This is an extract from a novel I’ve been working on. Duke is a key character.
The morning sun ventures across London, rising tentatively in a cloud covered sky. As it rises west to east, it peels away the slumber and safety of night, revealing the pock marked face of the city. With a snap, the impact of former crashes, scuffs and struggles are shot at with unforgiving sunlight. Puddles of vomit harden under its touch and the smell of night bus exhausts choking out fumes, and festering rubbish sat on cement pavements, intensify with the rising heat.
As it intrudes through bedroom windows, outlining the blinds and changing the colours from black and white to an antique Instagram fade, eyes flicker. Sensitive to the imposing light that enters through the barrier of the closed lid. Day is here. The retina responds, here is the trigger. The eye shoots open. Duke wakes with a start.
Fifty-two. Troubled sleeper. Amputee. Greenwich resident. Ground floor flat. Council. Duke lies in his unwashed sheets and, as he does every morning, imagines that he is whole. A complete specimen. Not this head-turning, hop along freak. He can feel his legs, just before he commits himself to consciousness. There they are, spread wide as he rests, or crossed over one another. Just so at the end of the bed, perfectly positioned beneath his pelvis. Throbbing.
A shooting pain at the stump rouses him from his sleep. He’s been having problems lately, with night. With sleep. Since it happened, really.
The sounds of the council block coming to life start to rebound around the walls of his 3 room dwelling. The kids upstairs stamping from each side of their bedroom. Their mum has just put on the exercise video in the bedroom and is hitting the floor enthusiastically with squats.
Duke was a tough guy, or had been. He was now crippled, out of action and buggy-ed up in a push along wheel chair that was one part undignified and one part shameful. He’d tried to ignore the chair at first, act normal – but it wasn’t possible. He hated it, but he needed it – and the chair likewise. They were ineffective without each other. The chair accommodated his substantial weight, and he put up with the chair’s difficulty turning corners and the sound the wheels made when on rubber flooring.
Later that day he found himself parked outside the H&M sale and while his sister looked at the leopard print laden rails he preferred to reflect on the wildlife out on the street. People passed him by in hoards, some stopping to cast their vision upon him, some even surveyed him up and down, taking in his curling long hair that was now losing it’s colour and turning to grey as though left out in the sunlight for too long. His brown face was etched with deep lines and when he got angry they collectively and conversely animated and re-dispersed across his features like a handful of needles thrown down in haste.
He wondered what they thought of him. Now a chair prisoner – a roller. He had been a rock and roller, once. Loved to get down on the dance floor, take off his shirt and perform for the crowds, letting them adore him. Now he was abhorred. Shunned. Tramp-like in a sweatshirt and comfortable slacks he was sure people assumed he smelt of piss and booze.
Up close Duke emitted his one of a kind olfactory blueprint. Of sour cigarettes and Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles which he rotated in his mouth between fags and medication. Oral pleasure was one of the only sensory satisfactions he had left in life. Strawberry was his favourite. A hint of Joop hung about on the fraying fragments of various fibres of his being, more intense at the earlobe, his chest and his collar, fine fragrance mixed with the unmistakeable mustiness and saltiness of skin shedding. One more layer down, one more being formed, always caught in the conflict of decay and renewal – one cell at a time.
Looking down at his ‘good for nothing’ legs he sometimes got the angle right to admire the Butterfly tattoo he had inked on his skin back in ‘81. It was supposed to represent metamorphosis, of good coming out of the ugly, the lowly. And yet here he was below head height, rolling along and pulsing awkwardly, legless like a fat caterpillar that was never going to get any prettier.
He lit up a fag. Sal would be trying on stuff. She always did. He had time for a couple of Lucky Strikes before being wheeled on to the bus stop – and homeward to his ground level hovel. Another great day out.