Inspired by a news item. It is a story of an old man who spies on his neighbours with long lenses.
They are like petals:
the life a newborn
cups in its fists.
-From Monologues (2016)
My name is Malcolm Bayfield. I'm 79, if it matters, and lives in a building locals call The Jaw.
Now there are many different theories about this name; from the fact that the place is embedded in an open mouth, with lips, teeth and a long protruding tongue to the belief that every one who lives here looks chewed up and spat out like something a carnivore ruminates. Not me, of course, I'm too together, and with the best of genes to match.
‘Ha’, as my Jamaican neighbour is fond of saying, for my genes are no better than anyone else's, just hardened by hard graft, training and the discipline, in my younger days, that still makes me as spritely as a 40-year old. You have to take my word for it!
I live on The Tongue of the house, alone; the part that is squeezed between two flats on the north side; the part that unfurls the driveway out of the building and onto the main road like a sliding carpet. There are, surprisingly, no different theories about this name. I can only assume that everyone is happy to limit description to the look. And believe me it does look like a tongue, particularly from a distance.
I live alone because, Grace, my wife of 60 years, died 6 years ago, leaving me and Donald, our son, behind. Grace the first and last love of my life; Grace who left me behind, to grapple with our twilight and to walk the lonely hills, alone, like a lost ghost. It took me 4 years to forgive her!
Well…not that Donald lived here anyway, though he too is dead, killed by an IED in Iraq. If only he did not follow in my footsteps? I, an old soldier, who had survived many wars and tours of many of the most dangerous parts of the world our politicians craves like spoilt toddlers.
Fortunately, the wars I fought were different from today’s. Yet the aftermaths remain the same. So much so that I still do not wish old age on any soldier. I'm not talking about the horrors that haunt soldiers every waking moment like Black Death. No! Rather, the contemptuous disregard those who send us to wars have for our care and wellbeing. You may think me grumpy ('Cantankerous old goat', Grace called me)? I don't care. I have earned the right to be as crabby as I want!
Well...maybe I care a little, if it means letting me get on with my thoughts, story if you like? Just that I find it tedious, these day, to let the good me come out. But I do try, sometimes, though there is nothing left for me to feel, but anger, excruciating, stark; the anger that layers my inside with mines.
My home is at the very top of the 7 floors building, a large 3-bed arrangement that Grace converted into a palace, a place where I'm happy most. Not only because of the comfort, the good memories I made here with Grace but because of where it is: the fact that it is on top of the world. Furthermore, it is the only home I know. I spent all of my sixty years of married life here. Good times indeed…
Now the council, imbeciles the lot of them, wants to pull the place down. Worse, they want to pull it down to make way for another Tesco Superstore. I curse them all, Councillors and officers alike; for the day I leave here will be the day my life ends: a place, like Cartsgate Park, a haven for voyeurism. I bet you are surprised: an old goat like me palatable to voyeurism? You don’t know the half of it!
Not only do I see every coming and going in the building, the cars and people on their different machinations: bogus officials with neck-dangling ID cards on missions to dupe the old out of what they don’t have; children with long faces, who only visit their parents because of the prospect of inheritance, miserly no doubt without the homes, and the skulking young thieves who wait in the shadows for the old, to relieve them of their pensions. I’m also able to watch the opposite three high-rise buildings, buildings like totem poles. They stand stoic as sentries, and as unblinking as foot guards, as if their only reason for existence is to stare me down like the Jeff Torrington's Gorbals that they are.
I would sit at the balcony, like now (a vantage position indeed), to watch the lights come on and go out in the small, squared flats, wondering about the goings-on behind the closed doors. The salacious goings on that is. Not the pain, hardship or criminality that is associated with people who live there or in such places.
Some of the goings-on are easier to see: the couple who steams up their flush doors, with their bodies, in every standing positions on Wednesdays and Fridays; the woman above them who presses herself still, like a statue, against her own flush doors, as if to distract my attention from the antics below her; the man who does the Hokey Cokey in the nude, every Thursday evening at 9; the naturalists, who shed their clothes the minute they walk through the door and the young woman who prances around all day in the nude, as if her life depends on it. Others, those I can’t see are not safe from my eyes either, as their antics, I must say, flower vivid imagination, imagination I have in abundance.
I met the young woman, some time ago, at the nearby Cafe I frequent, and recognized her instantly. She had looked at me, gulped then smiled. 'You are the old, widowed pervert, with the binoculars'? She had said with a lisp.
I waited for a slap or worse. But she was not, seemingly, perturbed. Still, I did not know how to react so smiled sheepishly, drained my cup and left as hurriedly as I could, with every eye in the small café burning a hot hole at the back of my head like a hot rod. I expected her to cover up from then on. Instead she started lingering at the doors and winking at me as if we were the best of friends. I suspect she thinks it her public service to let an old man have his fun?
Yet my voyeurism is not for sexual gratification, for my bits are now lifeless and as deeply encased as a tortoise in its carapace.
If so, why do I do it? I do it because I’m fascinated by what people do behind their closed doors! I have been since the age of 12, when I tiptoed into our neighbours kitchen, to retrieve my ball, and found them at it on the kitchen table, as if there was no tomorrow. ‘Is this what goes on in every house’, I had asked my mother. ‘No’, she had retorted. I didn’t believe her. And the answer, probably why I still can’t walk past a house without wondering what the occupants are up to?
But this is it for me: my voyeurism days are over! Yet I have been discreet. But I should have listened to Grace many years ago. That I now have a reputation as a ‘pervert’ is one thing, that the young woman doesn’t care another. But what about those who care? How many have I made their lives miserable and invaded? The thought makes me shudder.
Yes we have made the noises, done the protests and petitions to spare The Jaw, to no avail. All that is left now is for me to wait for the bulldozers.
They may do me the favour of pulling down the building with me in it?