Last night’s prompt at our Inkslingers Writers Group was this painting, which belongs to one of our members…
We’d always speed up walking past his house, moving so fast that our schoolbags would bounce on our backs like a rodeo-cowboy trying to ride a camel.
The sky always seemed a little darker above old Mr Punch’s house, as if nature had allocated him his own cloud, black and swollen with imminent rainfall.
He was there every morning, leaning on his garden fence. Behind him his sitting-room window always had its strange bow-tie covered curtains closed. All of the curtains on all of the windows were always closed. We used to speculate that maybe he was in the Witness Protection Programme, or that he was a vampire, until my dad pointed out that in neither of those cases would he ever be seen outdoors.
Apparently he had once been in the theatre, where he had a double-act with his wife Judy. They used to perform short comic sketches that seem to have involved tremendous amounts of violence, slapstick comedy at its very slappiest.
Cinema came, vaudeville went. Mr Punch and Judy headed for Hollywood, but found that they’d been beaten to it. The Three Sttoges and Abbott and Costello had captured the hearts of people for whom the pinnacle of wit is a poke in the eye, a hole punched in a hat, or being smacked in the back of the head by a man turning around with a plank.
Mr Punch tried, but his act just died, Judy went and left him for some foreign guy, and he ended up, alone, on our street of tiny council houses. His appearance was a testament to the dedication he had brought to his work – his right cheekbone swollen, his nose knocked sideways, his mouth, with its teeth long scattered like a strikeful of skittles, sunk deep into an alcove above his misshapen chin.
His fingers were unbending, each of them having been broken in mistimed jousts. The hat that he always wore was bent over, its spirit cracked under the rain of a thousand thwacks.
His eyes, if you dared to look into them, told you all you’d ever need to know about what it is to sacrifice everything for your art.
He almost never spoke as we passed by, unless we were engaged in mock-macho schoolboy fighting. Then very occasionally, at the sight of an especially gripping headlock, a really deft Chinese burn or a particularly nut-tightening wedgie, he’d nod briefly and say, almost to himself, “that’s the way to do it”.