He said he was a saft bugger and the hem of his jacket was frayed as if bleached, and teased by the teeth of dogs or pulled through a hedge or through one of them pulley machines you see in museums of old life.
John didn’t care about hitting him. The man was there, that was enough. I said if he went near him I’d go but John was adamant. The guy was there, stiff hair, frayed jacket and nose like a funnel on an ocean liner.
I tried to pull him away but you know what he’s like when he’s got something going, some ridiculous refrain in his head, crazing his head like a Kylie song–the guy’s there–he’s standing there, in his patch, in his space, where he goes everyday, where people know he’ll be, where they expect to find him, by the railing, where the breeze off the river blows just for him in his personal space and where the leaves in autumn lift and circle him like a spiralling halo. He’d been standing there for years.
He’s got to be a saft bugger, just standing there. Doesn’t he know, he said, it’s my space. That’s my tarmac, my bench, my effing railings, my white lines on the ground. My fucking air. I pulled him away again. I said, you hit him, I ain’t coming back.
My space, he said, my space, you can’t expect me, you know, let him stand in my space? Everyone knows it’s mine. Mine. The fucker’s mad. He dropped his fag stub on the ground. He’s got to be mad.
I said it again but John moved forward towards the guy, the saft head, the crazy fucker, standing there his nose funnelling the river breeze, gripping the railing as if kneading bread. Does anyone knead bread anymore, I thought, backing away, trying not to watch John step forward, his legs with big strides, mountainous strides, strides across continents. Arms out, he grabbed the guy’s jacket, frayed cuff, frayed collar, he yanked it, the guy toppled forward almost into John’s arms just as John reached out up and across with the other hand, like a dance, a patterned shape between them, each responding to each other’s motion. They’re dancing together, leaning forward, moving backward in a parody of a tango. I turned away as fist chimed with chin, the sound of ringing bells in bone.
John turned towards me but I was gone. He’s a fucking safthead, I heard him yell. A fucking looney!