On Sawdust Bridge, Harangued

I was striding manfully across Sawdust Bridge, on my way to see a man about some snails, when I was accosted and harangued by a gobby git. His speech, if one can call it that, was indecorous and unseemly, and his head was somewhat larger than the usual head. I wondered if, in his infancy, his fontanelle had sealed properly, or if it remained ajar, as it were, allowing a surfeit of oxygen into his cranium. Were that the case, it might, just might, account for his loud haranguing. For loud it was, drawing the attention of other citizens passing along the bridge, each of whom gazed at him, and at me, before hurrying along bent upon whatever errands they were bent upon, that morning.

I found it very difficult to judge whether his torso was clothed in a pullover or a cardigan. The garment seemed to resist definition. It was certainly not a sweater nor a jumper, nor could it be called a “top”, but I could not pinpoint exactly what it was. Such was the nature of his harangue that it was impossible to interrupt him, so I had no opportunity to question him on the matter. The presence of buttons argued for a cardigan, yet it was not quite a cardigan, having a definite something of the pullover about it. It began to rain.

Atop the git’s unusually large head perched a yellow oilcloth sou’wester, suggesting to me that he was not neglectful of meteorological conditions. Given the size of his head, the sou’wester, which would have served as adequate cover for most heads, looked comically tiny. It occurred to me that he might wear it in rain or shine, as protection for his unsealed fontanelle, and that its keeping the rainfall off the top of his head was secondary, a sort of bonus. Meanwhile, with a certain brio, I unfurled my brolly. I held it aloft as if I were Liberty brandishing her flambeau, though necessarily at an angle better poised to bar raindrops from falling on my head.

And just as my brolly barred the raindrops, so the gobby git barred my progress further along Sawdust Bridge towards my appointment with the snails chap. As he delivered his loud and unseemly stream of invective, he constantly shifted his position so that he was always standing directly in front of me, as I feinted this way and that in my attempts to go where I wanted to go. I ought to have lashed out at him with my brolly, but long, long ago I made a vow. Well, if I am honest, I was forced to make a vow, on pain of eternal punishment in the hereafter, and with the added spur of the threat of having my fontanelle pierced and punctured in the here and now. The important thing, for present purposes, was that the vow had been made, and I held to it.

Raindrops were falling at a slight angle upon the buttons of the gobby git’s cardigan or pullover, and thence dripping to his feet which, I noted, were shod in the sock-and-sandal combination associated with a certain stereotype. He did not seem at all that type, to me, there on Sawdust Bridge in the morning rain, delivering his loud harangue and accompanying it now with wild gesticulations. I did not feel menaced by these gesticulations, for at no point did his arms move towards my head or my body. They were, rather, like the movements of the sails of a windmill, or of a swimming person doing the butterfly stroke. They seemed curiously disconnected from his harangue, neither emphasising points within his indecorous guttural bawling, if indeed there were any, nor accompanying it in any way. Also, he was wearing mittens.

There was a spattering of yellow stains upon the mittens, an identical shade to the patches of yellow on his moustache, which was of the walrus variety. I jumped to the conclusion that it was either mustard or custard, perhaps from the eating of a hot dog or a custard tart. I was unable to discern any crumbs, the composition of which, of bread or pastry, would have confirmed which of my suspicions was the correct one, although of course it was possible that the stains were neither mustard nor custard but another yellow substance entirely. Again, so unstoppable was the gobby git’s harangue that I was unable to question him on the point.

When, long ago, I made, or was forced to make, my vow, I was vouchsafed a few tips about what I could do, in circumstances where I might wish to lash out with my brolly, instead of lashing out with my brolly, but with similar effect. One is rarely vouchsafed anything at all nowadays, but as I said, it was long, long ago. As I peered at the gobby git’s rather gauche cheesecloth trousers – or were they pantaloons? – one of these tips bubbled up from the sea of memory and bobbed to the surface. “Tilt your head heavenward,” I recalled being told, “And call out, lustily, and high in pitch, for all the angels in heaven to beclabber together and send down to you a deus ex machina!”

Now I have never knowingly seen an angel, and instinctively I feel such a creature cannot really exist, but the gobby git was getting on my wick by this time, and so I followed the old advice I had been vouchsafed. Of course, when I tilted my head heavenward all I saw was the dry underside of my brolly, so I shifted it to one side, again with I hope no little brio, and, though raindrops immediately splashed upon my face, I sang out, imploring the aid of quite probably fictional unearthly wingéd beings. And do you know, all at once there was a mighty gust of wind across the bridge, and the sou’wester atop the gobby git’s head was blown clear away, it skimmed and swooped across the sky like a bright yellow bird, and a raindrop, perhaps more than one, raindrops plural, fell directly through his unsealed fontanelle and landed splish splosh upon his exposed brain, and he crumpled to the ground and – oh, at last, at last – he ceased haranguing me, for he neither spoke now nor croaked. He was silent.

I left him where he lay, sprawled upon the paving slabs, whether dead or alive I did not know, and I hurried onward to meet my appointment with the snails man. We transacted useful business, repaired to a canteen for luncheon, parted with a handshake in the shade of a gigantic shrub in the botanical gardens, and I made my way home. Crossing Sawdust Bridge, I saw no sign of the gobby git who had harangued me, and I learned later, listening to a local news bulletin on the wireless, that he had died, upon the bridge, that morning, of water on the brain.

I attended his funeral later that week, and placed a bunch of dandelions in the graveside mud. It was still raining.

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