Day 25: Never underestimate the lives of old men sitting on park benches.

Well, I didn’t expect this to be as long as it was. Amazing what happens when you get into something. 

Arthur Peters sits, ramrod straight, on his favourite bench in the park. There is a metal plaque, cold against his tanned arm, that tells the world that the cool wood that he sits on is dedicated to Maureen Carter, devoted wife and mother, passed on from this world 14th April 1980. May she always feed the birds.

‘Stupid bloody sentiment.’ He muttered, voice grating as the sounds force their way out. Arthur was a man of few words and this was practically an Oscar speech from him. Those who knew him would be amazed as the words carried on. ‘Sounds like she’s being eaten by birds in hell.’ His gnarled hands, rigid with arthritis and speckled with liver spots, reach repeatedly into a bag of breadcrumbs to hurl to the small army of pigeons that surround him, supplicants at the altar of free food. He sees one of his regulars, a large, puffy pigeon with one eye, black as an evil soul. This is a pigeon who is clearly a brawler, a dominant male. ‘Budgie.’ He growls in acknowledgement. He thought it was rather ironic. Budgie responded with a quiet coo , a warning as much as a welcome.

Arthur smiles as memories flood through his mind. Dominant male. He never thought he’d be able to see himself in the life of a pigeon, but here he was, sitting in the shade and letting the memories flow through him like a warm breeze.

***

‘COME ON THEN!’ A fresh, strong, twenty year old Arthur Peters is standing on the pool table in the Rose and Crown. He’s holding a pool cue in both hands, gesturing wildly towards the angry mob before him. ‘That’s right, ya pansy bastards! Couldn’t fight yer way out of a wet paper bag!’ Murmurs turn to shouts in the crowd, full of fury and fire. They jostle, but none of them want to be the first to fight the crazy man on the pool table. Arthur laughs, deep and throaty, a chuckle that infects all those not currently involved in the brawl. Those members of the mob with a brain cell still sparking realised that they were the target of this laughter. It was the final straw. With an animal howl, they surged forwards. ‘Well, it’s on now!’

Arthur didn’t stop laughing. A sharp crack, echoed around the room as he snapped the pool cue over his knee. A second crack, wet and vaguely disturbing, sounded as the bravest of the mob swung a punch, a wild haymaker that Arthur slipped easily out of the way of, and the brave man’s fist collided with a pool table. The pool table won and the brave man collapsed with the pain. That’s when Arthur went to town, precise strikes with the ends of the pool cue, jabs into the ribs to make them curl up in pain, vicious slaps across the ears that startled and bewildered. Still, he laughed.

That’s when the whistles started blaring and the policemen streamed in. Arthur was still laughing as he dropped the remains of the pool cues onto the circle of groaning bodies around him. ‘It’s a fair cop.’ He grinned. He’d always wanted to say that.

***

Yes, he’d been quite a brawler in his day. Always the victor. He was still barred from the Crown, as far as he knew. He felt the vigour crawling back into his bones, fired up by the memories. He stood up, slowly and carefully, easing his aged form to an upright position. His brown loafers slid across the gravel as he forced his clenched fist around the handle of his ebony walking stick. Whatever had happened to him, to that proud figure that stood so tall in his memories? That towering giant, striding through the realm of his past. He shook his head, trying to clear the useless thoughts cluttering his head.

A car backfires nearby, just the other side of the treeline. The sound overrides all other thoughts in Arthur’s head, the memories, the pain. Everything was down to a reflex, hardwired into his brain.

‘Contact! Take cover!’ He immediately dropped to a knee, pain of the gravel immediately vanisihing in comparison to the shards of pain travelling through his thigh as his body remembered that it was no longer that of a fit thirty year old. He is instinctively swinging the ebony cane to his shoulder, a substitute for a rifle that those gnarled hands haven’t held in forty years. A brief cry escapes his lips as his leg gives way beneath him and he falls to the gravel path. The sun beats down heavily on his brown coat as a jogger slows to a stop next to him.

‘Are you alright, pal?’

***

‘Are you alright, pal?’ Tugger yells. He and Arthur are in a dugout during a live firing exercise. Rounds are whistling high overhead, but it certainly brings the realities of war home for a twenty-two year old. ‘Not scared of a little bit of ammunition, are you?’ Arthur shakes his head, choosing to keep quiet and try and marshal the emotions churning in his gut. A smidgen of fear, a touch of bewilderment and a dash of curiosity were all tempering the rage he was feeling. ‘Good thing really, I mean we load enough of the stuff.’ Tugger leaned back and pushed his blond hair back. He had boyish good looks, a stark contrast to Arthur’s ‘half past nine in the morning’ shadow. They worked well together, Tugger acting as a natural second for Arthur’s more commanding personality.

‘Quiet a minute.’ Arthur barks. Tugger’s mouth immediately snaps shut. ‘We’ve got activity to the left. My ten o’clock.’ He smiled. ‘I think it’s showtime. Ready to be a bad guy, Tugs?’

‘Am I ever. When did we last get to be good guys?’ Tugger was bringing forward their machine gun, loaded with blank rounds. It’d be scary as hell for the poor folks attempting to sneak toward them. ‘Ah well, must be my natural tendencies. Just got one of those faces.’

‘Maybe you’ve got a rap sheet as long as my arm? Could be the fact that you were caught jacking off in the barracks. Or the fact that you literally stole the Commandant’s dog?’ There was a lull in the gunfire, leaving the woods eerily quiet. A breeze whispers through the trees, far too close together for his comfort. ‘Get on the radio to Beagle and Jones. Tell them that there’s a section heading their way. Make sure that they wait for our fire.’ Tugger delivered the commands, swiftly and efficiently.

Peters waited patiently, eyes firmly focused on the small group moving towards them. He held up three of his piano-player fingers, slowly curling them inwards one by one until the air around them erupted. A second staccato burst joined theirs, sending the fresh recruits hurling themselves into cover. Tugger began chuckling, blue eyes sparkling as the machine gun below his cheek belched noise and fury. Arthur raises his rifle, resting his head against the cool cheekplate as he aims down the sights. A smirk crosses his face and he pulls the trigger.

To be continued, hopefully. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

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