Alfred’s jaw was locked tight, an indication of the
stressful day he had endured, and it wasn’t over yet.
He played long bony fingers through his thick and glossy
hair, and tried to hold on to the image of lolling in the
hot water and billowing foam of a luxurious bath, surrounded
by swirling mists of steam. His jawbone eased and a smile
flickered across his lips. Bliss.
And then Fat Annie farted again. A loud trumpet that thundered
through the late night bus and caused the two teenage girls
near the front to huddle together in hysterics.
“Oh, excuse me,” snorted Annie. “What
you can’t hold in your hand and all that.”
The woman had no shame. Alfred’s jaw tightened as
harsh reality stamped all over his dream; it would be some
time yet before he could relax in his bathtub.
“Thanks for being with me today, Alfred, I don’t
think I could have coped alone.”
“You don’t need to keep thanking me, Annie,”
answered Alfred, forcing himself to look across into her
trembling face. Fat Annie was an emotional creature, but
as today was the anniversary of the death of her beloved
Scottish terrier Bertie, it was always going to be especially
arduous. Why had he not conjured an excuse to escape this
day? He was too compassionate; people were always taking
advantage of his nature.
“Bertie would have been fifteen today,” she
sobbed, dabbing at her face with a large smeared hankie
and leaning across the aisle to speak to her friend.
“I can still see him when I close my eyes, his face
so bright and intelligent, his stump of a tail wagging frantically
to greet me each morning. I know that some people will say
– only a dog –” A theatrical pause during
which Fat Annie’s entire frame shook at the prospect
of such callous people being allowed in the world. “But
they just cannot understand the bond someone can develop
with…with a special pet.”
Her face became buried in the hankie, her sniffling providing
great amusement for the girls up ahead. Thankfully the bus
was almost empty for her display, other than the giggle
twins there was only the brooding shape several seats behind
them wrapped in a massive anorak, head down and covered
by the coat’s hood. Alfred had already decided that
it could be a psychopath, which didn’t surprise him;
it would be a fitting end to the day to share his ride home
with a serial killer.
Alfred prayed for the bus to accelerate and hurtle them
to their stop, there was only so much embarrassment a person
could endure in one day and he had reached his limit much
earlier. After the scene in the Next shop he would probably
have to avoid the store for the rest of his life. All he
had wanted was to buy a pretty plum coloured scarf that
he had spied the day before but had reluctantly walked away
from, convincing himself that he already owned plenty of
scarves. This mood of self-denial had lasted for twenty-four
hours, and Alfred had considered the purchase to be a reward
for spending the day with his grieving companion. Instead
of being a reward it had turned into a nightmare when Fat
Annie had refused to step on the downward escalator. There
had been no problem coming up, but she had stated emphatically
that she could not travel on a downward escalator. Apparently
it was another of her many phobias.
“But I’ve never heard you mention it before,”
Alfred had complained. “And if you knew about this
problem why on earth did you come up to the men’s
floor with me? How did you think we would get back down?”
“I was doing it for you,” and the tears had
been swelling in her eyes. “You’re being so
good staying with me today, I didn’t want to disappoint
Why Fat Annie had thought he would have been disappointed
by her not accompanying him to buy the scarf would remain
one of those timeless mysteries? The look on the assistant’s
spotty face when he had been approached to shut down the
escalator would remain with Alfred for all time, and the
walk down the suspended escalator had lasted an eternity.
It had taken two bottles of wine before he was ready to
lie and concede to Annie that he had forgiven her, but the
alcohol was wearing off now and the memory was looming over
his mood once again.
“I had a dog once.”
Alfred nearly toppled from his slouching pose at the sound
of the hoarse voice. He looked round to see the anorak shape
now perched on the seat behind Annie, the hood discarded
to reveal a chubby worn face with tiny pig eyes and a gleaming
bald head; the man was definitely a psychopath.
“Oh, what type?” asked Annie, who was always
eager to inflict herself on strangers. She laboriously manoeuvred
her bulk to face the man.
“I dunno,” he replied. “It was only a
little pup, probably some sort of mongrel.”
He gazed down at the floor of the bus while he spoke in
a deadpan drone, probably delighting in flashbacks of the
night he butchered his parents, thought Alfred.
“And you don’t have it anymore?” probed
Annie, ready with the hankie in case the story grew too
“Naw, it died.”
“Oh how awful, and it only a puppy. What happened?”
“I kicked it. Didn’t mean to hurt it, that
pup was my only friend when I lived on the streets. But
I woke up one morning and it was pissing on my leg and I
just lashed out before thinking, and it hit the wall with
an awful thump. I have a violent past I do.”
Alfred felt the tiramisu from earlier surge from his stomach
to his throat and he swallowed hard. Even Fat Annie was
stunned by this confession and she glanced to Alfred for
“I think this must be our stop,” suggested
Alfred, not certain of where they had reached in their journey,
but certain that he wanted to put some distance between
himself and the psychopathic puppy killer.
“It’s a bit early yet…” muttered
Annie, peering into the night.
“No, no, “ assured Alfred, rising from his
seat. “Our stop’s coming up.”
Alfred held out his arms and helped Fat Annie to her feet.
As they rocked and swayed to the bounces of the trundling
bus their new friend was unburdening his soul.
“Life’s tough when you’ve got no home.
I did some terrible things in the past, but I wish I’d
never kicked that little dog.”
Alfred thought he spied a tear fall from the psychopath’s
cheek as they departed, and his soft nature suffered a pang
of sympathy. Still they were going to escape while the big
ape was reminiscing on his past transgressions.
They stepped into a black night that was bitterly cold
and were soon enveloped in a fine drizzle that soaked them
as they walked home. It was not far to their apartment block,
but Fat Annie would take the lift down the one floor to
Alfred’s rather than take the stairs, so she moaned
spectacularly as they trudged along, leaning her ample frame
into him for support. Alfred struggled to remember when
he had last been cursed with such an awful day, but he was
sure that Fat Annie would also have played a prominent role
in that nightmare.
The pair struggled home without further mishap, and as
they travelled upwards in the lift Alfred’s mood began
to brighten as he could almost feel the chill melt from
his bones and the hot water lapping around him.
“Now you take some of your pills and get a good night’s
rest,” he advised Annie leaving for his apartment.
“Thanks again,” she gushed, grabbing his hand
between her thick paws before he could exit the lift. “You’re
such a good friend to me Alfred.”
“Don’t mention it, I know you would always
be there for me.”
Feeling every inch the saint Alfred sauntered to his door.
The misery was over and it was time once more for him to
return to the pleasures of his little palace. Alfred busied
about the apartment and wasn’t even aware of the disaster
for a few minutes. Then the sound of water dripping filtered
through, and as he walked towards the bathroom the tiramisu
once more threatened to ambush him. Puddles. There were
puddles. He had known that cheap plumber would prove to
be an expensive mistake.
Alfred’s wailing brought Fat Annie as swiftly as
she could wobble. Of course he could spend the night in
her apartment, she consoled, till the flood had gone away
and order had been restored by the practical people who
knew how to cope with these emergencies, and he should never
consider himself a burden.
“We’ll help each other through this night,”
she promised him. “That’s what friends are for.”
And Alfred believed himself to be blessed for having such