Virtual Images

He’d been drinking heavily for three days then stopped. Repeatedly through the night he woke up, then in the early morning. Noises outside and inside his head tumbled with flashing images. Occasional rest was given by the stink of piss, the knowledge he was on the floor and had wet himself. Then more turbulent ocean of jabbering voices and  a thousand  visual images a second. He dragged himself onto the couch, heard real voices almost outside his window, heard the bleeping of police or maybe a fire crew. He didn’t care. He slept.

A banging on the door. He ignored it. More banging. Shouting. Still he laid there but furious, berserk that the world was trying to break in. Horror of horror, a key in the lock. The warden. Voices in his hall. The door swung  open.

“Mr McBratney. We need to talk to you.” The stupid warden with two men behind her. They were police, plain clothed. The warden drew back the curtains. He moved to a sitting position and looked at the floor. He could feel their contempt. Their politeness  came from an alien planet.

The three of them remained standing. The younger policeman’s eyes prowled the flat like a security camera. The older one, tired looking and  creased by years of routine, said, “How well do you know your neighbour Mister Shenley?”

He had no idea who Mister Shenley was.  “He lived on the walkway next to yours,” the warden said. “He was found dead this morning.”

He was able to recognise that Shenley was the old guy he passed and grunted to a few times. Didn’t know anything about him apart from he seemed  to have moved in about three months ago. The police told him they’d probably be back later, and asked him not to go past the tape on Shenley’s walk. The forensics were still working on it.

When they’d gone, he went to the window. Shenley’s flat was on the walkway that ran at right angles from his. Both of them were at the end so almost next door to each other. Shenley was hanging from the balcony. They were on the second floor. In the communal gardens, the pensioners had gathered in lumps of excited conversation. The hanging corpse had livened them up. Police were taking photographs, and a few were with the pensioners asking questions.

After half an hour the police covered the body with something that made him look like one of those bits of luggage you hang suits up in. He went to bed and when he woke up the body had been taken away and it was getting to be dark again.

He threw up on a newspaper and took it out to the bin. There was a mangey white remains of a cat sat on the wall. As soon as it saw him it shot off. But it was back the next morning. He kicked at it and it sidled away revealing a pus leaking abscess on its anus. It came again in the afternoon, crouched ready for a getaway but looking at him with the eye that was still intact.

He started putting scraps out for it. It came and went as soon as it had eaten. He bought some tinned catfood from the Aldi. After a few weeks the cat would come into the hall if he left the door open and by Christmas it was in his room sleeping on the broken settee. It wouldn’t let him touch it though.

On a cold day in January it came for the last time. He went out every morning for a week expecting to see it back. But it never came. On the Friday before his birthday he was coming in from the balcony and he caught sight of his face in the mirror. It was only a glimpse, a split second image of something ravaged and crouched, ready for a quick getaway.


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