The whole terrace of houses had been replaced with Easter eggs. That’s what it looked like. Or maybe pine cones. That’s probably what they’re meant to evoke- pine cones standing on their fat bases in the sun- but I can’t help but see easter eggs. The kind that were filled with toffee, they were always a little too elongated to be properly ovoid. It doesn’t help that they’re brown. I’m sure that’s part of the pine cone motif as well, but it just reminds me of chocolate.
I’m still a few streets from where I’m heading, the address sent to me by Sally from Keith’s email address. But I have to know how they came to be here. They’re set further back from the street than the houses they’ve replaced, I reckon, and each has a small garden out front. In many cases the garden extends around the egg house, as they’re detached from each other, to further greenery at the rear. The gardens are mostly given over to practical plants- herbs and root vegetables, one garden is filled with the familiar large leaves of potatoes.
I must be looking lost, or confused, because the guy working in the garden I pass half way down the street steps up to his gate, “Are you looking for someone?”
“No, I…. Well, not on this street. I was just surprised by these buildings.”
I guess he’s in his fifties, greying but still lean. When he stands up straight he’s a little shorter than me. He gives me that ‘You’re not from around here.’ look. I’m getting used to it, but I’m worried that there’s sometimes hostility behind it. I can understand it, there’s not been a lot of movement within and between countries unil the last few months. And, of course, so much of the troubles of the last few years started with strangers coming to town. But this guy is curious, maybe a little defensive, nothing to get too nervous about.
“Where have you come in from?” That he would understand without me mentioning it is a little unexpected. He smiles, “You have the look.”
“The look? I just got back from France a few days ago.”
“Where in France?”
“Paris when it kicked off, Apt most recently.”
“That’s where the last of them were rounded up, wasn’t it?” he steps back and opens the gate, inviting me in. ‘Rounded up’ is far too tame to describe the events down in the south of France, but I haven’t found the right words for it yet either, and I was there.
“You chase trouble?”
“I guess I do. Did. I’ve come home now.”
There is a large bush of Rosemary inside the gate. I rub the leaves and savour the smell. There’s a patch of squash taking up the rest of the front garden. “Are you self sufficient, then?”
“Off this small a patch? Not likely. But I have an allotment on the old park. It’s still not enough, but I do well off it. But you were really interestedc in the house.”
“Yes.” There’s a little, cartoony, porch. He opens the door and beckons me inside. The room is circular, as I’d expect, with a spiral staircase in the middle. It’s split, with a low work surface, a breakfast bar even, into a living room and kitchen. There is ample light from several portholes high up on the wall. “It’s a little poky, but not much more than the old place. And I don’t have much crap left to fill it up with any more either.”
“How did a whole street get replaced with these things?”
“It was burnt down, in the riots. These pods were a quick and cheap way to replace them. They bulldozed the rubble into the house’s own basements, concreted them over and dropped these in their place. They’re manufactured locally too, lots of recycled materials. I think it was a bit of a publicity stunt, the factory that produces them has never been so busy.”
“There’s two bedrooms upstairs and a toilet through that door there. The walls are about this thick” he does the cliche fisherman thing with his hands, “so it’s warm in winter and cool in summer without needing any heating or air conditioning. I miss my old house, and all the stuff I had in it, but this place is a good home. Would you like some tea?”
I’m beginning to think that I may have happened upon a lonely man looking for any sort of company he can find when there’s a knock at the door. “It’s open!” he shouts.
A black boy in his early teens or late tweens comes in. He’s wearing a hoodie and jeans and carrying a box under his arm. “Mum said to give you this mister Robinson.”
I admit, I take a step back when Robinson pulls the from the box. I’ve seen a few guns in the last five years, and their arrival rarely bodes well. This one is practically a toy, a skinny little child’s drawing of a gun with a skinny barrel mounted on a small wooden frame and stock. It’s still too bulky to be an air rifle, perhaps a .22. I make a guess on how quickly I can get out of the door and over the gate.
Robinson lays the gun on the counter and lays a box of shells and a telescopic sight beside it. “Thanks Sammy.” The boy notices me, or acknowledges me, for the first time. He cocks his head to one side, curious at my presence. “Oh, Sammy, I was just telling mister?”
“I was just telling mister Jones about my house. He’s just got back from France. I’m sure he has a few interesting tales to tell. One day.”
“One day.” Who am I kidding, I’ve got the book deal already. That one day had best be soon to justify the advance.
“I’m going hunting tomorrow.” Robinson answers my unvoiced question about the gun. “Sammy’s mother is a gunsmith, self taught, she looks after my gun and packs the bullets for me.”
I’m beginning to relax again, the explanation seems plausible enough. The gun may even have been legal, back in the days when that mattered. “What do you hunt?”
“Vermin mainly. It’s pest control and a source of meat. Two birds with one stone.”
“Well, squirrels mostly. There are still lots of greys in the city. American invaders, it’s quite apt. How are you with a gun?”
“Far more experienced than I’d like. And quite a good shot, to be honest.”
“Join me tomorrow, about noon.”
“Okay. I never did like those little grey bastards.”
“I should be going.” Sammy announces, “Shoot lots of them mister Robinson.”
“Okay Sammy. Tell your mother thanks. I have a new batch of wine if she wants to pop over for a drink later.” They both blush, because they both know what that really means.
After the boy leaves Robinson puts the ordnance back in the box. “He’s a good kid. His father left when he was just six. And his mother and I have been…..” he puts the box on a shelf above the sink. “I wish he’d call me George. I offered you tea.”
When the kettle is on he comes back around the breakfast bar “Is your name really Jones?”
“There was a Jones who kept, what’s the word? Blogging, from France. He got quite a following. When the network was up long enough to read it.”
“Yes. I spent a lot of time with him.”
“And then one day he just walks down my street. Who would have thought I’d have a brush with fame today.”
“I’m not that famous.”
“Do you often strike up conversations with strangers and then invite them to use you gun?”
“Not often. But then again, strangers don’t often walk down my street.”