The ballad of Jack Bojangles

“What is a bojangle?”

“Is it something to do with jazz?”

We shrugged at each other. Craig looked out at the garden. “Why does it have to have a name though?”

“It doesn’t,” I said, “It’s just the sort of thing that’ll end up with a name sooner or later anyway. You didn’t have to give it a face.”

He opened the patio door and the dog raced out, chasing a pigeon not much smaller than he was. “I just hope it keeps those buggers off that grass seed,” said Craig, “otherwise I’ll get the air pistol down from the loft.”

So, Jack Bojangles hung out on the patch of mud that we hoped might sprout and become a lawn. He was made with two bamboo canes tied together like a crucifix, an old shirt, and a sack stuffed with straw for his head. Craig had used thick thread to make a long zig-zag mouth, and two crosses for eyes that stared into the conservatory as he wobbled, sleeves waving in the spring breeze.

The pigeons ignored him, and pecked at the grass seeds under his long shadow.

He was made on the eve of the equinox; we celebrated the first seedlings of the year with barbequed sausages and too much wine. That night Craig took a glass of mead to the bottom of the garden, and offered it to the row of carved gods that lived along the fence. When he came back, pushing his trainers off his feet, he told me he’d given a drop to the scarecrow.

“I can’t say why,” he said, “It just felt like it needed doing.”

He refilled his glass and drank it. “He grabbed my arse too.”

“The scarecrow grabbed your arse?”

“Well. The end of his arm got caught on my shorts. I thought I better give him a little something, wouldn’t want to make him angry. What happens if you piss off a scarecrow?”

“Nothing,” I said, “It’s just an old shirt and some sticks.”

#

The next morning, a late frost hit, and wilted all the seedlings and the blossom on the trees. The peas were dead. The strawberries were dead. The month- long heatwave had ended in another winter.

I tapped the frozen soil with my welly boot. Craig had already left for work, after slamming doors and muttering about wasted time.

“Bad bloody luck,” I said to the pigeon on the fence. It ruffled it’s feathers, and cooed; it was fat enough on grass seed that it didn’t need to care about the cold.

When the ice thawed, the slugs re- grouped, and mounted an attack on what was left, and Jack Bojangles leaned over the cold earth and watched them come.

#

“It’s my dad, he’s in hospital. He fell over.” Craig put his phone back down on the table.

“Fell over what?”

“Nothing, apparently. They’re running tests.”

“Well,” I said, “if he’s there overnight does he need us to bring anything?”

“We can’t. We shouldn’t go up there, we’re both still sick.”

I nodded, and yawned. The garden was still damp and dripping. Maybe George was fine and had just slipped on a wet path or something. My stomach cramped again, and I groaned the miserable groan of someone who can’t be quite sure if they’re going to reach the toilet in time.

Jack Bojangles, leaning so much that one arm was in the air and the other was stabbing at the mud, stared at me with his cross- eyes as I darted out of his sight.

#

Sunday morning was bright and dry, and I padded down the garden path in my socks to see if the tadpoles had hatched. I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. The light was clear and I blinked and stumbled towards the fence to make an offering of the toast that I couldn’t finish to the birds and the little god- statues.

“For health,” I said, to their wooden glares,  “and better luck.” I left a little scrap of toast on each of their heads, and turned back down the path, brushing past Jack Bojangles, who had been set upright again but was still crooked, as if he was an old man with a dodgy back.

His stick arm nudged my thigh. I thought it was caught on my jeans.

Until I felt his hand.

The cold from his fingers seeped through to my skin. They were more bone than flesh, more stick than man, but they were definitely fingers, curling around my thigh with a pinch like ice.

I  jumped, and slapped my leg as if I’d seen a bug crawling on it, unable to contain a shudder. I ran back into the house, shut the patio doors, and made sure I didn’t look back.

We pulled up the scarecrow that night, and burnt it. The pigeons nibble at the grass seed where he used to stand.

 

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