Excerpt: 'Reperfusion' by Andrew Hodgson
From a beginning:
Where do we begin? I’d like to say a forest. Winter. But let’s go for a cafe. Well, a greasy spoon – the type where you can’t tell where the cigarette smoke ends and the plumes coming from burning bacon begin. The linoleum is bub- bled and greased, the Formica tables chipped. We’re here for Albert, he prefers to be called Alby, his friends call him Bert, but to us he will be Al. His mother simply calls him lad. When I were a lad, I was always told breakfast was the most important meal of the day. I’d be force-fed plates of greased carcass and embryo, these days I don’t care for it . . . I wish it was that Al only knew what I let him, but it is more often not the case, I can however, sway this instance. He’s drinking tepid coffee and eating toasted, buttered white bread. Toasted to hide its brick like qualities. British industry is built of the stuff.
And where are we? Above? We could watch this unfold from above, floating around the bare bulb. Hanging on the wire. No, I don’t like it, I’m not the malevolent type, and Albert often expresses his insecurity about his crown’s slight balding. He never voices it I can just tell by the odd side-glance he takes in passing windows. We could try below, but the chewing gum and nostril faecal matter stuck under the seats and tables makes me sick in my mouth a little bit.
Let’s go on his plane. We’re sat three tables over, I will wear a nice formal suit. And I’m shelling pistachios, I like to suck on the shells rather than chew the disgusting green thing in the middle. I like the salt. And you, well, you the narratee are a being of the purest fiction, un-tethered by paper. You can wear what you are I guess, perhaps you are in a taxi back from the opera, wearing a long red silk dress or tails and cummerbund. You’re jittering around in your seat a little. Maybe your aeroplane is on the descent of a crash landing. Ei- ther way you’re making quite a scene. Oh, don’t worry though, none of them know we’re here. We’re like shadows in a corner. I told them so.
It is the 1940s. Did they have Formica tables in the 1940s? I’ve not done my fact checking. Maybe the 1970s. In any case, Al is wearing his work gear, a donkey jacket and so on. He didn’t bother taking it off when he sat down because he’s running late. He has to be down the docks for seven, he works intermittently as a docker, when he’s lucky enough to get picked. Such is industry without union. He’s quietly confident today though, he fed the fore- man on the timber docks a few pints last Friday night, so did a lot of people, mind. It must be Monday morning.
For months or maybe minutes, before he came onto paper in any case, me and Al have been having sit down chats. Remonstrating on his character. He wanted to be middle class and married in 2015, I wanted him to be a ro- mantic something in 1788. He thought you’d prefer it to be modern, ‘keep it contemporary’ he said, ‘sell better’ he said. I put my foot down though, told him I’d rather ghost write some ex-reality television starlet’s autobiography. He retorted that I should wait and see what the next gig is before speaking too soon. He sometimes pertains to acuity of wit. Nevertheless, we found our compromise here. A middling middle ground. Somewhere in England, some- where in the mid-20th century. Doesn’t constrict anything though, this is fiction after all. I could let the girl currently scrambling eggs serve champagne if I wanted to, or take her top off. But it would jar. You can’t hide inconsistencies like that; all these supplementary background characters might jump us. I think I saw that in a film once. Or the redacteur might come storming through here with a big black marker and spoil all our fun.
We’ll let him sup the last of his coffee and then he can get off. He’ll be late but I already know he gets the work, what I have in mind would go to pot if he didn’t. 166 pages watching him sleep, smoke and masturbate. Martin Amis would sue the hell out of me for theft of intellectual property.
Suddenly, Al exhales – a deep protracted sigh – which acts fairly nicely as a scene continuative. He walks to the docks through the terraces that have yet to be knocked down in this reality, allowing me to impress upon the situation the streets of my childhood. He kicks a stone along the centre of a cobbled street, hands in pockets, collar against the wind. Every other kick it’ll hit a dip in the stones, sending it flying at the gossiping women leaning against door frames right and left. They have a chow and after reaching a safe distance Al shouts that they should do less yapping and get their husbands’ bloody break- fast on the table. This seems to be a regular conflict. On the corner he sees a couple of the non-descript lads, who tell him of how they spent all night prying slate and lead off Baron Prescott’s roof. I’d tell them that’s impossible because Prescott has a stone roof on account of the turrets and crenelations on the top. You’d probably remind me that’s an anachronism; but I’d reply that I simply want to draw attention to the fact he has turrets on his house and you’d probably let me off.
They cut down the ten foot where the gravel ground has been parted in to large clay-filled reservoirs by the odd horse and cart. They don’t seem to care; they tramp through it all the same. Lucky for us we’ve got unrivalled balance, and walk along the red brick walls either side of them. Did you use to tight rope walk? I’m pretty impressed. I mean, I can be light as a feather, less even if I wanted. I could be omniscient, omnipotent, a body less voice. But it hardly seems fair. Me and the non-descript lads have a verbal contract. But you, I can’t affect. Or maybe I can trick you in to doing what I want. I’m in the ink, you’re just visiting you see. When this book ends, all of us will have had our use. You’ll put it down and carry on with whatever you do. You don’t even breathe here, look – I do because the lads and everyone else does. This is some kind of reality after all. But you, you’re invincible.
For the benefit of this last paragraph, everything has been progressing in slow motion, the lads’ walk, the dispersion of H2O molecules upon the application of pressure from a hob nail boot. The photosynthesis of the agrestal crawling through the mortar on the walls. All for us. There’s the smash of glass in the distance and the norm returns. If there was a norm to return to that is. Three young scruffy kids come pelting down yon side of the alley. Breathless. Al pats them on the back as they run past. They just put a half-brick through Jesus Christ’s groin at the holy church of our lady, and upon reading ten pages of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists last month Al is whole-heartedly behind such enterprise.
In time they near the gates of the docks, the bleeding great cranes that dominate the town’s skyline jumping up from between the warehouses as bleeding great cranes do. They part ways at the gates which read ‘Black Stump Docks’ which I have just now decided is the name of the town. Black Stump. I like it. The non-descript lads come in close in a huddle with Al and propose a return to Barony Manor tonight, inviting Al along for a share of the spoils. Al being a bit of a likely lad as you can tell by now responds in the positive and they agree to an acronychal meeting at The Bell Tower pub (which gives us our chapter 18. How fortunate!).
Here they part ways: Non-descript #1 to Harley’s Petro-Chemicals ltd.; Non-descript #2 to Brampton Cheeses Intl.; and Non-descript lad #3 to Shotwell, where later that day Doris in accounts will flick a cigarette end out of the window, only for it to return through a broken pane in the windows of the factory floor below, and lead to the ignition of 40,000 shotgun shells in an enclosed space. Suffice to say – whatever the outcome – #3 isn’t around for the night’s miching mallecho.
Al follows the acequia down to the yard, taking note of the piles of industrial faff among the flora. Old rusted machines from the war, tipped in for want of other use. Didn’t need riveted metal strips for Hurricanes’ windows no more, or the tiny pins that hold a revolver’s hammer in place. Two things among many produced here during the war and of which the locals are extremely proud. In fact the streets and estates were renamed after them. The street Al lives on is Cigarette Box Foil Road. The next street over is Beret Leather Headband Crescent &etc. Don’t go too close to the bank, Al told me people fall in and come out with all kinds. Wheelers and tetanus, I expect.
At the timber dock – a sprawling concrete shelf – the place is entirely still. Al picks his way through a labyrinth of Norwegian pine, cut and stacked 40 feet high, and some other wood from somewhere else which looks pretty much the same. He passes the last stack and a clamour of voices erupts, voices which I had forgotten to mention, had been growing in pitch as we drew closer to the edge of the yard. 200 men jumping and writhing, reaching up to the foreman and some other wanker in a suit. Al runs to join the fray. I think we’ll wait here and watch. Like something from the depths of hell hundreds of black clad men clamber on top of each other, shouting and crying at the fat bastard stood on the loading ledge of the timber warehouse. Like beetles, the rain shimmers on the coarse material of their jackets, sallow cheeks and sunken eyes. Skeletal hands. Shoving those in front down below the pile of bodies to be spat out at the bottom.
The foreman reaches down a hand, the dainty index extended – he taps lightly on the forehead of the more dominant competitors in a gracious act of kindness. The crowd dissipates into a fog which just now fell.
Excerpted from Reperfusion by Andrew Hodgson, published by WPS&B. Republished with permission of the author.