Dinger Bell, by Paul Harris

It wasn’t until Dinger tried to kill me that I realised how much you have to hate yourself before you hate the world. The hand that fate deals you, and how you decide to play it, can make or break a person. It is simply up to you. And there are, after all, some very successful orphans in the world. Not that Dinger was an orphan, or for that matter, alone in the world. He had family. Dinger and his sister Sandra lived and worked in our small town in Somerset. Sandra Bell was a part-time psychiatric nurse in a small hospital on the edge of town. She scared the life out of me. Sandra was a big girl. Not fat, because fat has a jolliness associated with it, especially when it comes to nurses. There is also something sexy about jolly fat nurses taking your temperature and tucking you in at night. Sandra Bell was not sexy, she was big. She resembled a national monument, or a great statue built for monarchs. When she came striding down the street towards you, the earth shook beneath your feet, and small children screamed. And people seeing her for the first time just stopped in their tracks and stared. Sandra seemed oblivious to the adverse attention and went about her daily business with a fixed jawed tenacity that I now think, in hindsight, is what provoked all the fuss. Children cried, motorists swerved, and cyclists careered – not because she was big, but because of her grim and determined expression. It turned heads.

When questioned by the police about Dinger’s mental health, Sandra, like the rest of us, said she had noticed nothing unusual about her brother’s behaviour. We all said that there was nothing unusual about his behaviour, nothing abnormal, but there was. We just couldn’t see it. We were all guilty of not seeing the woods for the trees, and Sandra Bell was no exception, Sandra, after all, was a trained psychiatric nurse. She was surrounded by people who suffered from eating disorders, emotional problems, and mental and physical abuse; and she was, I hear, very good at her job. The patients found her very sympathetic and her company reassuring – a perfect example of the adage: “what really counts is on the inside”. And yet, she never noticed anything abnormal about her brother? No-one did.

The way he walked was more of a primeval lunge, the way most people look when they are walking down a hill. His face was large and doughy and his skin had the placidity of a corpse. Dinger wore a thin moustache on his upper lip that made him look more sinister than perhaps he had wished it to. His eyes, although small and deep set in his big puffy face, were not nefarious, but surprisingly melancholic. This alone posed the only juxtaposition in his appearance. His voice was a little high-pitched for a man of his age, and his Yorkshire accent only added to the comedy. Even the clothes he wore were bizarre.

Dinger really did give the impression that he hated the world and everyone in it, especially me. The only time he became passionate in the defence of others was when animals were threatened, seals in particular. Any mention of going clubbing at the weekend would send him into a fierce rage or, more often than not, one of his long and tedious sulks. I always preferred the rage, it was short lived and Dinger soon ran out of expletives. A sulk, on the other hand, could last all day and curtailed any fun we might otherwise have had. We did have fun – that is, the other members of the kitchen brigade and me – he was so easy to wind up, we just couldn’t help ourselves.

We all have ambitions in life, and some of us have greater ambitions than others. No matter how big or how small an ambition might be (and they’re all big to the individual), they are all things that we would like to see blossom to fruition. Dinger’s ambition was to kill someone. He spoke of it often. He fantasised aloud to the rest of us: “I want to be a hit man. I want to kill people. I’d even do it for nothing, the pleasure would be all mine”. Then he would add, “Harvey, you’d be top of my list”. There you are, it’s in your face… what more, you ask, did I need to be convinced this man was crazy? Writing it down now does make my case look rather weak, but at the time I thought it was all harmless banter. Dinger was having the biggest and last laugh keeping up this remarkable and flawless act. There were no cracks in his performance, it was admirably tight. We now know that it was no act at all.

Dinger’s real name was Colin Bell, hence “Dinger”. We were also fond of calling him “Colin the talking colon” for reasons that I hope are self-explanatory. Is it any wonder that he hated me so much? He was the butt of all our jokes. He was probably the butt of everyone’s jokes, everyone who ever knew him. Dinger was that rather rare person that, no matter how hard you tried to fight it, you just felt compelled to take the piss.

At secondary school there was boy in my year called Anthony Tillard. He was very much the same and never learned to rise above it. Even the bullied and victimised children picked on Anthony. We all did. If you passed him in the corridor, you felt compelled to trip him up or hit him. Children who would, under normal circumstances, never raise a hand in anger – not just boys, girls too – felt an uncontrollable desire to hit him or make fun of him.

In the English department there were seven classrooms. Each classroom held on average thirty children of all ages. Anthony was in my class and he sat on his own, one desk in front of me. On one occasion, the teacher asked him a question and he got the answer wrong. A boy called Ian Mapstone, a good student and a friend of mine, did something completely out of character – he started to bang his desk and shout “TILLARD, TILLARD!” Soon the whole class, myself included, began to chant “TILLARD, TILLARD!” The class next door heard us and joined in, “TILLARD, TILLARD!” Before too long, every kid in every class of the English department, all seven classes, all two hundred and ten children, were banging their desks and screaming frantically “TILLARD, TILLARD!” All the while Anthony Tillard just sat there. I would have done one of three things in his shoes: taken it as a sign of worship and thanked them with an air of regal indifference, just got up and walked out, or quite simply joined in with the chant. Anthony never defended himself for the sake of his pride or self esteem, and neither did Dinger Bell.

It’s a strange sensation when you know that a gun is being deliberately pointed at your back. You cannot see the gun, but you know instinctively that it’s there and aimed at you. You can feel it on you like an extended aura, reaching out to tap coldly on the spot it wishes to fire its deadly cargo. I turned around slowly and deliberately. I’ve seen enough movies to know that any sudden movement could spell disaster, and I had no intention of resembling a colander. I faced Dinger, and looked into the eyes of a man drenched in hatred. He kept the gun trained on me with a quivering hand, only now the extended aura was tapping uncomfortably upon the spot between my eyes. The words that only recently we all found so amusing came back to me with a bitter potency. “You are top of my list, Harvey”. Dinger looked nervous. Sweat ran slowly down his face. Tears of frustration welled and teetered on the brim, his black eye lashes glistened, but not a single tear spilled over the edge. Pride kept them back. His expression mirrored his sister’s fixed jawed determination; his bottom lip trembled only ever so slightly. Dinger was making a stand for all the Anthony Tillards in the world. I was proud of him then, even though he was pointing a gun at my head, I was proud that Dinger was making a stand. Dinger hated himself for not being the person he wanted to be, for not having the guts to defend himself, for being bullied and victimised. Killing someone would make him feel powerful, strong and in control. “You’ll never be able to push me around again”, he said. I took a slow but positive step towards him, not meaning to challenge his authority or to make him jumpy. I wanted to appear relaxed and amiable. I wanted Dinger to feel more relaxed and amiable and to realise just how ridiculous this was. It did not work. Dinger took a step forward and tightened his grip on the gun, his determination showing in his face as he said through clenched teeth, “Don’t fucking move or I swear I’ll shoot you”. He was getting edgy but he was talking. I said, “Dinger, why are you doing this? Why do you want to kill me?” His answer was “Because you don’t believe I will”. What was I supposed to say to that? Yes I do? My heart stopped. He said “I’m going to count to ten, and then I’ll pull the trigger, Harvey”. He counted to ten slowly; as each number passed I thought I would never hear it again. After the sound of ten, where eleven normally follows, a gunshot rang out.

I did say at the beginning that he only tried to kill me. While the blast was ringing in my ears, Dinger’s rage intensified as he looked from the smoking gun in his hand to me still standing alive in front of him. We simultaneously glanced at the wall behind my head to see where the bullet had lodged itself in the plaster. I guess he only had one bullet in the gun, because he never tried to shoot me again. He threw the gun at me. He missed. Poor Dinger had missed, and even though he had tried to kill me, and I’m glad he didn’t, I am sorry he missed. At least now he is safe under the caring supervision of his sister Sandra, and people like me can’t get to him anymore.

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