Declan Tan

excerpt from The Duke and Errol

His arm awakened. It had fallen asleep as he lay in bed looking at it. A useless hand twitching, now it tingled. This was an irritation. He continued to gaze upon it, that pathetic tanned slab of prickly pink meat whining dead on his sheets.

Cough. The better arm reached for a cigarette and then the lighter and then sparked it in front of his face. He pulled on it hard while the other arm went on tingling. Tingle tingle. The worst pain he had felt in his life. And this was saying more about his life than the pain that filled it.

He pulled hard on the cigarette until half of it burnt into ash and stood in a tower above his prostrate head. A sharp jolt now would drop the ash onto his cheek, or his eyeball, then that would be the worst pain he had felt in his life.

It didn’t fall, though.

The cigarette: removed from his raw red lips with delicate accuracy, tapped out on the carpet next to his bed, the ashen stub narrowly missing some discarded food wrappers and the flammable sesame seeds therein. He replaced the chewy end between his lips once more, the spent tobacco flitting bitter grey flakes outward as he exhaled, before returning inward onto his taste buds as he inhaled. His cheese meatball eyes stared upward. He chewed on the end a bit, his gut knotting with emptiness, the ash swelling his tongue, the flavour quietly interfering with his posture.

This was all while he was doing a bit of thinking.

Possibilities narrowed the harder he tried to open his mind. He considered putting his arm back to sleep but just looked at it, giving a kind of pathetic whimper. His head began to ache, all the parts of it endeavouring to remain stationary. All but his brain.

Soon after, he went out to meet Errol.

‘Hi Errol,’ was what he was going to say before he met Errol and what he actually said was nothing when he saw Errol coming. He nodded and Errol nodded and for a while the majority of their respective bodies moved together with similar velocity and comparable trajectory as the other.

‘What’ve you been up to?’ Errol would have asked him, before Errol thought better of it and said nothing, instead keeping his eyes trailing submissively along with the pavement that fluxed beneath him.

Loads,’ he would have said to Errol, ‘Been busy, mostly. Not looking at my arm and that. Doing whatever. You know.’

‘You sure?’ Errol would have asked, turning his head in that way that he does, his cheeks twitching toward an unsettled primitive boundary somewhere on his face, enough dislodging to let the receiver know he was “demonstrating concern”. The forehead would also protract as he tumbled, word-by-word, deeper into the unlit cave of conversation.

‘Am I sure what?’

Matter-of-factly: ‘That you haven’t been looking at your arm.’ His forehead dancing.

‘I just told you, I haven’t been looking at my arm.’

‘Yeah but –’

His brain at last stationary, his eyeballs rolled toward Errol, the pupils absorbing all of his matte form. Then The Duke’s mouth said: ‘I’m going home.’ And as surely as he had said the words his intention took to his breeches. The Duke’s body, concealed beneath a fine layer of flabby clothing, veered off and away from Errol’s trajectory, while Errol stood still like a well-behaved game show contestant waving goodbye to the receding camera, and watched him walk away. Errol’s eyes rolled down to his shoes, his dilated pupils naturally absorbing all of their form, attached to the pavement as they were and would be for several further embarrassing moments.

His eyes static, Errol’s nose sniffed at unfilled space. He raised two fingers of his right hand and nosed their tips. No luck. He raised a pavemented shoe to inspect the sole. On its undercarriage, some lint. A little chewing gum. But no luck. He held firm the metal rail that ran the length of the waterfront, gripping for balance. He inspected the other sole with a sliding eyebrow and still found nothing, looking it over longer than the previously accused. Errol stood there, looking and sniffing, passersby catching his eye and considering him suspect, perhaps understandably, with growing concern for their continued wellbeing. At this, Errol ceased his peculiar sniffling and acted normal, letting go of the rail to start off home. He then attempted to draw a smile across his lips but soon realised this did not align with his intent. Instead he straightened his spine.

With the first step completed his shoe slid slightly beneath. He curled his spine, looking himself up and down, and said: ‘Finally, some luck,’ and walked off with the dark smear across his sole.

 

This excerpt is from the forthcoming book The Duke and Errol by by Declan Tan