Horrie and Grumps – A Novel – teaser…
One, two, three… he begins the labored task of figuring which color is missing. The drool slides around his chin as he realizes it’s a yellow one that has run away today. He looks in the folds of his dressing gown, but focus is getting a little tough as he hunts around with twisted fingers and inadequate touch. Peripheral neuropathy has taken his body by stealth. Sensations of touch, heat and cold have diminished to the point where fluffy chenille and a hard round pill send just about the same message to his brain.
A thought of youth and the pounding hooves of an ant, climbing a hair on his arm creating an avalanche of sensation – now, he’s not sure if his arm is resting on the table or hovering in mid-air.
24 and yellow! All is well in his pharmacological breakfast tray.
He still swallows them down without a drink, he always thought that people who saw him do that must have thought he was mad, but he had a plan and always did. One day the lump of pills will catch in his throat and he won’t have the strength to cough them up. That will be his day.
He looks at the Aloe Vera plant, aptly named Horrie, and a thin smile creeps over one side of his asymmetrical face. “Yes, Horrie, you get your breakfast too!” he mutters ritualistically. He taps the joystick on his chair and he rolls quietly to the corner where the plant has been gasping for water, groping for light, for years. He bends over the plant and allows the accumulating drool to splatter on Horrie. The thin smile has an evil twist in it as he simply spits, “Suffer!” and turns away from it.
Horrie scratched him years ago and has been on rations ever since. “That’ll teach the horrid little bastard” splutters the old man.
It must be August.
He can tell by the pieces left to complete. Each day for the last two years and two months, he has placed a single piece of a 1000 piece jigsaw into position.
This time he is going anti-clockwise from the top left to the centre. Last time he went clockwise from the centre to the outside. He has also gone straight up and down, but he can’t remember where he started.
His old eyes stare at the jigsaw for an eternal two minutes before he catches sight of the errant piece. Today’s task has been selected. He savors the moment guiltily and begins the hovering process that will get his hand into position to collect it. He swats his hand across his face to gather a little drool that will help the piece stick to his finger and then daubs his hand over the cardboard cutout, holding it until it lifts from the table. Like a giant Victorian crane, his hand lurches across the puzzle with cargo suspended. The trick is to get his arm to stop, his hand to lower and the piece to dry and unstick simultaneously. Snap! straight in – again! That’s five or six in a row – wait, what day is this – Friday? Yep! six in a row he has managed to dribble into place.
His therapy complete for the day, he sits.
Someone named him Grumps a thousand years ago.
He has new friends now.
There is a magpie that carols at the window. Such a beautiful melodious sound except when you are trying to sleep.
In one of his moments of lucidity, Grumps had taught that dumb black and white warbler to count.
Maggie would tap on the window, Grumps would tap back. Then Grumps would tap twice and refuse to tap again until the bird tapped twice. It took some time. Grumps had plenty of that and the bird wasn’t exactly wearing a Rolex. They amused themselves for up to 30 minutes sometimes, tapping out a beat. Eventually, the bird always had somewhere else to be. A kookaburra to swoop at, a scrap to be stolen from a patio up the road, a chick that was squawking, who knows…. who cares… they all have to be some other place.
Lizzie came to visit on hot days.
Lizzie would sit out on the patio absorbing that life giving infra red and gradually rise and lift off the pavement to say…OK, I’m cooked now, I can run if I have to. Lizzie was never really sociable – She just hung around while I acted as scarecrow, so the birds wouldn’t attack her. Even the animal kingdom have figured out there can be a use for an old fart I guess.
The kookaburras don’t come round any more. I know they have had long standing border disputes with the magpies – but when meat came off the menu, they simply looked for richer friends.
Grumps had been top of his game – but that was years ago. Something happened and it all went away. Little clouds part and memories start to seep in, but they are all hazy. The pressure of those days had been immense. He knew too much, he was happy to have it fade away.
He knew too much about governments. Far too much.
There was a time when he was able to decipher cryptic codes, regurgitate data from a jigsaw on a hard disk. The Official Secrets Act. Treason, murder and war were a consuming part of his life. It got to him. Parliamentary Ministers playing with the lives of nations from their mistresses boudoirs.
Rebuilding lives and plots from poorly gathered data was bad enough, but finding that some of those people who were probably very guilty, had just disappeared, was too much.
His skills were in high demand, but the price was his soul. Collateral damage like so many before and since. Used by the system – unforgiven by family – still watched by governments. Perhaps he had lost the plot and it was all in his imagination.
The two largest US Defense Supply Corporations, Haliburton and Harris didn’t seem to think so. They were jostling for his patents. They offered him the earth to come and work for them – or not work for the other.
More likely a world of pain.
These days he simply forgets to remember, or maybe just forgot altogether.
Maggie will be back, she’ll eat anything he eats. He’ll save her a bit.
Time passes, inexorably.
The jigsaw is nearing completion, again.
One of he neighbours had some garden stones delivered last week – that must have been the rumbling he heard.
The council worker that calls in each week got the computer started again. So much earth shattering stuff to write. Still, he can get back onto FaceBook and revamp his pseudo life on screen with all the other pseudo lives on screen. Should be fun for an hour or two.
He wants to write but writer’s block wins again – oh well, another day.