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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Homelessness of Kenneth Fleetwood - Chapter 6


He looked at the enormous photo of Spiv, bedecked with flowers and wreathed with black silk. It seemed more like an advertisement for a lounge singer in the piano bar than a solemn memorial image.

Shouldn't his kin have found a photo in which Spiv looked serious, pondering the larger questions of existence? He looked like he'd just come back from Ibiza.

At least they'd converted the photo to black and white. Monochrome added a semblance of distance from the event, like it had happened long ago, back when Michael Caine was doing Alfie perhaps.

Kenneth supposed the real Spiv would be a deep shade of purple now, as no one had found him for three days. The poor dear lad had hung like a forgotten Christmas ornament for 72 hours.

4320 minutes.

259,200 seconds.

Seconds just like this ONE. Or this ONE. Or this ONE.

Kenneth tried to imagine the initial drop. He wondered if Spiv had felt regret as his windpipe was restricted. Perhaps he had fought, realising that life on the dole wasn't actually that bad. At least you could see films during the day. And tellie could be a nice distraction.

"Did you know him well?" a woman asked.

Kenneth turned to see a pretty girl in a flowery dress and black hat. She was in her late 30s, had familiar eyes. "We worked together."

"I'm his sister, Beth."

"Ah, of course. Kenneth."

They shook hands and stood in silence looking at Spiv's eerie smile. They'd certainly photoshoped his teeth. No more tobacco stains. His skin looked smoother as well, buffed and cleansed of imperfections. He might have been selling aftershave.

"He took the redundancy hard," Kenneth said.

"He was working through a great number of issues," Beth said. "But I suppose you would have known that being his friend and all."

Kenneth didn't feel it appropriate to say they mostly mocked clients and talked football. He hadn't even known Spiv had a sister. He hadn't really ever thought of Spiv outside a two-block radius of the office.

"Were you close?" Kenneth asked.


"I thought he had things locked down," Kenneth said.

"That's just the point. He pushed the pain deep until it erupted in this final call for help."

They lingered for a respectable amount of time.

"Shall we?"

She took Kenneth's arm like he was a gentleman leading her across the threshold into a grand ball. It wasn't the sort of thing one could protest. The room was deep and mostly empty, with black suits and dresses in the front two rows and a smattering of peripherals elsewhere.

Two men in Arsenal shirts sat on folding chairs near the door. Add Bovril and a pie and Kenneth would be tempted to ask the score.

They made their way toward the sanctum of family. Kenneth thought about politely disconnecting his arm and stepping into an aisle, but Beth's was clasped tight in grief. The spasms of her sobs vibrated against his skin.

Kenneth nodded to an older couple and sat down beside Beth, who erupted into wails of grief, like an Arab woman. He had never been a great believer in Keep Calm and Carry On - it seemed a recipe for subserviance - but raw agony was much worse. A quiet tear, a partial collapse onto a nearby shoulder, surely that was enough.

The older woman reached a hand across.

"I'm Helen, David's mother."

He'd forgotten his coworker had a proper name. Even management had called him Spiv, which was refreshing in these political correct times. Kenneth introduced himself. Her face brightened.

"Why of course. David spoke of you often. The football, lunches at the pub, the Christmas parties. And of course your witticisms. He said you brought real levity to the office."

He and Spiv had eaten lunch at the pub no more than three times in five years, and the only parties they had attended were tepid office affairs. He wondered if there was another Kenneth at JobsPlus.

"We appreciate the support you're giving Beth in this dreadful time," she continued. "Depression runs in the family."

"Helen," the gentleman said.

At this point the Middle Eastern wails gathered strength as Beth broke into another sob drawn deep from her larynx (which the ancients and Celine Dion might call their souls). It reminded Kenneth of the time he had stepped on Barry's tail while getting a glass of water in the night.

Spiv's father put a stiff hand on his wife's shoulder. She dabbed a small tear from her eye and looked forward, as if waiting stoically for her stop, leaving Beth careening in empty space. Kenneth realised people were looking at him in dismay. He put an arm around Beth.

She buried her face into his shirt.

"Thank you. Thank you, Kenneth."

He wished he'd had a proper bath and put on a clean shirt.


  1. This comes as too much of a shock - or perhaps that was deliberate - to echo the real shock of death. Even so, I think it'd be good to know that he'd been made redundant too - before this. They could meet in the pub and have an increasingly angry conversation about it - perhaps there's an awkward moment when Spiv says something too far. Do it. Do it now. Or at least write the rest of the novel. I want to know what happens!

  2. Goodness, Louise, you're far too kind. Thank you for all of your comments. My attempt was to be brutally honest about the current state of affairs. Alas, I seem to have lost my mojo with the story. Perhaps I'll find it again with some rumination. Many thanks again. Nate