I saw Coffin Nail today.
This surprised me, because I thought he was dead.
By all rights he should be dead, but I saw him, so that means he’s still ticking over.
I was riding my bike along a nice little lane, the kind of lane where you ride slowly so you can have a good nosey up the driveways to see what kind of car the rich people are driving, or what kind of wallpaper rich people hang on their walls, or with any luck, the kind of underwear rich women wear as they get changed by the bedroom window.
I didn’t manage to quench my grubby voyeuristic thirsts, but I did notice something.
A crumpled shape, withered and bent, a fucked up old gargoyle of a man struggling to breathe, clinging to the gatepost of a fancy house like a drowning man clinging to a broken mast.
I’d not seen him since they retired him from the factory on medical grounds. None of the managers wanted him to die at work because it would have cost them – death-in-service payments really piss off the managers.
I pulled my bike over to the kerb and waited politely for the old goat to stop coughing what was left of his lungs up and wipe his puckered mouth with a darkly stained handkerchief.
He stared at me with runny eyes, gasping and fighting to get a trickle of clean air into his raddled lungs.
I decided to open the conversation.
“Hi Coffin Nail. You’re looking well.”
His lips curled back to reveal long, stained teeth protruding from withered gums.
“Fuck off, you sarcastic little arsehole.”
“I’m not being sarcastic!”
“Yeah, not much…”
“Really I’m not. See, I heard you were dead. You look a lot healthier than dead.”
I don’t know if the noise he made was a laugh or a wheeze.
He nodded at my bike.
“What’s that silly fucking thing you’re playing on there?”
“It’s called a bicycle, Coffin Nail. It’s a wonderful new invention.”
“Once a sarcastic arsehole, always a sarcastic arsehole. Take piss again and I’ll knock your fucking teeth out!”
He held up a shaky clenched fist of parchment and liver spots. “What I mean is, what the fuck are you doing on that thing? A bloke doesn’t fuck around on a kid’s toy like that! A bloke should have a motor!”
I shrugged. “I’ve got a car, I just let my wife use it.”
“Wife? WIFE? Fucking Hell, lad, you dress up like a ponce and piss about on a push iron, whilst your missus swans around in your fucking motor? You want to have your fucking head examined!”
He pointed a bony finger at me.
“There’s a term for blokes like you, lad. Cunt whipped! You’re cunt whipped, that’s what you are! Your missus get’s the car and you get a fucking kid’s toy!”
I thought about that. I didn’t feel particularly cunt whipped. If I’m honest, I get whipped from so many other directions I wouldn’t notice if I was cunt whipped or not.
Maybe I’m just plain whipped.
“I don’t mind the bike,” I replied. Cuts down on pollution…”
“Pollution’s a fucking myth. Never been proven. I’ve worked in all kinds of places that are supposed to be bad for your health. Never did me any fucking harm.”
I couldn’t quite believe what he was saying.
Coffin Nail quickly looked up and down the road, those rheumy eyes full of shifty intent.
“Listen, lad, you wouldn’t have any smokes on you, would you?”
I shook my head. “Sorry, Coffin Nail. Can’t help you. I don’t… oh, wait a minute!”
I rummaged in my bag, found a tin of small cigars and a mauled book of matches. Christ knows how long they’d been there, but they were there.
Coffin Nail raised an eyebrow.
“Cigars, eh? Lah-dee-fucking-dah. You couldn’t have just had a packet of Benson’s like a normal bloke, could you?”
“You’d have felt let down if I had. Are you sure smoking’s a good idea, you know, in your condition?”
Coffin Nail lit up and pulled smoke deep into his diseased lungs. He had chronic emphysema. It was so bad he had no right being alive now, but he was. Fair play to him.
“I haven’t had a good idea in forty years, lad,” he murmured as smoke curled out of his mouth like dragon fire. “I’m not going to start having any now.”
There were two bags of shopping on the pavement. I hooked one bag over each of my bike’s handlebars, and we set off walking slowly towards Coffin Nail’s house.
I thought, what the fuck, and I fired up a little cigar of my own. It felt good to be ambling along, smoking a cigar.
I fired a quick glance at Coffin Nail. He looked bad. His face looked like it had been folded up a dozen times and kept in the loft for fifty years. I felt a bit guilty about giving him a smoke.
“Here, you’ve got your medicine on you, haven’t you?”
Coffin Nail patted his pocket.
“Full inhaler. Brand new. Don’t worry lad, I promise not to die on you.”
“What you said earlier, about thinking I was dead. What gave you that fucking daft idea?”
“I saw your missus walking up the road with a black armband on. I thought you’d snuffed it.”
“Nah, that wasn’t for me. It were for the dog. It were getting old and it’s back legs were fucked and it couldn’t see much any more.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that. You take it down the vet?”
“Nah. I drowned it in a bucket in the garage.”
As we smoked and walked I noticed two crossed knives tattooed on his forearm. It was an old tattoo, blurred and blue, but they were unmistakably Gurkha knives.
I nodded at his ink. “What are they, Coffin Nail? They’re Gurkha knives, aren’t they? Kukri. That’s what the proper name is, isn’t it? Were you in the Gurkhas?”
He yanked his sleeve down and scowled at me. “Bit fucking nosey, aren’t you?”
“Sorry. Just wondered.”
“Aye, well don’t wonder. It’s not something I like to talk about.”
I decided to leave that particular subject alone.
If a man has a something he doesn’t want to talk about, but he’s happy to let you know about drowning the family pet in a bucket, then it’s best not to delve too deeply.
I blew some smoke. “So, if you don’t like to talk about that, what do you like to talk about?”
Coffin Nail thought for a minute.
“Cunt. I like to talk about cunt.”
I coughed on my cigar. “Well, I don’t reckon you’ll get on Mastermind with that chosen specialised subject, but I’m ok with that.”
“I’ve just come back from the hospital, lad. Been to get this new medicine, and all my other medicine, for that matter. Fuck me, there’s some fit nurses there. Gagging for it, all of them. Tits bursting out of those uniforms, arses tight as drums in those blue strides they wear. It even got a twitch out of me, lad, and that’s saying summat, nowadays. Well this young nurse tells me the name of the medicine I was getting and I misheard her, coz I was looking down her top, so I looks up and says, ‘What’s that new stuff you’re giving me? Viagra?’ And she laughs her head of and says it’s Valium, they’re giving me Valium, so I shrugs and says, ‘I’d rather have the Viagra!’
“Well, these nurse are all laughing so this female doctor comes out and says, ‘What’s all this? what’s all the laughing?’ So these nurses tell her what’s been said and that doctor gives me this right dirty look! She says, ‘I don’t think Viagra will do you any good!’
This got right on my fucking wick! I grabs myself by the tackle and gives it a right good shake at her, and says, ‘give us a couple of those blueys and I’ll see if I can do you any good!’ She says that she doubts it, so I says, ‘Try me! I’ll provide the donkey derby if you’ll provide the jockey!”
Old Coffin Nail really had me laughing. He was stood in the street with a cigar in one hand and the saggy crotch of his trousers in the other. When he let go of his crotch a small wet patch started to spread across the fabric. I pretended not to notice and carried on laughing.
“Shit,” he muttered, and pulled down his shirt to cover the piss patch.
At the top of his street an old woman shuffled towards us. She was fat, really fat, and gripped onto one of those four wheeled tartan shopping carts for dear life.
“That’s more like it,” muttered Coffin Nail, eying her up. “Look at that, lad. Gagging for it, she is.”
“What, Mrs Frobisher?” I asked in disbelief. “She’s well into her seventies, Coffin Nail. The only thing she’s gagging for is a pot of tea and a fig roll.”
“I’ve got a fig roll she can have!” His bony hand strayed towards his crotch again, then slipped into his pocket. He must have remembered the damp patch.
We stepped off the pavement to let Mrs Frobisher get by. There wasn’t room enough for us all. To be fair, there wasn’t enough room on the pavement for anyone except Mrs Frobisher.
as she passed, Coffin Nail mentally undressed her with his runny eyes. I mentally dressed her again as quickly as I could.
“Look at the fucking rig on that, lad! A bloke could have some fun on that!”
“Jesus. No, I don’t really see it, Coffin Nail. She’s not my type…”
“Fuck off! With a couple of those Viagra in me it would take half of West Yorkshire Police Force to get me off of her…”
“It would take the other half to get her off of you if she rolled over. She’s fucking massive!”
Coffin Nail wouldn’t have it. He watched her limp away down the street with an expression of raw lust on his haggard features.
“The thing is with you young ‘uns, lad, is that you want something you can’t have. When he’s hungry, a poor man doesn’t dream about caviar, does he? Nah, he’s never tasted it! He wants summat he likes.” Coffin Nail nodded after Mrs Frobisher. “He dreams about that.”
“If Mrs Frobisher isn’t caviar, then what is she?”
We finished our cigars and walked to Coffin Nail’s gate. I gave him his shopping bags. He leant close to me.
“Here, lad. You haven’t got any mints on you, have you? It’s just that if the wife smells cigars on my breath she’ll go fucking scatty.”
I got a pack of gum from my pocket and gave him a couple of sticks.
I decided to needle him again. “So I’m cunt whipped, am I? Who’s the one scared of his wife catching him smoking?”
Coffin Nail chewed the gum carefully. He didn’t want to lose the few teeth left in his head.
“You’re a bloke, I’m a bloke, every bloke who’s ever lived. We’re all cunt whipped, lad. That’s what it is to be a bloke. Cunt whipped. It’s why we die first and they live for ever.”
He took his shopping, nodded at me and shuffled to his front door.
I made sure he got his key in ok.
Maybe a Viagra would help him with that.
He shut the door.
I got on my bike.
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