Random Green Man
A short story written in one go
Dreadlocks hid Jake’s face from dirty looks as he pushed his way to the front of the cinema queue.
There was a young girl in an expensive coat just in front of him. He got hold of her arm and turned her around.
‘What on earth are you wearing?’ she said.
‘This is my special top’ he grinned. ‘I’ve had it for years, every time I wear it something weird happens.’
Charlotte was not impressed, she just saw the holes.
With a large Celtic knot and scrawled writing printed on a white square background, the t-shirt looked like a bootleg.
‘What is it anyway?’ she said.
‘New Model Army.’
‘Never heard of them.’
Jake did his best not to look disgusted. He’d intended to compliment her on the way she looked, but he was already late for their first date and she’d already managed to piss him off.
They hugged, each taking an awkward step backwards as they finished.
Jake thought she had a pretty face beneath all the freckles.
Charlotte wore a long ash-grey coat with a little black label on the outside of the collar to show that it was in season. The Cashmere sweater underneath hugged her body all the way down to her knees. He was sure breasts figured in there somewhere.
‘I saved you a place’ she said, but Jake wasn’t sure whether that was for his benefit or for the crowd who were watching.
Silent through most of the film, each stayed more aware of the other’s movements than those of the characters on screen.
They rehearsed holding hands and gave up on the idea, each convinced that the other had been sweating.
It was a British art film in Japanese with subtitles and lots of nudity.
Charlotte mouthed the dialogue as she read each scene.
Jake drummed his fingers on his knee, still annoyed at having paid a fiver to get in.
He worried about how they would get on afterwards. He’d almost decided on some common ground when the lights came on.
‘Was that it?’ he said.
‘No, this is the interval.’
‘But it’s a film.’
‘Yes, but we are in a theatre.’
He needed to redeem himself as soon as possible.
All the way through the second half Jake racked his brains for something to say, something insightful.
When the end credits started and people got up to leave, he had learned one thing from the entire film: Ewan McGregor had a small penis.
They made their way downstairs to the bar and Jake brought the drinks over to Charlotte at their table, his pint of Guinness to her Southern Comfort.
‘Ewan was impressive, don’t you think?’ she said.
‘He only had a bit part.’
Charlotte looked a little wounded.
‘But his performance was so strong.’
Jake wiggled his little finger at her. She kicked him under the table.
‘That’s cruel. I think he has a beautiful one.’
‘Well, you know, out of small acorns–’
‘Are you boasting?’ she said.
‘Believe me, I’m not. But he’s the one everyone’s looking at, not me.’
‘Well, I saw you admiring the Japanese girl.’
‘She’s a very talented actress’ he said. ‘Lovely ears too. Which reminds me, I brought you your book back.’
Jake placed a well-worn copy of Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase on the table. The pages were warped and dirty, and the spine was broken.
‘What did you do?’ she said.
‘I read it.’
‘You ruined it more like.’
‘Johnny Depp, now there’s a real actor. I went to see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and you can’t even tell it’s him. The audience was split into two groups by who laughed at what: those who’d done acid and those who hadn’t.’
‘It was brand new,’ she said.
‘Look, I’ll buy you another copy, ok? It’s just if I’d got one today then I couldn’t have come out tonight with you.’
‘But how did it get like this?’
Jake held up his hands. ‘One more thing I’m not supposed to do in the bath.’
Charlotte spat Southern Comfort onto the table as she choked on an ice cube.
‘What else do you do in the bath?’ she said.
‘Ask my flatmates.’
Conversation went much easier after that, and they were getting along fine until Jake showed her his charm bracelet, the one with silver charms on it from all his significant exes.
He decided to change tactics and drink his pint as Charlotte talked about herself.
Some idiot had set ‘Daytrip to Bangor’ to repeat on the Wurlitzer jukebox and made his escape from the bar.
The ice Charlotte left in the bottom of her glass had melted, but neither of them suggested another drink.
Outside Charlotte gave Jake another little hug and there was an awkward moment where he wasn’t sure whether to kiss her.
Jake and Lotty had a nice ring to it but he didn’t think she would approve.
‘How come there’s no traffic?’ she said.
‘That’s because of the wall.’
‘They’re building a huge dry stone wall around Bangor. They’ve been working at it for a while now. Loose stones picked from the land by men who know what they’re doing. All the locals approve.’
Charlotte shook her head at him and said nothing.
‘Think about it. When was the last time you went down to the pier or up to the castle? See, you can’t remember, and all this time you never noticed it going on. I’ve been down there a few times now. It’s already above your head, and I can barely see over it. No one gets in or out. One day it will blot out the sun.’
‘–But Daddy said he’d drive me home from Uni. How would he get in?’
‘So, are you coming back to mine or what?’ he said.
She mumbled something about having lectures tomorrow and went off down the road towards the all female halls, the prison he wanted to break into.
Jake watched Charlotte long enough to realise that she wasn’t going to look back and then got distracted by the hotdog van.
It was kicking out time and a large crowd full of hungry punters had already gathered outside.
The smell of fried food and sweaty students made Jake hungry. He was tempted to go and amuse the vendor with his usual request for sticky black burnt onions, but realised that with the film, the drinks, and the promise of a new book, he didn’t have enough money.
He turned back and crossed the road.
The green man came on even though there was no traffic. He took the random green man as a sign that he was going in the right direction at the right time.
He walked on past the war memorial and zigzagged down the high street.
‘Her loss, not mine’ he said out loud.
He stopped at a turning next to a pub he’d been told to avoid. All he had to do now was go right, past the Bingo Hall and boarded up old cinema, then under the bridge to where he lived.
Jake knew what going home would mean: warm flat, cold bed. Coming down in his bare feet and stepping over broken glass in the kitchen just to find that his cup had been used as an ashtray.
Instead he turned left, through the wrought iron gates that were always open, and headed up Bangor Mountain.
Bangor Mountain wasn’t a bad name for the weird hill next to the old high street. Not that many people talked about it.
Below Jake the second hand shops and fancy arts and crafts places disappeared as he trudged up through rotten leaves and wet black mud, like the thick patchouli gunk on the oil burner in his bedroom.
It was pitch black and further than he remembered.
He was already out of breath when he reached the benchmark, so called because of the old wooden park bench the council had put there as a halfway point.
Nobody ever used the chance to sit on it and stare at the foliage; you were either up the mountain or down it.
Jake pressed on, overshadowed by dark trees that knitted together more and more tightly until he stepped out into the clearing.
It was only when it occurred to him that breaking an ankle meant he would have to crawl all the way back down, that he tripped headlong into a thick patch of bracken.
Once Jake had managed to disentangle himself, he realised he was not alone.
Smoke curled into the night sky before him. Someone had built a bonfire on the large rocks which formed the highest point of the mountain.
This was where you came to sit, not some bench in the middle of nowhere.
Indistinct figures sat huddled around it, silhouetted against the flames.
‘Enjoy your trip?’ a shadow said. It was a woman’s voice but Jake couldn’t tell who had spoken.
‘I thought I’d be the only one mad enough to come here’ he said.
‘Not tonight. Nice T-shirt.’
‘Thanks’ Jake said, a little embarrassed. Though his eyes would not adjust because of the fire, he could just make out the face of a lovely curly haired young girl as she smiled at him.
Two men sat behind her with their backs turned. They stared into the fire, said nothing, and passed a joint between them two drags at a time.
Jake got the strange idea that they were part of the same animal; that she was the head and they were the body.
He noticed that there was a pile of shoeboxes next to the bonfire.
‘I saw New Model Army last year’ she said. ‘I stood right at the back on platform near the light rigging and saw the whole thing. But I guess my moshing days are over.’
The girl tapped the place next to her to show that she wanted to share the rock with him.
‘I’m Marie’ she said, not bothering to introduce the others as she offered her hand and he sat down next to her.
‘Jake’ he said, trying to be nonchalant.
Marie’s hand was slender and cold to the touch, even though she was sat near the bonfire.
One of the men turned round to Jake. They nodded at each other and he handed him a bottle. Jake had no idea what he was drinking.
‘Are you a postgrad?’ Marie said.
‘No, I’m a first year.’ ‘Seriously?’
Marie looked so surprised that Jake only nodded.
‘I’ve seen you about but I didn’t know your name’ she said. ‘It’s just that not many first years have their own style.’
‘What’s with all the boxes?’ he said.
‘We had to use them. Most of the wood’s too wet to burn. We came up here to watch them build the wall. Have you seen it?’
He told her that he had, but when she pointed down to the pier there was too much smoke to see where it was.
Jake jumped at the cry of a newborn baby as one of the men threw another box on the fire. He realised it was just the cracking of wet wood.
‘They’re building a wall, so everything’s in boxes’ Marie said.
She got up and clapped her hands.
Jake went to open one of the boxes but Marie stopped him.
‘It doesn’t have your name on it,’ she said.
She showed him how each box had a little white label with a name printed on it in black.
‘So you were going to burn my stuff without asking?’ he said.
‘It’s not like that’ she said.
Together they rummaged through the pile of old shoeboxes until Jake came across the one that was his own. It had his full name on the little white label.
‘That one you can open’ she said.
Both of them were excited as Jake opened the shoebox.
Inside it was a sheep, a small sheep, chewing grass. It bleated at him and jumped from the box into his arms.
‘I think he likes you,’ Marie said. ‘What do you want to call him?’
‘The sheep of infinite wisdom?’ she said, delighted.
They cuddled the Buddha sheep between them and it bleated again.
‘Are you going to keep it?’ she said.
Jake nodded. ‘My flatmates are going to kill me.’