A Skulk – Part II

by Timothy J Jarvis

Part II of ‘A Skulk’. The first part can be found here.

Soundtrack: Black Swan, ‘Prophecy’

It tumbled in the air a while...

Waclaw lived close to Balham station, in a cramped bedsit with barely room for a narrow bed, a chest of drawers, and the small desk and chair, salvaged from a skip outside a local school, that he ate his meals at, sometimes sat reading, or in contemplation, or writing on his old electronic typewriter at. A squalid kitchen and bathroom were shared with the other tenants of the converted Edwardian terrace. It was a fairly miserable place, but Waclaw liked how bright it was on clear days; the windows were large, let in a lot of light. The view from them was dull, though: a new complex of flats, built in anticipation of the time, then still a few years away, when some younger financial workers, priced out of Clapham, would move a little further down the Northern Line, was just behind and slightly to the left; a little further off, on the right, was the embankment that carried the overground railway.

One morning, a few weeks after the incident on the Common, Waclaw, standing at the window, brushing his teeth, saw, from behind, in one of the new flats, a young woman kneeling before a mirror, blow-drying her hair. Apparently unaware she was overlooked, she was naked. He leered down a moment, at the knotty ridge of her spine, at her hunched shoulders, at her calloused soles, at a soft full breast, a small dusk-rose nipple, glimpsed in reflection, then catching himself, turned away, shamed.

That night, walking home from a party at a friend’s house in Dulwich, he was passing by Streatham Common when he stopped, staggered by the glister of moonlight on a gossamer filament strung across the road, from one pollarded elm to another. As he stood there, two young men rushed him, brandishing knives, demanded his wallet. He gave it to them meekly, yet still they pushed him to the ground, set about him, began punching and kicking him where he lay, stamping on his hands. He curled into a ball, wrapping his arms around his head; his assailants jeered and the blows came harder and faster; he tasted the salt tang of blood in his mouth, felt pain in his side. One of the young men had sallow greasy skin, like spoilt cheese, the other, a poorly done tattoo of a cartoon budgerigar in a cage on the side of his neck. They yammered abuse, a bizarre litany of invective.

‘Fucking prick wanker Polak nigger whore poof cunt…’

Spittle spindrift in the glare from the streetlights, sparks from a weld. The tattooed thug became so agitated he pissed himself. Waclaw was sure they would kill him. Then something came snarling out of a stand of scrub at the edge of the common and flew at the attackers, savaged them, drove them off.

Waclaw was roused from a half faint by the fox licking his face. It peered at him a moment, then scampered away. He got to his feet, and went on his way, as fast as he could, broken and bruised as he was.

He went to hospital the next day. After a wait, he was seen, prodded, x-rayed; one of his ribs was cracked and several of his fingers broken. He was off work for nearly six weeks convalescing.

The afternoon of the day he returned to the site, he and another builder were crouched down, side by side, examining the damp-proof course of one of the blocks of flats, when a carpenter, working high overhead, affixing wooden cladding, let slip his framing hammer. It tumbled in the air a while, then struck the hard hat of Waclaw’s fellow a heavy blow. The man grunted, sagged, fell over on his side, and lay, curled up, whimpering, one leg kicking out, like a dog dreaming of chasing rabbits. Waclaw turned to him, crouched down, and took hold of one of his hands.

The man’s eyes were rolled back in their sockets. The massy head of the hammer had stove in the crown of his hard hat, cracked his skull.

Looking about him, Waclaw saw that though some had put down their tools and were gawping, most worked on, ignorant of what had happened.

Catching the eye of the site foreman, who stared over, slack-jawed, Waclaw called out, ‘Hey! Hey! Stop the work! Call an ambulance!’

To be continued