The Note Taker

He was an ordinary man,

Ernest.

He had an ordinary name. He looked

ordinary in almost every way. He lived

at my grandmother’s boarding house,

a place for the down-on-their-luck

and the damaged.

He must have been sixty-something,

skinny-thin and almost hairless,

apart from the missed bristles. He wore

spectacles with bottle-bottom lenses,

made his eyes huge, though he never

seemed to see you.

I can’t remember him ever speaking.

He had this habit that made us laugh.

When he was drunk, which was most nights,

he’d stop somewhere, the pub, the street,

anywhere, random places, and he’d take out

an invisible notebook, and matching pen

and he’d write down notes about the things

he was looking at: walls, lampposts,

pictures, sometimes nothing. Often, nothing.

Full of beer from the same pub,

me and my mate, we’d stand and watch

and take the piss out of him.

Silly old Ernest.

Barmy old Ernest.

The barmaid caught us one night,

gave us a vicious gobful.

Ernest had been in the war, she said.

He’d seen and done things

we could never even imagine.

Had a plate in his head where

some of his brain used to be.

He’d done these things for us,

people like me and my mate,

who had been standing there,

belittling him,

like we were better than him.

I have never felt so small

or mean.

Stand easy, Ernest.

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