A character

His name was Robert, but most people called him Black Peter. I met him, if met is the right word, one dark February evening on leaving work. I had recently begun a new job in a Tudor mansion, bricked round in the Georgian era and reputed to be haunted.

‘Will you be all right here on your own?’ the girls in the office worried when I announced I was not going to leave with them. ‘There is a ghost, you know.’ I assured them I would be fine and shut them all out with a wave.

I had worked in older and much scarier places than this.

About half an hour later, I fumbled with the key, unfamiliar with the lock. Then, rattling the door hard, I turned, practically fell off the step and nearly had a heart attack as I bumped into Robert. No ghostly apparition, but fully flesh and blood, enough to give anyone the heeby-jeebies, he cut a Hammer Horror picture in the middle of the High Street.

Black balaclava, horn rimmed spectacles and grubby face, his black overcoat stretched to his knees and was tied up with string. No trousers, but wearing black boots and dragging a large black bin liner. Looking back, I’m sure I frightened him as much as he scared me. Possibly more.

In the days and months to come, I often saw him, usually with the bin bag in tow. As the self appointed street cleaner, he cropped up all over the place, his large dirty hands, partly encased in fingerless gloves, busying themselves picking up litter, dog ends and other detritus left by the untidy masses, doubtless saving the local authority thousands. Winter and summer, his outfit varied little, occasionally adorned by trousers, but usually not.

Sometimes you would smell him before you saw him. He would stand in the baker’s shop, turning the air to poison, until with patient smiles they gave him bread and cakes, presumably just to get rid of him.

I  learned he had been a botany professor of some description and retired from that life due to illness. I stood behind him one day in the Post Office when he gave a lecture to the woman behind the counter. From his muttered account, I recalled a biology lesson annotating the parts of a Shepherds Purse plant.

‘The carpel consists of stigma, style, ovary and ovule whilst the filament and anthers are collectively known as the stamen.’ He broke down each part still further while we of the queue listened politely, then when he had finished, he beamed at us all and bought a first class stamp.

A fire at his home took Robert away. He lived in an old black house down on the marshes, miles from anywhere, difficult for a fire engine to reach. Everything destroyed, he was taken to hospital and I never saw him again.


18 responses to “A character

  1. Wow, this is fantastic. You remind me of my own blog. I too just like to write fiction and throw it up. Glad to see you an FB too. Just liked you.

    I like finding characters is the strangest of the places, that’s the truly wonderful thing about writing, when you meet people and things that you didn’t know before.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Great little story. We actually have a character like that in our town. Unfortunately everyone calls him “Crazy Mike”.

    • I think every town has a character like that and we should be able to accommodate him or her without resorting to names like ‘crazy’. But I suppose it’s fractionally better than ‘smelly’ which was a name stuck on one poor woman. Thank you for your commenting and sharing this with me.

  3. Very nice scene and interesting character. Thanks for sharing.

    • That’s a pleasure. Nice to see you and delighted to have you following me. I have stopped by for a look at your blog a couple of times, but haven’t had time to read much yet. I will be sure to very soon.
      Thank you.

  4. Wonderful story! Enjoyed it immensel. Thanks for sharing it with your readers.

  5. Great character – I can see him and smell him! Amazing what’s there on the compost heap. One of the great advantages of being in the ‘older and wiser’ category is the richer, larger compost heap to draw on!

  6. This post reminds me of a girl that I had a crush on. Before I had the chance to say a word to her, the house that she was living in caught fire. I had heard once that she got trapped inside; I later heard that she was doing all right and no one was home when the fire started. Then, I was also told that one in the family started the fire for the insurance money. — Funny how such memories return after reading something so attention-grabbing.

  7. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back!

  8. Pingback: To Sniff or Not to Sniff? That is the Question. | patwoodblogging

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