All Stories, General Fiction

Friday by Jane Dougherty

There are some lives that don’t begin in earnest until they are almost over. Time is almost used up before the moment is reached, the decision taken that will give life some meaning. Until that moment, only holiday snaps show that time has moved at all. Children grow up, then move away and there are no more holidays, no more snaps. Time passes unnoticed.

François had lived all his life opposite the market, had worked from the age of fourteen as a butcher on the market for the same patron. Children came and went, like his wife, with few regrets. The bistrot was always the same, same regulars, same old faces from his days as a butcher. The changes in the neighbourhood washed over him. He’d seen the Spaniards arrive and settle, then the Portuguese, the West Indians, and the Arabs. Now it was the turn of Black Africans, and the rowdy buggers who came from God knew where and looked like Gypsies. All brought their own preferences in food and drink. The African women sashayed down the middle of the pavements in their gaudy clothes and glitzy jewellery. Portuguese all in black scuttled to the market and back with their huge shopping baskets, keeping to the side, out of the way. Each group brought its own brand of noise. But they all settled down in the end, became part of the scenery.

François stepped off the pavement to avoid the drying racks, dripping with washing, and ducked a few footballs. It was Friday, his day for Les Bons Copains, the bistrot opposite the market entrance. There was that unmistakeable end of the week feel to the neighbourhood. People knocked off work early, kids dribbled home in noisy gaggles from lunchtime onwards, and even at the beginning of the afternoon the street was full of people just waiting for the final whistle. Wasn’t like that when he was a lad, he thought, as he watched a bank employee light up on the pavement and lean back against the wall with a distracted look on his face. Don’t know they’re born, he thought. Across the way, the women from the African hairdresser were doing the same. Only louder. He stared at them admiringly for a few moments. Big bums and bosoms. Clothes so tight they looked sprayed on, showing all the folds and crevices. Real women, he thought.

Sunlight fell across the pavement, making the dust glitter, and rebounding from the cans and cigarette packets that had accumulated since the street sweepers had passed in the morning. People were dirty buggers, François thought, and stared at a tightly wrapped bundle in the gutter, wondering why anybody would change a baby’s nappy in the street. He carried on walking to the intersection, slowly, distracted by the strange things people threw away: a single stiletto-heeled shoe and a bit of lace he took to be knickers; a pair of skis leant against a litterbin. He wondered at the strange lives some people led.

He didn’t know what made him stop as if he’d forgotten something, when he could almost taste the odours of coffee and pastis from Les Bons Copains. Perhaps it was the foul smell coming out of the kebab house on the corner; perhaps it was the beggar woman sitting on her plastic tub with outstretched hand and beseeching, unintelligible whine. Whatever it was, perhaps simply the sight of blossom on the trees by the side of the road that reminded him that spring had arrived, he changed his mind, and turned back the way he had come, passed his own corner, and carried on to the park.

He often walked through the park. Doctor’s orders. More exercise, less time sitting in the bistrot. He had always been corpulent; you had to be in his line of work. Whoever heard of a wimpy butcher? But he had to admit, his corpulence was beginning to look suspiciously like fat. His mates were all on the florid side too; butchery was thirsty work. They all had ill-defined faces now with watery eyes; all were pink around the gills with a pronounced gut. Who cared? Nobody, he realised, and heaved a sigh.

There were no railings round the park; it just began, stretched back from the roadside behind the parked cars and an alley of plane trees. Dusty. The grass needed cutting. He crossed the brown lawn, dry as a hay field, to look at the flowerbeds planted by members of the residents’ association, at the handmade signs and straggly flowers that he couldn’t distinguish from weeds. He was a butcher, not a gardener. Kept somebody amused, he supposed.

He was looking about to see if anybody had chucked away a chair he could sit on, when he saw the little dog. François had a cat; butchers always had cats. Cost nothing to keep if you were a butcher, ate the leavings. And they left you alone, got on with their own lives, just a bit of company to make the flat seem not quite so empty. He watched the dog idly; it kept running in and out of his line of vision while he was searching for a rickety chair. He forgot about it as soon as he spotted what he was looking for, by the hedge over by the public fountain. He took the chair out of the sun, and set it down beneath a tree. The chair listed a bit to starboard, then settled. He let it take his weight with a sigh of pleasure, took off his cap and fanned himself with it for a minute or two, his eyes vacant.

The park made him think of children. Not his own particularly, he had never had much time to bring them here to play. Butchery didn’t leave you much spare time. He didn’t even get much pleasure out of watching children, noisy little buggers mostly. But the sight of the swings always filled him with a vague melancholy as if there was something he had missed, that had receded just out of his grasp.

The little dog cocked its leg against a litterbin then set off again, trotting back and forth, nose to the ground, searching. Suddenly it bounded away. Not lost after all, François thought. The dog raced up to a man holding a child by the hand, barking joyfully. The man pulled the child to one side and shouted, lashing out with his foot. François frowned. He couldn’t see, his eyes full of the sun and never brilliant at the best of times, but he supposed the man was an Arab on his way to the mosque. It was Friday after all. On Fridays Arab men were in and out of the mosque all day, praying and looking holy, with the ends of their trouser legs tucked into their socks. They didn’t like dogs, thought they were unclean. If the dog touched his clothes he’d have to go home and change. Didn’t matter about the shoes. They took them off anyway. No need to kick it though, was there?

The dog trotted away again, ears and tail drooping. It eyed François, weighing him up, and approached, more circumspectly. What a mutt! François thought. Short legs, orange hair, wild and matted. Like a poodle that’s put its paw in a plug socket. The dog sat down in front of him, ears cocked, panting.

“You thirsty?” François asked, and heaved himself off the chair to press the button on the fountain. The little dog stood under the jet to drink, taking a shower at the same time. When its coat was wet it looked even smaller, skinny. Just a puppy, he thought, and went back to his chair. The dog sat down in the shade next to him. Together they watched nothing in particular: sparrows taking a dust bath, the shadows lengthening. They listened to the leaves rustling in the plane trees, and the murmuring voices of the mothers passing on their way home after letting the children play after school. The little dog lay in the shade next to François’ rickety chair, and looked up occasionally and smiled. François found himself wondering what it would have felt like if any of his children had been content to sit and keep him company in the shade.

When it got to six o’clock, Les Bons Copains beckoned. The moment had arrived, the tipping point, when life trotted off in a wholly unexpected direction, when the future started to exist as a place full of infinite possibilities. François raised himself to his feet and licked his lips.

“I could do with a drink. You coming, Friday?”

The dog leapt to his feet, ears pricked, tongue lolling expectantly.

“Friday,” François repeated to himself with a chuckle. He put the rickety chair behind the hedge out of sight. He’d be needing it tomorrow when he brought Friday to watch the spring turning into summer.


Jane Dougherty.

33 thoughts on “Friday by Jane Dougherty”

      1. Ha! True. Mine hasn’t either, only in a figurative way (I meant week of course). My part, Sweden, is only GMT+1 which means: I have only just begun shoveling up my sleigh ride from snow to go to Santa’s Factory. 😉


  1. Hi Jane, a poignant story which takes us on a journey of culture, family questions and the ultimate companionship. This was a very enjoyable tale which left us with a smile.
    Oh and welcome!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Hugh. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s a true story, mostly. François is quite a private person and it took several years of knowing him as a neighbour to piece together his family history. But once Vendredi arrived he was transformed. This great big butcher with the scruffy little dog he found in the park, very touching.


  2. Jane I dont know what to say! A wonderful, ‘grown-up’ piece of writing which proves just how versatile and talented you are.


  3. Hi Jane – welcome to Literally Stories! When I first read this piece out of the submissions queue I was in a lousy mood and didn’t quite connect with it. I’m very glad that I returned to it in a better mood and after some sleep because second time around I realised how wrong my initial assessment was. A lovely story to end the week. Nik


  4. Interesting to read in the comments section that you took someone you know as the starting point for your tale. I particularly enjoyed how Francois had seen the market and environs change over the years with the arrival of each new culture. I look forward to reading more from you here.


    1. Thanks, Richard. It’s surprisingly rare that I feel the urge to write about somebody I actually know. People who are ‘characters’ are often all out there—you feel there isn’t anything more to them. François is a discreet, private person who lived all his life within the same few streets. It was a wrench for him to leave though he made the best of it. The old story of property developers and poor uneducated people who get bullied. He’s settled in now in his new home. I hope he isn’t too homesick for the noise and colour of his old market.


  5. I’m always a sucker for a story that introduces a cute and amiable dog. The writing flowed along well and led to a spirit-lifting ending. Nice. BTW – I knew a wimpy butcher once … but that’s another story.


  6. Fantastically graceful piece of writing. It reminded me a lot of John Fante, especially “My Dog, Stupid”. There’s a matter of fact quality to your descriptions that are stunningly beautiful and the line -“Children came and went, like his wife, with few regrets.” How I wish that was mine!


    1. Thanks David. Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier—like six months earlier. The line you admire is François Delhiat all over. He more or less said the same thing to me. I don’t think I’ve ever met a father of a large brood of kids so indifferent to what they think of him, and so phlegmatic about what has become of them all.


  7. Hard to add to the comments from five years ago. Poignant, gentle, and true-to-life as it was taken from life. A pleasure to read. As a retiree though, I do have to ask: what’s a “weekend”?


  8. Hi Jane,
    I can’t believe that this is close to five years since it was published.
    This was and still is a brilliant piece of character writing.
    Glad to see it once again.


  9. Very positive story. Francois’ life is summarized in the story, I get a real feel for who he is, and how his life has been. Always conditions in his life, something missing, now comes Friday, a new beginning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.