Steve Mangan


     It was March of 1978. I know it was March, because it was a few days before my 17th birthday. I arrived home from swimming with my brother, my mother was sitting in the dark, and I knew she had found the book. I had bought it just that day, and left it still unopened in its brown paper bag under my mattress before going off swimming. It was called 'How to tell your parents.' 

    “Tell me you aren't”, she begged, but I was, I am. "Alan, Alan" she screamed my stepfathers name and in hysterical sobs cried, 'he is, he is'. Of course I couldn't stay, they agreed, they had my brother and sister to think about. The anger and hysteria mounted to the point that they wanted me out there and then, and I went.

    I made my way to Brighton, if you’re going to be homeless, I reasoned you might as well take a sea view. I sat on the stony beach, homeless and alone on my birthday, making the boat on the horizon leap back and forth between the stars of Orion with the blinking of my eyes.

    I was brought out of my reverie by the shock of a cold nose nuzzling itself under the palm of my hand. "Hello dog," I said, stroking its head, "fancy a biscuit?" With the transaction made, a dog found his tramp, and as ill-fated travelling companions for the next few years, we hiked and hitched our way up and down the country. I thought he had lost me once. I woke up in hospital after being found unconscious in a telephone box where I had sought shelter from the snow, dying of exposure. I had been in the hospital several days, and no one knew anything about the dog. However, when I left some days later, owner of a brand new sleeping bag courtesy of a local charity for the homeless, the dog was there, outside, waiting for me. 

    Not so the next time I awoke in hospital. I had been beaten, stabbed and left for dead. "I'm sorry," the policeman told me, "they killed your dog." He wanted to know what had happened, I couldn’t remember. The memory came back to me later, when I stood outside the hospital with hands in my coat pockets while waiting beyond hope for the dog to appear. I felt something in the lining of my coat, it was a dog’s ear, and I remembered. 

    It was March of 1981.  I am in my hometown, the local gay bar, sheltering with a pint until chucking out time: a group of young men and women beside me, talking animatedly about astrology.

    "What star sign do you think I am", I heard one of the women ask someone, "Hey", a poke in my arm, I look at her, she was talking to me, "what star sign do you think I am?”

    "You’re a Scorpio," I replied, by which point I am already engaged in the longest conversation I have had with anyone since leaving the hospital several months before. "Lucky guess" she said. 

    "He's a Scorpio too," I replied, pointing to her friend, "and she's a Virgo." 

    "Wow, are you psychic, do you read palms too?” she asked, thrusting her palm at me. 

    "I read the cards," I replied.

    "We're going to a party, do you want to come?" Her friends sniff and grimace, I pretend not to notice.

    "I haven't got any money for beer."

    "You can read the cards instead."

    So I went and read the cards for some beer and a shelter for the night. Several of the people I read for wanted to arrange card reading parties, which they did. Gill, the woman who invited me, let me to stay at her place for a while, and we became and remain good friends. I earned enough money from the card reading parties over the next few weeks to rent myself a bedsit. So my days as the wandering fool ceased, I became le bateleur and re-entered the race.

    Sometimes still, as I sit on the roof terrace looking out over the Aegean, making a ship on the horizon switch from here to there in the blink of an eye, I feel a cold nose nuzzle under the palm of my hand. This and that, here and there, blur into one: "Hello dog," I say, "fancy a biscuit."

Steve Mangan is an ex-careworker from the UK living as an ex-pat in Turkey. He is an avid reader – of the stars and of playing cards.