The Man Who Was A Suit of Armour


The suit of armour is drinking on the couch when his daughter texts him at two in the afternoon, saying that she’s dropping by at three - which only gives him an hour advance warning.

Only an hour. That’s not enough time. He needs to sober up, clean the mess off the kitchen table - maybe pop round to the shops to get some... some... what are they called, those biscuits you can snap in two? He's too drunk, he can't remember. Can’t form complex thoughts at the present.

That's probably why she only gave him an hour warning. So she could catch him out in the act, could find him piled up in a heap of rusted metal on the couch. Limbs strewn like a car crash, drinking in the middle of the day, watching rerun episodes of ’Two Men In A Car’ on the television. Could find him regressing. Like he promised he wouldn’t. Promised he’d do better, try to find a job, really. And - well, he’d meant it at the time.

He’s good at that. Meaning things, in the moment. The words aren’t lies when he says them, it’s only later that…


Better clean up, he figures. He does his best with the kitchen, and the bathroom. Splashes a bit of cold water on his - for lack of a better word - face. Sobers up.

The suit of armor looks at himself in the bathroom mirror. His body is literally a living suit of European full plate, specifically in the 16th century Greenwich style. A relic. It's a curse, of course - his ex-wife was a literal witch on her mother's side, and in the divorce she... well, the doctors had tried to fix it, but curse magic was a rare problem in these modern times, and he doesn't blame them, not really.

He's a suit of living armour now. He's learned to live with it. He doesn't need to eat or drink, but he does anyway. He wears clothing over the top of himself, despite the absurd image it presents.

When he leaves the house, he tells customer service workers he's twenty younger than he actually is. It's a joke. It never lands well. He still does it. It could be true, anyway - who would be able to tell?

In the mirror, the suit of armour regards himself with detachment, watches the faceless metal helmet in the mirror turn to the left as he does, turn to the right as he does, stare back at him with empty sockets. He drags a gauntlet down the metal faceplate, the same way he used to touch his cheeks, checking for stubble.

No rust. Okay. Good enough.

He gingerly plucks the scattered bottles from around the house and carries them carefully out to the recycling bin. It’s a hot day in the core of summer: the pavement is scorching.

His path down to the letterbox and the bins is of that old-fashioned pebble-inlay surface, so when he walks over it each step feels like knives stabbing into his soles. He still feels it, even though he's made of metal.

All part of the curse. Old magic.

Out of nowhere, a stray neutron firing in a sluggish, cheerful way, the suit of armour remembers the story of the little mermaid. Original Hans Christian Anderson, the really gory one, where she turns to sea foam. In that one, part of the deal she makes with the sea-witch, right, is that she gets legs for the price of her voice - but every step she takes with them will be as if red hot knives are cutting into her feet. Another old curse. Which just goes to show: those old guys could think up some sadistic shite, right enough.

His daughter’s dark blue car pulls up to the curb alongside just as he’s dropping the beer bottles into the recycling bin.

She saw it. Crap, she saw it. Her dark head moves about in the drivers seat, getting her bag, turning the engine off. The rumble quiets suddenly to nothing. But he can tell, he knows from the way she stays in the seat a little longer: she’s seen him dropping the empty bottles into the bin, she knows they’re all from today, and the shame that courses through him is that of immediate heat and fire all over.

Sheepish, the suit of armour shuffles sideways with a great clanking of metal, and subtly pretends to just be getting the mail.

He’s wearing a singlet and a pair of knee length pants: couch surfing outfit. Suddenly aware of his own absurdity, the suit of armour feels his heart shrink inside the armour, dissapearing deeper, and deeper into the core hollow inside him. Nobody can see his face. He doesn't have a face.

In the car, his daughter’s head falls back against the seat. Beyond the shadows and glare of the window, he can’t make out her expression.

Not happy. That’s all he can really quantify - not happy.

A hard lump comes into his throat, but he waves at her as cheerfully as he can manage. The motion sounds like a collection of pots and pans being thrown down a staircase.

And crap, he didn’t have enough time to pop round to the shops, not enough time to get some biscuits. He can’t remember the name of them - those ones you can snap in two, tip of his tongue, his dad used to buy them by the crate. They used to be his favourite. Why can’t he bloody well remember? The littlest things are what vexes him: staying sober, keeping his house clean, buying the right type of biscuits. The smallest things elude his grasp now, not like they used to, and it makes him feel so - so - useless? Powerless? Bloody futile. Words aren’t easy, anymore, but then again, they never came smooth to start with.

Some days he wakes up completely hollow. He feels the abscence of his body like a toothache, a dull constant gravity.

Some days he physically can’t get out of bed. Being a suit of armour, he doesn’t need to eat, or drink, or piss - so he just lies there, empty. There is nothing inside that metal shell that could even think about moving. No body.

Compared to that, the days his daughter visits are always some of the better ones.

The car door opens, she gets out. “Hi Dad!”

“Hi honey, just checking the mail. Seeing if I have any new bills.”

“Oh there’s always more, isn’t there? Let’s go inside, it’s so hot today. My shirt’s more sweat than shirt, ugh, I had to peel myself out of the seat just now. How’ve you been? Keeping well?”

The conversation continues like that all the way inside, the suit of armour clutching the envelopes like a lifeline, the grip shaking just a minuscule amount. As soon as he can, he drops the bills like he’s been burned, ashamed of the ageing tremor in his hand. Over sixty, his body fails him more often than it doesn’t. He’s not scared. Really, it doesn’t scare him, getting old. He’s just embarrassed by it, that’s all.

His daughter falls into the kitchen table like a sigh.

She's wearing her work clothes. Maybe her curly hair was neat this morning, but it's frizzled and unkempt now. Her makeup's sweating. She lives with her boyfriend these days, but he doesn't hear much about it. They have a dog, he thinks. Forgets the name of it, but she's shown him the pictures.

It’s a round table, and his dad’s old chairs. Table was his dads, too, his dads everything. When Arthur passed he left all of it to the older brothers, but they’d already had homes and families of their own by that point, so the suit of armour ended up with a lot of it. Those old knights - all of them better than him, better put-together. He doesn't talk to them much. Skips the family reunions.

“Got any biscuits?” His daughter asks, smiling tiredly. “Tea?”

More than anything, he wants to get this for her. “Sorry, no - no biscuits, didn’t have time to pop round to the shops when I got your text… tea though, I should have some. Hold on while I get the kettle.”

His daughter waves it away with an airy hand, an abrupt and relaxed ‘it’s fine’ gesture, dismissing his worries. The gesture reminds him of her mother. A stab of mixed emotions lances him like a hot poker, and he turns with a brusque shuffle towards the kettle to make it go away.

“How’ve you been keeping?” She asks, again, knawing away at the same questions until he stumbles into honesty.

“Oh, fine, fine,” he answers, cheerfully, and tries to mean it. It is fine. It has been fine. “Only a couple slip-ups, here and there - but fine, you know? I really feel like I’m getting somewhere.”

He does, is the thing. He means it. He really, really means it, which is why it’s so hard. Hard for his ex-wife. Hard for his daughters. The other one doesn’t - ‘I can’t Dad, I just can’t’ - come anymore, to visit him, not since their last flaming row. She’d said a lot of things, about how she was sick of - well, some things, mostly to do with him being a suit of armour - anyway the point is, this last daughter is all he’s got left, after the divorce.

Angela, that’s her name. His daughter. His last precious thing, the last thing he’s got left to fuck up, his final prayer. His little angel. And every moment he’s around her, he’s desperately praying he doesn’t lose her as well.

“It’s just been… well, I’m sure you don’t want to hear about it.”

“Dad, that reminds me. There’s this new club opening up down the road. It could be good for you to get out of the house, meet some people again. Look, I brought you a brochure-“

She pulls it out of her purse to slide across the table, but he doesn’t look at it. He knows without looking what it’ll be: he’s seen the atmosphere a thousand times before. The laughing roll of voices, the clink of glasses and cutlery, the casual ever-present gambling, lotto, warmth, noise. The thought alone is enough to make him retreat inwards, like a snail curling into its shell.

“Oh I’m - probably all right for that. Wrong sort of crowd for me. A bit too much...”

A bit too much alcohol, he doesn’t say, because that excuse is now completely flimsy, given she saw him dropping a session of day-drinking into the bin when she arrived. 'Too much people' is what he wants to say. But he doesn't.

The expression on his daughter’s face sours, the skin under the eyes hollows and she purses her lips. For a moment, she wears her mothers face.

“Besides, bloody no-one to go with,” the suit of armour can’t help but blurt, bitterly. He can’t help it. But then he sucks down the lump of shame and resignation, and pushes it down until he feels cheerful again. Cheerful for Angie.

She deserves better than him moping around the place. That’s not why she came over, she came over to see her Dad, didn't she? And he can stil fucking be that for her, can’t he?

...He can still manage it, right? Being a father?

“God I remember when you were so little.” He smiles around the lump in his throat. Blames the sudden sentimentality on the day-drinking. “Running around. You were such a little rascal. Our cute little demon.”

Angie's all he's got left. So if he's not a father, if he can't manage the one worthwhile thing that keeps him human, then he might as well lie down and...

He won't be a burden to her. He just won't, that's all.

'What happened?' he asks himself. But he knows it’s not her who’s changed, but him. He remembers running around after her, when happiness was infectious, when it didn’t take much to be a family and in love. He wasn’t always unreliable, and emotionless, and tired all the time. He wasn't always a suit of-

The kettle snaps to attention with a little click, like a salute.

“Ah, tea’s done”, he says, to busy himself, and shuffles over to make it, clanking.

What happened, huh? Nothing happened, and anyway, doesn’t matter now. It’s enough for him if he just. Gets through tomorrow. Stays out of the bottle. He's no hero of old, no knight in shining armour - these are his dragons to slay: the little things. Leaving the house. Talking to people. Answering his emails, paying his bills, ringing up the unemployment people. Drinking less. He’s trying, really, he is. But the main thing that vexes him, at least in this moment, more than anything else, is the name of those biscuits he couldn’t remember.

They used to be his favourite biscuits. It’s strange like that, that something that used to be so familiar could grow so dim in memory? What was the name? They had a line down the middle where you broke them in half, and each half had a word on it - the name of the biscuit, that was it, bloody hell why can’t he remember? For some reason ‘Frerero Rocher’ keeps coming to mind. But he knows it’s not that. That’s a bloody chocolate. Two words. Biscuit name. You split them in half to share, dunk them in your tea...

“Sorry again about the ‘no biscuits’” he starts, and then launches right into, “What are those ones with the - you split them to share, you know? What are those called again?”

His daughter looks up from his bills with an expression of polite - something, he can’t quite decide, what’s that expression? The ‘let’s keep him happy’ expression, but - fond, sort of. It’s the way a daughter often looks at a father, particularly after a spectacular bad joke. ‘All right, Dad, whatever you say.’ It’s that kind of expression.

“I don’t really keep up to date on the names of different biscuits, Dad.” His daughter says, with a smile to show she’s amused. And she looks back down at his mail, flips through the envelopes and bills, and pulls out a banking app on her phone.

But it’s not a joke, not really, and the suit of armour tries not to let on how much it worries him: not being able to remember the smallest things. How much he needs to get her these biscuits for next time, so it's not just her looking after him. He won't be a burden. “No, no, no no. No, no, it’ll come to me. It’ll come to me.” He pauses to think about it. “Begins with an ‘F’ maybe.”

“So how’s the job search going? Any luck?”

The suit of armour pretends not to hear her, concentrating on remembering the name of a biscuit.

“Dad, the job search?”

“Mm, yeah.” He says, vaguely. And then, triumphantly, “Scotch Fingers!”

It’s the triumph of his day, literally. Which is both sad, and a good example of why he’s really not ready for the job market. What else can he do but leech off the government - one of the dregs of society - when it takes all his mental faculties to remember the name of a common confectionary? Scotch Fingers. Snap one to share. That’s it! They used to be his favourite, at one point.

“Oh, sorry honey, no I’ve not had any luck. No callbacks, no interviews, but that’s sort of expected. I’m much more interested in you, how’re you going?”

“I’m sure if you just went out, Dad, cleaned yourself up a bit, asked around-“

“Oh I’m too old to be going round asking for a job. I just couldn’t.”

Shame, again, the fragile male ego, as his wife - ex-wife - would call it, but sue him if it’s the truth. His pride wouldn’t let him, oh no. Besides, who’s hiring old suits of armour, these days?

“But you, angel, still working round at that optometrist?”

“Just came from there now, actually.” She sits back into her chair with a sigh. “Dad-“

“Nothing’s changed with me, you know how it is. But you! How’s my little girl? Made any new friends?”

“Dad, I’m not-“ She pulls a hand down her face. Tired. Not happy. There are lines there, at the corners of her mouth.

“Not five, no, of course not.” The suit of armour says, a little in shock. “I’m sorry. Of course not. My little girl is a woman, all grown up. I’m sorry. Of course not.”

The forty-five year old woman sighs. His little girl.

The suit of armour nods, quieter. “Of course not.”

“How about you, Dad?”

“What about me?”

“Made any new friends?”

The words shock him back into his body.

“Made any new friends? No - well, the unemployment people are very understanding, I suppose, and we’re getting to a good professional client relationship, you could say - but no friends, as such, not actually. No. New friends at my age, there’s an idea. Where would I even meet people?”

“Round at the pub?” Angela taps the brochure still waiting on the table.

The suit of armour doesn’t spare it a glance. “No, it’s too insular round there, the majority of it, very insular, a guy can’t just walk up and introduce himself. Just couldn’t. They’d look at me like I’m a- anyway, no, I’d have to go bowling or something. Join a team. Sport, or something. I’m not sure how it’s done, how I’d do it…”

“But you are thinking about it.” Angie seems happy about that.

“Oh if you want me to, of course, I’ll definitely think about it.” The suit of armour promises. “Definitely, I really mean it. It’d be nice to make new friends.”

A joke occurs to him. He takes his helmet off, and mimes bowling with it. Even though it's akin to taking his head off his shoulders, it doesn't hurt at all. "Look, I've got a ball already. Just need to get some practice in!"

She looks across at him, fond and tolerant.

But when she leaves, waving him optimistically goodbye from the window of her car, out in the driveway, and the suit of armour waves back just as hopefully, the problem is this:

He does think about it. Very hard. But as soon as she’s gone, it’s hard not to fall back into habit and relax into the couch again. At which point, all his hard thinking, all his ideas and plans, all his well-meant promises go puttering out of his head, and vanish.

He does mean it, is the thing. He means everything in the moment, he means it as hard as anything, and when he makes promises it’s with every intention of following through.

It’s just afterwards, it’s...


Anyway. It was nice of his daughter to come round for a visit today. It always makes that particular day one of the better ones. And if, now, he can’t remember everything they talked about, that’s fine too, he’ll remember it later. Promise. He means it.

Um. But - what was that other thing... something he had to do? He was thinking about something before she came over, and he remembers in a vague way, the idea of an errand he had to run, or something. Not urgent. But important, important somehow, what was it…

Right! He wanted to go round to the shops. And it’ll be nice, he thinks, to have some biscuits here for her the next time she comes around, something nice they can share, whatever the name of them was. He’ll get his favourites if he can. Frerero Rocher. Wait, no, that’s a chocolate. What was it?

He’ll remember, he’ll remember. It’ll come to him in time.

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