He’d done it again.
‘Wash the devil out of your life!’ His deeply religious mother had yelled.
‘And what shampoo will I need for that?’ He’d spat back. ‘Wash and Go To Heaven?’
It spiralled to hell afterwards.
It was said amongst those who used to liked him that Carter had a quick wit. Too quick for others not to mutter how much of a git he was because of it.
It used to be a joy to carry such a tool. Though lately the speed of his tongue had become too fast to be stopped by his brain.
He’d lost friends, girls and gathered a lonely existence because of it.
As he turned fifty, and the only invitations he seemed to receive were to funerals, it had started to bother him.
An accident where he felt completely helpless ironically showed him a way to slow down the rapier tongue he swung without forethought.
It was a Saturday. Carter didn’t like Saturdays. Especially bright sunny Saturdays which promised blue skies all the live long day.
Because, alongside the aforementioned joyous warmth and lack of rain there trundled the slow and tedious traffic jams wherever he may roam. It didn’t matter if he wanted to drive up a mountain or at the bottom of a bloody river, glorious Saturdays were certain to provide slow moving traffic.
When eventually Carter had reached the end of a Saturday queue of coughing and spluttering motorised vehicles of every description there would then be his nightmare: bicycles.
The temptation to slip the wheel to the left and swipe away a pack, or a Bastard of Bicycles as he called them, proved very hard to resist.
‘Fat-arsed old men forced into Lycra should be illegal,’ Carter had told anyone who would listen for many a year.
Still, it was as illegal to kill them as it was to fit a rocket-launcher on to the front of his car. So he usually wound down the windows and wished them a happy demise as he passed. It made him feel a little better. Until the next Bastard of Bicycles crawled into view.
He reached the outskirts of Garsborough ready to scream and spotted a car park. This would be his salvation. Or so he thought.
Thirty minutes of circling the potholed pitiful excuse for a car park saw him unable to park and unable to reenter the slouching snake of traffic heading closer to town.
His AC was due for a recharge, so he was hot, sweaty and livid.
And there it was: an elderly driver, with as much speed as a dead trout, pulling out of a space up ahead.
He fought back the urge to get out of his car and cajole the OAP with words such as, ‘Hurry up! I’ve seen zombies reverse quicker,’ and, ‘Do you need a push and a defibrillator?’
When at last the old gentleman had plodded towards the exit with little need for more than one gear, Carter sped into the space and sighed with such voracity he nearly collapsed at the wheel.
Now for his next trick of dodging his way past Pavement Pillocks to the market without telling each dawdling denizen he had the misfortune to be stuck behind to check the batteries of their pacemakers.
But, before he could join that particular conga of bountiful joy he stopped as he climbed out of his car. He then frowned.
A small crowd had gathered at the entrance to the car park.
He grunted, locked the car and sauntered over to see if he couldn’t lend a pithy word or two.
When he arrived he found three middle aged men and a woman of the well-to-do tribe, all dried manure-coloured tweed and cravats, standing around a man sitting on the floor.
‘Is everything okay?’ Carter asked.
‘I think this chap maybe drunk,’ one of the men said behind his hand. ‘Walked straight out in front of a car, you know.’
‘Where’s the driver?’ Carter asked.
‘Well, he’s gone and buggered off,’ another man added, as if that was also the pedestrian’s fault.
Carter lowered himself to the seated man’s level.
‘You okay, buddy?’
‘We’ve called for an ambulance,’ the first well-to-do said.
It was only when the poor man looked up that Carter saw why they would call for an ambulance. The man’s face caused Carter to gasp. The poor man was a spectacle wearer. However, his spectacles were no longer sitting on the bridge of his nose as they should be. They were imbedded into the bridge of his nose and blood flowed to his quivering chin.
‘Can I get you anything, fella?’ Carter asked, his stomach turning, but trying not to show it.
The man shrugged.
‘What’s your name?’
Again the man shrugged.
‘I asked him that,’ the lady began, ‘but I think he’s just too inebriated to say.’
”So what’s your excuse for a lack of empathy?’ Carter spat before being able to stop himself.
‘I say!’ One of the men cut in. ‘You had better watch your lip, old boy. We called the ambulance didn’t we?’
‘Damn!’ Carter said. ‘And there’s me forgetting my collection of medals to give you all.’
He turned back to the injured party.
‘Are you hurting anywhere other than your nose, fella?’ He asked.
The man shrugged and pointed to his ears.
‘Your ears hurt?’ Carter asked.
The man shrugged once more.
‘You had better watch your tone, old boy?’ One of the men cut in.
‘And how does one watch one’s tone? I don’t see sounds. I hear them,’ Carter told the voice, before turning back to the injured man. ‘Can I ask, are you deaf?’
The man shrugged.
Carter repeated the words with more care.
The man gave the thumbs up and then began to sign. Carter, however, had never learned such a language. He had made fun of plenty of late night television for their silly signers, but hadn’t bothered to pick it up himself.
It had always amused him when he arrived home from the pub to see the signers in the corner of his television and wondered if all deaf people were night-owls and whether they were receiving secret messages about a deaf uprising that never came.
Now, looking down at the sorrowful man, he wished he had learned sign language.
An idea struck him.
‘You owe my friend an apology,’ one of the onlookers stated, standing in his way.
‘Okay,’ Carter began, dodging the man as he replied, ‘I’m sorry you bounced out of the bucket at birth. And I’m also sorry your mother was slapped instead of you.’
He then trotted over to his car, unlocked the passenger door and fished inside for a pen and a pad.
He ran back to find himself being punched in the face. Then punched and kicked some more. Carter was sure the pristine lady had even lent a boot or two to his groin.
As the stars in his eyes faded, the pad he had dropped as a result of the attack was handed back with the words: my name is Frank. Sorry about your nose.
It was Carter’s turn to shrug.
Within moments both Carter and Frank were being attended to by an ambulance crew who had turned up and it was then that an idea struck Carter.
It had been a long time since he had been beaten for his big gob and, at half a century old, he was getting too old to learn how to bob and weave. He could learn to clamp his lips shut, but Carter feared he was also too far gone for that too.
He knew what he had to do. It was extreme, and probably immoral, but it might just get him in people’s good books again:
Carter would feign deafness. Thereby giving him time to think of a nicer answer to sign rather than blurt out an offensive reply.
He kept in touch with Frank, who it turned out was a little drunk, but not a bad bloke for it, learned sign language and even got a job signing at music festivals and on television.
Until he threw in the odd swear word to see if it would be picked up and was promptly sacked.
Some people never learn.