Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Known only as ‘Cranky’, the relentless handle-turner could have handled Turners, if only he’d been an art dealer. Instead, in Cranky’s head, unrealised dreams accrue on the barren shores of the coast of his imagination. Insubstantial memories over twenty or more years cluster vaguely round his buried fears. Long ago, he did someone a good turn and once he fell in love with a woman. Is it her for whom, at night, he’ll yearn?
What does he earn turning handles? Not a lot. What does he learn spurning vandals? He learns it’s not worthwhile. He slowly blinks, forgets to smile, trudging home mile after mile.
Fifty-two, Cranky feels there’s nothing new or inspiring. His life is stale. So are his clothes and his breath. His days are empty yet still he fears death. At night, he dreams the Reaper calls to chop off his head and squeeze his balls. Awake in a sweat at three a.m., he asks himself from where do his fears stem? Turning things over in his mind, he knows he will find no answers, no real peace, but just like when he’s turning his handles, Cranky’s cranking things up.
Every summer, he feels too hot. He sweats and gasps and complains a lot. In the winter, he fares no better, stamping his feet with holes in his sweater. Come rain or shine, all Cranky does is whine in an archetypically English way. Perversely, he’s not happy unless he grumbles throughout the day.
Shunned by others, Cranky’s a bore. His false cheery greetings meet with stares at the floor. His generally icy reception’s one he never seems to thaw. Instead, he has to bite his tongue when choosing to ignore the typical response he gets, although he gets it more and more.
His health is bad, he must not drink, his doctor tells him. It makes him think. Turning things over in his mind to see what he will find, Cranky draws a blank. Who he is, he doesn’t know as pain racks his right flank. His left leg numbs, then seizes up and stiffens like a plank.
‘Compose yourself!’ Cranky hears the cry.
He reels, his face stinging, from a harshly delivered spank.
‘Oh, no, no, no! Must I die?’
His eyes water at his childless fate, for he has no son or daughter. He lived alone, now he must die so also. Although he’s sad and scared as well, it’s for the best he seems to tell, as a strange sense of calm belies the signs of terminal harm. His chest jolts and quivers and his neck starts to swell. Death would be a relief, he half-muses, from a life of hell. Blood vessels explode internally and then… Then, he simply fell.
Cranky’s name and life and death are engraved on a sacred bell in the church of St. Botolph’s. It came about at the insistence of a fixated campanologist, who claimed to be Cranky’s friend. It wasn’t true. The bell-ringer suffered from tinnitus and was clearly round the bend. Not without blackmailing an engraver and coercing a vicar, did the man achieve his end. His threat to stop ringing the church bells had limited appeal. It was best just to appease him, the vicar and his parishioners agreed. He even said a prayer for Cranky, wishing him God speed. Insanely smiling, the bell-ringer hears ringing in his ears. He shouts out words that none will heed. Then, falling silent, he disappears.