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The Man With The Watery Eyes

by Barry Charman


They said the body in the canal was ageless, sexless. Been there longer than six prime ministers. Odd measure of time, but it's an indelicate subject. People are given to notions that distract them from the more visceral horrors of the imagination.
I watched the whole process from my bedroom window. My flat overlooked the entire thing. God I hated renting. Wouldn't even let me put a nail in the wall. Like my ongoing presence devalued the apartment. Exactly what sort of pictures did they suppose I'd hang? Now this. Was he or she murdered? Disposed of? Were they a neighbour? Was their killer? How tawdry. Tedious.
I watched as they taped off the embankment, winding their police tape around a lamppost. A frogman jumped into the murky water, his pensive expression quite evident despite the distance. What a long time to be forgotten, and now be dragged up and disturbed. Bones and rags transferred to some chrome slab across the city, where sterile men would poke and probe.
I sighed. Intrigued, despite myself.
Maybe they jumped. Done with London. Done with the numb rush of it all. Relatable. Quiet bones, those. A personal death, now made so very public.
Perhaps they slipped. Drunk, unsteady, taking the worst shortcut home they
could. The pointless bones of a pointless life.
I wanted more. Maybe they saw the moon in the water and tried to swim to it.
They were young. A dreamer. A poet due a thousand deaths. Perhaps they sunk,
languidly, dreamily, but were suddenly entangled, caught on something that ruined their transcendent dive. Caught on the skeletal hand of one who'd gone before- or was that too gaudy? And was gaudy more likely or less?
The frogman re-emerged. He put something small in a bag, and talked with two uniformed officers. They took away the body, but left its presence. Its morbid echo.
The vultures were on their balconies, gawping, squawking. I'd lived here longer than all of them. What did they know? Listen to them, chittering in the dark, curtains flapping.
They'd been spared that, down in the deep cool dark. Oh, what a luscious sleep they'd had. What a tranquil abyss. Since I was a boy the canals had seemed like some sort of languid labyrinth. Some strange passage of bilious rising water, ebbing and gurgling away to nowhere. I had always found them compelling, unnerving. The digestive tract of a city. I stared down into the greenish-black water. Thirty years ago I had walked down that very path, a girl had led me astray.
What a random thing to surface. She' d flicked a cigarette into the water. How cool, I'd thought. Her kisses were few, and full of smoke. Black lips. I had a memory of black lips. Some new wave phase. Some passing fashion. She'd said I had watery eyes. A most unperceptive girl. Not interesting. She'd liked my suit, but made no comment on the cut. Her fingers had run through my hair. an itchy sensation, like ants. I felt it, even now. How had that night ended? I'd got one of my migraines, which irritated her. I left her at some point. She irritated me. I could feel another migraine coming now, they never really went away. Staring at the cool water helped, I found.
Below, the frogmen were packing up. Soon there would only be fluttering tape, and speculative whispers. I was used to whispers. Presumptions. There would be a knock on the door at some point, I had no doubt. Because I kept to myself, had my quirks. People made you into the strangest of things. They were so predictable, and unnerved when you weren't.
There were no barges passing now. They were all backed up the canal
somewhere, waiting. I imagined them moored, stuck. Those floating homes suddenly passive, inert. Coffins adrift. I chuckled. All those years their little homes had been passing over a body, fingernails scraping against the hulls. Fouled water pulling them along, leaving the dead behind. Though such is life.
It was a girl in the bag, well, pieces of one. That much was clear to anyone,
surely. You only had to know people, to know that. Lives ended as they were lived,
courting discourtesy. I sighed and turned away. I had decided to contact the landlord. New wallpaper must be permitted, if nothing else.
Something floral. Something green. Dark green. I liked the way the canal looked under the glare of all the lights. This diversion had proved quite useful, creatively!
I had always avoided the canal, and yet been inspired by it. Explain that to
people and they would only be suspicious. Well, whatever.
It all said more about them than me.

Barry Charman is a writer living in North London. He has been published in various magazines, including Ambit, Griffith Review, The Ghastling and Popshot Quarterly. He has had poems published online and in print, most recently in The Literary Hatchet and The Linnet’s Wings. He has a blog at


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