‘The man came at him with both hands outstretched and caught him in the chest, knocking him back against the wall’
Extract from Errant Blood
By C. F. Peterson
Forthcoming from Scotland Street Press
Towards midnight the fat man came out onto the balcony and lit a cigarette. He was drunk now, trying to obliterate the dirty African across the street. He spat and watched. Joshua waited. The man finished his cigarette, went back inside, and came out again in a hurry carrying a cup. He ran down the stairs and across the street and jerked the cup towards Joshua, who flinched as the salt hit his face and made a thousand tiny beats on the pavement. “Vete!” the man shouted, “En el nombre de Jesucristo! Vete!” He pulled a crucifix from a pocket, brandished and then threw it. It bounced off the gate above Joshua’s head and landed on the pavement. Joshua did not move. Somewhere within he felt a strange sensation, all the more strange for being familiar. It was laughter rising, for the first time in three years, recalling faces and bright forest. The man placed his hands on his knees, took deep breaths, then vomited. When he had finished he approached the being that was not a ghost, leant down and slapped a hand against Joshua’s leg and pulled at the arm that covered the lower half of his face. The man still looked afraid, and still did not speak. He took out a pile of notes and tossed them on the ground. Look, he is going away! He thinks he has solved you! Stop him. Say the words.
“Donde Singa?” said Joshua in a loud, clear voice. The fat man stopped with one foot on the pavement on the other side of the street. “Donde Singa?” said the African, louder. The man turned and spoke in Spanish.
“Donde Singa? Where is your Singa? How should I know? The boat has been gone since three years!”
“Donde? Donde barco? Donde Eloissey”
“Dead! All dead! Like you!” he waved his hand as he turned his back, “Vete!” Joshua did not move. As the man climbed the stairs he called out again.
“Donde barco!” like an insult. The fat man paused but continued and slammed the door shut. “Donde Barco?” shouted Joshua. He stood up and shouted again and again at the door, “Donde barco? Donde esta? Donde Eloissey?” Another door opened further up the street, a light went on in the villa behind him and he stopped shouting and sat back down, feeling weak and nauseous, his breath coming in short gasps. But he smiled as he drew up his knees and laid his head in the crook of his arm. He had shouted for the first time in three years. He had almost laughed. He was alive again: alive, and about to faint from hunger and thirst. He was awake. He was no longer dreaming the long dream of begging and hawking up and down the Costa, through the overflowing tide of ghost people in the summer and the ghost towns of winter. And yet the dream world still beckoned. He had a premonition of physical pain, the price he would have to pay if he was to stay alive. As his eyelids were about to fall he got up, crossed the street and climbed the stairs to the balcony.
The television beyond the door blared clapping and laughter. Joshua knocked, waited and then tried the handle. The door opened into a chaotic living room, the details dancing in television light. Beer cans, an overflowing ashtray and a half-eaten meal lay on a low table; piles of clothes lay on chairs and the couch. The man came into the room from the one behind. Joshua watched the fat fists clench and unclench.
“Donde barco?” he whispered from a dry mouth. The man came at him with both hands outstretched and caught him in the chest, knocking him back against the wall. He thought about fighting back, but it would have been pointless. Although drunk, the man was agile and fast and much stronger. The years of near starvation and sleeping in abandoned houses had pared Joshua’s muscles to the last essentials. The man could see this and chose to slap rather than punch. He slapped the beggar to the ground, knelt on his chest and slapped his face until the lips and nose bled. Then he pulled the limp figure upright and threw it across the room. Joshua lay where he fell, expecting more. But the man sat on the couch and lit a cigarette, watching him.
“Donde?” said Joshua. The man threw an empty beer can at his head.
“Where is the Eloissey?” said Joshua. The man threw a full beer can. When he had finished the cigarette he took out a phone and touched the screen.
“It didn’t work. He’s in my apartment. What now? I don’t have a pistol, and even if I did what do I do with the body? He wants to know where the boat went.” He listened. “You serious? What if he does get there?” He listened again, shrugged and touched the screen.
“Listen shitfuck. Do you know where Scotland is?”
Errant Blood by C. F. Peterson is published in March by Scotland Street Press priced £9.99.
‘The architecture of cities became a battleground for the Victorian soul’