what did you just say? (short story 1,865 words)

Warning: this short story contains some swear words, implied nudity and chauvinistic ‘pigotry’, all deemed as essential to the plot.

Finally, what took you so long? It’s a bit late to still be lazing around in bed. Here, take the bloody parcel, I’ve got a shed-load to get through this morning and I’m falling behind just by talking to you. You’ve absolutely no idea.”
Hearing this, and as the injured party, Patrick adopted a passive defensive posture of exasperated disbelief.
“Come on-” he began – but the courier had already walked off and did not look back.
“For fuck’s sake, it’s a Saturday isn’t it?” Patrick said under his breath, as he retreated the two steps back through the front door of the cottage, ducking his head under the door frame.
“What the fuck?”

Stood in the bath underneath the inadequate jets of the shower head, he ruminated over the incident, replaying the scene while enacting different, incisive come-backs to the courier’s hurtful words. Comforting, warm rivulets of water ran down his face, encouraging rationale to take root and explain-away the incident.
She was just being a grumpy cow having a bad morning, get over it, he thought. The reflection in his shaving mirror agreed, let it go and move on.

The radio in the kitchen filled an acoustic void, accompanied only by the irregular percussive noise produced by Patrick as he washed-up the plate, cutlery and several glasses from the day before. His attention tuned in and out of the broadcast, intrusive thoughts flashing through his mind as he soaped and rinsed the plastic trays previously set aside for recycling.

“…and we’re heading straight over to our chief political editor Andrew Martin, who’s in Downing Street for us now. Andrew, we understand the Prime Minister is about to make an announcement, just how much longer is she going to keep us all waiting?”

“Peter, I know, this is the question many of the miserable turds in the press pack gathered here this morning are asking. I can report that within the last few moments we’ve been issued with a short, hand-written statement, which reads as follows: ‘The Prime Minister is relieved to announce her resignation today. She has been completely stressed-out since taking the job, is sick to death of being sniped at, can’t abide her cabinet colleagues, hates factory visits and has basically had enough. She doesn’t need the money,’ it says, ‘nor the prestige, and her immediate plan is to retire to Brighton where she has family.’ Back to you in the studio, Peter.”

“Fuck me,” Patrick said out loud, “that’s just weird.” He tuned in to another station catching the end of a classical piece, followed by a reverential silence, eventually broken by a softly spoken voice.

“… And that was taken from Act 1 of Tristan und Isolde, by that anti-semitic arse-hole polemicist, Richard Wagner. Next up we have a request from Dorothy, who’s written in from Worthing-“

“Heh!” Patrick laughed to himself, “full marks for honesty.”
He switched off the radio, grabbed a breakfast banana, his hat, jacket and keys, and headed out through the front door. Across the road, his neighbour Mr Rogers stood outside the gate leading to his house. Neatly rolled-up shirt sleeves hugged his elbows as he grappled with leads pulled taut by his two beagles, both frantically sniffing around on the ground.
“Morning Mr Rogers!” Patrick waved.
“Morning Patrick! Isn’t it a beautiful day that our Lord God has blessed us with?”
“Um,” Patrick stumbled his reply, “well, yes, um, it’s nice to see the sun is out.”
Although known to Patrick as a regular church-goer, Mr Rogers’ mentioning of God within the context of their greetings exchange, struck him as an entirely new occurrence.
What a funny morning, he thought, as he climbed into his car.

In the post office, Patrick joined a queue, recognising André, the chef from the local restaurant, standing in front of him.
“Good morning André.”
Looking around, André, bleary-eyed, managed a smile.
“Are you okay? You look like you’ve had a bit of a night.”
“Yeh, I’ve had a bit of a night,” the chef replied, “I walked home from town last night, got in at four this morning, I’m not really awake yet.”
Mr Dickinson, possibly the shortest man in the room and also a retired  accountant, looked around from his position in front of André.
“Ah, the Jamaican Casablanca we call him!” he said in a mocking tone, nodding his head at André and directing a theatrical wink at Patrick.
“You mean Casanova, Mr Dickinson?” Patrick corrected, then immediately felt awkward and taken over by an impulse to apologise to André.
“Nah you’re alright,” André waved his apology away, “he’s the dick.”
Silence fell upon the queue, save for the occasional shuffle of shoes, the clearing of a throat or a short cough to accompany the small-talk passing through the glass divide at the post office counter.
Nisha appeared from the stock room and began replenishing the carousel card stand from the cardboard box she carried. She acknowledged Patrick, they swapped friendly smiles and short greetings. With the queue static, he watched as she re-stocked each individual rack, noting how she made allowance for size, thickness and the type of occasion being celebrated.
Upon reaching the counter, Patrick read a glowering expression across the postmaster’s face.
“Good morning,” Patrick said, “everything okay?”
“Let me tell you,” the reply shot back, each word wrapped in hostility, “I don’t like you looking at my daughter in that way, lusting after her! For God’s sake man, you must be nearly twice her age! How do you think it feels as a father forced to watch you behave in such a way towards my daughter?”
“Mr Chaudhary,” Patrick was shocked, “Mister Chaudhary, please… I was not lusting after your daughter. There’s been a complete misunderstanding, I assure you – you are fully mistaken!”
“Don’t think I don’t know, I can tell!” The postmaster replied, thumping an inked rubber stamp onto a previous customer’s envelope.
“Mr Chaudhary-” Patrick began, his face flushed red with embarrassment, but before able to continue, a voice piped up from the back of the queue.
“She does have a lovely pair of tits.”
Patrick spun around, wide-eyed, recognising the voice and face of another village retiree. With a grin spread wide across his face, the old man flexed his bony fingers, his hands cupping a pair of large, imaginary breasts positioned in front of him.
“I’m sorry sir, I don’t know your name,” Patrick said, “but you’re bang out-of-order there.” Patrick blew his cheeks out, glancing at Nisha as he turned back around to face Mr Chaudhary. “Look, I’m terribly sorry, somehow I feel responsible for that outburst-”
“I would do her.” Came another voice.
“Me too.”
Other men in the queue began openly voicing agreement with each other. Patrick glanced over his shoulder in time to witness a contribution from a middle-aged woman.
“Oh what I’d give for a night with Nisha.”
“Two nights!” came another voice.
“Two minutes!” came one more.
Resting his hands upon the edge of the counter, Patrick closed his eyes in an attempt to re-centre himself.
“Mr Chaudhary,” he said after a pause, “I – I am so sorry for all this. Look,  I’m going, I am taking my leave, I think it’s for the best. I am so very, very sorry.”
“That’s fine, fuck-off then – Next please!”
Shocked by the abrupt dismissal, Patrick obediently gave way and without looking up at the people in the queue, headed toward the exit. As he passed Nisha, he felt split, should he glance at her apologetically – or just get out of the nightmare? Nisha made the decision for him, her hand slipped around the crook of his arm.
“What is it you wanted Patrick?” she said.
“Oh, just some stamps, a book of second class stamps.”
“Six or twelve?  I can sell you stamps from behind the shop kiosk.” Nisha motioned towards the sales counter at the front of the post office.
“Look Nisha,” Patrick said, “thank you, I’m really sorry about what’s just happened, I’m not even sure if I can quite believe-”
“It’s okay Patrick, it’s not the first time, they are mostly a bunch of wankers. Let me get you your stamps, six or twelve?”
Whilst brought back to a place of relative calm by Nisha’s intervention, her use of the word ‘wankers’ left him perplexed. He’d been aware of Nisha soon after she’d started working in the shop to help out her father. Granted, up until now, their exchanges had been restricted to polite pleasantries over small sales transactions. And yet, recalling her words, they are mostly a bunch of wankers, somehow didn’t sit right with his impression of her. He wondered if  he’d misheard, although within the context, the assertion fitted.

Sat back inside the safe cocoon of his car, Patrick mulled over the previous fifteen minutes of his life, mumbling to himself as he did so.
“Lovely big tits… hang-on, did he say that – or did I just think he said that? What if he’d said something completely different, something sounding like ‘big tits’? Could it have made all that followed completely innocuous?”
In his approach to this, Patrick decided upon a methodology by working through and applying each consonant of the alphabet to form new words to rhyme with ‘tits’.
“Bits? Big bits? What could he have meant by that? No, big… chips? Big drips, dips, fits, gits, hits, licks, big mitts…?” And so on. At reaching the letter ‘Z’, he concluded the old man couldn’t have been referring to her ‘lovely big zits’, as Nisha had a relatively clear complexion. His memory of the events inside the post office began to merge together and blur. With his forehead resting against the steering wheel, he could barely recall what anyone had actually said anymore, aside from how many stamps he’d asked for.

Clearing his mind, I’ll call Gina popped up into the space created.
“Hi Gina, how’s it going?”
“Patrick? What’s up, you okay?”
“Yeah-yeah-yeah, well, no, well-” he wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject.
“What are you ringing for? asked Gina.
“What am I ringing for?” Patrick replied, slightly taken aback by the directness of Gina’s question.
“Well, you’re a text-buddy Patrick, aren’t you. You never call.”
“Well, okay, yes – we do tend to text mostly, but we’re friends Gina, aren’t we? It’s okay to call now-and-again, isn’t it?”
“Sure, we’re friends, but we mostly text each other Patrick. We’ve never spoken on the phone before, not in seven years of knowing each other.”
“Yes, but Gina, we meet-”
“-About three-to-four times a year we meet, for a coffee… if you’re feeling like it.”
Gina, are you mad at me?”
“No Patrick, I’m just telling you how it is.”
“You’re telling me how it is?” a light bulb flickered inside of Patrick’s head, “You, and everyone else, you’re all telling me ‘how it is’. What the fuck’s happened to the world? No shame, no filter and no empathy! Everyone is saying exactly what they’re thinking!”
“What are you talking about Patrick? I’m bored now, I’ll tell you what, send me a text when you’ve sorted your head out, and I’ll get back to you at some point.”

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