My good friend Tom Crowley used to run a monthly zine called The Paper and I'd write the occasional thing for it. This was one of those and was written in the Cable Cafe on Brixton Road, inspired by a washed out picture of a cow they have up on the wall.
A flask. Sip, cough, too hot. Coffee buzzed behind Henry’s eyes as he fiddled with a camera. A touch screen in the rain.
“What?” he asked the camera, which was offering to balance his whites. He moved a drip around - the image went sepia. Rain collected on his eyebrows and ran down his nose. Without thinking about it, he stuck out his lower lip and swallowed the dripping water. Sepia would do.
His brother, Jeremy (43) ran a carpentry business in the centre of town, and lived above the shop with his family. Parental favouritism had given Jeremy the confidence and charisma which made him the centre of parties. He was well travelled, funny, discussed politics with detached intelligence. Henry (49) had taken over the farm. Alone.
He’d said in the pub: “Bought a cow. Massive.”
“Yeah?” Jeremy had half listened. His dart hit double fifteen.
“No, she’s not.”
Iris had been a regular fixture in the dairy when they were children. She had caused comment.
Jeremy’s dart had hit the double twenty. His daughter had hugged his leg.
Now, the massive cow posed in the rain. Click. Sepia cow. Henry Andrews (looks 55) drove into town. There was a machine in Boots that developed pictures quick.
The hospital café was long and thin. It had been a hallway but common sense decreed that visitors could very easily take the stairs up to the first floor corridor, cross the landing by the vending machines, go through the doors, left past the offices, through the other doors, right under the arch, through a third set of doors, and then back down the stairs that led to the staff car park. It sold doughnuts.
Jeremy’s children were very brave. Their father lay somewhere upstairs, breath slow and creaking. Mary (7) read a comic and Betty (5) coloured in a picture of a teacher. The teacher had an apple. She coloured it green. Uncle Henry came back from the counter with a tray.
“Orange juice for Mary,” he said.
“Thank you,” said Mary.
“And orange juice for Betty.”
“Thank you,” Betty looked up from colouring, she sighed a grown-up sigh.
“Betty,” said Uncle Henry, putting down an orange juice for Henry, “would you like to pay the man for me?”
He gave her his wallet.
“Give him four pounds and fifty pence.” Four thick brown discs and an angular silver one sat in the coin purse.
Betty kept hold of her colouring book as she left on her mission.
A man appeared at Uncle Henry’s shoulder. He wore a heavy knit pullover.
“Their father’s dying. Bring the girls up.”
Henry and Mary picked Betty up from the till. The barista was leafing through the wallet’s notes section. Henry ushered the girls out, then hurried back, grabbed the wallet, pulled something out, gave the wallet back again, and sped to his nieces.
“What’s that?” asked Betty.
“Oh. A cow,” said Henry.