He folded up the letter into a small square and put it in his back pocket. He looked around his flat, collected up the bottle, pitched it against the wall. Outside snow started to fall, a long and unbroken mist. His brother used to tell him it was raindrops, each wearing their own suit of armor. He walked through the room silently. He closed the door and turned the key, double-locked; he didn’t take a jacket.
He walked the streets, empty with the weather. Shop assistants looked out absent-mindedly, vendors clapped their hands and smiled to themselves. A newspaper broke loose and blew into the road, collapsing into separate sheets and running free. He folded his arms, imitating the few strangers who made their way through the afternoon, even though he didn’t feel anything at all.
He stood looking at the DVDs on the shelves. He overheard a few kids talking. It had been a long time since he’d heard voices close by. He decided to listen to whatever it was they had to say.
“Retard” said one of the voices. It was young and full of hate. Another repeated the word, trying to imitate the hate of the other’s voice. He couldn’t manage it, the last few letters tailing off when they should have been getting harder. He moved his head round the aisle to witness the silence.
Four boys. Standing just close enough to be in the man’s space but just far enough away to break if they were faced with someone stronger.
“Can’t you talk, spastic?” said the leader. He was tall and thin but full of enough menace that only teenagers can hold. He looked as if he was constantly on the verge of attack.
The man stood still. His trousers were too high on his waist; his shirt was buttoned too close and all the way to the top. His windbreaker jacket was nondescript cream and too short on his arms. He clutched the small cases he had collected off the shelves close to his chest with both hands, like guarded treasure.
He looked round to see if the staff behind the counter were going to intervene. They watched the screens with a mannered distraction, pretending not to hear. Only a few years older than the other boys. They turned their heads at an angle, the way people did at restaurants when couples argued nearby. One turned the sound up to try to drown out the voices.
The leader sprang forward and knocked the cases from the man’s hands. As soon as their hands came into contact his arms loosened and the cases fell easily to the floor. The boys kicked them to each corner. They laughed, cold and hard, each making the other up the level of noise.
After that the boys seemed at a loss for what to do with the man. They moved amongst themselves in a circle, unsure of the next stop. Then the leader punched one of the other boys, the one with the weaker voice. They started to leave. The leader stopped in his tracks and turned and spat on the man’s sleeve. He seemed satisfied with that and moved back to the group, who froze without his lead. They patted and punched each other and they moved toward the door, swearing at the snow outside.
The man looked down at his sleeve, where the spittle lay. It started to spread into a patch on his arm. He didn’t seem to know what to do, but just blinked over and over at the mark. He wore very small glasses. His hair was short on his skin. His lip drooped a little as if it was trying to reply to an unheard question. His skin was the color of weak coffee.
He watched as the man started to walk to one of the corners of the floor, the furthest, to collect his cases. He walked slowly and calmly, as if the cases had been put there for him to collect. He looked around and saw the staff looking back over. One of them smiled. He walked over to another one of the corners and picked up one of the other cases. He collected one of the others. He turned and saw the man holding the other two cases to his chest as he had before. They stood opposite each other. He thought the man looked more intimidated than he did before the boys. Then he realized the man thought he might be taking the games. He reached out and passed them over to him. They stood in silence, the voices from the film echoing from the screens.
“I’m sorry those boys teased you.” The man didn’t look at him directly, but instead looked down to the floor. “I’m Mark.” He held out his hand, certain the man wasn’t going to take it.
“I’m Donny.” The man slowly brought up his arm and took his hand. His skin was cool, like warm, melting ice.
“You like computer games.” He felt the staff staring and did not care.
“Yes. I’ve been waiting for these for a long time.” He drummed his finger along the cases, a slow tap-tap-tap. “Football and cars. I like cars the best.” His voice was steady and slow, each word carefully put in the air.
“You playing them all today, or going to play one a day?” Their hands fell to their sides.
“All together. To see which one I like the best.”
“Today’s a good day for it, with all the snow.” He watched Donny as he looked out to the street, blinking as if he had seen the snow for the first time. Then he turned back, looking directly at him.
“Would you like to play the games. With me. They are two player games.” He held his gaze, so it was Mark who took a few seconds to reply.
“Sure. I’d like that. That would be great.” Donny nodded without smiling. They walked to the counter together, Donny reaching into his pocket. He put the cases on the counter and pulled out a green wallet.
“I’ll get these, Donny, I don’t mind.” He said, scrambling all the coins together in his pocket.
“No. They are in my name, I have a ticket and I get to keep them for seven days.” Donny carefully put the card on the counter, the cash, the leaflet, looking to the cashier after each action, checking each part of the process. They turned and walked towards the automatic doors. They both waited until the door closed and then they stepped out into the snow.
“Do you live nearby, Donny?” He talked over the snow, nearly shouting.
“Nine streets. Twenty-five minutes.” His voice stayed the same tone, but still carried over the snow.
“Well, seeing how you paid for the games, I thought I might buy some supplies, while we’re playing. Shop’s right here.” Snowdrops settled on his arm as he pointed to the grocery. They melted into the material. He waited until Donny nodded and ducked in.
He moved into the shops, picked up snacks, bread. What did you buy a stranger? He walked up each aisle, picking up random items. He moved to the checkout, paid quickly. He looked out to Donny, standing statue-still, the snow gathering on his tired jacket.
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Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice