Manwithabagonhishead stood reading a weather worn notice board, a black Pit ball hung from the back of his neck. The board was tied to some old corroded railings and was some distance below a huge ‘Sold’ sign high above, hammered to a tree out of sight in the darkness. The notice board belonged to an old village hall, long since swallowed up by the city’s urban sprawl, and high above the ‘Sold’ sign belonged to some faceless land sales agent. He didn’t look up, he just read what was on the board.
Monday; Russian line dancing club, Tuesday; Weight droppers fun weigh in, Wednesday; The last men’s support group, Thursday; The almost last youth support club, Friday; Cribbage and Bridge Union. Weekends closed due to overcrowding and underfunding and that goes for the foreseeable future. Sorry, Pam.
He pulled his sleeve up and looked down the gape of the bag at his watch. Time on it was slow but the watch had always shown the right date. Satisfied he had the right night and place, he nudged the bag about with his shoulders till it sat at ease over his nudging shoulders. He sidestepped to his right, almost tripping over his feet, with a stumble he walked up the weed riddled path. In front of him, were two men, one sitting on the entrance steps wall and the other with his back to him fiddling with the halls fatigued door.
The man sat on the wall exhaled his warm breath into the cold night’s air, nodding a let on to Manwithabagonhishead as he passed quietly. The barrel lock clicked shut and trying his handful of keys, the key holder fumbled for the one that fit the other lock, ‘I swear that these keys all look the same, can never get the right one’ he said as he looked, trying to fill the uncomfortable silence after an uncomfortable evening.
Satonthewall grunted in reply, frustrated at the nights failures. Manwithabagonhishead wasn’t the only one with a black K-9 parasitically attached to some part of his back. Satonthewall had an out of proportion adult Doberman hanging from his and the key holder had an equally distorted sized Jack Russell; each black dog’s jaws moulded into the skin and fabric of their hosts, their abstract size and presents hidden to the human eye.
After going through the keys, from first to last and back to first, the first slipped in easy and rolled the metal block into its neighbour. ‘Well, that’s that mate. The end of… ’ said Keyholder turning to the other man. His sentence was cut short but managed to blurt out, ‘…. Jesus, fuck me!’ To his surprise, stood almost in his personal space was Manwithabagonhishead. ‘Er, hello. Is this the last men’s support group?’ Manwithabagonhishead asked the two men. His bag rustling as it ducked and bobbed as he turned to each man, not entirely sure which one to ask. His voice was cautious and not very assertive.
‘Er, yeh’, said Keyholder stepping back defensively. The other man just smirked a smile exhaling into the night’s cold air again, pretending he still smoked the roll ups he’d weaned himself off days before. He saw the surprise coming but couldn’t be arsed saying hello to the stranger and in turn, giving Keyholder some warning of Manwithabagonhishead’s arrival.
‘It was mate’, piped up Satonthewall, feeling a slight bit guilty at Keyholder’s uncomfortable surprise.
‘Yes mate, this was the last ever men’s support group. You’re a bit late if you wanted to join’, broke in the Keyholder. ‘Oh, right. Why’s that? I didn’t come here to be sent away’, said Manwithabagonhishead, his dog became heavier. Putout, he scratched the ear of his bag, he stepped back and sat on the wall, opposite Satonthewall, leaving Keyholder standing, still a little puzzled at Manwithabagonhishead.
‘They raised the rents and income doesn’t exist anymore. Bastards are trying to take away our voice and have almost’, butted in the seated man. ‘Sorry things are a little crap here, there’s more to it that just that. What he’s trying to say is, that we’ve had to close our group because there are too many men needing help and no funding to support them or this building. Nor the other groups that use the building. Our guys can’t realistically afford a voluntary donation round here. It seems, it’s not a priority for the government or the equalities minister’, speculated Keyholder.
‘First it was the cutting of benefits, then the lack of jobs and then the raised rents failed to bring in enough cash and couldn’t be met by the tenant’s. So the council sold the land off to private developers. You know, one in four have need of this lark and most of them are men’, finished Satonthewall.
‘I’m one of them. I tick the box. I know the feeling about rents too. The rent for my two up, two down terrace is greater than the housing gives. You not asked for help and told the council what’s being happening here? Stupid question, course you have’, said Manwithabagonhishead. ‘It’s not mate. Pretty fare ask really. Someone sent a letter on our behalf to the Equalities Minister, explaining that we are a men’s group raising awareness and support for male depression and they got no reply and nor did we and in time and a little more… nothing’, Quipped Satonthewall pausing for some sort of effect.
‘The guardian said she was a feminist, explain the equalities in that? Forgotten about the men, we’re not an issue for equality’, added Satonthewall banging his heels against the red brick.
‘Wow, that’s a lot of shit. She should be in a position to do right by all?’ pointed out Manwithabagonhishead.
‘A feminist in the role of equalities minister, doubt she can see that?’ Muttered Satonthewall in the back ground.
‘In truth, I think she is…’ started Keyholder as Satonthewall burst out anther comment. ‘Does she bollocks, doesn’t seem to balance, looks like she still wants to divide the sexes, sit on the praise of one side and ignore the other. I think they just want conflict and dwell on old issues’.
‘There always are issues and always will be. There just needs to be middle ground to meet on. Both sides should have that to give and her role is the middle ground. There should be a meeting arranged. Then you can open again and I can join in’, thought Manwithabagonhishead simplistically and out loud, pleased with his addition to the conversation.
‘They are good issues though, but our issues are different and the same, they need supporting too’, said Keyholder almost asking, ‘It’s time to bring both sides together and address the causes and effects created both by men and women’.
‘There is no equality in feminism, she’s just is sitting on the women’s vote, all comfortable like. Won’t risk something new and open’, said Satonthewall, ‘See that new building across the road, that’s the women’s support group new build. Government money funded and a little privatized, maybe. Got a gym and all that sort of thing’. ‘Do you think they might rent you a room or a night, so the group can carry on?’ injected Manwithabagonhishead.
‘We asked them if we could rent a night off them but they said we couldn’t, because it was women’s only and would upset their members’, answered Keyholder.
‘Equality my arse’, laughed Satonthewall.
‘So what’s next, militant action, protests?’ asked Manwithabagonhishead.
‘No, none of that at the moment. Satonthewall’s got a big front room we can use a couple of nights a week. It’ll fit almost everyone in from the one night and the big room we’ve lost here, you know splitting it like’, answered Keyholder optimistically.
‘Some can come one night and the rest another, was thinking Wednesday and probably Thursday’, informed Satonthewall.
‘Do you think I can join the group on one of those days?’ asked Manwithabagonhishead.
‘You’ll be welcome, yes you can come’, boasted Satonthewall, full of pride. His front room hadn’t seen much action for a couple of years the old carpet would have many new stories to absorb. Satonthewall felt a new vitality seeping into his bleak life, but he knew this was only a temporary thing but still he’d be cock of the roost. His dog shrank a little more as did Manwithabagonhishead’s.
Zipping up his coat, Keyholder announced, ‘Right fella’s, can’t stand here for the rest of the night talking. I think we should go for a pint and talk some more’. Satonthewall stood up readying himself for the walk to the pub and Manwithabagonhishead mirrored rise. ‘You want to come along Manwithabagonhishead?’ asked Keyholder.
‘No. Er, no thank you very much though. I would have come but I’ve something else I’ve got to check out first’, said Manwithabagonhishead please at the invitation. His dog shrunk a little more.
‘Anyway, was good to meet you’, said Keyholder and Satonthewall concurred with, ‘Yeh, was mate’, both offering their hands. They were taken with a newly firm grip. After gauging Satonthewall for more interjections, Keyholder added to his statement, ‘Told the others to meet here next week, Wednesday night, the same time but you’ll need to get here earlier than tonight mate. Once everyone’s got here, I’ll take you all down the Satonthewall’s house’. Butting in again, Satonthewall brightly added, ‘I’ll have the kettle on mate. I’ll have signed on, so I’ll have some good coffee and tea in’.
‘If you still want to come, get here early next Wednesday. Good bye, hope to see you then. You know it took a lot of bollocks for you to turn up here tonight’, said Keyholder. ‘Ok, um. Cheers mate, thank you’, answered Manwithabagonhishead modestly as the three men moved away from each other, politely ending the conventions of conversation. Satonthewall just raised a cool hand in goodbye.
Manwithabagonhishead stood and watched the two men walk away down the weed riddled path and then at his watch from the gape at the bottom of the bag. It was time to move on. His dog had shrunk a little more as did the other men’s dogs. Things were looking up.
A little farther down the street Keyholder asked Satonthewall if he thought the stranger would turn up. Satonthewall looked back through the railings. Manwithabagonhishead had moved on, he wasn’t there anymore. Turning back round, he glanced a woman standing across the street in front of the women’s centre. She was looking at a small notice board screwed above a secure intercom next to a impolite gate, scratching at the bag on her head. He couldn’t see but she had a large black feral Poodle hanging limp from her back.
Turning back confused, dodging a telegraph pole with his hands, Satonthewall answered Keyholder, ‘I don’t know but he’s welcome, I’ll pick up some digestives and make a soup’.