The man tried again.“I'm sorry I sunny live CD around here.”
He shook his head. “I don't VB lives… VC assumed… CV here,” he said. And then, with considerable effort and a sense of genuine victory: “I… don't live… around… here.”
Helen smiled in encouragement. “Where you visiting someone in the library?”
The man’s face sank. “I stunt know CV what you're telling about. I sunny know what your talking about. Don't. Don't know.”
“He's an idiot,” said Aidan Brown. “And don't tell me to shush; he can't see me or hear me.”
“My arms,” she began, looking down at her stumps. “I wasn't always like this.” She saw the man open his mouth to say something, but he stopped. He did not close his mouth. “I woke up just over a month ago with a birth defect. I think the man who did this also did something to your speech. I think you know Harold Maine.”
The man immediately stepped back, and he motioned as if to push past Helen, but Aidan Brown was in the way. The man stopped, not quite understanding what was blocking his progress.
“This guy's a fucking idiot,” Brown said.
“Please let me go,” the man said. “I really came tell you Anthony. I really can't.. tell… you… anything. I want VB top VB to give. I… want… to… go… home. Please.”
“We're not here to hurt you,” Helen promised, “or endanger you or anything else. We just want to ask you a few questions. See if we can't get our heads around this.”
The man looked around. “We? You said we. I dummy - don't - “
“We, as in myself and Aidan Brown. You can't see or hear him, but imagine an unholy rotting lobster-man monster. He’s right in front of you. His pincers are about an inch away from your balls, should you decide to run. Joke,” she added, when she saw the look of alarm on the man's face. It was the first time in weeks that she had felt humour, known anything other than dread and hopelessness.
“Thanks for that,” Aidan wheezed. “Why don't you ask Chaka Khan here to come to the park? I don't like it here, it's too crowded. I know people kinda instinctively move around me, but even so…”
Helen looked at the scared man in front of her, anxious to be away from them, distracted by his desire to be somewhere without human interaction and the frustrations that came with them. “You're not alone,” she said. “Will you walk with us?”
The man shrugged. “What coupe… copies… choice do I have?”
° ° °
They sat on the park bench under the shady tree and listened as Geoff Mansani told them, in broken, nonesuch speech, about how his recent life had changed.
“Has my landline. Landline… Landlord… Here's my landform. Christ. Do you have as pen or sunbathing? A pen and paper, maybe?”
Helen shook her head.
“Sorry. Insurgencies question. Insensitive.”
“Harold Maine's your landlord?”
Geoff Mansani nodded. “Started to oversee… instead… inverse… increase the rent. Couldn't afford it. Little bastard knew VB I couldn't BC said it. Couldn't pay so he did those to me. This. Did this to me. “
“Why that? Why your speech?”
“Three reasons. One, I have a radio show. Jag a real slow I should stay. Had… a… radio show… The Geoff Mansani hood.. hour. This makes a real slow a little difficult. Radio… show.”
“Understood. And two?”
“My wood is blind. Wife. All I can do is talk jet here, and Noel can't rebel do that. Now I can't BC even still VC that. Talking to her was the only VB peaks were hag, now I don't VB reverb have that. Simian.. Soon of a birch. Birch… Bitch.”
“When here was asking me for Monday at his plate I want VB showing him respect. I was on my phone texting. Thought I want showing him respect. And…” He trailed off and laughed, and threw his hands up in mock despair. “Layer on he dent me a test increasing the meant. I sent VB one back dating you can't… increasing… the… meant… meant… rent! I said you'd can't. “
“It was Autobots… auto… churches… corrected to ‘you cunt’. Stop ic sent him a text calling him a cube… cube… cunt. So he changed me so everything I say is sprocketed. Autobots… auto… correct.. Ted. Just phone at frost, then when I was worrying things down BC and CV then everything OK said. Now it's enriching… ensuring… everything I think add well… as well. Over had VC enough. Now than enough.”
Aidan Brown shifted position on the bench. Geoff Mansani moved unconsciously to accommodate him. Aidan put his good hand on his exposed lung, holding it in place, and straightened himself up, stretching his thorax-spine and yawning lazily.
Geoff Mansani sniffed the air, and turned away.
“Note that's just damned rude,” said Aidan.
“How do VB I know you're not must trying VC took duck need over? Not trying VG top duck me over? Fuck… me over?”
Helen shrugged. “I guess you don't know,” she admitted. “But what would be the point? If Harold Maine says jump, we jump. We're all trapped. If you think we're on his side, or working for him somehow… No. That's not how he works. He makes us squirm, makes us broken, and he doesn't want anyone else involved. Doesn't want to share the credits. Our suffering, our punishments, are inflicted by him and him alone.”
Mansani weighed up her words. Finally he nodded. “Had VC to ask,” he said.
Aidan Brown coughed and shifted position again.
“He said at his plate, what did he mean by that?” He asked, massaging himself. “Christ. Everything fucking aches.”
Helen relayed the question.
“At his place,” Mansani said. “His soaring… his apartment… apartment.”
Aidan and Helen both looked at him with amazement. “You know where he lives?”
“Sure,” said Mansani. “Why?”
“Just like I been saying,” said Aidan Brown. “Guy's a fucking idiot.”
“Why doll you want VB to VB know where he VB loafs? Lives? I'm not going there again. No away. Absolutist book way. You think I'm going VC to lead you to him so he can fuck me over the he's fuckers though over?”
“But we're all in the same boat,” Helen reasoned.
“Oh you fucking think so?” Mansani stood up and gestured at her arms. “I'm story but look at you'd. Look what he's did to you. Compared to you I've got off lightly. Fuck. What the fuck would be do to me if he's every thought I as trying to… to what? What exactly are you tripping to achieve?”
“We don't know,” Helen said. “Peace? Freedom?”
“No such things,” said Mansani. “No such things.”
Aidan gathered his walking sticks and commenced the painful, slow process of getting up. “He's no use to us,” he said. “He's got it easy. He won't help. And here’s me thinking we were getting somewhere.”
“His address,” Helen said. “Please. Just give us his address. That's all we ask.”
Geoff Mansani shook his head. “Jesus, I don't know… He'd find out.”
“Please. He won't find out from us.”
Mansani shook his head again, looked at her arms, and then at her daughter playing on the swings. “Christ… okay. You win.”
“Like I been saying all along,” Aidan wheezed. “The guy’s a fucking saint.”
And although no one but Helen could hear it, there was hope in his voice.