“You know the worst thing I ever saw?” He asked.
I sighed to myself, took another gulp of beer and fixed him with a look of half-interest. He was drunk. A complete ****-up and a bore when he's drunk. I don't know why I drink with him. That said, he probably thinks the same.
“Bedsheets over the benches in the church yard.”
“Bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.”
“The homeless. Right.”
“I'll get us another drink.” he says, “then I'll start where I left off.”
He comes back with two bottles. We drink and we start talking about football. We're just about getting by before he raises his palm to his face.
“Aw, ****. I forgot, yeah. The worst thing I ever saw. I never told you.”
“You did. Bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.”
“Yeah yeah, but that doesn't really say much, does it? You're probably wondering to yourself why that would **** me off so much?”
Not really. He's the type of no-action, all-caring, bleeding heart that sits on his fattening **** every day, 'liking' rhetorical captions over pictures, and signing petitions to axe some ***** politician or other.
“I guess. Shoot.”
“I wanna burn down the churches. Seriously. Stupid ******* religious folk. I bet they go home and post pictures up of themselves, all busy in the soup kitchen, ladling minestrone into some poor *******'s styrofoam bowl.
“They'll never touch them. Always at arm's length. You don't wanna breathe in the pathogens of the anti-people...”
He slurred a little, went to carry on, but took another gulp of beer instead.
“What does that have to do with bedsheets over the benches in the church yard?” I took a gulp myself, this time watching him with a little more interest. Probably just because he looks like he could spew at any moment.
“You're not letting me finish...”
He finishes his beer, gets up, almost bumping into his piano-***-keyboard. He's off to the fridge again. I have a look around while he's out of the room. I can hear him ******* in the kitchen sink.
I've seen the place a million times before but it always has a whole bunch of new **** tacked up on the wall or else bundled in the corner. He's no hoarder, just gets bored and throws out all the stuff he bought the year before.
There's a framed picture of himself on the wall, cradling his Fender as if he's a master of the arts. It's signed, too.
I've seen him play. Probably will tonight. Wouldn't be surprised if he's written a protest song called: bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. The old **** can't even hit an F major with regularity.
He'd decided to put up his vinyl sleeves on the wall like a 17 year old would with an array of **** pop-punk band posters.
Blink and you might think he's the new John Peel or Phil Spector. Stare, and you'll realise he's twice as crazy, yet half as talented and half as interesting to listen to.
His room is like a CV to show to interesting, young indie women. Shame he's hitting forty now,and hasn't been to a club in about 3 months.
Last time we went he just sulked in the corner and got too drunk. He cried in the smoking area about his job before going round and asking attractive girls whether they think he's too old to be out. Most didn't even bother to give an answer. Probably best.
He comes back in with more beer.
“A-anyway...” He says, groaning a little like an old man as he settles back into the chair. “As I was saying...” he sloshes beer on the carpet, rubs it in with the heel of his shoe. He spits on the mark and then rubs again.
“What I was saying was that the church would be a whole lot more useful to the homeless if it was burned down. A condemned building is a whole lot more useful than being looked down on by holier-than-thou, middle-class, white Christians.
“They go home after an hour, bolt the church doors, and then watch TV in their brand new conservatories that they spend several thousands on. Just give the losers a place to shoot up and sleep in safety. That makes sense, right?”
“I guess so.”
I couldn't think of a change of conversation. So I just drank some more and pulled out a cigarette. It's nice to smoke inside for a change.
“It's a ****** ******* awful thing. If people were actually religious, they'd throw open their ******* doors for everyone. It's what Jesus would do, right?”
“He'd have all the **** in his bedsit, piled in like sardines, spreading TB like wildfire.”
“And that's a good thing?”
“Well, it can't be any worse, right? Sleep's important. I learned that the hard way.”
He didn't learn it the hard way. Not really. He's a self-motivated, self-harming insomniac. He spent his teenage years listening to bad music and staying up too late ******* over his French teacher. I should know, I mostly did the same.
He hit the **** pretty hard during college. Never really looked back until recently. ****** him up worse than you'd reckon. He couldn't sleep without the stuff. Man, if you'd have seen the poor guy whenever he couldn't get hold of some for the night. Eesh.
“...you know what I mean though? I'm sick of charity. Those fun-runs you get. A load of women in pink pretending that they care about breast cancer, before posting a million and one pictures up of them in ankle warmers and a kooky hat...”
“**** of the Earth.”
“Yup. Right up there with the women who have 'mummy' as their middle name on Facebook.”
“Honestly though, it's the laziest form of charity. Throwing a couple old, mouldy bedsheets out on some bird-**** bench made of wood and ancient farts...”
“It is pretty lazy.” I drank some more.
It was getting late. We swallowed three temazepams each, moved onto the cheap shiraz once we ran out of beer. We leant back in our chairs, barely talking and letting Tame Impala supply the conversation for us.
“You know what?” I ask, pretty much out of nowhere. His eyes have narrowed. He's not sleepy, just ****** on ***** and tranquillizers. He takes a moment.
“From what you were saying earlier... you know, about the bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.”
“Well, why don't you?”
“Why don't I what?”
“Burn it down.”
“Well, you go on about being lazy and ****. Here's your chance. Help the homeless. Break the locks, pour the petrol, take out a few bottles of wine if you find any...”
“I guess so. Homeless folk are dying of pneumonia out there. Not a second can be wasted.”
“I dunno. I didn't mean I had to do it. I was just saying...”
“I guess they were just saying too.” I felt like I was being a ****, so I changed the subject to women I haven't laid.
I stumbled home leaning on my bicycle all the way. Daylight was just about visible off in the distance. I passed two homeless guys on the way back, gave one of them a fiver, the other one my big mac and the last of my cigarettes (well, leaving a couple for myself).
They said thanks, god bless you, etc, etc. I carried on walking.
I woke up the next afternoon with a mouthful of sand and in desperate need of a hangover ****. I hadn't shaved in about two weeks and there were dark circles under my eyes. I thought about going out to the diner for a full breakfast, but strange people were beyond me.
I ordered a pizza full of meat and grease and garlic sauce instead. I text him to see if he wanted to come over and nurse the hangover with a little ****. Watch a film. Get drunk again. He still smokes it on special occasions, and this ******* of a hangover was pretty **** special.
No reply, and I end up rolling up a joint for myself, smoking it by the window and watching the magpies peck around the grass. It's nice out.
The pizza guy comes. He's holding the pizza up like a map, calls out in a bored sort of voice: “Hello sir. I've got a large Palermo Pizza here, with a side of chicken strips and a can of Dandelion and Burdock?”
I say yes and he hands it over.
I tip him with the coins still left in my wallet from the night before, and he sheepishly says he picked up my post for me as well.
I look down at the pizza I'm holding, and there's a few envelopes that look suspiciously like bills, rival takeaway leaflets, and the local paper. I say thanks, give him the best sort of smile I could, and then close the door.
I turn on the TV. I forgot the England match was on. I turn over to something more interesting. There's nothing, so I switch back over. Before I open up the pizza, I take the paper. A small-town existence, nothing ever happens, but I could do with a new job.
The front page is on fire. A church has been burned down in the early morning. A forty-something man has been arrested and then taken to hospital for severe burns to the face. A load of children's art has been lost, along with countless Bibles, prayer cushions, and vaults of cash.
I read through the article. The whole place was gutted. Nothing could be salvaged. Nothing could be redeemed. In the corner of the picture, through the red, green, and blue dots, I could just make out some bedsheets over the benches in the church yard. For the homeless.
I apologise profusely for posting up a short story instead of a poem. I wrote this in one go tonight and haven't proofread it. I had no plan, I just wrote until there was -something- there. I just wanted to try something different.