Bobby Tallis possessed the drainpipe physique, knee-length mackintosh, and winsomely dissolute demeanor of a poet, or so he believed, as he pursued a lavishly wayward course across the mangy municipal parks, median strips, and depressed residential quadrangles of his quarter of the city on another blustery October afternoon. One hand broodingly ensconced within a pocket, Bobby smoked as he walked and made rapid, furtive motions with his lips, as if having an intense, collusive conversation with himself, which is exactly what he was doing: Bobby was a poet.
He lived in a dilapidated apartment block on the south-side inner city, a block so populated with retirees and pensioners that visitors—of which Bobby had absolutely none—often mistook it for a state retirement home. Bobby was certain he was the only resident under the age of sixty. The block’s corridors—the sour-cream walls lit by low-wattage sconces downy with dust, the furred, blue, perpetually damp carpeting in which shoe-print impressions dolefully lingered—evoked for Bobby a budget version of the afterlife. It was, at least, a peaceful place, no noise but the late-night dysphagic groans of the elevator’s recurringly jammed doors.
Bobby walked six miles every day. He did so because a lengthy walk helped oxygenate the creative capacities as well as preëmptively dispel the oppressive sense of cabin fever that would consume him if he did not regularly remove himself from the tiny tomb of his one-bedroom apartment. Also, there was a shopping-center parking lot three miles from his apartment block where he bought weed from a schoolgirl on a near-daily basis.
The city was bound on this side by a canal, and Bobby’s peregrinations tended to bring him, as now, into intermittent contact with this body of water. He noted the tarry density of its bilious murk, the tidemark of phosphorescent scum bearding the centuries-old brickwork as the canal subsided toward the stark quays and the notional sea beyond. Bobby traversed the back lane of a housing estate and detoured through a brushy interval that served as one of the numerous pickup sites honeycombing this side of the city—with a grin he registered the dangling lobe of a used condom snagged on the branch of a bush like a dismal festive decoration. He stopped at a McDonald’s drive-through, inhaled three one-euro hamburgers and a fries and a Coke, and took a spumous dump in a toilet cubicle bathed in the purple-blue glow of UV lighting installed to prevent junkies from finding the veins in their arms.
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