by Neil Campbell
Corned Beef went to his local in Burnage to ease himself out of the day with pints of bitter. For years he did this until at one stage he began to see scratches on his face in the bathroom mirror in the morning. Usually they were on his forehead but sometimes on his cheeks. He washed away the thin lines of dried blood and then got on the 197 to work as usual.
The scratches began to develop into cuts and one morning he woke to see blood across the pillow. He felt for his forehead and his forefinger squished into a gash. He went to the bathroom mirror and took a plaster from the cabinet, placing it across his forehead. In work that day, below a staircase in a dark chamber within the neo-gothic splendour of Manchester Town Hall, he sat with the other porters at break time drinking coffee from his flask.
“Hey, Corned Beef,” said Bungalow, “what’s with the fucking plaster?”
“Cut me head.”
“How did you manage that?”
Sometimes Corned Beef went into work with so many plasters on his face that he looked like he’d been involved in an explosion. The people in shiny shoes who clattered up and down the town hall stairs avoided eye contact. When he stood outside in the shadow of the great clock tower smoking his Park Drive, he looked across the rain dampened concrete of Albert Square towards the memorial that was covered in pigeon shit.
The man with his face covered in plasters was a familiar sight for the regulars of The Sun in September, and if anyone came into the pub and asked about it they were told, oh, that’s just Corned Beef, as though that answered the question.
Eventually Corned Beef woke with blood seeping from his eyes. He tilted his head back and walked to the bathroom and felt around in the cabinet for two more plasters. Squinting into the bathroom mirror, eyes dripping, he covered one eye and then the other, before walking the familiar route to Burnage Lane.
Neil Campbell is from Manchester, England. He has been included in Best British Short Stories (2012 and 2015) and has published three collections of short fiction: Broken Doll, Pictures from Hopper and Ekphrasis. His first novel, Sky Hooks, will be out later this year.