MONDAY: Rough Sleeping


Copyright is held by the author.

“WHAT THE fu-h?” exclaimed Barry, his voice carrying in the cold air. He had pushed his vape into his back pocket as he stood in a doorway next to a shop and unzipped. He’d only just begun to relieve himself when a movement at his feet interrupted him. A bearded figure, quietly tootling a whistle beneath a crumpled blue blanket, suddenly appeared.

“Agh!” Barry managed to rein himself in and zip up. He reacted as though it were he who was the injured party, and the man cowering beneath him nothing but a voyeur. Barry’s cries did not just register shock, either, for he’d zipped up so quickly that he’d nipped himself. He stumbled across the precinct square, barking his shin on a low, planter wall. “Jesus!” he cried, hopping around on his good leg.

The bearded face, peeking out from within a red hoodie, observed these antics in silence.

“Fucking jinxed, this place is!” Barry complained, kicking the offending wall.

As though to prove his point, at this instant the man’s whistle rolled across the paving towards Barry, who dodged out of its way. But, in the process, he lost his balance. He managed to twist and save himself from landing flat on his back, although at the expense of his ankle, which emitted a sharp pain. “Arsing! Fucking! Bollocks!” he yelled, now on all fours. Being so close to the ground, he looked down at the object beneath him, suddenly arrested by its look and shape. Eventually, with the whistle in hand, he struggled to his feet and, as if for the first time, caught sight of the rough sleeper, who now looked more agitated.

“Anyway,” Barry announced, gesturing towards the hooded figure as he attempted to saunter away, “some of us . . . ’as gnomes to go to!” Barry stopped, perplexed, and wheeled round. “Gnomes,” he repeated. “I mean,” he took a deep breath and used his arms to conduct his words, “no ’omes . . . to go to.”

With this clarification, and despite the homeless man’s muted protests, Barry attempted to move across the paving squares like a bishop, in a straight, albeit diagonal line; but, in actuality, he progressed more like a knight.

Barry had been out for one of his periodic curries with his old university pals, Jeff and Tom. Since their student days they’d been meeting up, and Barry, for one, wasn’t going to let the tradition die, even though they were all now “professional” men. Tom and Jeff were also married with families. Barry had been married too, but his wife had kicked him out a year ago. To his disappointment, Barry’s mum had not expressed surprise. “Only yourself to blame,” she’d maintained. “Like father, like son.”

She knew at first hand, for she’d left Barry’s father a few years earlier, unwilling to put up with any more of his drinking and ranting. What Barry hadn’t anticipated, though, was that his mum would take his wife’s side. He hadn’t spoken to his mum for almost a year.

Barry now lived on his own in a high-rise, though he spent as little time there as he could. Turning things over as he stumbled home, Barry reached into his coat pocket for his vape but, instead, retrieved the whistle. Annoyed, he tossed it in a bin as he passed. It was only now that his fuddled brain recalled the homeless man who’d interrupted his pee, and, with sudden urgency, Barry needed to empty his bladder. He stumbled into the shrubbery of a precinct planter and enjoyed a long, uninterrupted slash.

Standing there, the steam rising, Barry recalled an incident from his childhood. He remembered picking out tunes on an old mouthorgan when suddenly his father had ordered him to stop, hurling the instrument out into their yard. “Not for a lad, Baz,” his father had said. “Stick to sport.”

Zipping up, Barry finally located his vape in his back pocket. Puffing on it greedily, he continued his circuitous journey home. He’d taken up vaping after his mum had pleaded with him to stop smoking, but he now found his e-cigarette didn’t taste so good. He wondered if he’d damaged it.

Chilled to the bone, Barry finally reached his flat, stumbled into his bedroom and crashed onto his bed, not even managing to undress. Despite instant unconsciousness, though, he didn’t sleep well, partly because of his injuries, but mainly because the red-hooded man haunted his dreams. “Where’s my pipe?” the man kept asking.

When Barry finally gave up on sleep, he was not feeling good. Aside from that, like some illegal squatter, the homeless man seemed to have taken up residence in Barry’s head and, try as he might, he could not exorcise the interloper’s presence. If only Barry could find the man’s pipe, he thought, he might atone …

He grabbed a shower, hoping to wash away last night’s antics before heading off to work. The water, however, was only tepid, and the pipes above him were making a terrible banging noise. After cleaning his wounded shin, he put some salve and a plaster on it, all the while emitting a stream of curses, first at his shin, then his ankle, the beggar, the shower, his job, his ex-wife, his mum and, finally, the entire universe.

Setting off to the train station, and shivering with the cold, Barry found himself retracing the route he’d taken last night, peering into the bins on the lookout for the whistle. As he made his way through the precinct, Barry grabbed a coffee to warm up. Next thing he knew, he was passing the doorway where the man lay, still shrouded in his blue blanket. With an ironic chuckle, Barry noted that the man was bedded down next to a charity shop. Keen not to disturb him (again), Barry moved on. “Alright for some,” he muttered. “What I wouldn’t give for a lie in!”

Barry was an accountant in the city, a profession he’d tumbled into after completing his Business and Management degree. Fortunately, it was a quiet day at work, and Barry managed to blag his way through it until asked to take the minutes at a meeting. His mind kept wandering and, as his boss later pointed out, Barry had included some unexpected notes: “Stay awake!” “Lay off the booze!” “Remember Dad!” His boss gave him a warning.

On the train home, Barry found himself looking forward to a more restful night, but it was not to be. The heating wasn’t working and his flat was icy. He phoned Tom and they met up at The Phoenix, an old haunt of theirs.

Over drinks, Barry told Tom about his encounter the previous night. He peeled back his plaster to show Tom his wound.

“Don’t like the look of that.” Tom said.


“Looks infected to me.”

“Got it from a scruffy beggar!”

Rough sleeper, Barry!”

“Rough sleeper? Huh! He was the one enjoying a lie-in this morning.”

Tom snorted.

“I haven’t the luxury of his lifestyle choice, have I?” continued Barry.

“My God! I’m out drinking with Suella Braverman!”

“I bet he doesn’t do badly with that pipe of his.”

“Pipe? Was he selling weed?”

“No — playing a whistle. I sort of . . . purloined it.”

“What — you pinched the man’s source of income?” berated Tom.

After that, the evening deteriorated and Barry felt they’d parted on less than amicable terms.

To add to Barry’s displeasure, when he reached home, he found his heating still off. He also realised, now far too late, that he didn’t have an electrical heater. He’d never needed one before. Come to that, he didn’t even possess a hot-water bottle.

Barry piled his clothes on top of his bed and climbed in. He was freezing and couldn’t seem to warm himself. Eventually, he fell into a troubled sleep in which the external world continued to intrude: a keening wind seemed to blow round his room, bringing in noises from the streets; buildings towered over him; streetlights glared down. He tried to hide under his blankets, searching for his pipe, only to be interrupted by someone hovering over him. They were making quite a row, too. Next, he heard a zipping noise; and then, something wet was splashing down on him . . .

Barry shot from his makeshift bed, wincing at the pain in his ankle. Though now awake, he was surprised to find that he could still hear water trickling. He snapped on the light. It took his eyes a while to focus on a thin dribble of liquid snaking down the wall beside his bed. He must have put his hand against the wall and diverted the trickle over himself. His imagination had done the rest.

Shielding his eyes from the light, he traced the stream up to where the wall abutted the ceiling. The water was seeping through a crack. He could also hear a thumping noise, as though the pipes themselves were complaining. Groaning from lack of sleep and cold, Barry struggled to pull his bed away from the wall, then had to mop up a small puddle under his bed. It took a whole kitchen roll. Finally, he fetched some towels and packed them against the skirting.

He looked at his watch. It wasn’t yet 6 a.m., but it was hopeless trying to sleep in this atmosphere. Rough sleeping, indeed! He decided to have a shower and get to work early for once. That would impress his boss. However, he then remembered that the water would be cold, so he had a quick splash then pulled on his clothes and made his way to the train station. Cutting through the precinct, he called in at a café he knew opened early. Inside, he was arrested by the smell of bacon and bought a roll, too. He was going to consume them en route, but as it was so warm in the café, he sat down to savour the atmosphere. Who’d want to be out in weather like this, he asked himself.

At work, Barry found himself mingling with the cleaners, which was a novel experience for him. He managed to put in an impressive few hours before he phoned the management company responsible for his apartment block. To his surprise, he discovered that no one else had complained. Was it just his flat, then? The woman also expressed surprise.

“You mean, you haven’t asked your neighbours?”

Eventually, it was agreed that someone would be round that evening to investigate.


Barry left work early to return to his damp and unwelcome apartment. The carpeting on one side of his bedroom was spongy. He wrung the towels out in his shower, then propped the carpet clear of the floor, using whatever he could find: a suitcase, waste-paper basket, coat hangers, shoes. Cold though it was, he realised that the window also needed opening to let in some fresh air. Having done this, he received a phone call to say that the engineer couldn’t make it until first thing in the morning. Barry noisily sucked in air, about to lambast the speaker. Fortunately, a coughing fit arrested him and, after it had subsided, he managed to control his temper, haltingly thanking his caller.

He then phoned Jeff and Tom, both of whom said they were busy, not that Barry believed them. So Barry went to the pub alone for a few medicinal jars. On his way home, he spotted a mobile chippie parked near his block and treated himself to pie and chips.

Back in his flat, he put his meal in the oven to keep warm while he sorted his damp and freezing bedroom. When he returned to his supper, the warmth from the oven was so welcoming that he decided to move his bedding. Later, sitting on his kitchen floor vaping, his bedclothes and a few coats heaped on top of him, he berated himself for not having thought of this the night before. With the oven door open, kicking out heat, he was moderately comfortable.

He’d also found a bottle of cooking sherry that was making him feel extra warm and cozy. There was nothing else to drink in his flat after he’d tried to make it an alcohol-free zone, as he’d promised his mum. He’d acquired the sherry after taking up cooking. The plan was to find an interest that would keep him away from the pub — again, his mum’s idea. His cupboards still bulged with exotic ingredients passed their expiry dates.

Barry’s final thought that night was about the hardness of the floor, and he toyed with the idea of dragging his mattress through. But then sleep supervened. It might have been this, the unforgiving vinyl, that initiated yet another night of disturbing dreams — visions of being out on the street, of someone repeatedly asking, “What about my pipe?”

Barry had left his hall light on, so he could see the reassuring outline of the doorframe. But in the early hours it looked more like the doorway beside the charity shop. Each sound was magnified as it echoed round the buildings, and one noise was particularly disturbing: a banging noise that seemed to emanate from above, in the charity shop. Eventually, this noise became so insistent that it woke him. Barry sat bolt upright, confused. Fortunately, the stifling heat of the kitchen brought him round. He sighed with relief. At least he was warm, he thought to himself.

Finally, morning arrived and, one by one, his aches and pains returned, his ankle being the most clamorous of his body’s dawn chorus. After a night flattened on the kitchen floor, his bones seemed to have lost all sense of three-dimensionality. Barry was finding it difficult prising himself from the floor. It was then that something rolled across the floor, clunking against the wall. The whistle, Barry thought! But it was the sherry bottle. No wonder he felt sticky. He was Velcroed to the floor!

He extracted himself from his tangled bedding, turned off the oven and staggered into his bathroom for a much-needed pee. The overripe aroma arising from his person made him realise how much he needed a shower. He put the kettle on for an improvised wash. His shin, he noted, was now red and swollen.

It was while washing his tacky skin that a long-forgotten, or perhaps long-suppressed memory surfaced. Once before, he recalled, he’d been in a similarly tacky state. A PC had then helped him clean himself up.

He’d just run away from home, no longer able to stand the drink-fuelled fights and random airborne objects. However, he’d only got as far as the local railway station. Cold and hungry, he’d had barely enough change for a can of Coke from the machine. Sitting on a bench on the platform, he’d fallen asleep clutching it. Next thing he knew, a policeman was shaking him, asking him questions, trying to ignore his abject state.

The police were very good to him, having responded to a phone call from his mother. He’d been taken home in a squad car. His dad had been quite tongue-tied for once as words like “abuse” were casually tossed around. Barry must have been about twelve or thirteen at the time. Long-term, it had made little difference to life at home, but, for a while, it had put a quietness on his father.

As the memory came back, Barry couldn’t help thinking of Sliding Doors, that film indicating how your future might switch in a moment, catapulting you along a different trajectory. If he’d had more money in his pocket that night, if he’d managed to catch a train … what then? Would he now be better adjusted, or would he just be another layabout, homeless even?

Shaking himself out of this uncomfortable reverie, Barry cleaned himself up as best he could, stuffing his sticky bedding and clothing into some bin bags. Back in his freezing bedroom, he wrung out the towels once again, deciding that the window should stay open, ready for the engineer.

He texted his office to let them know he wouldn’t be in till lunchtime, then sped off to the precinct — ostensibly for a coffee. The blue blanketed figure was still huddled in the doorway. After his own troubled night, Barry felt an unexpected twinge of sympathy. He bought two coffees and placed one by the blanket, far enough away, he hoped, that the man wouldn’t knock the drink over; or, more importantly, wouldn’t catch sight of him. Barry was feeling increasingly guilty.


As the engineer examined Barry’s flat, he was shocked to learn that Barry hadn’t consulted his neighbours about the problem. The engineer set off to rectify this.

Shortly thereafter, he returned. Beside him stood a middle-aged woman with a tray of tea and biscuits. Barry recognised his immediate neighbour.

“Mrs. Bates,” introduced the engineer, gesturing to a middle-aged woman armed with a mop and bucket.

“Why didn’t you say?” Mrs. Bates began, bustling her way into Barry’s flat, her eyes widening. “I could have lent you some heaters, you poor thing!”

The engineer absented himself, pointing to the floor above, leaving Barry to run around after his neighbour. It was quite a while before the engineer returned, quite breathless. Apparently the man in the flat above hadn’t answered his door, though lights and a radio were on. The engineer had finally persuaded the caretaker to let him in.

“That’s Mr. Yardle’s flat, isn’t it?” interrupted Mrs. Bates.

“That’s him,” said the engineer. “We found him in his bathroom, in a bad way. He’d been brushing his teeth, had a funny turn and fallen. He said he’d been banging, but no one came!” Barry swallowed hard but maintained a neutral expression. “Says he couldn’t yell ’cos his toothbrush was wedged in his throat.”

“Poor man!” said Mrs. Bates, wringing her hands. “Should I go up?”

“They’re just waiting for an ambulance,” concluded the engineer. Barry felt the man’s gaze swing back to him. “So, that explains your problems.” Here the engineer produced a small length of pipe.

“You found it!” Barry shouted, sounding ridiculously overjoyed.

“I er- located the problem. Yes,” said the engineer, taken aback by Barry’s enthusiasm. “Mr. Yardle had used his bathroom scales to bang on his pipes, which is what eventually caused this to fracture.

“Of course!” said Barry, realising the pipe looked nothing like a penny whistle.

“I’ll get it replaced a.s.a.p.”

“If only you’d let me know the other night, Barry,” interjected Mrs. Bates, standing next to him with a pile of wet towels. “I’ll just take these and get them sorted for you.”

Barry gazed round his flat in awe. It had never looked so clean and tidy.


Heating fixed, Barry was soon on his way to work. His boss had summoned him for an urgent meeting. Once again, Barry made his way through the precinct, calling in at W.H. Smith’s for a vape coil, which he hoped might fix the burnt taste he was experiencing. While there, he spotted some penny whistles mounted on a fan-shaped card. They were only cheap, plastic ones, but better than nothing. With these purchases, he returned to his favourite café for another tea and bacon roll.

Unfortunately, when Barry got to the charity shop, he found the doorway empty. It had been cleaned out, as though Mrs. Bates had been here with her mop. Barry marched into the shop to enquire after the homeless man.

“Police moved the beggar on,” said the man behind the till.

Rough sleeper!” Barry responded, more stridently than he’d intended. “Do you know where he went?”

“Didn’t leave a forwarding address,” said the man, winking at his colleague. “Under someone else’s feet, no doubt.”

Barry found it hard containing himself. He decided he’d better leave. “Charity shop?” he sarcastically observed on his way out.

He’d show them, he thought, and sat himself down in the vacated doorway, pulling his coat round him against the cold. He put the tea on the ground and attacked the roll. It was anger rather than hunger that made him eat it so voraciously. The shopkeeper reminded Barry of his dad. But, as Barry sat there munching and sipping tea, he slowly relaxed and began to view the world in a new light.

Sliding Doors, he thought again, reflecting on the life he might have lived if he hadn’t been returned by the police that night. He was also thinking that, if he didn’t get things together, he might be in that position again. All his dad’s fault, of course, but perhaps that excuse was getting threadbare. He should contact his mum . . . that’d be a start.

His thoughts started to meander as his eyes idly followed the footsteps of those passing by. He wondered where they were all going, what they were doing. Many ignored him, as if he were nothing but a piece of street furniture, but a fair few gave him a smile, and several bent to drop coins in his cup, not noticing that it still contained tea. Barry didn’t mind.

Perhaps he should play for them. he thought, reaching for the whistle. He blew some tentative notes, then attempted a scale. His playing didn’t generate any cashflow, but it did bring out the surly shopkeeper, who looked down on Barry with a frown. Barry was even more determined to stay put. Let them call the police, thought Barry. Then I’ll find out what happened to the last incumbent!

But it was not to be. A dog, no doubt attracted by the smell of bacon, approached, its snout quivering. Barry didn’t mind. He was a new man, embracing the world. However, when the mutt looked about to cock its leg, he shifted hastily, much to the amusement of the shopkeeper; that is, until the dog began to squat. It was then Barry’s turn to smile.

Yes, he reassured himself. He’d contact his mum, and he’d trace the Red Hoodie and present him with the whistle. But first, as he suddenly recollected, he had to meet his boss.


Dr. David Rudd is an emeritus professor of literature who, after some 40 years, turned from academic prose to creative writing and found contentment. Recent stories of his have appeared in Altered Reality, Aphelion, Bandit Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, The Blotter, Corner Bar Magazine, Dribble Drabble Review, The First Line, The Horror Zine, Jerry Jazz Musician, Literally Stories, and Scribble.

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