His Ears Like Stan Laurel
was 86 and lived alone. His flat was sandwiched between an empty downstairs, and
an upstairs occupied by the young woman who'd been widowed the week before. Edward
was comfortable with his privacy. Kept himself to himself. That was how it should
be. Tonight, Edward peered between his curtains onto the street below.
the road in the disused garden, flames embraced the cold air. Figures uprooted
hedges to feed the bonfire. Guy Fawkes and the familiar soundtrack of sirens,
whooshing rockets and sporadic explosions. The only time Edward's partial deafness
was a plus. Nature's turning down the volume. He needed no encouragement to imagine
the fire spreading, imagine trouble, problems, and had already convinced himself
it was getting worse. Things always got worse.
Footsteps filled the close,
followed by a sharp explosion that seemed to shake the walls. Edward jumped. He
ran out on the veranda. 'Bugger off ya Bastards,' he shouted at the darkness.
off ya daft auld cunt,' the darkness shouted back.
gripped the veranda rail. He controlled his shaking as he watched the figures
running, giving him the fingers and dissolving into shadow. He chittered, leaving
his frozen breath hanging in the air as he sought comfort from his gas fire's
Back, behind his curtains, he saw the figures re-emerging round
the bonfire, feeding it with fuel. At the window, Edward squinted with his nose
pressed to the glass. He watched for a few minutes as the smoke drifted towards
other houses with gardens like small jungles.
Standing in the kitchen he
shivered, coughed up phlegm as he massaged his chest, spat into the sink and wiped
his mouth. He put his pot of water on the stove for a cup of tea. He looked out
of his wired up kitchen windows into the back-court. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing.
made his tea, saving the tea-bag for another cup. Waste not etc. He returned to
the living room and settled down in his chair. A recliner with worn arms. He'd
get covers for them someday. A grand chair for a doze. He checked the clock on
the mantelpiece, wound it up setting the time with his wrist-watch. He scanned
his other clocks to make sure they weren't too slow or too fast.
his tea, dunked his digestive and brushed crumbs off his knee onto the floor.
He spread out the Racing Weekly and studied form with his magnifying glass. Sherlock
Holmes searching for clues. He dragged on a Silk-Cut as he studiously marked out
his line. Musselburgh, (going - good to soft) - A five pence each way accumulator,
Lucky Domino, Bath House Boy, Easy Dollar and Red Ramona. He was due to give the
bookies a fright. He smiled. Betting for 50 odd year and won sweet f.a.
he was planning the bet that would break the bookie, he again noticed the box
of chocolates on the mantelpiece. Wrapped in blue gift-paper and tied with red
ribbon, incongruous with its surrounds.
He'd bought them for her upstairs.
The previous week, he'd watched the hearse outside the close, the grey sky, the
shuffle of mourners. And, as he absorbed the scene, he'd looked at the photographs
on the wall of three people that smiled back at him. One was himself as a young
man with a Clark Gable moustache, a trilby at a jaunty angle and a Humphrey Bogart
raincoat. The others were his son and the wife, before the cancer had got them.
It was then he'd thought about the chocolates, a wee something to take upstairs.
time like the present. He put on his shoes and jacket. Left off his tie, it wasn't
like proper going out after all. Kept his bunnet in his pocket. He looked out
the window at the dying red of the fire.
A slight drizzle, and the street,
deserted, apart from the huddled queue at the ice-cream van chiming its tinny
tune. He'd chap the door, hand in the chocolates, say a few words, then back down
stairs. No need to stay.
The door opened and he handed the young woman
the box but before he could speak she gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
He pulled himself away and as he gathered his thoughts, he found himself in the
living room, his jacket being taken from him. He was given a whiskey, which he
accepted, and the young woman sat Edward in the settee as she introduced him to
'I'm Margaret, this is my mum Elspeth and my friend Stuart
and this is Edward everyone. He lives downstairs. In fact, until now, we've
only ever met on the stairs, isn't that right Edward?' Before he could reply,
Margaret drifted into the kitchen, her speech trailing behind her.
with a grin. Elspeth sat next to Edward.
To Edward, Margaret and Stuart
looked like something he saw on television. Margaret with her midi-dress, eye-shadow
and shiny leather boots. Stuart with his permed hair, large collared shirt and
loud Kipper tie. Elspeth was a lot older, maybe 60, 70, Edward couldn't be quite
Margaret re-entered the room with a glass in one hand and cigarette
in the other, the smoke spiralling into her perm. Edward noticed the red of her
finger-nails. She smiled at Edward then gestured towards the chocolates. 'You
really shouldn't have bothered.' she said.
Edward decided she didn't seem
too distressed. He was getting confused, didn't know if it was a party or what.
Margaret sensed his puzzlement. 'In case you're wondering Edward, I was glad to
see the back of that bastard. Nothing but a chancer, isn't that right Stuart?'
smiled, winked at Margaret, and raised his glass in a mock toast.
winked at Edward as she crossed her legs, covering her varicose veins. He could
smell the drink from her breath. 'Never mind them' she said, 'let's enjoy ourselves.'
put a single on her record player, asked Stuart for a dance. She draped her arms
round his neck. They shuffled in circles. 'Ever danced a moony Edward?.' she said.
'Never mind her,' Elspeth said, 'you look more of a "slow, slow, quick quick
slow" man to me.' 'In his time, Edward would have been what you call a real
dancer.' she shouted. 'A proper dancer.'
Edward shifted to the end of the
settee, checked his watch, tugging his shirt collar with his finger.
squeezed up next to Edward.
The music stopped. Margaret rummaged through
her stack of records for something else to play. She grabbed a bunch of singles,
lifted the plastic arm, positioned the singles onto the chrome spindle, lowered
the arm, then clicked the play lever. The room echoed to the sound of sixty's
'Can anyone do this?' shouted Stuart, who was touching his nose
with his top lip.
Elspeth and Margaret tried. Made stupid looking faces.
'No, but I can do this,' Margaret said as she bent over backwards putting the
palms of her hands on the ground. She was trying to show her suppleness but only
succeeded in crashing into the record player, the stylus screeching its objection
on the vinyl. Elspeth applauded while Stuart helped Margaret to her feet.
'Do you live on your own then?' Elspeth asked Edward.
then spurted out 'can anyone do this?' and began wiggling his ears like Stan Laurel.
The others tried to do it. No one could.
'Edward, gies a shot of yir bunnet?'
Edward got it from his jacket in the hall. He gave it to Stuart
and sat in an armchair in the corner of the room.
Margaret gave him a fresh
whiskey. Elspeth came over to Edward's chair and draped her arm over the back
while giving him an Elspeth look.
Stuart put on one of Margaret's jackets
which was way too small, then put on the bunnet pointing sideways on his head.
'Mister Grimsdale,' he began to whine, 'Mister Grimsdale.' Stuart stuck his elbows
out and walked with stiff legs, toes pointed inwards and the centre button on
the jacket fastened.
'Always did a good Norman Wisdom,' Elspeth said,
touching Edward's hair, 'Did you ever see "the Square Peg?"' I saw that
picture over and over. Do you go to the pictures much Edward? I used to go all
the time, but since
being on your own
it's not the same
Stuart, pleased with his performance, sat in the settee and skited
the bunnet over to Edward as if it were a flying saucer.
a bottle in the kitchen and was dishing out her, 'Everyone must sing a song
spin the bottle rules. Margaret spun the bottle clumsily and it skited across
the carpet stopping at Edward's feet. They all looked at him in anticipation.
'Come on Edward, give us a song.'
'No, really, I can't sing, I
'Who cares, come on now, a bit of wheesht for the singer.'
Edwards drank his whiskey down. He started singing softly and
slowly, almost as if talking. 'Oh - ma lads - we love to see them gangin - gangin
along the Scotswood Roaaaaaaad - tae see the Blay-don ra-ces.' Wet trickled down
Edward's cheek as he sang.
Margaret and Stuart cuddled each other, forgetting
about the bottle, the sing song. They started winching.
'Will you look
at that!' Elspeth said, smiling at Edward, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow.
She took a hanky from her bag and dabbed Edward's cheek. She held his hand and
led him to the door. In the hall she pointed to the bedroom, 'I'm feeling a bit
faint, going for a wee lie down.' she said as she staggered into the bedroom half
smiling at Edward.
Edward snatched his jacket from the hanger in the hall,
quietly closing the front door behind him. He felt a little unsteady and breathed
the cold close-air deep into his lungs. He held onto the banister and he made
his way downstairs to his own flat. Once inside, he felt calmer after he'd locked
In his bedroom he sat on the edge of the bed looking at the
photo of his wife. His eyes were getting wet. He dabbed them with the corner of
his hanky, ignoring the echoing rattle of the big-ben bell on his door. Ignoring
Elspeth, who clattered the letterbox as she tried to look the wrong way down the
spy-hole on the door. She could see nothing.
Edward gripped the damp hanky
in his clenched fist as he gave himself a hug, rocking from side to side. The
tears flowed freely down his face. On top of the chest of drawers, the dust covered
photograph looked impassively on, as he shivered from the inside, out.
Father Who Bought Fear>
to Main Index Page