Book 3: 3rd Extract
I may call this England 83. But I won’t because it is called Stolid. Unedited extract from Book 3.
I had begun the evening by pitying myself. I had wanted to escape from the confines of my troubled life into a harsher more vivid world. Perhaps I had been looking for adventure. Well now I had found it, of sorts. Someone perhaps who needed pity more than me. Someone whose life was more tedious, more intolerable, lonelier than my own. And because I pitied him, I was not afraid of him. Pity gave me strength.
The young man stopped walking and stood staring outwards. In front of us a wide river lay reflecting the pale starlight like a ghost or an illusion. Black trees leered awkwardly between us and the river, their skeletons leaving holes in the silver reflection. On the other side of the water the night sky was tinged with red and against the horizon, towering steeples and minarets, domes and skyscrapers made the semblance of a city. But from two of the steeples an orange fire belched forth.
“Once that industry was not here and the river bank was a dull rise with scraggy bushes. There are many things that man has done that are both beautiful and horrific,” the young man said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“I don’t have a name,” he answered, and in his tone there was a tinge of regret.
“Where do you live?” I asked again.
“I don’t have a home,” he answered. This time there was no regret. His answer was framed to confuse me.
“You know,” I continued. “I can’t remember where it was that I first met you. Do you?”
“I remember,” he said, mockingly. “I am surprised that you don’t. That evening is still very vivid in my mind, and the place, well I can almost still smell it.”
“Where was it?” I asked.
“Do you remember a time, a long time ago, when you sat in the rain under cover of half-demolished concrete and searched for sleep?”
“Off an alleyway called ‘Lover’s walk’?”
“You see, you do remember.”
“But you were not there?”
“Wasn’t I? Are you sure that you remember what happened then?”
“I remember,” I said, with confidence. I had decided that my memories would be full and rambling. He was not to be alone in refusing to provide direct answers.
“I was sitting, as you said, in the semi-shelter of a concrete porch that backed onto the ruin of a riverside warehouse and the side wall of this warehouse was one boundary of ‘Lover’s Walk’. The other boundary was a six-foot wall in disrepair. In patches over fallen stone the remnants of a more pleasant past could be seen as the view gave way to a patch of green studded with a few noble trees. The effect, I remember, was spoilt slightly by the concrete trammel that the bubbling brook was drawn into to be carried away under the road.”
“Well, you do remember very clearly, but can you continue to the point where I enter,” the young man mocked.
“I remember that from where I sat I could hear the brook’s complaining clamour as it dived down into the bowels of the earth enclosed in its degrading shackles: but the sound was overwhelmed by the sound of the weir behind me. Behind the warehouse, curving around it, the river lay – an ugly brown collation that always seemed to rest unmoving, like a solid sludge, until it met the weir. Then one half was strained and diverted and ran silkily down a curved edge to create an unnatural undercurrent that churned. The other half madly dropped from a great height in a waterfall effect that was only spoilt by the bubbling litter that frolicked in its embrace.”
I smiled at the young man with evil intentions. Was he showing unrest? Was he waiting for me to reach a point in my narrative? His face was impassive, and disappointed, I continued.
* * *
I sat without moving for a long time. It was raining still, and the air was very damp. It was, I thought, about eleven o’clock, though it was difficult to be sure since the orange light that provided meagre lighting for the alleyway was hidden from me behind a leafy branch of an overhanging tree. I could see my watch, but not the dial. Still, I considered it to be irrelevant as whatever the time I had a long wait until the morning. It appeared every second less likely that I would sleep and thus find the hours pass quickly. In fact, I had never felt more awake, and the alcohol that had sparked off thoughts from a deadened mind still fired within me. The thought of the tediously long hours ahead of me made me shudder.
I tried resting my head upon my knees and listening to the steady patter of the raindrops falling upon the rubble and concrete around me, but sleep still remained elusive. I was not surprised. It was merely inconvenient.
Now and then I heard the sound of footsteps along the alleyway, and sometimes voices. Nobody lingered there. It was not particularly pleasant. There was only the one orange light along the whole of its stretch and although there was a busy road at one end, the curve of the path cut off this reassurance of the modern world, and left behind an almost silent place, apart from the sound of water and the rain striking the hard flagstones. I could not see these passers-by. I was separated from them by the high stone wall but it was comforting to hear them. I did not like to think that I had entirely left civilisation behind me.
I was woken, with surprise, from the verge of sleep by the sound of closer voices. It was possibly the fact that the day had been unsettling in many ways that had encouraged tiredness beyond normality in me. The voices did not seem to be coming from the alleyway but from the wasteland behind and since they were following my footsteps earlier I was annoyed. It was bad enough to have to sleep in the open air – without being noticed and scorned. I stood up and leant against the concrete wall, trying to look nonchalant.
I wasn’t mistaken. The voices grew louder and then clearer as if their owners had walked clear of obscuring masonry. I looked up belligerently to see a group of people, their features obscured by the shade they stood in.
“Where…?” one of them began to speak, but was silenced by a gesture. I ensured that my own features were also wreathed in shadow. There were three of them.
“What d’you want?” I asked belligently.