‘Fibre’ by Barbara Jaques

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‘Why are you here!’ No question there, I’d noticed. ‘Eighteen months!’ Hairy made a passing motorist swerve with her rage. Did she hope to make me swerve too? Surely, she is aware I cannot.

This was last week. Often, she emerges from the same little lane across the road, but never before has she been so agitated. She was yelling, hands clutching her head, fingers lost in what is regularly described as a nest of hair. Was she shaping it or tearing it out?

Maureen from the village has an opinion on this hair. She would like to help Hairy improve herself by cutting it off and starting again. Maureen has a strong desire to change things. Mostly, she would like to inform people how they might better live their lives. Currently, her greatest wish is to tell her daughter to stop force-feeding the grandchildren gluten free food when there is nothing wrong with them that a good smack wouldn’t solve. Maureen’s friend, Marjory, says they should let Maureen run the country for a year, that would sort everything out since she claims to have all the answers. She did not say this to Maureen.

Mine is not to be judgemental. However, given the number of people without scruffy nests adorning their heads, Maureen is right; Hairy may find it beneficial to make an effort. I notice those with scalps sporting brushed locks never scream. Instead, the finely coiffured pose and pout and peer through splayed fingers. Silent in those little snapshots of time, they are neat and tidy.

An articulated lorry rushes by and I am hit by the sharp draw of air and the spray of wet. I cannot keep myself smart under such conditions, but have no means of returning to the place from whence I came. I choose from whence I came over where I came from, because Peter Black and Martin Phillips were discussing grammar again; one man favouring tradition, the other for the rules of language to evolve. Sometimes taking sides is a necessary evil, and today Peter Black wins.

Opposite me, close to Hairy’s little lane, an upstanding member of the community resides. All that is visible from this busy road is a pair of large, solid, wooden gates. To pass through them is to accept condescension. People rarely go there, because they are afraid of money. He has too much, they say. Above the buzzer, a camera scans with a wide eye casting a broad view. At first, Maureen questioned the need to spy upon people calling or passing by. Then, after the man-in-the-van salmon incident that left her short of sixty pounds with only a trout to show for it, she changed her mind. Now she would like a spy at the door, too.

Here is a fact: certain drivers speed, others do not. Those driving slowest usually wear a hat. This is a signal, it is said, for the many trailing behind to beep their horns and pass whether safe or not. An allegation was recently made against the hat-wearing driver of an ancient silver Mercedes, claiming he is so old he has forgotten where the accelerator is. This has not been verified and now may never be; an emergency call placed in the early hours of this morning brought an ambulance that left more quietly than when it arrived, cream panama hat propped on the dashboard.

Would I go back from whence I came if I could, you might ask? No, I suppose I would not. Before here, I knew nothing, and every day I am learning more; he owned that same hat for forty years.

*

Here she is again, precisely one hour and twenty-six seconds since she last showed herself. She is not screaming. Pressed to an ear is a mobile telephone. Her free hand is waving around, pointing at me, then up and down the road thick with traffic, to the sky, all about. She is turning away, and it now makes a balled fist resting upon her hip. Maureen once said the nest is worse at the back, rubbed up like a child’s; or a whore’s. Marjory agreed, and said she would like to comb it; put shine into it, because it wouldn’t be hard. Maureen replied that her other friend, with the potty mouth, always says that you can’t polish a turd.

Hairy is walking away, gone once more and still not happy. We are alone, again, save for the split second we share with those whizzing by.

The village situated close behind us is planning another party, Peter Black most recently learned. If the weather doesn’t improve they might be forced to set up a marquee in the pub garden. In previous years, this particular party has been held in the grounds of the big house, but since that gay couple took it on, not a single local event has been hosted there; Londoners are all the same, says Peter.

‘But has anyone ever put the question to the two gentlemen,’ another resident enquired, some time ago, ‘has anyone explained? They seem very nice.’

‘No need,’ came Peter’s fast reply. He would like the men to go.

Recently, a few residents have walked past me with what can only be regarded as a fair degree of admiration. Perhaps they believe in my resilience, my sturdiness, my can-do attitude; the security and peace of mind offered. They talk only with one another, never me. Hairy alone speaks to me; shouts is more precise, of course. I do not know if they communicate with her, or if she will be invited to the party. No remarks have been made. Barbara, who lives not in the main village but further along this road, so close to it she must see spray at her window, is not invited. Barbara would not go, even if she were. Barbara has been in touch with the police again. She emailed a long message, which is a marvellous achievement for an old woman. Aside from the accusation made, regarding a neighbour’s sexual exploits and the safety of kittens, she should be admired. Embracing new technology is not easy at Barbara’s age, whilst embracing sociability is impossible for her. The only thing she loathes more than animal cruelty and neighbour’s sexual exploits is people. She is repulsed by them, setting herself aside from the community and thriving upon her own hate. At least, this is what she would have others believe, though D. Jones is not convinced. D. Jones concedes only that overtime it may have become true in some small way. Before, Barbara was different. Before what, D. Jones refuses to say.

And see there. Such perfect timing. Some distance away, one of the kittens is walking towards us. It has left the safety of the grassy verge for the flatness of the open road. I urge you, kitten, to reconsider your actions. Kittens and cats are very able creatures, of this I am aware. Stars of the silver screen, doers of fabulous acrobatics, creators of human happiness; they are clever. Why then is this one displaying such poor judgement? The choice this kitten is making is extraordinary, because another lorry is coming, white as the tiny creature itself. The air sucks and the spray hits. The lorry is gone, kitten too. Turns out it was terrible timing. I understand what Barbara means about this road.

Unlike Hairy, Barbara dresses well when she is not picking up litter and bodies from the roadside. Then, she wears yellow gloves, a big dirty coat and drags a refuse sack. What does the council spend all its money on, other than stripping back foliage and exposing debris it does not intend to collect? Does it ever reply to complaints? No, insists James T Church, it does not. Barbara buys her clothes online, which is unusual within her age group, and for an animal-loving people-hater; statistics speak for themselves. At least she will not need to buy a new dress for the party, which is a good thing, since her pension is small. The Crook’s suggest it is larger than she lets on, given all the animals she supports, and, of course, the clothes. According to Marjory, Barbara told The Crook’s that she dresses herself from charity shops. The Crook’s said not from any charity shop they had ever been to. Marjory said to Maureen even charity shops were too expensive for The Crook’s, since they were so tight-fisted they couldn’t hold a toothbrush. Maureen replied that they didn’t need one because they kept their teeth in a glass beside the bed. Marjory said this wasn’t the point.

Hairy is coming back. She is not screaming, but talking loudly. Perhaps Maureen and Marjory are right, and she is a bit of a diva; always coming up to the main road like this, waving her hands about as if she is someone special. Sometimes she is here for half an hour or more, talking away as if anybody cares.

Perhaps you have noticed? You must have noticed the two dogs the tall man walks by every Saturday and Sunday morning?

One is a German short-haired pointer and the other a Manchester terrier, which is a vulnerable breed. What is wrong with a good old fashioned border terrier, Maureen cannot imagine. Certainly, neither dog intentionally offends, though the owner might choose to think of others before letting his boys cock a leg and piss wherever they please; dirty little bastards keep shitting outside Peter Black’s, too.

The rain and spray from this road help to wash us both free of the mess, though you are perhaps less easily cleaned than I am.

Steady now. Hairy is crossing over. I know little about her, other than she was able to scream very loudly about how long I have been here, precise details of which were eluding me until then. When I arrived, I was not as I am now. I was a useless shell, she said.

Still talking, and without a single word of conversation directed my way, she reaches out and touches me. Now she is turning to go back from whence she came; where she came from. She stops short of crossing. She gazes back at me. She’s staring. Dear God, is Hairy mad; are those slippers on her feet? Peter Black might say, is it slippers. Face bearing a new expression, Hairy no longer appears tortured and terrible but light and happy. This is a good look, though it does not detract from the horror that sits upon her head, or the slippers. Pyjamas poke out from under her coat; Maureen and Marjory are yet to discuss this development.

What is Hairy saying?

‘The signal is appalling. I am sick of walking up here every time I want to make a call.’

She is sick. This is why she is wearing slippers and pyjamas; why her hair looks as if she has been in bed all day. Neither Maureen nor Marjory have ever referred to her health, though they have remarked upon her sourness; a smell, perhaps. Maureen’s grandson’s breath is terrible when he has a sore throat. A decent diet would sort him out, she often claims.

Now Hairy is saying that she is relieved they will finally be connected. Yes, she adds, it has been more than a year and everyone else has it already; her current service is practically non-existent, so it will be a great relief to the whole family. No excuses for not doing homework now, no more struggling to send important files.

Hairy says thank you between every sentence. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you is a polite term, which means Maureen and Marjory are wrong about this woman.

‘We’d almost given up hope. And it will be superfast? I mean, properly superfast?’

A brief pause. Now she is leaping around. Either she has spotted the remains of the kitten or she suffers with the same nervous disorder that afflicts James T Church when the roadside verges have been cut. Maybe this is her sickness? No. It is neither sickness nor the sight of furry flesh. Her face reveals something else. Delight. This is what she looks like when she is not screaming or sleeping or sick.

Picture that bright face beneath brushed hair, Maureen and Marjory.

Her smiling mouth is saying names with a gratitude I have only known in those who have reached and then risen from the depths of despair. There is just such a man in the village, though since his wife left him for his best friend he has not risen a great deal. The village is rife with it, says Maureen.

Hairy’s voice is loud. ‘It’s the guy on the ground who should be running the show. I mean, a communications company! It’s laughable. Brilliant men, all of you. Going the extra mile, like that. I’m just so grateful. What a nightmare. Yes, more than two years of it really, on and off.’

She does not speak of you, I notice; perhaps she does not care for telegraph poles. Perhaps she is aware that telegraph poles know of nothing more than the twittering of birds tweeting bursts of news. Now you are offended. Why? You have many fine uses. Aside from holding up thick cable so ably, you provide a place for dogs to read the news and spread the word, also offering a secure leaning opportunity for people wishing to empty boots of tiny stones.

Now Hairy is saying something with such affection that I feel the urine and dirty splatters of grime spoiling my perfect green exterior are no longer important. Cabinet Number Seven. So this is my name. Cabinet Number Seven. She says it is written on me and that she loves me and she loves fibre optic cable, too. Maureen, Marjory, Peter Black, James T Church, The Crook’s and others; none has exchanged a single word of love. Martin Phillips has, but his wife doesn’t know. Yet.

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