Every lunchtime he sits on the bench in the park. The second one along past the bowling green, before the Rhododendrons and toilets. The middle slat at the back is broken, still unmended after a month, so he sits on the far end, his coat drawn up against the wind. His sandwich hangs limply in his hand, a small pool of mayonnaise slowly dripping from its tip.
Two women walk past. The sort who think of themselves as ‘young mums’ – high heels and crisp makeup beneath messy hair, skirts like thin ribbons below their waists, pushchairs rammed out in front of them like weaponry. In each chair a plump, motionless child, staring without expression at the world while the women talk above them. One blob lets a teddy slip from its immobile grip. The nearest woman – the redhead – stops and bends down, picks the toy up with a flick and flips it back into the buggy. As she bends her short skirt rides up like a crinkling bandage on smooth white legs, revealing a glimpse of pink cloth.
He jerks his head away quickly, watching where the seagulls squabble over a bag of spilt chips. They cry and flap, leaping up, the wind from their wings sending the paper bag dancing beneath them.
The clock tolls the quarter to the hour and he rises, stuffs the remains of his lunch into the overflowing bin and goes back to work. Raises an army. Smites a city with righteous fire. Informs a young man he will become a prophet of the Lord and all the Nations of the Earth shall praise his name. On the way home he buys a white sliced loaf, two scotch eggs and loo roll. He thinks about buying apples, but they look waxy and bland and expensive so he leaves them. He ought to eat more fruit. He forgets he needed milk.
His landlady is hanging about at the foot of the stairs.
‘Nice day, Mr C?’
He nods and heads past her.
‘Got any plans for the evening?’
He shakes his head as he fumbles for his key.
‘That’s nice then.’
She thinks he works in a bank.
He makes himself a supper of baked beans on toast, then sits, staring down at the plate with its toast crumbs and scrapes of orange sauce like trails of hair across the white. He puts his hand down between his legs. Gets up, puts the plate in the sink, goes over to the bed and sits down again. Puts his hand down and, looking away, undoes his flies, slips his hand inside. It feels smooth, clean, dry, empty. After a moment he feels foolish so he does his flies up and tries to think about the seagulls. Perhaps he should get a book about birdwatching.
The next day the redhead is back again. Alone this time. He watches her as she walks up. Listens to the clip, clip, clip of her shoes against the tarmac path, the faint rumble of the wheels of the push chair. Her face is harder when she isn’t talking, fixed into a sneer. As she comes closer he can see her legs are not smooth but covered with goose bumps. Each tiny dimple headed by a stubble of black hair. There are red marks on her ankles where the straps of her shoes bite in. Then she is past him and his lunch break is almost over. In another minute the clock will strike.
Shoes clip, clip, clip and he looks quickly down at his half-eaten scotch egg. Then her face is there, thrust right into his, a blast of hot air from her mouth.
‘What you looking at? You fucking pervert!’
His hand shakes, the orange of the scotch egg like a little golden sun in his hand.
‘I am an Angel of the Lord,’ he whispers, ‘I bring you tidings of… tidings of…’ he stares fixedly down at the egg ‘tidings…’
On the edge of his vision there is a flick of red hair as she pulls away.
‘Piss off, freak!’