East of Everything

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Arthur sat hunched with his hands folded over the handle of his cane, resting his chin, and stared at the man sat opposite, hidden behind a broadsheet. The rest of the carriage was empty and Arthur felt relaxed for the first time in days.

He tried to gauge the mood of his travelling companion from what little he could see of him, essentially the eight slight fingers holding up the day’s copy of The Telegraph.

‘Did you know, my good man, that your handsome right hand has never touched your rugged right elbow?’

Though his friend gave no outward sign of interest, Arthur knew he had caught his attention by the slowing of his breathing.

‘Look,’ said Arthur, holding up his hand and flapping it weakly. ‘I said look.’

With careful, affected movements his small friend folded the paper down and placed it on his lap neatly. He removed his small round sunglasses and lifted his blue eyes to take in Arthur, who’s smile was creasing his bald head and face like a baby’s.

‘It’s quite impossible to touch, see?’ Arthur said triumphantly, wiggling his fingers.

Chris smiled slowly, his blue eyes never leaving the opposite man’s slate greys.

‘Would you like it to?’ he said, gesturing to Arthur’s wrist with a swift nod of his head.

Arthur smiled in terror, wetting his lips and pushing his tongue between the wide gap in his front teeth, before quickly dropping his hand.

The small stern man watched Arthur for a few seconds longer, in case he had anything more to add, then, satisfied that this would be the end of it, picked up his paper and turned to the sports page.

The young man on the front page of Chris’ newspaper stared out at Arthur with a self-assured smirk. Arthur recognised the jet black hair, the thick pout and those deep-set, grey eyes that held nothing at all.

Madoc Montgomery was still wanted for questioning in connection with the deaths of two men: a drifter, drug addict and father of four, Nathan Nnah, who was last seen by friends with Montgomery in the early hours of New Year’s day, and who’s body had been discovered trapped in a weir two days later; and most recently, René Dubois-Williams, who had tragically fallen to his death at a wake a day after Nnah was discovered. Some witnesses said that René had jumped, others that he was pushed—and fingered Madoc as the culprit. The article cited René’s flawless character, his kindness to his mother, and his model girlfriend. Madoc was described as bitter, vindictive and depressive—a loner with few friends, and in his current state, a likely danger to himself and others.

The man in that photograph looked like he could be all of those things and more, and Arthur wondered what would become of him. He rubbed his head absent-mindedly, enjoying the warmth of his fingers running over his scalp, white and smooth as a boiled egg. The cut didn’t suit him: his head was a little too small and his ears too big and nose too long, while the week-old goatee clinging to his chin lent him the look of a fetishist.

Facing, as he was, away from the direction of travel, Arthur squinted at the receding city and thought of the life he had left behind—so small and mean, he had been able to shed it as easily as he had his hair. Ahead of him lay the Channel, France, Spain and then warm Africa: Cairo to Tangiers, Mogadishu to Timbuktu, the dark continent lay waiting for Arthur’s grubby light. He would never again return to this island, that much was true—he had run through everyone he knew.

Arthur started, fumbling for his pocket, then relaxed when he felt the reassuring shape of his new passport. He laid his dome against the cool glass of the window, raised a long finger, and slid the back of it over the pane, fancying he could level whole houses with a single stroke, fell the trees that flew by with a quick flick of his digit.

Sunlight cut through grey rainclouds and into the carriage, breaking into an inch-long rainbow that sliced across the back of his palm. Outside, snowdrops shook as they sped by. In the green fields beyond new lambs harangued their poor, milking mothers and further still, Arthur could sense the sea, welcoming him with open arms and hungry mouth as it had done for so many desperate men before him, to fresh starts and forgiving shores. Arthur DeBoer settled back into his seat, placing his snarling silver wolf cane in his lap, and smiled his gappy grin.

It was spring; England was tipping toward the sun again.

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