumbled and then ran her hands over the counter looking for the brace. I pushed it in front of her searching hands. “You can do it yourself, yeah?” I asked.
“Think so,” she replied.
“Just… if you can get it in under your chin. And then look down, if you can, that might pull your… you know.” I headed back to my counter clicking my fingers but these were anxiety clicks. These are slower and louder than the good mood ones.
“Just keep trying!” I shouted back but I saw how it was going to play out. She wouldn’t be able to get it on, there was nowhere to put it, her neck had gone forever and it would never work again and she’d tell the doctor what I said and I’d get told off and her mum would come in and slap me like the woman in spectacles from Jaws slapped Chief Brody. Even though Brody was a good guy.
That’s what I feared would happen but that’s not what happened. Somehow Paula managed to get the brace back on and everything was fine. I do that. I expect the worst all the time and it’s served me well as generally the absolute worst never happens, and anything that happens that isn’t quite as bad as you feared is actually good.
Paula waddled over and gave me a twirl and I smiled. “Better?” She asked. She’d trapped a fair bit of her hair in her velcro.
“Wait there,” I said going around my counter and standing behind her once again. “Your… your hair’s trapped.” I undid the Velcro and pulled her hair out, a few strands at a time.
“Sorry,” I told her. Paula smelt of talc. I shouldn’t be sniffing her, I told myself. I did the straps back up. “All done.” I paused for a moment and then went back to my station. Paula hung around a bit and we chatted.
After lunch Enrique came out and stood in front of the magazines, gazing out of the window with his hands clasped behind his back. It was another sunny hot day.
“Shame we don’t have ice-cream time anymore,” I told him. He twisted to me, nodding solemnly and then twisted back to the window.
“Chu could buy one,” he said.
“Fuck that,” I told his back. He nodded.
“Hey, I have idea,” said Enrique turning on his heels and marching over to me.
“Yes?” It sounded like he’d had a brainwave.
“Chu clean my car.”
“Yes, yes, chu clean my car. I give you ten dollars.”
“Nah,” I said. Ten pounds? You’d give a child ten pounds to clean a car. Cheek of the guy.
“I see chu clean car, chu gooooood!” He said. His face was serious. He was studying me as if we were playing poker.
“Impossibull!” He said, his nose twitching.
“I’ll do it for ten pounds,” Shouted Paula. Enrique was still looking at me and the sides of his mouth rose slightly giving his hollow cheeks dimples. He raised his eyebrows a couple of times and then whirled around.
“H’okay!” He said pointing down the aisle. “Chu clean my car!”
“She doesn’t know how to clean a car,” I said.
“Yes I fucking do!” She shouted back.
“You have to dry it and everything.”
“Shall I do it now?” She asked Enrique.
“Sure,” he replied and then turned to me and gave off a smirk that reeked of undeserved victory.
“She can hardly move.” I said shaking my head but Enrique was gone and looking at the detergents. “You need wax and a chamois!” I told him but he wasn’t listening. Paula had waddled off somewhere. Enrique took an arm-full of stuff outside. Soon Paula appeared, she’d somehow rolled her trousers up to just above her knees and the sleeves of her blouse up past her elbows. “Don’t do it, Paula!” I urged as she waddled past like a determined penguin. She didn’t respond and was outside talking to Enrique. Enrique ran in whooping and disappeared out the back, soon reappearing carrying a bucket of steaming water. Some sloshed on the floor and then they were both outside again.
I didn’t go over to the window to watch until Enrique came back in and stood in front of the magazines, his hands clasped behind his back while he gazed at Paula.
“That could be chu, man!” Said Enrique when he noticed I was there.
“Glad it’s not,” I said and then without realizing it we stood in silence for a good ten minutes, hypnotised by the sight of Paula washing the Cadillac.
“Would you smash that?” I asked eventually. I was confused by my feelings.
“Smash dat?” Asked Enrique looking at me with his head tilted to the window. I nodded. “Si.”
“You’d smash that?”
“Ches,” said Enrique and it made me laugh. Don’t know why.
Paula was covered in suds. Her blouse had come untucked while she tried and failed to reach the middle of the roof of the car. “Give her £20 and she’ll probably let you bang her,” I laughed. Enrique didn’t make a sound so I looked away from Paula. Enrique was staring at me. He looked serious. “What?” I asked.
“I no pay fo’ it,” he said. I chuckled. “I just take it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I looked back at Paula, she was scrubbing at the caked on bird shit, then I looked back to Enrique. I didn’t think he’d still be staring at me but he was.
“Okay,” I said. “I understand.”
“Chu understan’?” He asked and then he put his hands out like claws and faked a lunge towards me. I recoiled slightly. “I take!” He said and now there was the hint of a smile on his face. I laughed. Enrique did his eyebrows. Up and down they went, his hands still extended towards me and I cracked up. It always gets me. He moved towards me. I stepped back. But he took another step, his posture that of a black and white ghoul.
“Yeah alright,” I laughed but he took another step towards me.
I can’t fucking deal with people chasing me. My wife does it if I really annoy her. She makes a bee buzz and starts chasing me with her finger out like a stinger. It freaks me the fuck out. I’m super ticklish and so I run away and it only ends when I punch her.
Enrique took two faster steps towards me and I was off, jogging at first. “Nah, fuck off, Enrique”, I said but it was futile. He was chasing me and I was running away giggling. “Serious-” but I was laughing too much. It was fucked up. I ran to the office door and looked over my shoulder. He was after me, hands grasping. I laughed more and tried to protest but I was really laughing. “Seriously, fuck off!” I managed to shout when I got to the hoover cupboard but the inexorable march of Enrique continued. It hadn’t been funny to start with and it wasn’t funny when I raced past the hot food counter but I couldn’t stop laughing.
“I get chu!” Enrique was saying. “Come ‘ere!”
“Fuck off!” I practically screamed and then I was at the magazine rack and was saved by Paula. “Look!” I shouted. I’d established a lead of about 6 metres. I stopped and turned and saw Enrique had slowed. “Don’t fuck around,” I warned, “serious, look, she’s fucking up your car!” I looked out of the window hoping Enrique would follow my gaze but I saw out of the corner of my eye that he didn’t.
“I going to get chu,” said Enrique evilly.
“No don’t, look, serious.” I wasn’t laughing any more.
“Here I come,” he said, skulking towards me.
“No don’t, look, serious. Don’t, fucking don’t.”
Enrique was grinning widely.
“Don’t. Fucking don’t. Look!” I said.
He continued towards me. He thought I was tricking him.
“Fucking don’t.” I told him. “Don’t. Just don’t. Don’t.”
Enrique jumped the last step and poked me in the ribs. I punched it away. “You’re a fucking idiot, Enrique,” I said angrily. He did his eyebrows.
“Don’t bother,” I told him. Paula came in and Enrique stood up straight. He laughed.
“Ten pounds, please!” Said Paula extending her hand. Enrique produced a large roll of tender from his pocket and peeled off one and gave it her before she went to, I imagine, dry off.
“She’s fucked up your car,” I told Enrique. I went outside and the heat of the sun immediately boiled the sweat on my neck. Enrique followed me. Paula had left the bucket and half used bottle of Cillit Bang! strewn about. I pointed into the bucket. “She’s used a Brillo Pad.” I said. Enrique looked into the bucket and then at the fucked up paintwork which looked like a black ice-skating rink. “Told you,” I said, although I hadn’t, “you pay peanuts you get a monkey.”
I went back inside and stood in front of the magazines with my hands clasped behind my back and gazed out of the window. Enrique was looking at his car. He took his hat off and ran his fingers through his hair but I was thinking about Paula getting changed. Then I shook my head and tried to think of the guy biting the other guy’s face off.