The short man was stood by the ambulance bay again, smoking a cigarette like every breath was screaming “fuck you” at the damp, grey autumn sky. His hair stuck up at all angles ‘cos of him scrubbing at it every few seconds. Suck it in, blast it out. Fuck you, world.
He looked at me after a little while.
“Fag?” he said. I shook my head.
“I really shouldn’t.” Nodded towards outpatients with a grimace.
He laughed, but turned it into a cough halfway through. Proper horrible bastard cough, the kind you see shuddering through a man’s T-shirt like its full of bugs. My mum coughs like that, sometimes.
“Seen you here before.” He said. I nodded, even though it wasn’t really a question. He grinned at that, spat his fag on the floor and lit up another one.
“Cancer” he said, poking his thumb towards his chest. “Right down to the fucken bone. Should’ve started these years ago.” He moaned out a little cloud of smoke and smoothed his hair back, like he’d just been screwing. I winced a bit.
“I’d best go see my mum” I said; started walking off. Then he put his hand on my arm. It was warm and felt a bit like touching a walnut shell. Hard but smooth, even where it’s wrinkly.
“Cancer,” he said, right in close to my ear, “if it don’t get your lungs it’ll get your bones, and if it can’t get your bones it’ll have your balls off.” I felt his breath on my ear like a moth fluttering round my head. “Right down to the fucken bone.” He muttered. “To the bone!” I pulled him off me and shoved him hard.
“Fuck off man.” I tried to keep the horror out of voice, but my throat closed around the last word and I squeaked like a teenager. Then I ran, and only the short man’s cough came after me, full of bugs and rot and the smell of autumn.