The weather has turned unexpectedly cold, chills his bones and makes him ache. His winter scarf, heavy in June, scratches his neck and makes his skin hate itself. This was not how Mr Smith had intended to spend his Tuesday afternoon. The call from the hospital had been unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome. There is nothing better than a family emergency for enlivening an otherwise mundane existence.

Duckman as a treeHis nephew waits in a green hospital cubicle, red bandages clutched to a hand awaiting the reattachment of its left middle finger.

Mr Smith arrives with a flourish:

‘Oh James! What have you done?’

His tone is theatrical, on the edge of an imaginary piano introduction, the twitching movement of jazz hands on his finger tips. He used to be in musicals and as such possesses awesome powers of projection. James does not answer immediately.

‘I was packing-’

‘Why were you packing? What were you packing?’

‘I wanted to know if it was working before I took it. The carving knife.’

‘And was it?’

Mr Smith is met by blank incomprehension.

‘Was it?’ he repeats, ‘Working?’

In the pause which follows Mr Smith is struck by the colour of the walls.

‘How very green it is in here!’

‘Yes, very green,’ James agrees.

‘Incredibly, green.’


Greenness lapses into silence, in which Mr Smith regains his sense of purpose, and steels himself for the all-important question:

‘James – ’. He falters. ‘If it wasn’t entirely an accident – you can talk to me, I do know, you know.’

He leans in closer, and in a conspiratorial whisper confides,

‘I am also acquainted with the black dog.’Very Green

‘The what?’

Mr Smith is suddenly overcome,

‘Oh what have you done to yourself, what have you done?’

‘I was packing – dividing, taking what was mine, just mine. She gave it to me, it was a gift, for Sunday roasts, she said. No more Sunday dinners – at least not with her – but I wanted my knife. I might love again, I might want to roast a leg of lamb for another woman. Not Her. Bet she’d hate that. GOOD.’

Mr Smith brims over with inarticulate sympathy,

‘Is it,’ he asks, ‘Is it – another man? Has she left you for another man?’

James is not listening, he continues:

‘So I didn’t see why she should get to keep it. But I didn’t want it anymore, not if it was broken, because what would the point be then? Broken. Oh God everything’s broken! Although as it turns out, the carving knife still works…’

He looks down at his bandaged hand, and then back up at his uncle. Realisation dawns.

‘Downsizing,’ he says softly, ‘Reducing,’ a little louder, ‘Taking things away,’ he declares to the green wall.

He begins to laugh, and his laughter fills the cubicle, escapes and stalks the corridors, joyful and malevolent, and the more he laughs the more bewildered his uncle grows, and so the more he laughs.

He is still laughing when the surgeon arrives to re-attach his finger.

He begins to laugh, and his laughter fills the cubicle, escapes and stalks the corridors, joyful and malevolent


By the Duck Pond

October 4, 2009

‘It’s a cliché, but a true one…’ she says.

In the early light the park is a junkyard of frozen machinery. Her voice echoes through the stillness, and then curtails itself awkwardly.

‘… one. It’s not me. It’s you…. ou.’

The council are in the process of draining the duck pond by the east gate, and the pool is shrunken and dried out. An imposing blue and white sign beside the dormant digger announces the general intention in specific terms: the drainage equipment will not resume its course until mid-morning. The sign does not, however, explain the overall purpose of the scheme. In the meantime the ducks return, and find their home diminished.
‘I think you have that the wrong way around,’ he says.

‘You hear it in pop songs all the time now,’ she says.

A long pause. She fills the silence, a barely audible,


They sit on a bench overlooking the dust-bowl. The ducks are indignant and peck at the dry earth. A radio from a passing car plays out the news at one minute to nine. A source of abrupt inspiration, she announces:

‘We need to downsize.’


‘Yes, from a fixed unit to something more fluid. But individual. Everyone’s doing it now.’

‘Companies. Not people.’

‘All the same,’ she says, and the morning blows a long pointed finger of cool air between them, shaking the leaves from the trees. The digger rattles its chains.

‘I think I only loved you because the

weather was cold,’ she confesses.

He suggests central heating next winter,
‘Less emotionally expensive.’

Neither of them move for a while. He wonders if her choice of language has been influenced by the council’s drainage plans. She wonders if the point of departure has already passed her by. They stagnate.

To the west of the pond two pairs of shining eyes recite. She stands up and starts as if to apologise, but thinks better of it. Her heels ring out hollow on the tarmac above the sounds of their chatter.

‘It’s not me. It’s you.’