My friend Dusty


Eddie Hardman  

The preacher clapped his hands disdainfully the dust billowing like clouds of mites from an old mattress. The early morning sun streaking through the mist and cold">



My friend Dusty


Eddie Hardman  

The preacher clapped his hands disdainfully the dust billowing like clouds of mites from an old mattress. The early morning sun streaking through the mist and cold, highlighting the particles of crusty flakes. Red flowers white carnations and green leaves becoming softer, out of focus in the haze created by the dust. Contrasting with the ashes floating passively around them like some wispy nightmare that wasn't frightening. As kids, they'd had their squabbles, but they'd always remained friends.

‘Your attitude doesn't seem right mate’, he mumbled, though unheard, at the preacher. That's no way to treat him… not him, my friend isn't just a pile of dust you can shake off yer hands! He wanted to cry through gritted teeth… but not here, not in front of this lot. It wasn't their business how he felt anyway.

His mind in a dream his memories playing games he recalled with pain how once, they'd gone a whole month without speaking. Can't remember why?… He came around to the house, right out of the blue. Didn't even ask, just turned up without a by-your-leave or anything. Just walked in and sat down in my chair and said "E… put yon kettle on lad" as if nothing had happened. To this day he doesn't know why he obeyed, smiling now, glad that he had. After all what they'd been through together since they were kids, what else could he do?  Even the war didn’t separate them.

He's not just some dusty old… lost for words, angry. Why me!… why me… ya sod… you silly bloody sod… the anger and the tension building. The crying still would not come his shoulders began to shake, but not with the cold.

Its not as if they'd had a skin full, it was no different than any other Friday night they'd met as they usually did at the pub. His memory playing tricks as he drifted back in time to that fateful night. He thought he saw a misty ash again as he visualized the bar, it was only cigarette smoke, a haze that seemed to transform itself into clouds of dust and ash floating in the early morning sun. His memories of the two events merging into the past and the present, blurring into one.

'Yer sod!' Was all the old man could muster as he shivered in the cold morning sun, it was the strongest thing he could think of to say under the circumstances; even that not out loud in fear his voice would tremble, reveal his feeling, expose him, strip him of his dignity. Later, on his own, not here, not in front of this lot. Silly bloody lot. It’s him… its only bloody him. Shaking his head, his nose beginning to drip, or was it his eyes.

It was a good night in the pub that last night, although most of their nights were good… reminiscing about the old days. Remember that day! We were only kids. We let old Grantham's bull out the paddock and it run amok through the village, they laughed again at the fun they'd had, but no one knew why.

They even got married the same day, to two sisters, good women, and a real family affair. Mischievously, they'd compared notes about their respective bosses, or how to hoodwink their wives, they even planned where their next holiday would be as a surprise for them, always together.

All in the past now, but the things they'd done together. The look when the subject touched on the old playing field, cricket, footy, and the girls, remember the girls! now laughing because only they understood. Rye knowing smiles on the faces of fellow drinkers who had heard the gossip. That night was… well, it was one to remember… Oh deary me yes! Tears running down their cheeks with laughter… He was sobbing now… How can you be on top of the world one minute and so down the next?

They'd set off home together as usual when the pub shut, he’d thought he just fallen down drunk. 'Come on!… stop messing about' he said impatiently, 'what game is this you silly sod, get up! And stop messing about!', a little louder this time. Beginning to shout, not wanting to admit his fears to himself, knowing and not wanting to know. Calling for help yet hoping it wouldn't be needed, everything happening in slow motion. They'd always carried each other home on Friday nights, he protested.

'We said together, both of us together yer sod. Or at least me first, you knew I wouldn't be able to cope!'. His thoughts running headlong to… to... to where he didn't know. 'What the hell are you doing, going first, out of turn again, pushing ahead again!'. He blinked up at the sky a little conciliatory, his voice softer, 'What's it like!?', a flicker of a smile…. 'Yer sod'… 'All knowing now ain't yer, think yer know it all now don't' ya. Left me behind on me todd and now yer laughing at me ain't ya, I'll fix ya, ya old sod'. The ache in his heart was too much to bear. Our ashes together on the playing field, together we said, it was agreed when we went to war! yer old sod.

The ash dust was still drifting in the cold sunlight, it didn't want to land. It seemed to hover there like as if it had decided to stay aloft, as if the old man was still living in its molecules, watching them all, raising in the still air to their level and staring at them looking onto their eyes. "Watch him, take care of him, he's only a silly old bugger, he's harmless… It wont be long mate."

A smile lit the old codgers face or was it sunlight sliding majestically across the craggy landscape of a face, its warmth causing him to realize he was colder than he'd thought. Or was it something else, a glow, an inner warmth and peace. His head sank, his shoulders dropped he began to sag, falling to his arthritic knees as hands reached out to steady himself.

He could hear a strange noise, a cry of anguish, who was that? Not realising it was he. Someone grabbed his arm as the ash began to settle on his coat, mingling with his gray hair, falling all around him like a soft covering of pure white snow. Someone patted him on the back saying, 'there! there!' A gloved hand darted out to brush the ash from his hair and then stopped, how could they dust his friend off him? He heard a voice from somewhere deep inside saying "My friend is not dusty… that's my name, I'm called Dusty!

As they carried him back to the car, the voice continued… It won't be long mate! As the ash finally settled on the damp grass.  


The End