I thought I would do something different. And after all, this is supposed to be an author blog, so…..
Through the ‘blogosphere’ – a peculiarly astral reference, I always think – I have read many writers who claim that they hone their skills by reading books by established authors. I suppose it must work for some, but for me the processes of reading the work of others and writing my own are mutually exclusive. For whatever it is worth I am addicted to my own ‘style’ and suspicious of ‘influences’ from other writers. I imitate style, given half a chance – not deliberately, or absolutely, but it creeps in.
That may be the reason my hard drive is cluttered with work such as this – begun and then rejected or simply left. There’s no title, and if there was a plot, I hadn’t developed it when I simply clicked on archive and consigned it to the cellar. There’s quite a lot of it, for which I will, as usual, apologise.
I simply offer it as a change of pace, and ask a question: what do you think happened next?
BTW, I was reading Dickens – ‘Dombey and Son’ – at the time. Could you guess?
Your town is quiet, dozing in the darkness. Occasional Tuesday night traffic mutters and splutters, but the pavements are free of the clatter of party heels: there is no revelling shout, no laughter-music. Rain is Tuesday night rain, heavy enough to add urgency to the rare tread of a passing dog-walker, or overtimer late from work. In heavy, damp-sodden air noise dies quickly. Heads under wings, town doves shuffle deeper in their crannies. An urban fox is emboldened enough to risk sodium glare and is almost casual on the open street. He pads the pavement stones as if he knows each one: silent in his tread he turns his head to you as though bidding you follow; “Come with me…come this way! I know all the best places, the best bins! Come on! Quietly now!” And you walk obediently in his wake, oblivious to the rain, total in your belief. His pads spatter lighter than raindrops, his body floats unsupported through the spray and the darkness. He leads you, as he has promised: he takes you to the great Pavilion by the sea, the palace of Della Carr, where people in clothes too tight and stiff sit tightly (and stiffly) to hear great orchestral works performed by less great ensembles, or loud Gilbert and Sullivan shouted by tenors with a past. “Ah!” the fox will whisper: “They are deluded in their cultural quest, but they are substantial in their search for food – and they leave so much!”
The fox will dwell an hour here, meandering among the wheeled steel kitchen bins with their cargoes of discarded pate, of venison and poultry. The leavings he uncovers will feed him all he needs to feed this night, and allow him time to bask in shelter from the weather. His lair is somewhere, and not far from here; but he will not show you. No-one is worthy of such trust. “Stay here. Tomorrow I will take you.” And you wait, believing, in the misty rain, with the faint music of seashore to entertain, in the concrete shade of the pavilion. The fox leaves as spectrally as he came.
Stay here? Why?
“Well, you’ll see.” Is his parting whisper “Stay here and you’ll see.”
Beyond the town centre’s concrete shore are suburbs full of sparkling, confidential lights where rooms are warm and flickering screens hold their devotees in thrall. A thousand hearts in a thousand sitting rooms leap and plunge in unison to the passions and scandals of their fantasy worlds, glad enough to be done with reality for another day. Scattered battalions of cooling cars fester on driveways or glisten in streetlights: there is no story in the repleteness of their resting places – only the empty driveways have a tale to tell.
Restlessly, a slight, well-nourished woman jostles her parted curtains and gazes out upon one such driveway. She glances from time to time at the wall-clock, then at the table laid out for the evening meal. Her mind’s Miss Haversham recesses see dust and cobwebs growing there: she has waited and stemmed her growing irritation for too long.
She reaches for the telephone.
“Bernard – where are you?”
“Well, I was expecting you…..Yes, dinner is ready: it was ready an hour ago. O.K. How long?”
She sighs over the transmitted squeaks of Bernard’s reply; cuts in: “So today means nothing special to you at all, then? It was meant….Oh, what’s the use? I’ll probably just go to bed.” The ‘phone is switched off. She moves through the house, sullenly kicking off shoes.
In the centre of the town, where there are not so many personal arbours of light, shops, colourful but cold, are mostly dimmed until the new day and the buildings above stretch chasm-dark into the sky, their black glass sightlessly threatening in the rain. Just once and again there is a spark, a ledge of striplight among these upper storeys where office cleaners are still at work, or where a lone supplicant labours on. Bernard, returning phone to cradle, labours on. Why? Well, you shall see.
Who is this Bernard – what keeps him so insistently that he cannot honour a commitment he made only that morning, that he would celebrate his wedding anniversary with dinner at home? Bernard has a name, a family, a life. We have had one small insight into this. But we need no more details. If we are asked who Bernard really is, we need only say: no-one in particular. No – one of note. Once, leaving school for the world Bernard was going to be an airline pilot, a media star, Prime minister. But so few great men are drawn from comprehensive education in small seaside towns and Bernard was never chosen. Hollinshead Finance chose him instead, drawing him into their local office one June morning with shining suit and badly-fitted smile. They presented him with desk and chair, a slow work-station and and a link of their chain to administer, one floor down from where he now sits. Twenty years and twenty stairs ago.
In two suffocating decades of endless credit applications from the millions of hopeful and hopeless Bernard has never broken a Company rule. His slavery has been uninspired, perhaps, but dutiful. Never before tonight. As name after name spins down the screen before him his back crawls with fear that morning will discover him and even the detailed procedural instructions his mentor has provided cannot shield him from his fear. Follow these prompts and you will not be traced….not traced? He is IN the mainframe. He is scanning the confidential details of every one of Hollinshead’s major clients and defaulting debtors! How will he ever be sure that this betrayal cannot come to light?
At night, when the network is usually idle, the files vomit an interminable cascade of customer details: but more and worse than this he is searching, sorting by very specific criteria. And the product of his search, the result of his sin, will amount to no more than one – yes, just one – printed page. One page of sin.
Are you still there? Have you kept faith with the fox and are you waiting still? With much of the evening damply gone the rain, abating, leaves a chill. Gilbert and Sullivan (selections from) wafts through the Della Carr concrete with an air of impending crescendo. Don’t be ashamed of your dishevelled appearance. Soon a well-fattened, culturally-sated audience will spill, protesting, from warm light to cold dark but your presence will pass unnoticed, here in the shadows. There is drama to come before this, however. Don’t miss it!
The evening is nearly over, dogs have been walked, suppers taken home. The pubs and clubs are pylons of welcome and no-one strays from them until they must. So the sound of footsteps approaching from the town is a cause for curiosity. And the shapeless figure who crosses the road towards the Della Carr Pavilion – towards you, and the waste bins – is familiar. Passing close, he seems furtive, awkward. He looks around as if dreading discovery; as if ready to run – but though his face for a moment turns in your direction he does not see you. You, though, have recognised him. When he is confident of being unobserved, Bernard takes a small envelope from beneath his jacket and slips it part beneath the lid of one of the bins – the third bin from the right. Then, hands plunged deep into his pockets and anxious in every fibre of his being, Bernard strides away. You listen as his footfall grows fainter, curious to reach for the envelope, open it. As his footsteps are lost in the night you prepare to move, to do just this; but then the Pavilion doors burst open and light, and people, and voices burgeon from the glare. You shrink back into the shadow.
For a time everything is transport – taxis, private cars, mini-buses engorging themselves with the vanguard of the entertained. Stragglers, mostly on foot, meander volubly away in the darkness, complaining not too bitterly of weather, eulogising their evening. By the time peace fully returns midnight is near: even the pubs are silent. Are you still waiting? Then you are about to be rewarded.
The stage door of the Pavilion is some way from the catering area and substantially far from your sheltering bins. You hear, rather than see, the stage door open, are distantly aware of musicians with oddly-shaped cases: you hear sounds of a van being loaded with the necessary trammels of a Gilbert and Sullivan (selections of) entertainment. Then you cower, instinctively. For one member of the musical group has separated from the others. With a woman’s sharp pace this person is walking briskly towards you along the path which skirts the Pavilion’s outer wall. She must see you! Without knowing why, you find yourself shrinking deeper into the shadows, hiding from something, but at once recognising that this is the moment for which you have waited. She walks right past you. At one point she is less than a foot away! She reaches beneath the lid of the third bin from the right. You see, briefly, that she has an envelope in her hand, before she tucks it out of sight beneath her coat. She pauses, looking around, making your fear of discovery so palpable you almost cry out: then she returns to her company. She does not discover you. You hear her voice raised briefly in concordance with her fellow artistes, then the engine note of their van as it begins its journey. There is a final silence.
So why have you stayed here, damply afraid and huddled in the freezing night? What was so worthwhile that the fox insisted you wait to see it? Maybe nothing: you could wander home to a warm bed and forget you were ever here. Or maybe something – maybe you saw something of an import so great you will recall this night in times to come and feel a certain specialness, a privilege. You will be able to say to those who follow you with some pride that you were there. You were witness to the beginning.
© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.