Mr. Hammer thumped his fist on the local newspaper sprawled across the kitchen table. The blow made a satisfying thud. If there was one thing he couldn’t stomach it was bad spelling. Like an insidious illness, it undermined the very foundations of his world. Every time the slightest mistake crossed his path he pounced on it. Naming and shaming was an art with him. He had a knack for ferreting out the most public forum in which to point a bony finger at each mistake, calling all to witness. Not that spotting spelling mistakes gave him any pleasure, but it did procure a sense of purpose and a deep feeling of satisfaction.
He uncorked a bottle of red wine from a neighbour’s vineyard, poured himself a glass and swigged a generous mouthful. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he re-read the headlines in the paper. More refugees on the way. Flipping open a sharp knife, he sawed off several slices of a dried garlic sausage and slipped one into his mouth. Only one other cause moved him more than bad spelling: the battle against those who invaded his village. The thought of it sickened him. All the people of colour, all those who spoke other languages, who had been brought up with their barbaric traditions and their filthy habits. And they kept coming, an unending torrent, soiling everything he held dear.
A sharp rap had him grasping his knobbly walking stick and hastening to the front door. He’d beat the living day lights out of those brats from two doors down. Ringing his door bell. Banging the shutters. Having their dog use his doormat as a latrine.
He swung the door open with all his force, hoping to catch one of the blighters as he did. But no one was there. He looked left. He looked right. No one. Just an alley of trees, a dribbling fountain and a mournful statue peering at him. Then he looked down and spotted the bag at his feet, like the ones doctors used, red and worn, with a single handle on the top, and it stank. He wanted nothing to do with it. It might be a bomb. He’d call the police. He’d call the fire brigade. He’d call the army.
Then he saw the envelope propped against the bag, his name scrawled on it. Only one ‘m’. Typical. What rubbish had they written? Taunts? Threats? He didn’t want to read it, but before he could stop himself the envelope was in his hand and he was forcing it open. A single sheet folded in four. Flattening out the page he was surprised to find a printed message. One paragraph. Neatly presented. In large script, as if for the old and infirm. He read.
Deer me ha mer. I Sanz You to no than se r vers up sett …
How exasperating. He shook his head and tried again. It made no more sense. As he read the line a third time a dreadful queasiness rolled over him. His stomach churned and blood pounded in his ears. Clutching the message in his hand, he staggered along the corridor to the kitchen, not bothering to close the front door behind him. Grasping the table, he lowered himself onto a chair and rested his head in his hands, staring down at the message on the table.
His eyes shifted to the newspaper, where he read:
Way World Antoine tory to fixe the votons …
He sprang to his feet alarmed and almost fell over when dark spots surged before his eyes and a roaring sound rushed through his head. He clung to the table with both hands, his eyes roving the kitchen in search of something, anything, to reassure him. Everything seemed normal. Then he saw the poster his ex wife had gifted him.
Notting IS betterave than home groin flouera …
He screamed and screamed. Lurching down the corridor, he staggered out onto the street, where he halted a moment on the door mat thrusting a fist into his mouth to stem the scream. To no avail. Windows were flung open, alarmed heads peered out, passers by turned to look askance. The shame of it. Nothing he did would stop the scream. Terror seized him. Glancing up at the statue, he willed his eyes to yell, “I’m bewitched.” The statue made no comment. Tossing off his slippers, he careened across the street, wove an unsteady path between the trees and flung himself headlong into the fountain where he tried to fill his nose and mouth with water. Anything to rid his head of the madness.
He choked and spluttered as a stranger fished him from the icy liquid and wiped his face dry with a dirty handkerchief. Mr. Hammer shoved him away and stood there dripping, his body wracked with shudders. He stared uncomprehending at the man, his bulbous nose, his fleshy lips, his shining teeth. The man was speaking.
Presse dont be sacré dit Will be ok …
Mr. Hammer sank to his knees, his hands clasped together in prayer. “Please,” he said. “Make it stop.” But the man just looked at him perplexed as if he didn’t understand.