Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Little Something Revisited

It was at the supermarket that Nathan first met Jon. He was Nathan’s manager. Squat body with bandy legs and chest hair that seemed to grow to his chin. No front teeth. Lost them to a lamppost that jumped him late one night. Bloodied his nose. He let Nathan look at the small white shards of tooth that poked from his swollen gums. Nathan recalled Jon’s meaty hands on his shoulders as he tilted his head back away from him; if Nathan hadn’t known him well he might have thought Jon had done it so he didn’t have to smell the stale cigarettes and last night’s beer on his breath.
Afterwards Jon had given Nathan a dressing down for wearing black shoes with his brown uniform. He made sure Nathan knew the difference between being friend and being boss.

On Saturday nights, once the supermarket had closed, a group of workers from the supermarket all piled to the pub, a shallow building looming over the graves in the local cemetery, it’s yellow lights throwing a malevolent glow across the tombstone-lined paths. Occasionally, someone – usually Jon – would run ahead and hide, jump out with banshee shouts to scare us. Once, he confessed to Nathan, pressing up uncomfortably against him at the bar, that he’d made a girl piss her pants doing that trick. Nathan excused himself and took his drink over to the flashing lights of the fruit machine, his free hand tapping the shrapnel in his trouser pocket.
Even though he wasn’t legally allowed to drink by two or so years, someone always slipped a double shot of vodka into Nathan’s cola. Often it was Jon buying the drinks, his gappy mouth and damaged gums grimacing as he called Nathan’s name.
Sundays, Nathan would have to sleep late to get rid of the dull ache in his head. Jon would like to ask how debilitated Nathan had been on Sundays. It’s not as if Nathan had to get to church, it was something he could handle.
Jon told him it was part of growing up. Like losing your teeth.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another Excerpt

They huddled, like pensioners caught in a crosswind. The hubbub of the public house played out ahead of them. Apart from Nathan, there were six others; Nathan didn’t know all their names and he couldn’t recall them ever asking for his. Somehow they’d congregated, flotsam caught by a stray, snagging branch. Nathan was nursing a pint, surreptitiously slurping the bitter ale one of the others had seen fit to buy him.
Alec was one of those whose name Nathan did know. Alec worked in the Dairy section at the supermarket. He nodded at Nathan. It was the extent of every conversation they had ever had since Nathan had started at the supermarket with a Thursday afternoon, three-til-eight shift.
Alec loved magic, the art of it. He reached towards Nathan, eyes winking. Then, sitting back, he nodded to the table in front of Nathan. There was a set of tarot cards, the pack decorated with detailed paintings of mythical beasts and topless women. Nathan scooped them up with his right hand, just as Alec had taught him. Nathan showed his right hand. Empty. Grinning, he showed his left hand, palm up. Empty, too. Alec smiled, gulped at a lager top in a knobbly pint glass with a handle. His eyes never left Nathan’s hands, watching closely as Nathan reached into his jacket, producing the cards with a theatrical flourish. Alec stood. He promised to get Nathan a “proper drink” as he weaved his way towards the crowded bar.
Nathan pulled a card from the pack. Tonight, he would be Justice. Tomorrow he would find out how to do a reading. First, he had a pint to finish and a story that fat Tony was telling to listen to.

They’re running from the police. No headlights. Scarf is at the wheel of the coach. They’re buffeted like tourists on the underground at 8am. Trees screech their branches against the windows. Scarf says he needs the lights on. He flicks his finger and the cones of bright lights come on in time to illuminate the tree with which the coach is about to collide. Scarf wrenches the wheel to the right but it’s too late.
The coach stops and all they can hear are a distant owl hooting and the tinkling rain of broken glass. I guess we’re camping here for the night, says Scarf. Voices laugh, a way for people to announce they’re okay. Nathan joins in.

Over the next three hours they set a fire and wait for the rest of the group to join them. They sing songs. At some point, Nathan walks away from the celebrations, winding his way through the trees. He can see lights in the distance, knowing before he’s even close enough to verify that they belong to his parents’ house. His home. He wonders what they are doing right now: mother, watching Eastenders, father asleep in his chair. Predictable, even though Nathan hasn’t seen or spoken to them for almost two years. This is the closest he’s been for a long time; possibly since the day his mother pushed his bloody, squawking mess into this world.