The tea-light flames would dance as if a modernist ballet were being staged in each of the glass dishes from expensive supermarket puddings. He had dotted them around his ground floor flat, on various pieces of unlikely furniture or next to the open window where, subject to errant breezes through the ill-fitting frame, they would convulse, shake, almost gyrate. He wondered if pedestrians on their way to the park at the end of the road had ever noticed them, felt obliged to spare more than a sideways glance at his window and make assumptions about the man who lived there, and the life that he lived, the carefree and romantic spirit of a soul who did something so utterly beautiful as place tea-lights in glass dishes from expensive supermarket puddings.
The only people who came down his road at this time of night were the skateboarders.
Misshapen furniture surrounded him like cemetery stones or stunted teeth, the sad cityscape of his bachelor flat. Nothing matched. Most of his living room was taken up with bookcases on which broken-spined paperbacks leaned in against each other, pub drunks staggering home to a late night meal of dust and cobwebs. Much like, he told himself, his first floor neighbour Paul cutting through the park, eleven’o’clock at night surrounded by shadows and danger and youths, faces lit ghostly by smartphone screens. Yobbos, as his father used to call them.
The night before he had chatted to Paul in the communal hallway.
‘Do you ever come along the main road?’
‘Can’t be bothered with that. I just cut through the park’.
‘Aren’t you afraid?’
‘You know . . Trouble’.
‘No-one ever picks on me’, he replied. ‘They don’t have the guts’.
‘Just . . Be careful’.
The trick, he knew, was not to draw attention to one’s self. Bleed into the background, or else, walk with purpose, with a clear physicality, and not to give them a chance to strike. Or at least, this is what he presumed, as he looked up from his old rolltop desk and saw his face reflected in the darkened window. And you’re a fine one to talk, he whispered, with these tea-lights everywhere.
Not one of the skateboarders had ever stopped. Not in all of these years. He lived on a slight hill. Their skateboards sounded like jet engines as they rode past, ripping the sky in half. Their ramp, in the park, was covered in multicoloured scrawled graffiti, tags, youthful slogans and slang, yet nothing overlapped, it was all spaced-out neatly as if the artists respected other people’s distance. Like the canopies of trees in a forest, not quite touching. And anyway, they tended not to skate too much after dark, he realised. Just sat in groups smoking weed and laughing, their voices not quite so loud.
‘Evening, lads! Mind if I join you?’, he could so easily say to them.
‘Sure, sure, have a seat, old man’.
It was almost dark, now. Paul wouldn’t be leaving the pub for at least another couple of hours. His downstairs neighbour wouldn’t be able to sleep, though, until he heard the latch of the communal front door.
The tea-lights carried on flickering, dancing, reflected like an imaginary constellation from the window panes. He could so easily draw the curtains, he thought. But Paul would be cutting through the park.
Robert Garnham is a comedy performance poet based in Devon. His short stories have been published widely. His website is www.professorofwhimsy.com