Retirement reality with blurred edges.
|Hector Strathausen woke at five minutes before five, as he had every day for the last 20 years. Always he woke just before his alarm went off for work. But Hector had retired a little over a month ago, and his alarm clock was also retired.
He blearily looked around the one room that he lived in, which was grey in the early light feebly seeping through slightly grubby curtains. Knowing further sleep was impossible he sighed heavily and pulled himself up in the small bed. Drawing the curtains he looked out across the railway line and to the smoke stacks beyond. The sun was already climbing and shone bravely behind the fumitory columns that did their best to obscure it's orange brilliance.
Hector thought it was achingly beautiful, and he lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. He imagined himself standing in his small room, knife in hand, a pallet and easel. Hector Strathausen the famous but reclusive painter was painting the smoke stacks for which he was justly famous. Critics acclaimed his transcendent use of colour and light. Bidders queued to spend millions at auction as each work came up for sale.
He sighed and climbed out of bed, pulled it roughly into a semblance of being made. Slipping his feet into well worn slippers, the heels now flat, so they flapped as he walked, Hector made his way to the door and took his dressing gown from the hook. Before he headed to the shared toilet, he set his kettle on the small gas hob and turned it on low.
When he returned the water was boiling gently, and he made himself tea. After putting two slices of bread in to toast, he sat at a small table and, sipping tea, stared out of the window. Hector Strathausen chewed absently on his pen as he stared out at the chimneys belching their poison. In front of him the final draft of what was sure to be his next multi-million best selling novel. A gritty industrial tale of complex human relationships that was sure to garner more praise and adulation for the greatest writer of the twenty-first century.
The toaster clicked, breaking his reverie. He went over to butter his toast and wondered what he was going to do with his day. After the untimely death of his wife in a fire that had destroyed their home, his work in the factory had been his life. The early starts, cycling through all weathers, the long hours, tedious repetition, none of it had bothered him. It was though he had grown a callus over himself after the funeral. Now the job was gone as well.
He ate each slice slowly. Looking at the bread bag he saw that he still had nearly half a loaf. No need to go out today. He had a can of soup to have for lunch and a microwave curry for dinner later. He finished the toast and washed the plate and butter knife in the small sink. He looked at the alarm clock and saw that it wasn't even six. Hours till lunchtime. He could go for a walk, maybe get a paper and take it to the local park to read, it looked like a nice day.
He gazed at the billowing spires of smoking pipes that filled the sky, made rosy and somehow comforting in the early morning sunshine. Maybe later the walk. He snapped on the radio in time to catch the quarter hourly intonation of taxi numbers, solicitors numbers and the number one should call if you were stuck in traffic, brought to you by your local firm. Then the news. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.
Hector Strathausen penetrating and insightful, feared and feted by politicians of every hue was interviewing the Environment Secretary about the polluting chimneys. The morning show audience was listening with delight as his carefully laid trap caused the poor victim to stutter and stumble. It was said that an interview with Hector could bring any politicians career to a humiliating end, even the Prime Minister himself.
The radio was playing music now. Some rubbish without a tune. Staring into space Hector Strathausen composed his seventh symphony. It was specially commissioned by the Lord Mayor to celebrate the life of the city. In hushed tones the radio presenters lauded the amazing use of leitmotif to describe the funnels as they dispersed their black exhaust, you could practically smell the smoke they said.
Tiring of the 'music' he switched it off and then dried his plate and put it away. He slip-slapped across to his bed and sat on it whilst he dressed. The alarm clock showed it was about five past six. He'd just be settling in at work now. Officially he had started at six, but Hector had always arrived about a quarter of an hour early and got stuck straight in.
Pulling a comb through his thinning hair, he stood and walked across to the mirror that hung over the elderly gas fire. A face stared back uninterested. Hector hadn't recognised his Wonderland companion in years, and only looked to see that his pallid doppleganger's hair was straight. They never spoke.
Sinking back into the chair, Hector sat and watched the trains, and watched the sky, and watched the flues disgorge their melancholic black bile. He watched the sun climb sturdily up mountains of cloud. Hector Strathausen stood atop a chimney hundreds of feet above the ground, in his hands lightly rested a long pole. His feet reached confidently for the tightrope that stretched away before him to a stack halfway across town. Hundreds of cameras were trained on him as he braved the incredible feat, shunning all safety measures.
There was a tap at the door. “Mr. Strathausen?” a hesitant voice. Mrs Gascoigne. His landlady. Come for the rent. He took the envelope from the shelf above the fire and padded over to the door. Paid. Exchanged polite weather. Goodbye. Till next week. He was no trouble and she never had cause to bother him between collection days.
Secretly she was in love with him and who could blame her! Hector Strathausen, modern Casanova, lady killer, the man who stole that beautiful starlet from that big name rock star. Rumour had it that with each passing year he only got more desirable to women, who simply couldn't resist him. Never seen in public without one, sometimes two or more of the world's most stunning women hanging off his arms and his every word. The envy of his fellow men.
Midday now, finally. Maybe he would take a walk this afternoon get some air. Kill a few hours. Perhaps go to the cinema. He'd just paid the rent. Couldn't afford the cinema. Didn't even have a telly any more. Couldn't afford the license. Missed a good film. You could lose yourself for a few hours.
Hector Strathausen clad in khaki, running his fingers across his clipped moustache, single handedly holding the fort against the unwashed hordes. Flying through smoke filled skies in his trusty Sopwith, hot on the tail of his Germanic foe. Dancing with soot smeared Mary Poppins across the rooftops of London. The darling of screen and theatre alike. Biggest box office draw in history.
Opening a can of beef broth. Pours it into his small saucepan and places it on the gas to warm. Cuts two slices of the bread to go with it and puts them on his solitary plate. He ate slowly, though the soup wasn't hot. He always took it off too soon.
After lunch he sat and decided that tomorrow he would go shopping. He would look in the charity shops and see if they had any slippers. These were falling to bits. Get another loaf.
He washed up and went to use the loo. It was occupied and his red faced, back room neighbour made mumbled apologies for the smell as he left. Hector couldn't recall his name.
Returning he pulled the chair over to the bed and sat with his feet up on the mattress looking out. He watched the smoke streams as they rose. He noted small deviations this way and that in their upwards path as some stray breeze nipped at them like a sheepdog worrying ghostly flocks of the blackest sheep. Counting chimneys he dozed off for a while.
Waking himself with a snore Hector saw that the sunlight was lazily wending its way towards dusk. The sky was full of light and colour and smoke. He watched it for a while, then got up and turned on the light. Time for dinner. Tomorrow a walk.
Hector Strathausen (retired) trudged to his bed. Pulled a wooden box from beneath it. Took out his father's service revolver. Checked that it was loaded. Looking out of the window he saw the silhouettes of the chimneys reproaching him. He sighed. Put the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He drew the curtains and went to heat his curry. Tomorrow he'd go for a walk.