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The Scallywags Highway

Oscar lived in a boarded-up concrete bunker in the town cemetery.

At one time there had been a sink with running water and a flushable toilet. By the time Oscar took up residence, vandals had broken both facilities with a hammer and the cemetery gardeners had shut off the water to prevent the closest graves from becoming waterlogged.

To gain entry to his abode, he pulled the wooden cover away from the doorframe where the doorway met the wall and left the wooden cover open on one side to serve as a preliminary entrance. The original door with a new solid lock fitted by Oscar opened into a small, dark, nine-by-six foot room.

He’d stolen a hard broom from behind one of the town’s restaurants and swept the place out as best he could before adding a single mattress found in a back alleyway and a bundle of blankets supplied by the Salvation Army.

The mattress lay across three wooden pallets to provide some insulation from the concrete floor and afford more distance from spiders or other bugs presumably lurking in the darker corners of the place.

For light, he repaired the broken window above his head with a piece of cut Perspex and used a halogen lamp stolen from the nearest hardware store when the natural light began to fade in the evenings.

In the corner by the doorway was a flimsy, woodworm-ridden set of shelves that he used to store his bits and pieces.

Considering some of the places he’d stayed in over the years, it wasn’t too bad.

He didn’t know the tombstones by heart. What would be the point of that? But when sitting at various favourite cemetery sites, as a means to test his eyesight, he gazed at the inscriptions on nearby headstones -- some close, some distant, some in between – though in fact, the more blurred the names became the less it had to do with his eyes than his state of inebriation. However, in this way, Oscar made a grim discovery.

The paupers’ plots were located in the far southwest corner of the graveyard which was almost permanently in shadow from the high walls, and heavily overgrown with weeds and lichen. When he had first discovered it several weeks before, a shiver had gone down his spine at the dark loneliness of the place and the anonymity of its residents created by the simple expediency of numbered wooden crosses as opposed to engraved headstones. Oscar avoided this area of the cemetery as much as he could.

By eleven thirty that Sunday morning, he had returned to the central bench of the middle walkway, his arms stretched to near breaking by the weight in each hand of a carrier bag holding three, two-litre plastic bottles of White Lightning cider. His dark green shoulder bag containing cigarette butts picked up along the way hung from his right shoulder.

On the way through, he stopped beside one of the central oaks by the pathway. Every morning at around eleven or eleven thirty, an elderly lady came to the cemetery to feed the grey squirrels by placing heaps of monkey nuts at various locations along the central path and in the bowl of the large oak.

Oscar filled the side pocket of his green bag with these before resuming his trek to the central bench.

By the time he reached it, his stinking body was bathed in sweat and his trousers stuck to his legs. He sat down on his favourite bench to ease his aching arms of their burden and immediately unscrew the lid of the first two-litre plastic bottle and drink deeply to assuage his raging thirst. After wiping his forehead for the umpteenth time with his grimy coat cuff, he set to rolling a smoke from the contents of his shoulder bag, doing everything in slow motion, giving him time to cool down before performing his final task which would allow him to settle there for the remainder of the day.