Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Harry’s Balcony

Category: Issue 4, Short Story Winners

Harry’s Balcony
By M. Wilkinson

The balconies on two of the three apartment blocks faced inwards and overlooked a tarmac car park. The third block faced the sun and a tranquil view. I’ve often wondered if what happened to Harry would have been different had he lived in the third block.

Two days after he arrived and moved into the second floor apartment facing the car park, he appeared on the balcony. He placed a sun chair squarely in the middle and although shaded by the overhang of the one above and never enjoying a ray of sunlight, Harry shuffled the chair about as if its exact position was of paramount importance. His white hair, ruffled by a sharp March wind, gave the impression he was much older than his fifty odd years as he searched for a position that pleased him.

Harry did all his relaxing out there on a miserable north-facing balcony, overlooking a car park. He opened his door each morning at precisely eight-fifteen and checked his sun chair hadn’t shifted in the wind. He stood and regarded it with arms folded across his chest and then carefully wiped overnight damp from the blue plastic. Angling his buttocks dead centre, Harry lowered his lanky frame between the aluminium armrests and folded his legs, one over the other. After a moment of complete stillness, in which he took stock of the activities below, his uppermost leg began to dance. It was almost as if Harry were beating time to inner music. The pace of his leg action coincided with what was happening in the car park. For someone driving in or out or walking through, the action increased, at quiet times it pumped at a leisurely speed.

A copse surrounds the outskirts of our city housing. A momentary breath of magic hidden from view to the hundred apartments. The apartments are not built from rich red of Victorian brick or the elegant pale grey of stately homes, but insipid, middle of the road shades of beige. Beige people lived inside the walls and from his elevated position Harry watched them plod the pathways. Shoppers with plastic supermarket bags dangling at arms length, children on the way to school, the odd dog walker and Harry’s leg speeded with excitement.

Whatever the weather and even when it was dark, his day on the balcony ended at precisely ten o’clock. In the first few weeks after he arrived I thought Harry had a wife and family. He’d sit outside and shout back through the open door. Then I noticed he spoke to nonexistent people on the surrounding balconies. Sometimes he appeared to be having a fierce argument and leapt to his feet, waving his fists. He often shouted a greeting to me as I passed by and I’d wave. At other times he eyed me in silence, a morose look on his face, his chin sunk into his chest.

The English weather, as unpredictable as ever was blowing a small gale and Harry had strung a small washing line across his balcony. As I passed beneath, a shirts blew off the line and landed on the ground. I lifted it and looked up at him.

‘Harry, one of your shirts has blown off the line,’ I shouted.

He was staring at a reversing car. ‘Fuck off!’ he replied not taking his eyes off the car.

Undaunted I shouted again. ‘Shall I bring it up, Harry?’

‘Fuck off!’ he said again.

Seeing the futility of this exchange. I mounted the stairs and rang on his bell. Through the frosted glass pane in the door I saw Harry’s shadow. ‘What do you want me to do with your shirt, Harry?’ Needless to say I got the same reply as before and as the conversation wasn’t getting anywhere, I folded the shirt and tucked it by the collar under the letterbox flap. ‘It’s hanging on the door.’ I said.

The shirt moved slowly into the letterbox, stopping abruptly when it reached the thickest part. I heard muffled grunts from the other side as Harry endeavoured to pull it through. The sound of tearing was accompanied by Harry’s muttered ‘Fucks’ and a ping of shirt buttons as they flew off and landed at my feet.

That was my closest encounter with Harry. The window in front of my computer faced his apartment and watching Harry often broke my concentration as I tapped out my stories.  It was late February and bitterly cold. A thin coating of snow was a white sheet across the ground. I gazed through the window looking for some sort of inspiration in the whirling snowflakes. Harry appeared at his balcony door carrying a hard chair. He was muffled up in a scarf, black pull-on woollen cap and duffle coat. Long Johns coved his thin legs and his feet were bare. It wasn’t unusual to see Harry sitting outside in the snow and rain, but I did think his clothing somewhat odd and the reason he’d brought out a second chair intrigued me. Surely no visitor would sit out in the snow with him. I watched as he climbed up on the chair and steadied himself with one hand on the concrete of the overhanging balcony. He stood there a moment looking out over the almost empty car park, and then stepped forward onto the thin guardrail. I could see his pale toes curled over the edge of the iron. He got his balance, took his hand away and spread his arms. Looking like the Angel of North at the entrance to Tyneside, he teetered over the concrete pathway below. I leapt to the window and pushed it open.

‘No, Harry!’ I screamed. ‘Get down – now!’

Harry looked across at me. ‘Fuck off,’ he said as he launched himself out among the snowflakes.

I didn’t see Harry for a few weeks after the ambulance took him away. He’d broken a leg. Gossip flew and it appeared it wasn’t a suicide attempt. Harry had been drunk and thought he could fly. It seemed the old adage, *God looks after children and drunks,* was true in his case, for a couple of months later, after a spell in a mental facility. Harry was back on the balcony, watching over his car park and beating time with his mended leg.

It had been the hottest summer on record, when the police broke into Harry’s apartment. Someone had complained about the smell. It turned out the smell was Harry rotting, dead in the bedroom. He’d been there two weeks and no one had missed him, or if they did they thought like me, he had gone into some institution to be cared for. Harry sort of faded away, with no explanation. The authorities cleared out his belongings, but somehow they overlooked his sun chair. It sits out on his balcony abandoned and its emptiness is like an accusation.

Posted by littlewhitewolf on 09/13 at 06:49 AM | Permalink
(3) Comments

« Fall      Life Sentence »