This is the story of my bench. It is not anyone else’s, only mine. Some people think it is theirs but they are wrong. Please do not forget that it is mine. You would probably do well not to forget that.
It was seven thirty-eight on a Wednesday evening. The air was cooling but still warm enough to be wearing only the necessary garments. The hot, sweltering summer, the alleged scientists at the Bureau had predicted, had not shown any signs of occurring, for the third year in a row. But after another cold, dry winter the midday sun could leave one’s bare skin somewhat singed, if exposed for any length of time.
On this particular night, my sister cooked dinner; it tasted of malice, jealousy and resentment. As I stood at the sink, partaking in the menial task of washing the dishes from the abhorrently unsatisfying meal, the odour of its preparation still clung to every object in the confined kitchen, even myself. The strong scent of the roasted chicken, undoubtedly filled with steroids or other growth hormones, still crept from the open oven; the aroma of garden salads tossed, presumably unwashed and swathed with a concoction of insecticides, was emanating from the ugly salad bowl; and the overpowering stench of the garlic cloves, which she insisted were vital for flavour and health, formed an allied force intent on storming my nose; we both knew they were used merely to infuriate me.
The washing up was tedious yet unproblematic; it took all of fifteen minutes, a length of time I would never get back. As I looked out the kitchen window, my person took on a more serene demeanour, resulting from the soft hues created by the setting sun, which continually splashed my face. The sun was roughly an hour from disappearing beyond the horizon for another night. I pondered whether to take advantage of this picturesque twilight. I often endeavoured to make the small promenade down to Westlands Beach to watch Apollo’s golden chariot retire for another night. I could not stand to be incarcerated in this jail of antipathy for much longer, thus I decided to sit upon my bench until nightly darkness enveloped this Wednesday.
My bench. I refer to this particular bench as my bench not because I claim ownership of it, or through being personally responsible for its construction, but, through two years of residence within the beachside suburbia that is Westlands, never have I witnessed another soul entertain themselves upon its wooden planks. I am sure some rotten ingrates do consign themselves to using it for Ra knows what, from time to time, but I find it preferable to imagine they refrain from such abominable acts of desecration. Watching Helios descend beyond the horizon is not the only reason I sit on my bench. On some nights, I find myself devouring pages upon pages of books to escape from a world full of discontent and ennui.
After having dried my hands on the filthy green and white striped tea towel, a hoarded kitsch memento from the previous decade, I exited the kitchen, passing the laundry to heave the towel into the stagnant wash basket.
My bedroom provides me with temporary solace from the fruitless world within which I exist. In here, there are no distractions from the arduous grind society propounds upon its obedient members. I think of it as another realm, a sanctuary that boasts the freedom I can find only within my own thoughts; it is a physical projection of my mind’s environs.
Methodically, I filter through my wardrobe to locate a certain black trench coat that has an air of malevolence to it whilst fulfilling the ideals of comfort. Although they have a tendency to bring about blistering hindrance on my heels, I pull on my black, slouched Nocona cowboy boots. They were a gift from great uncle who was the only person in my family that I could tolerate; he was killed whilst performing a pagan ritual. They, being the police, claimed he fell into the fire, whilst performing the sacrifice to an African god, and suffered sufficient burns to pronounce him dead then and there. I found this to be un-believable at best. After seeing the Coroner’s report, it was obvious to me that he was burned at the stake by those white supremacist Christian fundamentalists. But enough about that. I donned the coat and, after scanning my blackened timber bookcase, finally decided that Poe’s The Black Cat would be my literary meal upon this night. I removed it from its designated space on the third shelf and proceeded out the door.
Telling my family of my temporary absence is completely and utterly devoid of any meaning. Even if I disappeared for a month, I would not be overly shocked if they had almost no idea. They don’t need to know about me.
As I trudged through the fading twilight of this particular Wednesday, down Grandeville Avenue, I almost failed to notice Mr Stokes as he called out to me, with his ancient voice and paedophiliac demeanour, from his front porch. He was a senile old fuck. Most of the people on this street had tried to have him put in jail or relocated. Since we moved here he’d been put on trial three times, amounting seventeen accusations of child molestation. To the world’s disappointment, none of them held up. Suspicious.
He was the only person to come introduce himself to our family, when we first arrived. It took him a while to greet us, at least two months; it was as if he was sizing up my hate-filled sibling and I in those eight weeks of apparent ignorance.
‘Good evening, and welcome to our beautiful neighbourhood. I trust you have settled in without any qualms or troubles?’ he said, eyeing me.
‘Good evening.’ Dad replied.
They chatted for about twenty minutes before Dad invited him in to share a bottle of red wine; it was as if his eyes sparkled at the idea of seeing two children in their own home. Mr Stokes obliged completely, filthy cunt. He told us that he used to go down and drink wine with his late wife on their bench. He looked straight at me when he said this, causing uncomfortable reactions inside me. The first was a feeling of hate. Since when was it his bench? Or theirs, for that matter? It’s my bench, only I can use it. The second was a kind of fear. This dirty, old man must have turned to using children for his sexual exploits since his wife died. She probably took her own life to avoid the truth of his disgustingly vile habits. I was not surprised to find he was formerly of the Church.
After some time and two bottles of red wine Mr Stokes decided it was time for him to return home. Just before he walked out the door he turned and asked to speak to me.
‘Donnie?’ he asked, ‘are you at all interested in literature?’
‘Yeah I guess so, why?’ I said, hoping this conversation would terminate with haste.
As I finished my question he slowly pulled a leather-bound book out of his Safeway calico bag.
‘Here, I would like you to have this. As a symbol of a new and, hopefully, lasting friendship.’ I shuddered at the words as the left his geriatric mouth.
He handed me the book. It was a first edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Of course, my father had no idea what that was. The author was incarcerated last century for allegedly being homosexual. Was this coot subliminally sending me messages?
‘I can’t accept this; it’s has to be worth a fortune!’ I saw straight through his charade of ‘friendship’; it was obvious that this offering was purely a gesture to dissuade me from using my bench and worse.
‘It is of no consequence to me, my boy, I have others and money has become but a fleeting possession for me over the years. Just between you and me, I have too much of it to spend. I’d rather see you get enjoyment out of a fine gift rather than pay for it. Maybe you could come over and read to me, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be and this is one of my favourites.’
I felt physically ill.
‘Well that would be a great idea!’ Dad said, with his tremendous wisdom. ‘We’ll organise a time soon for you, Donnie.’
‘Just let me know, would you? I’ll make sure I’m prepared for when he comes.’ replied Stokes, trying desperately hard not to lick his lips.
‘No problem, speak to you soon then. Bye now.’
From this first encounter I knew something was up with this codger; he was trying to buy me out of using my bench, amongst other things; he was inconspicuously blackmailing me, trying to lure me to his den of sodomy, filth and sin.
As I passed by Mr Stokes’ front porch he called out to me, inquiring as to what I was doing at such an hour as this.
‘Where are you headed, my boy?’ I could see in his eyes he was contemplating asking me to read to him.
‘I’m going down to my bench,’ I yelled back, ‘but I have to hurry, there isn’t much light left’.
‘Your bench?’ he started, but what he said next was drowned out by the sound of a passing car. I didn’t much care for what he said but his face showed what was being implied; he hoped to prevent me from using my bench. He waved me over; he wanted me to come inside.
‘Sorry, Mr Stokes, I really have to go.’ I retorted, knowing full well I had dodged a somewhat perverted bullet. He threw me a somewhat threatening look and retreated back into his unit, no doubt to watch Hi-5, or some other children’s program to get his daily fix.
Senile old tosser, I thought.
Thoughts of Stokes’ perversion were pushed from the fore of my mind by the problematic situation of failing daylight. It was as if Selene was more eager than usual to take her place in the night sky.
I began my brisk promenade toward my bench when a sudden feeling of anxiety washed over my whole body: what if some heathen had chosen to inhabit my bench? It would be desecrated, tainted beyond repair. If someone had dumped his or her disgusting self on it my night would be ruined. What would I do? I couldn’t possibly sit on another bench. It would be unheard of. Could I tell them to leave? I would have to. They would have to leave. I could not bring myself to perform the atrocity that ensued last time I found someone sitting upon its sacred frame.
It was not long ago that someone decided to reside upon my bench. The woman in question was taking a break from walking her lumbering beast of a hound when I found her. I could not think of what to do. Then, as if inspired by some divine mischief-maker, Hermes or Banath are most likely responsible, an idea took shape within my mind. The beach was safe for dog walkers, an aspect that fuelled my hate for city councils and tamed wildlife, so there were plenty of other canines present on the beach. As I walked toward her, her Rhodesian ridgeback began to growl whilst a rather large bull terrier began to bark about thirty metres away. The owner was all but oblivious to her dog’s sudden change in mood. Quietly, whilst she was preoccupied upon her mobile phone, I unbuckled to dog and it bolted for the bull terrier. The battle that commenced was of epic proportions: canine gladiators, battling for no logical reason. The woman jumped up, unknowing of my escapades, and ran toward the arising melee.
‘Oh, my God! Someone help! Please!’ she screamed, in horror.
I presently took no notice of these happenings after witnessing the Ridgeback land the first bone-crunching bite. I was enthralled in the fact that my bench was once again my own. The stench of her would not leave for sometime but all was as it should be.
If someone was already sitting there I wouldn’t be able to do this; I would be forced to concede defeat and move on; I wouldn’t be able to stay there, I would have to go home. Life would change for the worse. No, this couldn’t happen.
I was in a veritable trance as I continued down Grandeville Avenue, thinking about the dire circumstance of another impure being occupying my bench. I wasn’t far away when a dog that lived at number four bolted to the front fence and started to bark at me. It surprised me terribly. I fell over and dropped my book and pen into the gutter. From the front porch of the house came the sniggering of the little child that lived there.
‘The little girl is scared of a little puppy dog? Did you piss in your pants? Oh, your little book has gotten all dirty. You gonna cry?’ he said, with a sarcastic tone beyond his years.
This miscreant was nine years old. How could he be speaking to me like this? I realised that my book was dirty but I definitely wasn’t crying and I did not urinate upon myself.
‘If you don’t shut up your Mum’s going to have a hard time explaining to your physician why my pen has been wedged in the roof of your mouth’.
The look on his face was a mix of horror, amazement and disbelief. It was obvious he wasn’t used to this type of retort. My creativity was impressive. No doubt he would use it tomorrow when some other shithead hassles him at school. For now it shut him up and I proceeded.
The talk with Mr Stokes and the altercation with the kid at number four wasted valuable daylight, the darkness had almost be chased the sun away for another night. As I approached the end of Grandeville those uneasy feelings surfaced again. Each step felt like an eternity. Seconds turned into minutes, the minutes morphed into hours. I felt as if I were ageing through the intense anxiousness that was washing over me. I was merely steps away from coming into view of my bench. My feet felt like blocks of lead, everything started to spin. It finally became too much. I grabbed the nearest green wheelie bin, lifted the lid and vomited up my dinner. My sister had succeeded in her attempt to sicken me. Even though my stomach had emptied I couldn’t stop vomiting. The vile taste of the hate-inspired dinner was to be experienced a second time. I stood there dry reaching for what felt like days; eventually only bile remained. Ungracefully, I composed myself and walked to the garden tap of the nearest front yard and drank deeply, washing the bitter taste of revulsion from my mouth.
I looked up and began my walk with a renewed determination to end this painful ordeal. I reached the end of the street and relief washed over me like a tidal wave of joy. If Llewelyn Moss had been addicted to heroin he would’ve felt the same way when he stumbled upon the goatfuck in the desert. My bench was soul-less; it housed nothing. As I approached it, an unwelcome fear entered my body. There was a sign on the bench:
‘Wet Paint. Do Not Touch.’
No, this can’t happen, I thought, I won’t let this stop me. Who the fuck decided they would paint my bench? No. Not today.
There wasn’t much light left but I had to sit down. I couldn’t worry about ruining my clothes; I had others yet only one bench was my bench. So I sat and started to read. The way my clothes stuck to the paint made me feel as if I were one with it, as if it were truly mine by some divine right. I only had enough time to get through a chapter but I was on my bench and that was more than enough pleasure for me.
Suddenly a guttural voice disrupted my peace.
‘Oi, what the fuck do ya think you’re doin’? Get off the fucken’ bench, aye!’
I turned to see what looked like some kind of Neanderthal tradesman storming from behind a work van in my direction. From his paint-spotted overalls and dirty hands, I deduced that he was in fact the culprit who had defaced my bench.
‘No.’ I replied. He was only metres away from me when I realised he had picked up a paint scraper and intended to physically displace me from my bench, as if I were a coat of unwanted paint needing removal before sanding. His intention was threatening but I could sense this was a façade; he was merely trying to scare me.
‘Listen, ya little sack of shit, I just finished paintin’ this bench and you’ve gone and mess’d it up. I should fix you right up.’ he stormed, with a forced authoritative air.
As he reached my bench, he grabbed my upper arm with his free hand and tore me from my bench. I had already put down my book and my pen had appeared in my hand. The thought of enacting the threat I placed on the shit from number four flashed through my mind, I thought better of it. My hand snaked out, the pen puncturing the side of his rib cage. The pain didn’t register on his face immediately. Again I penetrated the gap between the bones, and again. The third time he realised what I had done, his grip loosened. I couldn’t help but marvel at the contrasting colours before me: from the scarlet red blood, streaming down the side of his body; to the sapphire blue ink, as it dripped from the protruding pen. They came together to produce a midnight purple that descended on to the not-yet-dry emerald green paint of the bench. In that moment everything seemed to intensify and became more vivid. The pen really was mightier than the sword, I thought, amusingly.
As he grasped the full extent of what had happened he stumbled back, catching his leg on the side of my bench. He fell and cracked his head on the pavers surrounding my bench. He wouldn’t get up for a long time; he would lie there until a track-suited walker stumbled upon his still body, in the early hours of the morning that followed, upon their daily gait.
I turned and sat back down.
Night had fallen. The only light evident was the glow of the streetlight metres to the left of my bench, half shielded by the towering pine tree. There was no moon on this night; Selene must have had better things to do. Every now and again a car would pass unbeknown to the acts of bravery and courage I had come to achieve. The wind had picked up: a sea breeze carrying the salty air to my nostrils and over my bench, effortlessly drying the paint. The temperature had dropped substantially, which prompted me to return to my sanctuary.
As I got up I noticed the sign lying on the ground. It had been ripped. I couldn’t walk away from my bench without leaving a warning for any passers-by. The painter’s pocket provided me with a brush yet no paint was apparent. The situation called for improvisation. I dipped the end of the brush into the ever-growing pool by my bench and scribbled the words:
‘Wet Paint. Do Not Touch My Bench.’
I admired my penmanship for a minute, or so, then turned and began the return journey down Grandeville Avenue. As I passed Mr Stokes’ house, I positioned the now scarlet paintbrush upon his letterbox, serving as a reminder to him and anyone else that, amongst other things, it is my bench and no one else’s.