Walking around to see Liam, I settled on the nicest way to describe him – Natural. A pre consumer is what he calls himself though. Everybody else just calls him an unemployed loser. He’s not down about this though; on the contrary, he’s full of optimism, he has a degree in conservation. He’s also odd which most people see as indifference but I see originality. Besides, he’s never boring and that’s all that matters. Last week he told of his shutdown process and prioritisation. When unable to afford electricity or gas he’d stop cooking and make a bottle of no-name sauce and a loaf of yesterday’s bread last a week. In winter his jacket from high school was his heater and in summer his undies were his cooler. To save water he’d walk to the park and use the public toilets, said they were safe during the day, but if desperate he would just go in the back garden. He only washed himself when it rained heavily enough. I don’t know what he’d do if he had to pay the rent. Luckily my mum’s the landlord and Liam’s an old mate despite him kissing my sister once.
Waiting for Liam to open the front door, I noticed a downpipe that used to be firmly fixed vertically to a brick wall of the flat, was diagonally strung up by pieces of wire. And instead of entering the ground, the pipe had been duck taped to the edge of a kid’s plastic swimming pool. Mum would have a fit if she ever came over. Liam opened the door.
‘I see you’ve solved the water problem,’ I said.
‘Do you think it’s for drinking or bathing?’ Liam asked.
I didn’t answer as I was immediately distracted by Liam’s outfit. He stood barefoot, wearing a school uniform dress much like the one my sister used to wear. I must say, I was glad the dress was cut below his knees. It then occurred to me that perhaps Liam had more than kissed my sister once.
‘I’m not even going to ask.’ I smirked, not sure how to laugh and cry at the same time.
‘About what?’ Liam twirled his finger in the edge of his beard that had been tinged blue, the colour of sunny days.
‘Couldn’t find the Tbars?’ I asked
‘What?’ Liam stared at me, nonplussed. ‘Everything else is dirty or won’t be dry till later and what were the odds of you coming around?’
‘At least your hair’s not long enough for a pony tail.’ I smiled.
‘That’s an idea.’
Liam seemed happier than usual and I followed him into the lounge, dining room, living area, study, whatever you call the room other than the bedroom in a 2 room flat. With the back of my hand, I slid a bundle of scrunched up socks, undies and t-shirts to one side of the armchair and wiggled into the remaining space. Liam stared at me, smiling.
‘Don’t tell me,’ I said. ‘You’ve finally had some luck with a submission or won a competition?’
‘No,’ Liam firmly stated despite his happiness. ‘Nothing since my honourable mention in the Lorian Hemmingway short story.’
Liam bent down and dug his knees into a jumble of, what seemed to me, scribbled on bits of paper but for Liam were something more, possibly his life.
‘Why not just type your work?’ I suggested, reasonably I thought.
‘That would disrupt the blood that turns seamlessly to ink on its journey from my thoughts, down my arm, out my fingertips, through the ball point onto paper.’
‘Right.’ I paused and then couldn’t help but be sarcastic. ‘I should have known.’
‘I have two reasons to be happy,’ Liam said as he scrounged through the papers. ‘Firstly, there’s a new market in the fiction field.
‘And what would that be?’
‘Flash fiction,’ Liam proclaimed. ‘500 words or less, right to the heart of the matter prose.’
‘Isn’t that what twitter’s for?’ I asked, half jokingly.
‘No,’ Liam scoffed. ‘Twitter’s just a couple of sentences.’
‘Well, forgive me but 500 words isn’t that much more. What depth can you hope to attain?’
‘Here.’ Liam lifted a piece of paper from the mess. ‘Listen to this and be the judge.’
I leant back into the chair and Liam read aloud.
‘I was glad flat 2’s renovations had died down. On a habit though, I gazed though my bedroom window, looking for the disturber of my writing. A woman in white short overalls returned my gaze and smiled. I looked away, counted to three, then faced her again; she was still smiling at me. Her long tied-back blond hair hung like a cloud you make up into a shape against the background of blue sky, against the blue walls she painted.
She waved as I focused on her succulent lips that motioned desirably like smoked mussels about to open; perhaps she wanted to say something. I slid the window open as she did hers.
‘Would you mind if I wash my painting gear at your place?’ She asked but could have told me. ‘The plumbers have the water off here.’
‘Sure,’ I said beginning to feel my stomach churn, unable to move my eyes off her, unable to move anything.
‘Well,’ she said. ‘I haven’t got all day.’
‘Sorry,’ I managed to mutter. ‘I’ll meet you at the side gate.’
She moved away from the window. I ran though the house, tripping on the armchair and carpet burning my knees – punishment for running in undies I guess. The gate had already been open and I led her around the side of the house to the tap.
‘I’m Alison.’ she said as she placed her brushes and rollers on the ground.
‘I’m Leanne,’ I said.
Alison giggled. ‘What’s your real name?’
‘Perhaps.’ I paused to think of something.
Alison began washing, splashing water everywhere.
‘I might tell you if you help paint my room blue,’ I said as a joke.
‘You’re on,’ Alison instantly replied.
When sunlight streamed about me the following morning, blue walls began to envelop me. While Alison painted, she took care not to drip paint on my dirty clothes pile that covered the floor as if carpet. I watched in awe as the pink walls became a memory. I wished for Alison to paint forever but her thin wrist made a quick whipping style that made haste.
‘Now tell me,’ she said. ‘What’s your real name?’
‘I said that I might tell you,’ I stirred.
‘You bastard,’ Alison said in a cheerful tone.
Then, before I could move, she swiped my whiskers with her brush.
‘You must be blue beard.’ She laughed.
Before she could swipe me again, I grabbed her and her brush fell. We kissed and lay together.
‘Jay,’ I whispered in her ear. ‘My name’s Jay.’
‘I’m Azura,’ she whispered back.’
Liam looked at me. ‘427 words,’ he said. ‘What do you think?’
I leant forward. ‘I’ll give it to you,’ I said. ‘There is depth in your fantasy but I sense there could be more. Put a few more flashes together and the light would be on.’
‘Thanks for the critique,’ Liam said smiling.
I sensed even harsh criticism wasn’t about to change his mood. ‘So what have you called it?’
‘Feeling Blue,’ Liam said. ‘I have a problem though.’
‘It’s really nonfiction.’
‘Get out of here,’ I scoffed.’
‘Come and take a look.’
I followed Liam to the bedroom and sure enough the room had been painted the colour of his blue whiskers. At least the job was professional so mum mightn’t worry too much.
‘I’m going to need you to leave,’ Liam said. ‘Suzy will be here soon and I promised a fancy dress for her eyes only.’
‘Sure.’ I said and jokingly motioned to kiss Liam as I walked beside him.
He flinched and I laughed.
‘Is Suzy her real name?’ I said.
Liam was quiet for the first time ever and without an answer, he closed the door on me as I left.
Walking back from Liam’s, a woman in white short overalls came from the opposite way. Her long blond hair waved as if in a breeze despite the still evening. Her teal coloured eyes were beyond me before we passed, it was like they were already somewhere else. As we moved by, the plastic shopping bag she carried, split open against the outward post of a brick fence. Chicken, milk, yoghurt, all with reduced price stickers on them, fell from the bag, nothing broken or damaged though. I bent down to help her and noticed on her cheeks, spots of blue paint, the same colour as Liam’s room.
‘Can I help you?’ I offered.
‘I’m fine,’ she said.
‘Yes.’ She huffed and pulled a crunched up plastic bag from her pocket and picked up the items.
As I strolled on, I began to believe Liam had found his perfect match – lucky man. Perhaps he’ll introduce us formally one day when he’s ready.
Andrew Mansell, November 2014.