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Today's Story by Barrie Darke

"Does he not peer in at you?" I asked Knatchbull one morning at the station.

Knatchbull’s Man

My neighbor, Knatchbull, moved a giant into his garden one day. He’d long been something of a silly arse, but this was a step beyond. No one in the street had ever done anything like this. I’d never heard of anything like this being done.

If there was a glint in his eye when he ‘told’ me, I didn’t detect it.

‘Hallo, George,’ he called, leaning over the fence. I was sitting out with the paper, as it was a warm evening. ‘Might be a little disturbance in the next week or so, nothing too turbulent.’

I waved it away, in good neighbourly fashion. No bother at all, I told him. I barely even looked up.

It was a Saturday they brought him, so I was privy to it. I heard the footfalls – indeed, felt them – and glanced out of the window, expecting to see a delivery van going over the speed bumps at too great a pace.

There was a massive head, on a par with the streetlights, moving along the rooftops towards me. They can say my mouth fell open; so would theirs. Seeing it, all I could think at first was how badly his hair was cut: it was thick and dark, and looked hacked at. Though I could see that cutting the hair of a giant would constitute a challenge, a job for the shears.

I was about to call for my wife Margery when it struck me that this probably wasn’t a passing parade. Forget ESP and such like: I knew precisely where this was going to end, and therefore Margery would have plenty of time to see him.

Four men were leading him, plus Knatchbull overseeing what needed to be oversaw. The giant had chains around his neck and wrists, though this struck me as being for form’s sake, the done thing, a nod to King Kong and whatnot. Certainly he gave no indication of being enraged – he even had a slight smile on his face, peaceable, like an idiot’s – and if he should erupt, as I realise peaceable idiots can, I judged that the chains in questions wouldn’t be a particle of use. The men looked sweaty and fractious, needled. I could well imagine Knatchbull’s whinnying, pettifogging instructions.

I went out when they turned into our street, noting the press of faces against windows all around me. Knatchbull saw me, gave a distracted smile. ‘George, hallo,’ he said.

I nodded. ‘Hello there.’ I smiled at the men, and three out of the four returned it, however grudgingly. The fourth just stared at me like I was the insane one.

‘Who’s this?’ I asked.

‘Well, George,’ Knatchbull said. ‘This is my man.’

‘I don’t think he’ll fit indoors,’ I said, laughing as at a weak joke. Isn’t it strange, the things you find yourself doing out of politeness?

‘He’s for the garden,’ Knatchbull told me, with a quiet sort of pride.

‘Front or back?’

‘Oh, front, front,’ he said. ‘A thousand times, front.’

‘I’ll let you get on,’ I said.

I returned indoors. It occurred to me that, for all my talk of politeness, I hadn’t said hello to the giant, had talked about him as if, of all things, he wasn’t there.

Margery, alerted to it fully by now, was upstairs. I joined her, and we silently watched the installation from our bedroom window. Knatchbull was very good: he called up to his man, and he almost daintily stepped into the garden. The lawn had been replaced with paving stones some months before, I thought it was. He was told he could sit down, which he did with some aching sort of relief, his back to the wall – to it, not against it, as it would tilt like a rotten tooth in no time. He faced the house.

When he was settled they took the chains off him, Knatchbull gave the workmen a few extra pounds, and that was that. Margery and I looked at each other. I saw she was feeling more than I, which had the usual effect of cutting my feeling by a good two thirds.

It wasn’t to be a short-lived thing, but once we ascertained that Knatchbull’s man (we never did find out his name, or even if he had one) didn’t block the sun from our place, and that he neither spoke nor snored, we quickly got used to him.

Some in the street didn’t like it, naturally, and the ‘For Sale’ signs started appearing a few doors down. One complained directly to Knatchbull, and he closed his door on them. No one, as far as I know, brutalised the giant – no one splashed him with paint or called him ugly names. There was always going to be a fear over how he would react, but I secretly thought he would be fine whatever you did to him, unless it was something unusual that no one would ever think of, unusual and small like those men who murder their wives because they burn the toast one morning.

People would come and stare, but you could forgive such rudeness, and they soon got used to him too. Children were uniformly respectful around him, and this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise: giants held a special place in their imaginative world, after all. Even teenagers, with whom we had problems from time to time, let him be.

He was fed once a day, with a bucket of what turned out to be porridge when I asked. There were two buckets on Christmas Day and the 3rd of October, which I took to be his birthday. Any waste products, should you be wondering, were dealt with under the cover of darkness, though the methods of retrieval and disposal remain cloudy. And his age was impossible to guess.

The weather’s variables meant nothing to him, just as well. He allowed snow to remain on his shoulders when it fell, and didn’t take a tan when one was available. Electric storms were enjoyable to him, it seemed. His clothes were hard-wearing, and I noticed that his hair didn’t appear to grow, and nor did his nails. Fortunately for the area’s infrastructure, he needed no exercise, not even a stretching of the legs.

He didn’t sleep, as I found out one unearthly night when I couldn’t either and turned to the window. His shape was discernible in between the streetlight glow. He was staring down at his hands, but his eyes were open and he didn’t register me.

‘Does he not peer in at you?’ I asked Knatchbull one morning at the station. We occasionally got the same train in, though he had retired by this time.

He shrugged. ‘He understands little of what he sees,’ he said.

This was unreassuring, and I let the matter drop.

Knatchbull lived alone, his wife having swept off in a high dudgeon a couple of years previous. He sat on the doorstep sometimes, and though we didn’t like to look, we supposed he talked to his man, perhaps mentioned things in the local paper or showed him picture books from the library. That was in the first year, eighteen months, at least. Then it all lessened a little.

I said hello to him morning and evening through the week, and believe he came to know me. His face wore that slight, dazed smile permanently, so it was little use as a gauge of thought, but simple time and repetition had to count for something. Once, after a couple of years, I asked Margery if she couldn’t mix up a bucket of porridge herself, but she gave me her look which stated this was an unreasonable idea and I was a fool.

The morning and evening treks came to an end that year, as in the deep red summer of it, I retired. I had mixed feelings about the whole project, but Margery was all for it and urged me to throw a bash. After some humming and hahhing, I acquiesced, with one amendment to her plan: not the back garden but the front.

Ken and Lindsey came, of course, up from Bristol. Margery had, I’m sure, kept them updated on events next door, so they were able to avoid anything more than cursory glances, in the sober stage at least. The same stands for the bulk of my ex-colleagues, though not all of them came, perhaps out of worry as to how they’d respond. He himself showed no great interest in the proceedings, though his big head did turn in our direction from time to time and his smile was taken to mean more than it probably did. Supposedly he was wishing me well in my next phase. I nodded, but didn’t buy it.

Knatchbull himself was invited round, and came, which he didn’t always. He drank with full verve – which he always did.

It was a wistful, teary type of occasion for me once it was underway, and there were moments when I came close to being quite unmanned. My chest was a capsule of fear at times, soft gold cheer at others. The sun never seemed to go down. I bent the elbow myself, more than I had since my 20s, I’ve no doubt. Why not?

Eventually I wanted the giant involved somehow. I felt terribly sorry for him all at once.

‘Does he take booze?’ I asked Knatchbull.

‘Oh no, George, no.’

‘Yes, but have you tried him with any?’

‘No, no …’ He shrugged, looked a little helpless, actually.

‘Has anyone ever advised against it?’

‘They don’t really need to, George.’

‘Balls,’ I said, straightening my back. ‘This is a milestone party for me. Let him par, partake of it.’

He gave way on the point.

That conversation is the last clear memory I have – the rest is a series of still life pictures. I’m told I tried to climb up him, up his arm, taking fistfuls of his sleeve with a can of lager tucked under my chin. It looks like I wanted to sit on his shoulder, share the lager with him, take in the view from his sector so to speak. They tell me he wasn’t in any sense alarmed by my determined clambering, didn’t mind at all, but I failed to reach the summit. That would explain my blue hip the next morning.

It had been the habit of my father’s to stand at the front door with the last cigarette of the day. Now, I had never taken up tobacco, but in the summer of the fourth year, if Margery took herself off to bed early I would sip a glass of whisky on the doorstep. Breathing-in the garden. Not too tipsy, though sometimes, sometimes.

Then I would lean over the wall, have a few words with Knatchbull’s man. A thankless task, you might think, but perhaps we both got something out of it.

‘Isn’t there anyone else like you?’ I muttered one night. I muttered because I didn’t want Knatchbull to hear, up in his bed, and also because big ears logically suggested better hearing. ‘It must get awfully lonely.’

He looked at me the way a good dog would, trying hard to understand and resignedly mournful that it was impossible. That didn’t seem important enough to stop, however.

‘Perhaps we could find someone for you. Search the world, send out a message. You were made, others must’ve been made also. We could,’ and here I stepped out further than was wise, ‘we could perhaps set her up here in our garden. You could hold hands over the wall.’

Then I went indoors, feeling as though I should cry.


Five years in all he was there, five years in which some of Knatchbull’s silly arse behaviour left, to be replaced by harsher attitudes. He started to look frail, and could be heard muttering under his breath, peevish and bitter-sounding.

His man, of course, never deviated from his smile. He never aged, but ageing for them would be imperceptible, I suppose.

One evening, again in the late summer, Knatchbull knocked at my door. His face was stricken when I opened it, something I had never seen in him before. I almost took a step back.

‘It’s no good,’ he said, without preamble or anything in the way of greeting. ‘No good. I’m going to get rid of him. Will you take him on, George?’

I had wondered if this would ever come up, but that’s not to say I was prepared for it. ‘Well, really, I don’t see how I could,’ I stammered, sounding pitiful to my own ears. ‘Margery loves the garden and …’

‘Could you talk it over with her?’ he asked, a good deal more impatiently than was polite.

I swallowed and nodded, told him I’d get back to him.

Margery was watching the TV. I did consider mentioning it, but I could see how the conversation would go, step by step, and how badly I would come out of it. So I sat down and watched TV with her, or stared at it.

‘I’m sorry,’ I told him the next day. ‘No, it wouldn’t work.’

He nodded, lifting his chin, glancing off to the side, away from his garden. ‘Yep, yep,’ he said. ‘That’s okay, I understand. Well, goodnight, George.’

‘Goodnight,’ I said.

They took his man away the next Saturday, the same workmen with the same chains for all I know. Knatchbull kept out of the way this time. He stood briefly in his doorway, fists clenched, blinking and mumbling. His man’s smile may have flickered when the chains went on, but perhaps that’s what I wanted to see, or dreaded to see, I don’t know.

Knatchbull slammed his door shut as soon as they had him on his feet and didn’t say a goodbye that I heard. I didn’t say a goodbye either; it doesn’t do to have one’s voice wobble in front of workmen.

An extra whisky was awarded me that night. And Knatchbull, I’m sure I hardly need to mention, didn’t see out the end of the year.


Barrie Darke writes from the UK, where the short story market is a pitiful thing.  He has recently been published in the UK by Byker Books, New Writing North and Sentinel Literary Quarterly; and in the USA by Menda City Review, Nossa Morte, Demon Minds, Infinite Windows, Underground Voices, Big Pulp, Pseudopod, Inwood Indiana, Bastards and Whores, Onomatopoeia, Orion Headless, Xenith, Otoliths and All Due Respect.


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