Singing in German
Karl tried to cross the street but his dog wasn’t having it. The skinny mutt quivered on the pavement, tail between its legs.
Karl gently tugged the leash a few times, encouraging the dog to follow him with a soft voice, ‘C’mon, what’s wrong with you?’
Passers-by were stopping to watch. Cars slowed down, the grim lunchtime sky reflected in their windows like repressed memories of grandma’s broken glass sandwiches.
It was raining inside every house. People came out into the street for shelter. Karl had a silent audience, their eyes crawled over him like a mad doctor’s fingertips. Under their gaze he felt hot hatred for the dog.
But the dog wouldn’t budge from the pavement. Karl tried dragging the dog but the mutt whimpered and made Karl look bad in front of the staring crowd.
He tried stroking the dog. He made promises to the dog. The dog just quivered and did a piss.
‘C’mon dad, people are watching us!’ hissed Karl. The dog looked up at him, trembling so violently that its fur fell out and it began to look like a frail old man. A little girl across the street was singing in German.
Karl collapsed beside the dog, shaking his head and weeping.
‘Please,’ said the dog. ‘Don’t cry son. I just can’t face the park right now. I want to go home. Can we go home?’.
A fat woman with tall white hair swaying above her head walked over to them. She towered over Karl and his dog, and they quivered in her shadow.
‘What are you doing sat in the street? People are watching you! Can’t you see all these people watching you?’ But Karl and his dog just sat there, staring at each other, until one by one the people started talking.
Karl opened the shop just after ten. He put the digital scales in the glass display case in the front window, shoved the float into the till and turned on all the lights.
Out the back, his boss had left him a scribbled message:
Why do you keep unlocking the door to the top floor and leaving it open? PLEASE KEEP THE DOOR SHUT AND LOCKED.
This disturbed Karl. He hated going upstairs, and would only risk it if he needed a screaming shit in the broken toilet on the second floor.
There is no way he is the one unlocking the door to the top floor, and there is no one else there to do it. He works alone.
The shop is so ancient that Karl is terrified the ceiling will fall on him if he slams a door too hard or coughs too loudly.
When it rains, brown water runs down the walls, and a strange, foul stench moves around the building like a restless dog.
Yes, that door to the third floor is strange. You can lock it, bolt it, stack boxes against it, but every morning it is wide open again.
The second floor has a grim bathroom at the far end, it has a bath full of toilet roll tubes and a mirror full of howling faces. The rest of the space is used for storing stock such as bongs and growing equipment.
Dead plants whisper to each other on the peeling windowsills.
But the top floor is a mystery. The lad who worked at the shop before Karl told him it was probably full of old junk or something. Or maybe the boss is secretly growing a bit of skunk.
Why his boss thinks Karl would want to go up there is beyond him. Curiosity is not something that bothers Karl. He is a man who frowns a lot – a confused outsider who instigates perplexity.
Just after twelve a girl came into the shop looking for a grinder. Karl smiled his best smile at her and she balanced her cool blue eyes on the twisty ends of his moustache.
‘Have you got an internet connection here?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, my computer is out the back if you want to…’
She followed him into the dimly lit back room. Karl wiggled his freakishly long fingers in the direction of the computer. She sat down and started clicking and typing.
He looked at her: long dirty yellow hair tucked into a hippy hat, bottom lip pierced, clothes all dark greens, gentle smell of cannabis and candles.
‘Thanks for that, I needed to send some information to my dead father. Shit, sorry if I sound a bit weird… it’s a long story. Do you smoke?’ she patted her pockets and probed the lip piercing with her bright pink tongue.
‘No, I gave up a few months ago and…’ he checked to make sure there were no other customers lingering in the shop. ‘Hey, would you do me a favour?’
‘Erm… Sure. What’s up?’
‘I left my satchel on the top floor and it’s got my medicine in it.’ he lied. ‘Could you run up there and grab it for me? I would go up there, but I’ve got a bad leg and the stairs are pretty steep.’
She took off her green army jacket and draped it over the computer chair. Karl grinned and wiggled his freakishly long fingers in the direction of the dark doorway to the higher floors behind the till.
She giggled and disappeared into the gloom.
Karl paced the shop while he waited, his brow tightly wrinkled in concentration. He didn’t know what he expected to happen to the girl. Sometimes he just enjoys doing things to see what will happen.
Two minutes passed on the novelty cannabis leaf clock. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Thump!
His skin felt like a flickering light bulb dusted in sparkling frost.
Another customer came in, a man in his forties who wanted to know if they sold crack pipes. Karl recommended a thick glass one in the display cabinet.
‘Hmm, glass… I just get so wrecked I end up d-d-dropping them, and then I t-t-tread on them and get g-g-glass in my f-f-feet’ the man stammered.
‘What’s that n-n-noise?’ asked the crack head.
‘I’m not sure, it’s been freaking me out. I tell you what, if you run upstairs and check it out for me, I’ll give you a pipe for free. A crazy cat probably got in and decided to trash the place.’
Karl wiggled his freakishly long fingers in the direction of the dark doorway behind the till.
‘And you’ll give me a pipe for free?’
‘Yep, any one you want.’
‘Will you throw in a pack of gauze as well?’
‘You got it!’
The man staggered into the doorway and made his way up the stairs.
‘Hello?’ he bellowed as he approached the door to the second floor.
Karl leaned over the till, stretching his ears out with his fingers so they picked up every sound. ‘Hello?’ he heard the crack head say, slightly quieter this time, as he climbed the stairs to the third floor.
Karl could hear his own heart beating like a size thirteen shoe rolling down a hill.
The phone rang and Karl almost fell over the till. He ran into the back room and picked it up, ‘Hello, Stoner’s Paradise. How may I help you?’
‘Karl!’ spat his boss on the crackling line. ‘Did you get my message?’
‘I got the message, sir.’
‘Good, because… because… huh? What? Hold on, my wife is having a fit…’ Karl heard the receiver drop onto the floor and the sound of wet meat being slapped over and over again.
While he waited he picked up the girl’s green army jacket from the back of the computer chair and buried his face into the dirty collar
Bobby Parker was born 1982 in Kidderminster, England. He was selected as Purple Patch Small Press Poet of the Year in 2008, and his work has been published in various magazines in print and on-line. Bobby crawled his way through nightmares and freakshows to bring you poems and stories that have so far been collected in his new book Digging for Toys (Indigo Dreams Publishing) which will be available very soon.
Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017
6 months ago