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16 October 2014
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Stephen Adamson

My name is Stephen Adamson and I am gainfully employed as a civil servant in Belfast, making the enjoyable commute from Carrickfergus each day. I have been writing all sorts of fiction - short stories, plays, poetry and even novels off and on since I was a teenager. My favourite author would have to be Stephen King as he can tell a great yarn as well as offering some deeper insights into the human character.

Alfred's Bad Day by Stephen Adamson

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 you.”

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 sad.

“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 assistance.

“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 a friend.

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More from this writer:

Short Stories
Waiting for Dad
Alfred's Bad Day

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