Write what you know

Write what you know, they said. So, let me tell you a story.

One night, returning from the writing group I attend, I saw, through the windscreen, an elderly gentleman keel over backwards in the street. His body hit the pavement with curiously little sound. Thin, silver haired, normally straight-backed; I recognised him from the aisles of my local supermarket. I saw him, my boyfriend saw him and we immediately stopped.

When we reached him, the man was trying to raise himself from the ground. Confused, probably shocked and certainly embarrassed, he tried to wave off our concern. It was nothing serious, just an old injury to his back, his legs– sometimes it came back. He just wanted to get home. He didn’t want us to take him. I had no idea if he was afraid we might try and rob him (unlikely, we’re a pair of Converse-wearing, green-tea-drinkers). But then it occurred to me that he might be worried we’d interfere, cause him bother. I tried to reassure him that if he would allow us to drive him to his street, we would park nearby and we wouldn’t try to come in.

Sitting in the back of our car, his long, silvery hair fanned out around him, his thin shoulders hunched, he was a pitiful sight. He didn’t smell unwashed, boozy, or of anything else unpleasant. His clothing was neat, clean and pressed, and probably dated from some time in the Seventies: a short khaki, belted mac; shiny brown shoes and nylon slacks– possibly even an original pair of Farahs.

I wondered who he belonged to, if he had ever belonged to anyone.

On one of the less salubrious streets in the town, all run-down terraced houses and bumper to bumper parked cars, I knew his house immediately. No lights left on, the net curtains hanging limply, a mouldering colour that had never been white. I knew that there would be no wife and no grandchildren.

We helped him out of the car, his thin legs wobbly from the short ride. As agreed, we didn’t see him inside. We didn’t feel comfortable just leaving him on the pavement, so I asked if it would be okay if we sat in the car and waited until he was inside before we drove off.

‘As you please,’ he said, waving it off like he didn’t care one way or the other. He struggled with his keys, but finally, his door swung open and he shuffled inside.

Perhaps we should have phoned someone, I don’t know. He had been well-turned out and for all we knew, his home might in fact have been a well kept flat in the back, unseen from the road, rather than that dingy looking hole with the mildewed curtains.

I have not seen the gentleman in question since that night, though, and I have no idea how he is faring. I like to imagine his little black and white cat waiting moodily for his return. I like to imagine him making tea with his late mother’s tea service, nibbling on two Bourbons precisely placed on a side plate as his feet find his slippers. I imagine him slipping a record from its sleeve– Martha Reeves, perhaps– humming as he guides the needle into the groove. I imagine him warm and content in a room he papered long ago for his mother: a rambling rose pattern, still holding up well.

I imagine all of this and I don’t dwell on what I should have done differently. I imagine this and I write it down for you to read. Because I am a writer and that is what I know.

(Originally published July 2015)

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