A short story by Ian Hembury, an attendee of our creative writing group LGBT’s the Word.
Standing together at the edge, looking down at mucky lifeless water, Alan groaned and thrust his fists into his pockets.
“The ducks was everything,” he said.
He stared. “The ducks was our work, our friends, our pleasure and our pain. I lost me finger down the ducks.”
“Got stuck and ’twas rippt off. Rippt off at ‘is root.”
He extracted one fist, opening digits round a gap.
Standing on the quayside; towering above us the terrific hulls of mighty ships, and, round about: The wind, the wheeling gulls calling, the cold wet air hitting my face, and, moving under my feet, mucky lifeless grit.
“See that?” He pointed upwards with his missing finger: Far above me, over the ship’s sharp rim, the head of a cat prospecting for birds.
“Which did you work on?”
“Nothing like these,” he said, nodding towards the hulks. “They’re monsters. No containers.”
“So when was that?”
“Aw, y’know. Years back.”
“And you retired when?”
“And you’re now what …”
“So … “
“I don’t miss it.”
“Hard labour. You don’t know what that’s like.”
“Is there anything you miss?”
“What about your mates?”
“None of that’s anything once you’re gone. They might send a card. That’s it. Once you’re gone you’re like a building that’s been pulled down and built on and forgot. I knew I’d be forgot. I was glad. After a time, I forgot.”
“Seems like it’s still fresh in your mind.”
He smiled, kicked the dirt straight out in front of him and looked down at where it fell, peppering seawater that tapped the wall with tiny waves, stretching out into the misty estuary like a still cold lake of grey cellophane, making black shaped reflections and echoing its vast silence against their walls of steel.
“You don’t know anything. Memory don’t work like that. More I forget, the more I remember. Brain’s funny.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Like there’s things I’ve forgot, I know, but then there’s all these things I never used to think about coming into me head, bothering me. Niggles. Like, things people said. Like, things people never said.”
“New memories! Are they good?”
“Nope. Just different. No matter.” He started to laugh, “Things they used to come out with was that funny, used to make no sense but was that funny. We’d fall over laughing, sometimes. Once Jonesy, big man, strong as a tree, picked up a bale and threw it and it split open and it was all paper. Girlie mags! And we had these girlie mags all over the hold, blowin everywhere and Jonesy said we was all wankers and … That was good. Jonesy Wankmag we called him for a while after that.”
“What happened to him?”
“I mean, what became of him?”
“Did he send a card?”
“Yeah I think he did for a few years.”
“Did you send one back?”
“Yeah I think I mighta.”
“Where is he now?”
“Do you still have his address?”
“Likely I do.”
“You could write and find out.”
“I could do a lot of things.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Why would ay?”
“Well … someone to talk to.”
“I don’t want someone to talk to!” he said.
“Oh, I thought you said you did.”
“You said that. You think I need someone to talk to. ‘Socially Isolated’. Arse.”
We walked along the quay. He was deep in thought, it seemed – at any rate, he didn’t speak. As we approached the concrete steps up to the car park he stopped, gripping the handrail forcefully. He took a breath and started the ascent. At the top we turned and once more surveyed the scene. There was more to see now, higher up, though it was colder too.
“We could go down the pub to eat,” I suggested.
“That’s an idea. Could do with a pint.”
He stood by the passenger door, gripping the handle, waiting for me to open up. I clicked the remote. The car woke; it’s indicators flashed, and we got in.
“I used to get this dream, Jonesy and them girlie mags. Sometimes they was real girls all over the place like bits of paper. Sometimes Jonesy, bless him, used to get his cock out and squirt all over them. Funny how the mind twists. I’d forgotten that.”
“Do you still get those dreams?”
“I don’t take any notice.”
At the pub he had several pints whilst I drank water – driving. I worried what he’d come out with, loosened up, but he didn’t seem to alter much. Waiting for the food, we ran out of conversation and stared at our glasses and the football.
“Show me your hand again,” I said.
He spread it on the table where it looked like he’d lost some kind of gambling game – which, I guess, he had.
“Wank mag,” he said, suddenly, staring at his hand. “Fuckin wank mag.” He took another drag from his glass and looked at me, “You seen enough?”