Fred Is Dead

Man wishes to be worm. A short story.

★ It was an achingly cold day in December when Fred decided to walk his dog in the park, stark naked. This was not a rash decision. Everything about Fred was calm, finessed, refined to absurdity. You could say that he was a slow person, but for Fred the world moved too quickly, it missed things, it was slack in its instant observations and judgments. His pace was the pace of the worms.

Fred measured everything according to the pace of the worms. He used to observe them after the rain, with his stopwatch in one hand, and dog leash in the other. Stacey, his terrier, would pull to one side, while Fred stood, transfixed, and watched their lean slimy bodies soak in the humidity, celebrating the rain. Fred also loved the rain. The more miserable a drizzle it was, the happier he got. He was like that as a boy, too. All shades of grey made him pleased, safe & secure, the colour reminded him of mud, of clay, the origins of the world. He was a clever child, but never a show-off. Fred despised publicity.

Lately, his steady rhythms became a bit aggravated, he would reason this was because he could not find the right type of clay to create his people, his growing civilization which settled in on the tattered rug at the centre of his tiny, moldy flat. The manufacturers stopped producing the type of clay he used to shape his little beings into life. They said it was the same, only the packaging was different. But it was not the same, he knew it, his people knew it, and they suffered because of it, and so did Fred.

Stacey knew better than to ask Fred what was wrong with him when he stopped feeding her in his regular time intervals, which were always the same, since the time he brought her home from the kennels. She just curled up in the corner and sighed in despair. There was a storm brewing in their lives, and being of the canine race, Stacey was the first to feel it, even before they changed the packaging of the clay boxes.

The first signs came in October, when Fred took to singing in his shower, loud & broad and very old show tunes – this startled Stacey to no end. She would howl, and Fred would sing even louder, and the next-door neighbour, a Nigerian woman in her late fifties, called Layla, would start banging on Fred’s front door. No one could blame her really, as this always occurred after midnight, and sometimes went on till dawn. Fred used to stay in the shower for hours.

The police came a few times, but every time they did, Fred would be his calm, reasonable self, and would deny any musical misdemeanors. Somehow, they never managed to catch him in the act of singing. He told the officers that his neighbour was imagining things because she was a lonely widow, craving attention, and that, in his opinion, she also had a uniform fetish. She was just too pleased when the police would come by. He knew this because a man in uniform visited her almost daily – the postman, bringing her mail. Layla would chat with him a bit too eagerly, Fred thought, wearing increasingly brighter colours, and bolder prints, which Fred found alarming. Then the same man would pass by his door, and very rarely, almost never, would he push an envelope through his letter-box.

Fred would let the post pile up for months, he couldn’t read it, he could not face printed words. When there was a pattern of a three similar formatted letters arriving, he would then open the series, but only when he had a bottle of gin by his side. Most of the time he didn’t have money for gin, so he didn’t open the letters. Any other alcohol simply wouldn’t help.

Then, both Fred and Stacey started to find regular servings of chicken bones on Fred’s door mat, sometimes twice a day, entwined with red thread and rusty nails. Fred found this to be of some interest, and he gathered them all in a shoe box. Stacey couldn’t stomach the smell.

Fred did own a television set, but never switched it on, except at exactly 7.30 pm each working day, to watch EastEnders, and then he would switch it off again. But, one day in November, Stacey woke up to a strange sound. There was music coming out of the box, not the EastEnders tune, but something different, something terrifying. People were singing loudly, one after another, and there we groups of people clapping, and Fred was staring into the set, crying.

That’s when he got this bug in his bonnet over the clay packaging. He fretted over his small nation, and tried and tried to fix their problems, glue back their little dried up feet, moisten their crusty houses, as their life materials, their very existence was threatened by this unacceptable lack of judgment on the part of the clay company.

As his empire was decaying, he found that he could not find the strength to walk Stacey any more. So she had to endure the indignity of peeing & pooing on the balcony, while Fred lie on his bed, staring into the ceiling.

One day a lady dressed in a crisp grey suit came to see Fred and talked to him for a while. Stacey thought that the grey of her clothes cheered Fred up a bit, as he seemed to be energised by the visit. He even took to singing again, which made the pile of chicken bones grow on their door mat. But Stacey got her daily walks, and that helped her focus on the good rather than the bad. However, she still felt that there was a wind blowing their way, that didn’t stop, but was growing in strength.

Then came that December day. Fred was crying all morning. This was not so unusual, as he would often wake up in tears, but he always told Stacey this was because of his dreams. Fred had nightmares. This is why he had to keep things so orderly, otherwise the dreams would entirely overwhelm him.

He stared out the window for a long time, and then it started to rain. Fred almost jumped in his chair, which startled Stacey, she was not used to him having sudden movements. Fred began removing every piece of clothing he had on him and laying it neatly on the bed. Finally, he took off his trainers, and left them underneath the armchair. Then he took Stacey’s leash, gently hooked it to her collar, and together they walked to the cupboard in the kitchenette, where he took the shoe box full of chicken bones, red thread and nails.

Fred opened the flat door, stepped out with Stacey, and then locked it shut. He was going out to sing in the rain.

First, he rang Layla’s doorbell, to give her bones back.

© Milana Vujkov, Demolition Road: Fred Is Dead, December 2014

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