Note: This is not a children’s story. It contains violence, swearing, and adult themes.
Depression survivor and social outcast Humpty Dumpty begins to crack when the government cuts off his disability benefits after he fails a Workfare Capability Assessment.
Victimised by local youths because of his physical deformities, and hounded by the Department for Workfare Avoidance because they have targets to meet, Humpty’s life begins to unravel.
But when he is finally pushed over the edge he knows exactly who is to blame. And he is determined that the name Humpty Dumpty will forever remain on the government’s conscience.
This is a work of fiction. None of the events in this story have taken place … yet.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
He looked down at the smiling crowd gathered to greet the prime minister and tried to summon up the courage to end his worthless life. The prime minister arrived in his bullet-proof car and the crowd cheered. Armed police rushed forward, pointing guns into the crowd as the prime minister stepped out of the car and waved to his adoring public.
A woman with a baby rushed towards him smiling, and was clubbed to the ground with a rifle butt before she got within twenty feet. Surrounded by bodyguards, the prime minister walked towards the fallen baby and picked it up. He kissed it gently on the cheek, and dozens of cameras flashed white lightning. He passed the baby to one of the bodyguards, who placed it back on the ground next to its unconscious mother.
A single tear rolled down Humpty’s face and he brushed it away, determined not to show any weakness in his final moments. Just lean forward and let gravity take over, his mind screamed at him.
Just fucking do it.
Humpty Dumpty was having a good month until the letter from the Department for Workfare Avoidance arrived. Much to his surprise, the new anti-depressants his doctor had prescribed were working. Who would have thought a simple change of pill could end decades of misery? Certainly not Humpty.
His transformation had been gradual, but within a few weeks of taking the new medication he had developed a regular routine. Gone were the days of sitting alone in his high-rise council flat watching the BBC News Channel on a continuous loop; replaced by a daily ritual of buying a loaf of wholemeal bread and feeding it to the ducks in the local park. He still had to put up with the strange looks he got whenever he ventured outside, and the cruel taunts of the youths from the neighbouring blocks of flats, but even those didn’t have the same devastating impact on him that they used to.
Humpty mused over this remarkable transformation in himself while he fussed over a pan of frying tofu, adding pinches of various herbs at random and stirring it with a wooden spoon until it was cooked to perfection. He ate it straight from the pan and washed it down with a mug of herbal tea.
He picked up a remote control and switched on a small portable television perched on top of the fridge. It was tuned to the BBC News channel, and Humpty frowned at the on-screen scenes of death and destruction. There had been an explosion in London, and the screen showed a sweeping panorama of mangled bodies lying in the rubble of what used to be a busy shopping area.
“Truly, this is a tragedy of epic proportions for the families of these innocent people,” the voiceover announcer said in a sombre voice.
The camera zoomed in and the television screen filled with a shaky image of the charred remains of one of the victims. The body was naked, but there wasn’t enough of it left to tell whether it had been a man or a woman.
“No words can describe,” the announcer continued, “the sheer tragedy of–”
Humpty changed the channel. The old Humpty Dumpty liked to watch the suffering of others, it made him feel better to know someone else was having a much worse life than he was. But he wasn’t that person anymore. He was the new, improved, Humpty Dumpty Plus. Chemically-induced though it may be, he didn’t want anything to intrude on his happiness.
He flicked through the TV channels, looking for something lighter, and settled on a programme with five women sitting around a table gossiping about celebrities Humpty had never heard of. Apparently one female celebrity, from something called Big Brother, had been seen in a night club with a well-known lesbian rights campaigner.
“Are wedding bells on the horizon?” one of the women sitting at the table asked.
“They could well be,” another replied, grinning with perfect, pearly-white teeth at the camera.
Humpty marvelled at the inanity of it all.
A few hours later, dressed in his favourite black poncho, Humpty picked up his grab-stick and used its rubberised claws to hold his sandals in place while he slipped them onto his feet. His long, curled toenails poked out of the front of the sandals like the hooked talons of a bird of prey.
He pulled open the door and stepped through onto the shared balcony, slamming the door behind him. Like he always did, he twisted the handle and gave the door a gentle shove to check it had locked properly. The last thing he wanted was to be burgled again. Not that he had anything worth stealing, it was more the mess they had made the last time that had upset him – the spray paint on the walls, the smashed belongings, the urine on his bed. It had taken a long time to clean it all up, and an even longer time before he felt brave enough to venture out again.
Raucous laughter came from below, and he looked down at a small playground area shared with the surrounding blocks of flats. A group of youths in hooded tops lounged on the swings. Some smoked cigarettes, others were breathing into plastic bags. All of them were staring up at Humpty.
“Fat bastard!” one called out.
“Fucking freak!” yelled another, cupping his hand over his mouth.
Humpty couldn’t tell from this height if they were boys or girls, and their pre-pubescent screeching voices gave him no clues either. They were all dressed in identical blue tracksuit bottoms and yellow trainers, with their faces partially covered by logo-emblazoned black hooded tops, like corporate-sponsored monks.
Humpty turned his back on the children and walked towards the lift, pressing its call button. The lift hummed into action at his command, and he waited patiently for it to arrive. The lift door slid open with a faint groan, and a strong smell of faeces assaulted Humpty’s nostrils. He looked down at a steaming brown splatter of shit lying in the corner of the lift.
He hovered in the doorway. Should he enter the lift or use the stairs? There were eighteen floors to climb down, and he didn’t relish the thought of that. He had been forced to use the stairs once before, when someone had thought it would be good fun to bash all the lift doors with a heavy lump hammer. The doors were so badly dented they refused to open. Humpty had almost given himself a heart attack climbing back up to the eighteenth floor on his return, and vowed never to attempt it again. It had taken the council two weeks to get around to fixing the lift doors, and Humpty had almost run out of food before he was able to go out for new supplies.
He pinched his nose with his thumb and forefinger, and stepped into the lift trying not to gag as he pressed the button for the ground floor. The smell was even more unbearable in the confined space when the door closed, and his eyes started to water. It was an acrid smell, like the waste produced by someone who had eaten too much curry the night before and it had fermented inside them before being evacuated from their bowels. Humpty wished the lift would hurry up and descend so that he could escape from its foul stench.
The lift slowed, and came to a shuddering halt at the third floor. The door groaned open and an old woman with a shopping trolley looked in at Humpty in disgust before turning on her heels and walking away. Humpty jabbed the ground floor button several times and willed the door to close faster. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take.
The lift reached the ground floor, after what seemed like an eternity to Humpty, and he stepped out into the relative fresh air of the litter-strewn courtyard. Discarded chip wrappers, beer cans and cigarette ends lay everywhere, and he spent several minutes picking them all up with his grab-stick and dropping them into a large communal dustbin nearby. He ignored the jeers from the youths watching from nearby.
It was a dull, cloudy day, and Humpty cast his eyes down at the pavement as he walked along the main road. He knew people would be staring at him, they always were, and he didn’t want to catch their eye. Didn’t want to see the look of pity or outright contempt that he knew would be on their faces.
Young children were always the worst. Look mummy, look at the funny man, they would say, tugging their mother’s arm excitedly until she gave them a slap and told them not to be so rude about the poor man. Or more often than not just laughed and agreed with the child. Yeah, what a freak. Sometimes both parent and child would bound up to him and prod him in the face with their grubby fingers as if he was wearing some fancy dress costume for their amusement.
Walking through the post office door a queue of old women, collecting their pensions before dithering over which design stamp would be the best to put on a letter to their grandchildren, turned towards him. Humpty could see the disgust on their cracked faces, no attempt made to disguise it as they scowled at him. He padded meekly to the back of the queue and pulled the flaps of his poncho across his face, covering as much of it as he could without obscuring his view. He tried not to listen to the murmured comments from the old women, who had turned their back on him.
“Should have been smothered at birth, that’s what they would’ve done in my day.”
“I feel sorry for his mother. Imagine having to explain that to her husband when it popped out.”
“That reminds me, I need to buy some Easter eggs for the kiddies for next year now they’re half price.”
When Humpty reached the front of the queue he took out his post office savings book and presented it to the young female assistant staring at him intently.
“Um… I’d like to withdraw thirty pounds please,” he said, avoiding her gaze by looking at a poster advertising credit cards he knew he would never be able to apply for.
The corners of the assistant’s mouth twitched as she tried to suppress a smile. “Have you got any identification on you?”
Humpty pulled out his identity card and held it out to the girl without comment. Why she always asked to see it was beyond his understanding. He had been a regular customer at the post office for more years than the girl had worked there, so she should really be able to recognise him by now.
The girl snatched the identity card from Humpty’s outstretched hand and peered at the photograph. She looked from the photograph to Humpty, then back at the photograph, several times, frowning in concentration.
Humpty fumbled with his fingers while he waited, his face burning under the girl’s gaze. Seemingly satisfied Humpty was who he claimed to be, she handed back his identity card and counted out thirty pounds, with exaggerated hand movements as if she was addressing an imbecile. Humpty scooped up the money, put it safely in his black hemp wallet, and mumbled his thanks before leaving the post office.
Outside, he made his way to the corner shop he bought his groceries from. He knew their prices were higher than those of the out of town supermarket, but once he added on the cost of travelling by bus this apparent saving would be more than wiped out. He also had ethical problems with giving his money to large, multinational corporations and preferred to frequent small, family-owned businesses whenever possible. Still looking down at the pavement, he heard the youths sitting on the steps of the shop long before he saw them.
“Look at that fucking cunt,” one remarked.
“Fuck me, it’s Eggman, innit?” another quipped, taking out a phone and snapping a picture. Within seconds they all had their phones brandished at arm’s length towards Humpty and a series of fake shutter sounds clicked at him.
“This one’s going on fucking Youtube, innit?” one of the youths announced. “Go on then, you fucking freak, do something funny.”
“Um… Excuse me, please,” Humpty said, his voice an octave higher than normal. “I’d like to go in there.”
This brought forth a new bout of laughter. One of the youths mimicked Humpty’s words in an absurd falsetto. A girl stood up abruptly, causing Humpty to flinch back.
“Oi Eggman, get us some cider and smokes, yeah?” the girl called out.
Humpty looked at her. She seemed about thirteen years of age, as did the other youths standing around the steps holding out their phones. They were all dressed in the regulation tracksuit bottoms and logo-plastered hooded top worn, seemingly, by everyone of her generation.
“No, sorry, I can’t,” Humpty mumbled, looking away.
“You fat fuck,” the girl screamed, stepping towards Humpty menacingly. “You fucking freak. I’ll fucking do you for that, you fat bastard.”
Humpty stepped around her and squeezed through the gap the girl had made on the steps, hurrying into the shop with his heart pounding. The barrage of abuse and the laughter followed him, muffled by the door as it swung closed behind him.
“Hello, Humpty,” the young girl on the till said when she saw him.
Humpty mumbled his reply and picked up a shopping basket. He used his grab-stick to deposit items into the basket, totting up the total price in his head as he went. He plucked a carton of soya-milk from a bottom shelf and transferred it to the basket. He liked to heat the milk up and add a spoon of fair trade organic cocoa powder for his bed time drink, and had finished off his last carton the night before. He picked up two loaves of wholemeal bread, one for himself and one for the ducks. He moved to the fresh fruit and vegetables display and chose what he wanted.
Walking to the till, he glanced at a rack of newspapers as he put down his shopping basket. Benefit cheats cost tax payers billions, one headline screamed at him. Stop putting benefit scroungers in mansion houses, demanded another.
“I wouldn’t let them bother you, Humpty,” the girl said. “I’ve already phoned the police about them hanging around outside the shop, they should be here soon to move them along.”
“Oh, they don’t, um…” he glanced at the badge on her uniform, embarrassed that he couldn’t remember her name. “Sally. I’m used to it.”
Sally nodded sympathetically. “That’s eight pounds, thirty-two pence then,” she said, holding out her hand.
Humpty paid her and started to shuffle away towards the exit.
“Bye then, have a nice day,” Sally called out after him, in a cheerful sing-song voice.
Outside, the youths had gathered in a rough circle around the shop doorway and their abuse resumed even before Humpty opened the door. Phones were raised and pointed towards him, and he blinked at them before looking down at the youths’ feet so that he wouldn’t antagonise them any more than necessary.
“Um… Excuse me,” he said. “Please let me past.”
“Or what,” screamed the girl who had asked for cider and cigarettes. She walked up to Humpty with her fists clenched and stood inches away from him, staring into his face. Spittle flew from her mouth as she spoke. “You gonna jump off a fucking wall or what, you fucking freak?”
Her friends laughed, and their phones wavered before them.
“Um… I don’t want any trouble,” Humpty said, trying to avoid eye contact with the girl. But her close proximity made it impossible, and when he turned his body to one side she repositioned herself to fill his field of vision.
“Well you should have got us some fucking cider and smokes then, yeah? This is all down to you, Eggman, not me.”
“I—I can’t,” Humpty stammered. “It’s the law.”
“Fuck your law,” the girl growled, her fists rising. “And fuck you too.”
Humpty took a step backwards, turning his body instinctively to avoid the blow he knew was coming. His grab-stick lashed out, striking her on the arm, and she jumped away, howling. Humpty looked at her, horrified by what he had inadvertently done.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” he said.
“You fucking cunt,” the girl screamed, clutching her arm. “I’m gonna fucking do you for that.”
The girl screamed obscenities in Humpty’s face, and without conscious thought he lashed out, striking her on the side of the head with his grab-stick. She staggered to one side, howling in pain, a hand clasped to her ear. Humpty pushed past her, sending the girl spinning to the ground, and ran full pelt down the street with his hands flailing out from his sides to keep his balance.
“You’ve had it now, you fat fuck,” one of the youths shouted after him.
Humpty ran until his heart felt like it was going to explode. Bewildered pedestrians on the pavement before him scattered out of his way, and stood to watch his retreat in amazement. When he could run no further, he slumped down against a wall and held his face in his hands. He sat there, quietly sobbing to himself, until a small voice broke through into his consciousness.
“Mummy, look at the funny man.”
Humpty looked up through tear-blurred eyes to see a small crowd had gathered around him.
“Are you okay there?” asked the child’s mother, a mixture of fear, contempt and concern on her face.
“Did you fall off the wall, like in the song?” asked the child, wide eyed and innocent.
“Um … no,” replied Humpty, wiping his nose with the back of his hand and wondering what song that might be. “But thank you for your concern, it’s very kind of you. Um… I was just having a rest. I’ve been running, you see.”
He rolled forward, and used his grab-stick to struggle back to his feet. Brushing the dirt from his clothes with one hand, he picked up his shopping with the grab-stick and looked at the wide-eyed child. She was still staring at him intently. “But thank you for your concern,” he added.
“Did the Easter Bunny chase you?”
Humpty stifled a laugh at the absurdity of the child’s question, and grinned down at her. She backed away, suddenly afraid, and clutched her mother’s leg.
“Something like that, yes,” Humpty said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my way.”
“Bye, Humpty Dumpty,” the child called out as he walked away.
Humpty wondered how the girl knew his name.
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The Fall of Humpty Dumpty
The Fall of Humpty Dumpty
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The Fall of Humpty Dumpty
The Fall of Humpty Dumpty