White, sticky gunge pooled in the corners of his mouth. It turned into strings when he spoke. I tried to look at his eyes instead.
“Everyone on my mantelpiece is dead,” he said.
I looked at all the faces above the fireplace. A solemn looking bride and groom, two terrified toddlers sitting on Santa’s knee, a smiling man with a Stetson, a fat woman in a ballgown.
“That’s a shame,” I said.
He told me to sit down and offered me some Maltesers from a plastic bowl. Bits of the chocolate had turned white. I shook my head and he put the bowl down, knocking his newspaper, a £20 note and a pile of tobacco onto the carpet.
He shook a plastic bottle of pale, orange liquid at me. I shook my head again and found myself looking at the white gunge. I swallowed as I leaned over to pick up the mess.
“Just leave that, hen,” he croaked.
He pointed to a piece of yellow paper on the table.
“Here, whit de ye make o that?”
It was an NHS letter. Telling him he had to fast for a day and take a strong laxative to empty his bowels before going for a colonoscopy in a week’s time.
“Doesn’t sound like much fun,” I said, putting it back on the table.
“I’m losing blood, hen,” he said, taking a swig from the bottle of orange juice. “That’s my operation to make me better.” He pressed the remote control and the room began to vibrate.
“I cannae hear that hen. Can you?”
I got up and pressed the button on the top of the TV. It was already at full volume.
“Aye, a bit.”
I watched him roll a cigarette and wondered how many he had smoked in that seat. The walls were yellow. I don’t think he had opened a window in years.
“You don’t mind, do you pet.” He wasn’t looking at me.
“You’ve got loads of DVDs.”
He shook his head and put the roll- up in his mouth. I imagined the white stuff sticking to the paper. My hands felt clammy.
“Look inside the boxes hen.”
I walked over to the cabinet. As well as the DVDs, there was a giant stuffed tiger. The kind you see in 24 hour shop windows. The sort of thing I imagine drunk people buy on the way home and then regret the next morning. I wiped my hands on my jeans.
“Oh yeah,” I said, opening the case at the top of the pile. Then another one. Empty.
“Someone’s been stealing my stuff,” he said. “It’s a guy in a black balaclava.”
“Those things are all still there though.” He waved his cigarette at a pile of VHS tapes.
“That’s good,” I said.
We watched TV in noisy silence for a while. It was a film about men trapped on an island with a monster.
“Watch this bit!”
He stubbed his cigarette out on the table and waved his hand at the TV. We watched as the monster ripped a man’s head off and we both agreed that it was very realistic.
He asked if I wanted the magical mystery tour and I said ok. It was nearly midnight by now but it was only a one bedroomed flat.
“Here is the one from the picture,” he said proudly, pulling a cowboy shirt out of the wardrobe.
He meant everyone on the mantelpiece but him.
“Cool,” I said.
He held it up to his chest.
“I always dress up smart for the day centre.”
“Quite right,” I said.
He showed me the cupboard next. He was especially proud of a polythene bag filled with fibreglass chess pieces, which he said he had carved himself.
“Some bloke offered me fifty quid for them, but no way, they’re too precious.”
He threw the bag to the back of the cupboard and shut the door.
His fridge was full of the same thing - microwaveable shepherd’s pies. All neatly piled on top of each other.
“My niece buys me them, she comes in once a week for 10 minutes.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“That was my mother’s plant,” he said, noticing me stare at a pot of soil and weeds. “It‘s never flowered but it still grows a bit. It’s over a hundred years old.”
“Wow,” I said.
It took him forever to walk from room to room. Once he sat back down, I told him I had better get home.
“It’s after midnight,” I said.
He looked shocked. I think he thought it was tomorrow, again. He said I should bring my friends or my boyfriend next time and that he would buy cakes.
“Sounds good,” I said, as I picked up my bag. I told him I would see myself out.
I took the £20 note out of my pocket as soon as I got home. I threw it on the table and went to bed. ●