The milk lorry emptied and the spillage dried up and soon the white river was gone. Mrs. Ffooks sat at the top of Steep Street in sopping slippers on the upturned bucket, a bowl of blue with milky residue in the bottom at her fat side. A second bowl, a yellow bowl, lost in the confusion, was returned anonymously sometime in the night (though it was empty of dairy produce, of course). She looked dejected.
Two paramedics smoked. Blue lights flashed in the windows of the houses and Sergeant Hacker talked into his walkie-talkie as he walked around the wreckage. He elbowed some snotbubblers and eyeballed some bolder nosey-parkers and he thumbed some number back behind the stripy tape with the word POLICE on it. All the village gathered with arms folded across their chests and someone brought a pot of tea out and over to Mrs. Ffooks, and the village idiot told a joke, of sorts, about milk. But really no one much was in the mood for it.
Suddenly the fire engine came up the hill. There really was no need for the sirens, but it did add some sense of urgency to the quiet aftershock of what had gone before. The crew cut the driver, dead, from the cabin and there was a gasp from the crowd. It was one of the Close boys – Alexis, some said. But then some said it might’ve been Bantam. They were twins, see, so it was quite difficult to tell whether it was one or the other, what with the blood all black around his head and the lack of discernible features due to the glass & the metal shearing them off. Which ever one of the Close twins it was he was laid on a gurnie, covered with a blanket and carried with some decorum and seriousness to the ambulance. Then, a second victim was coaxed out through what had been the windscreen. It was a young man, unknown to all. He was conscious, but staggered awkwardly, which was not surprising to be fair, as he stepped through the unusual exit of the cabin. He wore a cape. Or, as Rory Pendleton would later describe it, a cloak. Whatever it was, it was quite exotic, decorated with embroidered stars and moons and applique lightning flashes. And multitudes of guano. Beneath this garment he sported denim, patched at the knee, and a tee that read IF IT AIN’T STIFF IT AIN’T WORTH A FUCK. His birth from the wreckage brought the crowd to silence and, for a moment, all that could be heard were his cowboy boots scraping clumsily, drunkenly, over the tarmac. A fireman stepped forward & held him at the elbow, as most folk would a blind person – though you’re not supposed to, you’re supposed to offer an arm – and then another stepped forward and peered at him through the breathing apparatus that was strapped, unnecessarily, to his face and asked something muffled of him. The young survivor brushed off the assisting hand of the rescuer and, steadying himself against the side of the lorry, straightened himself, pushed a mop of lank hair from his face, held it there about his head, looked about himself for a moment and said the name of Jesus Christ. It was a quiet voice and not from round these parts. A titter ran throughout the crowd. A titter mingled with murmur. This seemed to rouse his spirit and he allowed us something of a theatrical bow. Then he collapsed in a heap to the ground before the fireman could catch him. The air filled with a sudden burst of music followed by squawking static feedback from Sergeant Hacker’s walkie-talkie. The unexpected sound of Manfred Mann. It was Quinn The Eskimo. Now there was no laughter, just confusion. The policeman held the handset up to his own face, shook it – both his face and the faulty equipment – and gave it a good whack with his free hand. Normal service was resumed.
Another gurnie was brought from the ambulance. The paramedics rolled the survivor onto it and carried him back to the vehicle. Sergeant Hacker stepped up and closed the doors behind them and off they went with a complimentary blast of siren. The fireman with the facemask picked up a cane from the road and leaned it up against the side gate of the Ffooks’ house.
Rory Pendleton, face of WTV, came up the street. He was waved through the crowd by Sergeant Hacker. A camera crew arrived in a little white van and, just before the sun slipped behind the hill, they filmed the news. Rory Pendleton wore his customary white suit, buttoned at the belly. A few people whispered his name. Ladies fainted. Men humphed. Dogs smiled.
Best to catch it before we lose the light, Rory.
Does my hair look alright?
We’re rolling, Rory. In 3, 2, 1.
On the road and at the scene, in Charmouth, this evening. I’m Rory Pendleton, WTV.
Evening came on all at once with a sudden chill, and an even bigger truck – yes, it was more a truck than a lorry – with a crane attachment at the back and a great iron shovel for a front bumper – came rumbling up Steep Street. And, with a series of motorized shunts and maneuvers and shouted instructions from an oily man in overalls, the bigger truck was arranged in close proximity to the milk lorry. Sergeant Hacker unfolded himself back out of his panda and sauntered over to the crashsite for the hundredth time. Oily man and he exchanged a few textbook pleasantries and then he stood back and the overalled man attached the lorry to the truck and the truck to the lorry and, with a dinosaur scream of metal and the clanking of monstrous chains, dragged the carcass from the front garden back onto the street beneath a set of arc lights that had been set up. Somehow, I don’t know how, but with skill and endeavour and a fair amount of noise, the milk lorry was righted. It was only then that the smashed and smeared bloody body parts of old Grinner Ffooks were finally discovered beneath the whole sorry and floodlit mess. The old man, of course, was very dead. About that, said Sgt. Hacker into the walkie-talkie, there could be absolutely no mistake whatsoever. Over and out. He blew into a mug of tea that had been passed to him earlier by someone or other, but that too, was stone cold. He shrugged the dregs to the street, placed the mug at his feet and puked his guts into the gutter.
The arc lights hummed through the night and gathered a cloud of moth. Engines and motors rumbled and there were voices, instructive, low. The shadows of the men loomed and leered up against the houses. Curtains twitched.
Mr. & Mrs. Ffooks were kindly put up in the Dobinson’s guesthouse down the bottom of Lower Beach Lane. Mr. Dobinson took down the vacancy sign and hung the no vacancy one in its place. There were no other guests, but it was the right thing to do, said Mrs. Dobinson.
Mrs. Ffooks slept a deep, drugged sleep and Mr. Ffooks snored in an armchair by her side.
I stayed up late and watched Village of The Damned on TV as a treat and ate wine gums in the attic. Blanket held up to my chin. I fell asleep before the end and I dreamed of brick walls.
The old man, Grinner Ffooks, is up in heaven. Just out of sight. He needs, he sees, no sleep. Which is perfect, he reckons, because an old codge like him generally finds sleep difficult what with all the aches of the decades banked up in his knees & his shoulders & his gurt feet. He is almost all back together he is pleased to see. He’s alright: a little put out by the events of the day, as would be expected. And, now this is a turn-up for the books, his long dead wife, Aggy, is by his side, as beautiful as when they first met. Got all her teeth in her giggly mouth. Victory-rolled red hair, rising up from her forehead like a laquered salute. Got her hips and her glossy lips and her 1939 tits are pointing north and cupped in cotton. They hold hands and she is sort of warm and they speak about the old times and the times to come. And there are, he senses, long gone friends in the periphery. It really is quite special. There is, though, the question of his missing toes. It niggles him. He doesn’t mention it to Aggy. Why spoil the moment? Apart from this, it is all rather like a dream. A sleepless dream.
The morning sun, the same one or another one, sneaked up, all eggy, over Portland. The milk lorry and the big truck and the panda car long gone. The POLICE tape snakes in the breeze and the people are on their way to the shops or to work. The grockles & all those inbreds from Charmouth & Bridport slow down in their cars as they pass the wreck of the Ffooks’ house. Pedestrians pause, ponder, peruse. Breath steams the glass of the 37 bus as it shuttles back and forth on the hour between Axminster and Bridport and vice versa. The front of the house is open to the world and his wife. The living room is as they left it. A teacup and saucer wait on the tablecloth. Chintzy. Chins are wagged, some are scratched. Earthy, fresh scars mar the garden. Skid marks rubber the tarmac from some hundred feet up Steep Street. They lead, and there is no hiding it, directly to the front door. There is no one home. Shoveled sand covers unfortunate stains. Glass diamonds the grass. Pretty. The bench, or what was, is a pile waiting for a bonfire. Curtains swish in twisted frames.
A Herring Gull, hunched, all elbows, lunches early on a patch of cold constabulary sick. An innocent, everyday whistle in its throat. A crow arrives at the crime scene but is given short shrift by the gull and leaves in a huff of ruffled feathers.