The room was lit solely by the screen of an old TV set. Comedians walked to and fro, causing a raucous of laughter from an unseen audience. Light from the screen glinted playfully off a brown slither in a squat glass.
He lifts the liquid to his weathered lips, he sips in the warm bitter taste, and then lowers it with wrinkled fingers back to a small oak table beside a much favoured chair.
On his lap sits a cat, its own years easily matching his in age, if not older. He shuffles his slippered feet, and winces as cat’s claws dig into his knee.
“I’m staying put, Nickle,” responds the man to the cat’s protest. He pats the cat on the head, glances momentarily at a photo above a warm yet dying fire, before looking back to the moving men on screen.
The cat, however, already disturbed, hops down from his lap, and crosses the room to a locked door: scratch, scratch, scratch; let me in, let me in, he knows the cat is saying; purring, to the door.
“Not now, Nickle,” he replies.
Once more his eyes shift to the faded photo. He smiles, as it smiles back at him.
Meet Mr Nock. You may have liked him once, his educated voice and choice of words charming. The way in which he’d lean on his stick whilst sat on a bench chatting with friends, and the smile that would play not only across his lips but his grey eyes may have drawn you in.
But now that his smile is a smirk, and his voice is used selectively on only those he deems fit to hear it, could you even walk upon the same side of the street as him? And if you were to be so brave, would his snarl not soon send you skittering back again?
Mr Nock, of great height and little girth, as grey from head as he is to toe, is not interested in becoming your friend. In fact, your mere utterance of a hello is a hindrance to him.
Unless, of course, it begins with a “mia” and ends with an “ow”.
Mr Nock was taking his usual route to the post office. He liked this route, there were more cars than people, and cars didn’t engage in small talk. Plus, it was the usual, and the unusual did not often sit well on his stomach.
Although the trees leaned in on either side of the pavement, and golden leaves were crunched helplessly under foot or stick, blown by a taunting wind which also grappled at his hat, Mr Nock was smiling.
It was pension day. The day in which he would leave early that morning and return early that afternoon with a large fish, delectable for both himself, and Nickle.
He approached a drably painted red door and as his hand gripped round a shoddy metal handle he heard a most distasteful utterance, and shuddered as it shrieked through his ears and echoed round his brain.
Ever so slightly, and purposefully slowly, Mr Nock turned to face the perpetrator.
He was dressed in a black scarf, similar to Mr Nock’s own. A smart grey coat was buttoned up tight around it and on his head he wore a cotton hat. It was the kind he was familiar with from the thugs he saw being handcuffed to police cars. Those hats meant trouble and Mr Nock knew it.
“I’m glad I caught you here. Isn’t it funny? It’s the last place I expected to see you.”
The unusual stirred in Mr Nock’s stomach.
“Yes, it is odd how such things occur. How are you Nathan?” Mr Nock replied to his gleaming grandson, evidently pleased about this chance meeting as with a mocking smile Mr Nock cursed it.
“Well, thank you. Well, old man,” he half shouted as he patted Mr Nock’s arm in that affectionate manner Mr Nock found merely affronting. “And your health, or what I hear of it, is the reason I was hoping to see you. We have tried to call, both Marie and I. Are you so often out with the lads you miss our calls, eh?”
He ended this with a laugh, which grew slightly nervous when Mr Nock frowned over spectacles back at him.
“It’s off the hook. Only bothersome, impatient people make phone calls.”
Nathan laughed, noticeably nervously again, kicking at a fallen conker and watching it ricochet off a lamppost.
“It’s out of concern, Grandad… there’s been talk. An old friend of yours mentioned your hip, and I took the initiative to check your records and it seems you haven’t shown for appointments in months, possibly years.”
Mr Nock leaned back and drew in a wealth of icy air, allowing it to rush round his lungs and breathe through his nose, cooling his heart, before he answered. A disagreement in public was a scene, and Mr Nock greatly disliked scene making.
“I do not see it was your initiative to take, but of course, who am I to correct someone of such high standing as yourself? Doctors, as I’m sure you’ll agree, are rarely wrong, are they, Doctor Nock?”
Mr Nock held his glare, as Nathan shuffled uncomfortably underneath of it, fiddling with his scarf before glancing momentarily back to the conker.
“Grandad, putting your health at risk in regards to an old feud is for what logical reasoning? There is none. You need help. That stick is old and doing little good.”
“And what good can I expect from those who only see good in the numbers of their pay cheque?” At these words Mr Nock reached back to the handle of the post office and slipped inside. No more echoes of words, only echoes of leaves crunching as his grandson walked away.
The wind roared through the chimney angrily, throwing its fury back and forth it screamed: let me in, let me in! But a hot fire kept it at bay and Mr Nock sat smugly, chair reclined and full glass in hand, listening to the radio.
Though the volume loud, and the wind persistent, a bothersome sound soon seeped through the music and began to twitch at his ear. It was the knock of his door, and ah, then another: rap, rap, rap…let me in…let me in, the knock chimed with the wind.
Mr Nock’s lip furled up, and he wondered how soon it would be before the nuisance wished not to be let in, but to be let out.
“Did you not hear the door, Grandad?”
Mr Nock rose from his chair. His cat, Nickle, skittered to the floor in a flurry, before slinking off to hide. He turned off the music, and then faced his grandson with a smile that ached at his cheeks within moments.
“It was open, by the way.”
“Your door, it’s how I got in. I pushed the handle and it opened. That’s dangerous, Grandad, leaving it open like that, for both you and Grandma. Is she about?”
“My door was not open, it was unlocked. There is a difference, Nathan. And, danger is not always on the outside. Tea?”
“Yes, please,” Nathan stuttered, but chose it was better to edge the conversation in another direction.
His grandmother was a sensitive subject and he presumed she was resting upstairs.
“You seem happier today. I was hoping you’d be more inclined to discuss your hip.”
Nathan watched anxiously as his grandad shuffled awkwardly around the kitchen, he wished he had visited sooner. A year was a long time to go without the presence of one’s family.
Re-entering the room Mr Nock placed the tea tray on a side table, whisking the bags around, then plopping them on a small plate before placing the spoons, each with a coloured handle, back in the cups.
“You were always fond of the colour blue, weren’t you, Nathan?” Mr Nock nodded at his grandson, then tilting his head towards the cup with the blue handled spoon, nodded again.
“Ha, you remembered, old man!” Nathan took a seat opposite his grandad. Leaning forth he took his cup, helping himself to two cubes of sugar before stirring the tea once more.
“I wouldn’t have supposed Marie would allow you here alone. She always wanted to be a part of something, anything.”
Mr Nock took his own tea, added no sugar, placed his spoon beside the used tea bags, and sipped, watching his grandson carefully.
“She doesn’t know I’m here. I thought it best to keep it between us for now. Prevent a crowd. She’ll have the whole family round again in no time once she knows though!”
The thought of his home crowded with that family caused him a minute’s unease. He shuddered as his mind began to dwell in another, distant world. It was hot, his palms felt sweaty and eyes could no longer focus on his grandson.
scratch, scratch, scratch.
If they were here, they would know. They would ask questions. He would need to find answers. But didn’t he always have answers?
scratch, scratch, scratch.
Of course he did! They came to him for the answers. Why else would his grandson be here now? He’s here for answers of where his grandmother is. He wants to know where his grandad’s dear old friend has got to, that meddling post man. He had no right, no right! to speak to Nathan about his ailments.
scratch, scratch, scratch.
The whole family… in this house? In this room! That wasn’t possible. Then they’d know, they’d know he failed her. But he did not! It was the doctors! Their carelessness, his grandson’s carelessness! How a letter addressed for his wife, not him… he wasn’t dying, it was she.
scratch, scratch, scratch…let me in, let me in…
“Grandad, are you alright? The cat is desperate to get in your study. What are you keeping in there? A fish mongers?” Nathan chuckled, rubbing at his stomach, then grimacing, the skin of his face pulling tightly around his skull.
“I’m fine, it was an old man’s moment,” Mr Nock said coarsely.
“I think I’m having one of those myself! My stomach is turning, my throat has gone dry. Thank heavens for this tea.”
He gulped in some more, but became suddenly aware of his grandad’s change in demeanour. It made him nervous. His head was beginning to spin, and as he watched his grandad approach the small key hooks, one, two, then three keys were held, but then just one again.
“No, don’t stand Nathan, not just yet, you stay put.”
Mr Nock walked past his grandson, who was growing ever paler, and he wondered if he was aware his head was moving in slow circular movements.
He pushed the key in the lock and listened to Nickle’s purrs as it clicked.
The door opening before them.
Aaaah! Reading this was painful! Not for the usual reasons (that weird feeling when looking back on older work), but because I imagined this differently to how it read. I always loved Mr Nock! Or so I thought I did.
Admittedly this was saved as a first draft and I can’t find any others because I most likely deleted them or lost them or sold them to a travelling story salesman. I had to fish this one out. I could have sworn it was more enjoyable than this. Pinky promise!
This is what we have though, a story that reads as incomplete despite being complete. I’m quite sure of that. I do still like the character of Mr Nock, and some of the writing is okay and sets a sort of atmosphere and style, but the majority feels pretty skeletal.
Anyway, this is another from around six years ago. The final draft never to be seen. Let’s pretend it’s glorious!