A NASTY INSULT by Michael Crowe



     As Olaf sat and waited for the tram to arrive three little girls with delightful yellow dresses studied him and whispered to each other:

     “Look at roly-poly.”

     “Oh what a roller!”

     “What’s in his pockets?”

     “A bit of mud in one side and a worm in the other!”

     These brazen remarks had everyone at the tram-stop glancing at the large fellow. All around devious smiles were hidden underneath moustaches and behind handkerchiefs as the girl’s gathered momentum.

     “He’s so big he eats balloons.”

     “Wooden balloons and hot air spoons.”

     “Custard cruise ships sail under his lips.”

     “Look at those teeny tiny red shoes.”

     “He stole shoes off a baby and butter from the fridge.”

     “Shoes off a baby and grease from Denise.”

     “Fatso heavy!”

     Olaf heard it all and gamely chuckled. He was, without question, a colossal man, larger than most campfires. His terminally windswept hair seemed intent on finding new absurd styles to undermine his face. His nose always seemed to be the remains of an accurate snowball that had belted him smack bang in the centre of his face. When it was snowing Olaf sometimes had to say, “Yes, they got me square in the face. No, no, leave it, it’ll melt away soon enough!”

     In the distance a crimson dot rumbled towards the little crowd. It was customary to applaud the vehicle’s approach. Only one person didn’t keep with tradition, a beautiful lady who seemed to be spying on Olaf. She noticed things others didn’t care to notice, for example Olaf’s dignified thumbs.

     The shiny red tram was stuffed full with just about everything except a chocolate bible. Olaf assumed a half way position on the tram, surveying the scene, allowing others to push on past him. A thin man with a theatrical beard screeched, “That man’s appetite won’t fit let alone his obscene gut!!”

     Olaf decided he should walk instead. He signalled his change of mind by stepping backwards with uncommon grace only for the girls in yellow to speed by and nudge him out of the way. He rolled around and then tumbled over like the last skittle. The girls all yelled, “Strike!” and the tram laughed.

     Olaf was still dazed, brushing bits of straw and dust from his trousers when a concerned lady asked,

     “Are you alright, sir?”

     Olaf began blinking quickly as specks of dust poured into his eyes. Through a haze he could only see an abstract watercolour version of a lady in a red frame. Wiping his eyes Olaf saw her better. She had a lovely little nose and a dainty chin. Everything about this heroine was delightful, from the tiny orange veil on her baby blue hat to the grey suede shoes that somehow seemed musical. Just then she covered her ears as a whistle blew. A sensational tingling in Olaf’s neck resonated around his full frame.

     She said, “It’s moving off.”

     “I’m walking. Please, go on.”

     At that, the lady jogged back and skipped onto the tram as it shuffled away. Olaf was quick to notice that the tram was moving slowly. He thought, “I can keep up with that, maybe even beat it for speed!” But in ten seconds time the tram looked like a little toy (having speed up quite dramatically). Olaf closed one eye and flicked the toy over the horizon.

     He began thinking of the lady who had been so kind to him. He decided she was called Brenda. When he thought of Brenda’s nose he thought of playing tennis against a brick wall with a soft scoop of peach ice cream as the ball. Peculiar thoughts such as this passed the time for Olaf as he followed the long track.

     Over on the distant tram the thin bearded man was addressing everyone in a ridiculous shrilly voice,

     “Oh what an escape! Disgusting, we all saw him, that fat fellow was going to flatten the lot of us! He would have creased us all! This whole journey would have been most disagreeable.”

     Brenda spoke up,

     “Do you mind?”

     All of the other conversations on the tram stopped, newspapers were folded closed. Everybody made a subtle tilt of their heads towards the altercation. The thin man was used to confrontations and he barked,“Do I mind – what?!”

     “You know nothing about him.”

     “I know this much, he was a fat ball. Don’t tell me to hold my tongue!”

      “I didn’t, and wouldn’t, tell you to hold your tongue. That would be rude and I try not to be rude to strangers.”

     Olaf reached the town just as stars began to blossom in the sky. Bright cafes opened out onto the cobbled streets where people lounged. A shop with a rich display of gingerbread toads and donkeys lent the whole area a sweet fragrance. A few people were cheering on a little girl as she chased a group of squawking hens and chickens. Olaf wafted by them looking for a hotel. On both sides of the street the drinkers began to pelt the tired man with their wit.

     “Look at him, walking on his hind legs!”

     “He should be juggling maggots and biscuits!”

     “Look at him. Keep eating ravioli and you’ll go the same daft shape.”

     “No! No more questionnaires!”

     People often thought that Olaf was handing out questionnaires. He had that sort of look about him but he hadn’t made anyone fill out a questionnaire since he wore a sailor suit. Again Olaf just smiled at the jibes and asked one of them for directions.

     “Hotel? Oh yes. Go round that corner and you’ll come to a baby. Put a slice of bacon on her head and take a left. Someone will ask you for your signature, draw a robin red breast. In the hotel spin every object in your room around 360 degrees.”

     Olaf thanked the man and walked away. Dog-tired he felt that he was climbing a roller coaster. He thought he might slip and fall all the way back down to the tram-stop, when he saw a plump boy placing raisons on a sleeping dog.

     “The hotel? It’s just up there behind those poplars.”

     The hotel looked like a wooden skyscraper which had been chopped in half and then pushed over. A chimney smoked on the roof. High above the entrance a sign said, “The Florist Inn.”

     Olaf was struck by the warmth when he walked into the lobby. His sight was drawn to flames glowing and crackling in a stone fireplace. Above this stood the welcoming party, two healthy looking, but stuffed animals: a mole and a fox. Somewhere, a gramophone was playing some delicate furniture music. A hat-stand supported a green felt number (which Olaf rather fancied for his own head) and a baby blue one with a rather distinctive orange veil.

     “Hello again.”

     Olaf turned and found himself with Brenda.

     “Brenda, I was just thinking about you!”

     “...I’m Maria. You’re the man who got knocked over, aren’t you?”

     “Yes I did, I, I am. I’m Olaf. Thanks for before.”

     “Oh it was nothing.”

     “My thank you is still there.”

     “Yes, well, thanks too. Now let me guess, you’ve walked all the way haven’t you?”

     “I did indeed. Oh – do I look worn out?”

     “Well, I wouldn’t say worn out Olaf. I think you look... nice.”

     “Nice?”

     Olaf nearly choked on the ethereal beauty of the word as blood streamed into his burning ears.

     “What? Has nobody ever said you look nice before?”

     He tried to smile, shrug and say breezily, “Of course,” but all of his facial muscles collapsed. This muscular slump was whispering every sorry detail of Olaf’s life into Maria’s ear. His face was all quick twitches. Maria realised what she’d done to the poor fellow.

     “I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t keep you Olaf. Here’s your key, room 291. Have a lovely rest.”

     Olaf took the key, lowered his face and rushed away.

     Olaf didn’t notice a thing about his room. He thought to himself in a whisper, “I think you look nice,” before sitting on the bed, lying back and sailing off to sleep. Then, as a dream appeared to him, Maria began to write a letter.

     In his dream, Olaf was riding an exercise bicycle. The peddling brought down snowflakes cut into tiny reindeer. He caught one and as it melted it transformed into smaller animals, a falcon, a kitten and so on. Reaching for the bicycle pump he found it was telescope. Through it he could see Maria. She leaned forwards to kiss him. Just then a frog croaked. Olaf and Maria looked around and saw that they were surrounded by masses of frogspawn. It looked like a million staring eyes. Maria leaned forwards regardless and kissed Olaf on the cheek, an action that produced deafening laughter. Olaf woke up one-shoed and Maria put down her pen.

     Olaf sleepily said to himself, “Oh such a nasty business. Horrible dream, unnecessary.” And then he stood and wobbled along to the communal bathroom.

     He washed his face and as the water dripped from his chins, he studied his reflection in the mirror. At that moment Olaf felt that he could see into the distance endlessly, forever, it was just that things always blocked his vision.

     When Olaf returned to his room there was a letter propped up on his pillow. The envelope said, “Olaf” so there was no confusion, it was for him. His heartbeat began to quicken, could Maria have written to him? No, it seemed impossible...

Dear Olaf,
I know it’s strange, we’ve only just met and here I am writing you a letter. I have some confessions to make to you.
As I waited for the tram I was watching you intently. I watched you without shame, staring as those girls threw insults. Your laughing, your shrugs amazed me.
As you laughed everything off, I too began laughing. I was actually enjoying the insults. Then before I know it you appear out of nowhere. Do you understand why I’m writing this? Earlier I pretended to guess that you had walked here. The truth is I know full well that the tram I caught was the last one of the day. No doubt I was trying to impress you...
Please Olaf, I would very much like us to be close friends, accept my apologies,

Love, Maria.

     Olaf was stunned. There was a knock on the door. Maria walked in, slowly, nervously. She sat down beside him and asked, “It’s not a little, maybe a little too forward is it?”

     Olaf looked at the letter again, not quite understanding, “Have I missed someth...” As his eyes raced up and down the letter, searching for something he might have missed, Maria leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. Then she whispered in to his good ear, “That’s not too forward is it?”

     Olaf said, “Have I fainted?”

     “No.”

     “Well, I thought I did. If I was in anyway normal I would...” and Olaf cut his sentence short to kiss Maria on the lips. There were no frogs croaking, but Olaf pulled back.

     Maria grabbed his hands. “What’s wrong?”

     “You know, people will laugh at you, with me.”

     “Let’s make them happy. Come on, let’s go for a walk.”

     Maria took him by the arm and they strolled out, leaving the hotel without a receptionist. Then as they walked together down the busy nighttime streets, lots of normally decent people laughed at them and said hideous, cruel things, but every time an insult flew their way they both laughed along with pleasure. The more vicious the insults were, the happier and stronger this couple became. And so if you happen to see a huge round man with small red shoes walking arm in arm with a beautiful lady, be sure to make them happy by shouting out a nasty insult.



ENDS © Michael Crowe