Out of Tune - excerpt

 Out of Tune

December 1981

A pair of desert boots heralds a Christmas to remember

  “Thanks, mate,” Nat spoke the words automatically without looking up as the coin dropped into his battered tin. The shoes of the giver remained static on the pavement in front of him. Usually, after the minimal pause to drop a coin, they passed on fairly quickly that’s if they paused at all. He stopped playing his guitar, cocking his head on one side to examine the shoes more thoroughly. Boots he suddenly thought, not shoes, not in the proper sense, desert boots, yeah, that was the name for them, because of their colour he supposed, which would blend in with sand. Though quite why that was desirable was beyond him. If you were trekking through the desert surely your only concerns would be comfort and water. Colour coordinating with the sand would be the last thing on any list of priorities. He’d seen boots like this before, he was sure of it, only less scuffed than this pair. This pair had obviously been well worn. There was a dark stain on the left front toecap and he resisted an urge to lick his finger and attempt to rub it off.

  “So,” said a smooth rich voice. “This is what you do instead of keeping your appointments with John?”

Nat stared harder at the boots. Even in the gathering dusk of a winter afternoon they bore a faintly disapproving look. He allowed his eyes to travel up the smart jeans to the brown cord jacket, and on to a very familiar and most definitely disapproving face. His stomach twisted sharply, a movement reflected by his mouth. “Well, well,” his lip peaked into an alpine sneer. “If it isn’t a wise man returned from the East. Did you find your Messiah then?”

Gordon Trapp gave the pavement dweller a measured look, but otherwise paid the comment no heed, pointing at the guitar that Nat had balanced on his knees instead. “I thought we’d made a contract that this kind of activity belonged to your old way of life?”

  “Well, as you know, contracts are fragile things and so easily broken it’s almost like they’re made of glass.” Nat casually picked at the strings of his guitar, playing a melody that was deliberately out of tune, “and I’ve got to earn the rent money somehow, doc.”

Folding his arms, Gordon sent a censorious look down the full length of his imposing nose. “Yes, I heard you’d left your job, and your college course too I believe. How long have you been sitting there? You look absolutely frozen.”

Nat shrugged. “An hour, two hours, a while, does it matter?” He felt suddenly tearful, bending his head in order to hide the evidence. He’d actually been there since ten that morning, aside from a short break at lunchtime when he’d sojourned to the pub in order to spend his morning earnings. His rent money was already three weeks in arrears and he figured another week wouldn’t make that much difference. Once seated on the pavement again, he found he lacked the energy to move, as well as the motivation to perform. He’d spent the best part of the afternoon staring mindlessly into space interspersed with playing the odd tune, if only to stop his fingers from freezing solid.

Gordon silently took in Nat’s soiled clothing, his greasy unkempt hair and general air of neglect and the fact that he’d lost a fair amount of weight since last he saw him. Several emotions vied for supremacy. Setting aside shock, disappointment and anger, he chose concern. “You could at least have worn a jacket, that top is practically threadbare and no protection against weather like this. Come on. You can’t sit out here all evening. It’s already getting frosty. I’ll give you a lift home, my car’s not far away.”

Nathaniel tilted back his head, “don’t tell me,” he gave a mocking grin, “your contribution to care in the community is offering a taxi service to the lunatic fringe. What next, a stint in the down and out soup kitchens? Oh of course, you already do that, Saint Trapp, counsellor to the dispossessed, inept and socially hopeless.”

Gordon squatted down. “What on earth are you playing at, man? You haven’t kept an outpatients appointment in almost six weeks. You’re obviously not looking after yourself, just look at you. You’re filthy and you smell, Nat, you actually smell. Do you want to end up being readmitted to the ward, do you?  John...”

  “John can go to hell!” Nat’s temper surged and he lurched to his feet almost losing his balance as his legs, cold and stiff from sitting on the freezing pavement for so long, refused to support him. He roughly shook away Gordon’s hand as it reached to steady him. “You’re not currently my therapist, so it’s none of your damn business anyway.”