May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
“Wear these, you’ll need ’em,” he said, proferring some wafer-thin plastic coveralls in his hairy fist. Jason noticed the corners of the craggy bastard’s mouth turn up a fraction, splitting his face into a succession of deep caverns from his forehead to his chin. A cigarette dangled limply between cracked lips, revealing yellowing teeth underneath, and sending plumes of smoke up into a crisp Monday morning sky.
Jason reached out to take the coveralls slowly, savouring his hatred for his community support officer as he stood slouched against the railing, uniform sagging on his skeletal frame, fingernails grimy with dirt, salt-and-pepper hair hanging lank and matted against a leathery forehead. As the coveralls were exchanged, he reached up and plucked the cigarette deftly from his mouth and twisted over to flick some ash into the swirling waters below. He turned back to Jason, brought it to his mouth again. The derisive sneer that was forming on his features grew more pronounced, accentuated by a hacking cough that was more than a little punctuated by mocking laughter.
“Why do I have to paint them all red? Surely they are more visible when they are white?” Jason could barely get the words out, so deep was his level of distaste for this man. He had had the displeasure of his company far too often in recent months. Of course, he only had himself to blame.
“It’s not your place to question that, now is it, son?” drawled the officer, straightening up in a vain effort to become more imposing. “Now why don’t you just be a good little boy and take that paint and your little paintbrush there and just get to it? Believe me, this is a cakewalk compared to some of the shit that I had planned for you, son.”
“Son”; always with that patronising, humiliating “son”. If Jason had a pound for every time he’d heard this son of a bitch call him that over the past year, there’d be no need to keep shoplifting. But that wasn’t going to happen, so the shoplifting would just have to continue. The officer – Derek Chambers, 62, divorced – gave a final smirk and a derisive wink. He flicked the butt of his cigarette over the railing into the river. He turned on his heels and walked away without another word, already reaching into the pocket of his jacket for another cigarette. Jason watched him walk back towards his car, and then took out his own packet of smokes. He lit one up with a match, took a deep drag, and sighed heavily. It was going to be a long day.
Morning slowly oozed into early afternoon, and the April sun burned the clouds from the sky. Jason was aching. He’d applied himself to his ornery task with a diligence that surprised even himself, crouched forward on that sodding stone jetty, knees raw and with pain lancing up his spine, but a quiet sense of satisfaction creeping over him that Derek would have no grounds for further bullshit. The water had whipped at him constantly, savaged by a sudden gust of wind and drenching him from hat to boot. Derek had been right – he had needed the coveralls. Even his beanie was soaked through. Hopefully, now the sun was shining, he had a chance of respite from his damp and dishevelled fate.
The painting itself had been pretty pleasant, if he cared to admit it. The steady rhythm he had fallen into had allowed his mind to wander, to settle on things that most definitely needed to be settled. There was his Mum, of course. Unemployed, penniless, miserable. It broke him to see her like that, even though she tried her best at all times to marshall herself before him, and smile away his protestations. Then there was his girlfriend, Sasha, pregnant now. Shitting herself about telling her parents and not wanting Jason to tell his own. Well, his Mum anyway. Dad had fucked off a long time ago. With the weight of the world bearing down on his shoulders, it was small wonder that he’d resorted to shoplifting. Small things at first – a loaf of bread and teabags for his Mum – but soon escalating up to CDs, DVDs and gadgets. Anything that he thought could raise a few quid on eBay, Jason pilfered. Trouble was, he wasn’t particularly good at it. Hence his close association with Derek.
He paused, and pulled the soaked beanie from his head. He slicked a hand through his hair in a vain effort to dry it off and laid the paintbrush down on the upturned lid of the paint pot by his foot. He wondered suddenly how it had managed to get like this, why life had dealt him these breaks. His childhood had been happy, serene even. His aptitude for school saw him receive glowing reports from his teachers, and grades to match. All were agreed; Jason’s future was a bright one.
And then he’d gone. Just like that. One morning last year, Jason awoke to find his Mum sat at the kitchen table, head in hands, shoulders shaking uncontrollably as her sobbing wracked her body. On the table, a brief letter, in his Dad’s hand. Hardly a word of explanation about where or why. Just an empty apology, devoid of grief or regret. He had been surprised at how deeply it had affected his Mum, how systematically grief and apathy had destroyed every facet of her life. He sighed again. Sacrifices, he told himself. Things are different now, roll with the punches. He began painting again.
Half an hour later, he heard Derek’s car pull up at the end of the jetty, watched his crumpled form saunter down towards him. Surprise, surprise, another cigarette was dangling between his lips. “Now then, son. You managed to get this done all by yourse-,” Derek words were cut short by a sudden curse. Jason watched him lift up his boot, and saw the paint lid stuck to his sole.
Photo credit: Amy Massey