I decided to dip my toe into writing a little fiction….
As he walked down Main Street, he was aware that this would be the last time.
As town’s went, it was a pretty standard affair.
You got to the Garage, and after that, well it just dissolved into an open countryside of scrub and dust for a while.
The town held so many memories for him, this was where he was born and brought up. He’d been schooled here, learned about religion, played his sports and found his first love.
It all seemed to simple back then.
Why, everybody had followed the same path as he, a well trodden path that his parents and their parents before had followed. It was a path of security and path that had a certain certainty to it..
When he was younger, he’d expected to go into the family business, that’s what everybody round here did, and he was expected to do the same.
But of course, the economy had veered round so badly and so quickly that it had caught everybody off guard, and so many of the old ways had to be wound up, and closed down.
Of course, there were always promised that new things would come an take the place of the old, some did, but they didn’t last a very long time.
And so here he was walking out of Town.
He’d always had his family to turn too, when the going got rough, and often they had turned to him too, but of late they no longer seemed to be speaking the same language, and as the old ones died away, there was less holding them together and deeper cracks were appearing daily.
“Blood is thicker than water”, they’d say, but he felt that blood could run hot, but especially Ice cold, when it came to family. Blood might be thicker than water, but it really felt that “Money was thicker than blood” in the final accounting!
It was just as well that they had all been brought up in the church, now that really bound people together. We’ll it bound some people together and excluded other, but it was a good strong force. Sadly though, nobody seemed to really want to go there anymore. The churches still had a strong hold over the schools though, so if you wanted the best for your child, you still went to church on a Sunday for a little while… well the bare respectable minimum amount of time, and eventually ended up working a swing system with your partner, so that you only had to go every second week.
he thought It was just sad how you had to spend quite a bit of time with the little ones after, explaining why he thought so differently to the people who ran those places, and why they maybe needed to rethink everything that they had learned there and at school… that was a strange process.
It was the sheer hollowness of the message they were pushing.
Why would it matter what happened to you after you die? Surely when you are dead, you’re dead! They always seemed to think that there would be a better version of death, what a bizarre idea – kind’a like a “Death-lite” which always sounded really boring, angels, clouds, harps…
So, he now felt it was time for a change of scene.
School had promised so much, and delivered so little.
Having left his first school aged about 11, he’d arrived at senior school, totally unprepared.
He was unprepared emotionally, unprepared mentally and totally unprepared physically.
He was a tiny boy, surrounded by hoods. The mature boys were mean. They had been trained to be mean by the system. They had been taught that big boys don’t show emotion, that it was a terrible weakness. They had been taught that if anybody looked different to them, then they were to be suppressed in any way possible. That they should be physically oppressed was obvious, but what was even more important was that they should be crushed emotionally too. It was as if in having the system crush one’s emotions, the only way to respond was to make absolutely sure that everybody else had their feeling extracted from them too. And so the abuse went from year to year. The mighty dominated the weak, the sportsman dominated the brain-boxes, the males dominated the females.
Somehow, the girls seemed to have signed up for this process. They seemed to be enrolled, well most of them. Clearly, as with the pecking order in the male society, the same applied in the female line, but this time it was beauty and sport, dominating everything else.
You’d better not have dared to be different in this town… god forbid you came from another continent. Some families arrived from Africa, by golly they didn’t stay long! They had felt the approbation of the populous and sometimes the sticks too! How the people had laughed, and sometimes did still on a Saturday night at the Men’s club! That sounded really bad, The Men’s club allowed ladies now, it wasn’t like it was all backward here! The Men’s club had taken down the wall to the coal cellar when the new gas boiler was installed, and had built a Ladies bar. Everybody had agreed it was a great advancement at the time. Not many people use it that often though, and it got very cold in winter. Still it made a good place to keep the mops and brooms.
One or two familes came from China to open a laundry and another a restaurant that also did take-aways. The Chinese are OK, people don’t mind them, they keep themselves to themselves, and they are basically half white anyway.
As they say, people round here don’t take well to change, they like things to stay the same. It gives you security you know.
Things started to spiral out of control a few years ago. Everybody had really rated Ryan. They thought him a strong man, with a strong moral code. His record was unblemished. As a hunter he was peerless, nobody could run as fast, shoot as straight or arm wrestle as well as he. He was a real man’s man, and a prodigious drinker who loved to party late into the night at the Men’s club.
When it came to needing a new leader, there was actually very little discussion about it. His only opponent Doug had got himself beaten so badly in a bar-room brawl by those strangers from out of town. He was left deaf in one ear, and with such a shocking twitch, and such a funny limp, that he decided to pull out of the race leaving it clear for Ryan to move into the top spot.
Of course there were stories about Ryan, but they were only whispered at home, never in public.
From time to time, one of his little children would come to the store for food “cause Mummy was too ill to go out shopping” – He’d caught sight of her once, it looked like she had walked into a door poor thing. It was odd how often that happened. He thought people should have been more careful where they walked..
The wheels started to come off, when Ryan’s secretary walked in to discover Ryan and one of the younger police officers, both naked, and playing with the officer’s handcuffs and nightstick.
It seems that she got such a shock that she walked into the door too!
However, it all turned out to be a misunderstanding. They had been planning a joke to play on somebody or other. Why in heaven’s name would two men want to get naked together? It could only have been a hilarious prank they were planning. It was sadly spoiled but Miss Sneak’s untimely entry..
He forget her name, he thought it had been something that ended with …balm or berg on the end, but for some reason his daddy told him she had changed it when she arrived in town “to help her get on better” he’d said.
He never really did understand what Daddy meant by that. Goldberg maybe, and changed it to Smith?
Anyway, the town had seemed like a strange place ever since, and so much that people could “hold on to..” seemed to be shifting and just out of grasp..
When Grandpa got ill the problems had started. Nobody knew what was making him so bad
It was easy to see that when Grandma died the year before, that he had become unhappy with his life. Soon he’d taken to his bed, but nobody like that.
They felt that vertical was the way we were made, and that vertical should be the way we should stay, until the final day.
It you tripped in the street, somebody would rush to stand you up again, and dust you off, send you on your way!
It hadn’t sat well with anybody that Grandpa wanted to lie down, and not get up again! What a strange angle to look at life – sideways! How crazy was the old man!?
The thing that would make Grandpa get up was a pill called Zoomazol. The Doctor told us that it was the best that they had for this kind of thing, and that it only had a few side-effects.
In the early days of Grandpa taking it, Grandpa had driven very fast at a telephone post, missing it (because he had only been able to open one eye) and running down Mr Yates’ dog in the process. We had all laughed when we found Grandpa raving and raging behind the wheel with the car perched on top of a small hummock all four wheels still spinning, and Spotty arranged like a hood-ornament, dead on the bonnet!
Grandpa never seemed to be happy now. He’d done what everybody expected of him, he’d worked from 8 – 6pm six days a week, he’d provided for five children, he hadn’t been too unkind to the dogs or Grandma, he’d attended church each Sunday, and of course the Men’s club each Saturday night. He’d stuck by his school friends through thick and thin, and had even helped the Chinese family once.. although the last fifteen years had been a bit quiet for him.
The professionals didn’t understand why Grandpa hadn’t responded well to Zoomazol. Most old people did.. If you dosed up on that and took a comfy seat in front of the television, all pain went away. It was actually possible to spend up to 20 hours per day like that, what’s not to like for heaven’s sake!?
He’d spent time with his Grandpa before grandpa had passed.
Grandpa had told him, that everything had changed too much.
Strangers coming to town, shops shutting, the Post Office moving into a corner shop, the Police moving to another town, and the Fire-brigade being manned by volunteers, most of whom were drunk by 5pm.
It was questioned at a town meeting why so many fires happened late on a Saturday, and why the firemen would turn up with beers and burgers that had been purchased on a Friday?
That line of enquiry never got followed up though, the only people who ever lost property were either from Africa, China, or out of town anyway..
The judge, who was an honorary fireman himself, had said that it was slanderous to suggest such a thing, and that there was no case to answer, especially as the witness Mr Yip had gotten himself beaten so badly that he couldn’t even come to court!
And so, he found himself wandering out of town..
It was around the time of Grandpa’s death that he’d started to doubt things.
It wasn’t something he could put his finger on, maybe it felt like when a storm was building in the East. Sometimes before a lightening storm he felt the same thing, an undefinable tension, a foreboding.
Now Grandma was a wise lady.
Unfortunately, her “wisdom” was always getting her into trouble with the townsfolk and especially our neighbours!
Mr Yates’ Spotty ate something one time, they say it was Mrs Yates Zoomerol prescription that had been left on the porch.
Grandma made him a tea from leaves and herbs. Well. By next morning he was right as rain! They had all sat round expecting him to die that night, but Grandma’s tea brought him back.
People didn’t really like that. It offended the natural way.
When it’s your time, it’s your time…
One of the people who had been most upset with her was Grandpa.
After Grandma fell down the cellar stairs, she wasn’t so interested in her “herbs” anymore.
He’d spent many years himself in the Men’s club. Somehow, the conversation had worn thin for him, so he’d decided to stop going.
When he was younger, he’d been offered such a promising life!
Like everybody else, he’s bough himself the dream car, although he’d had it taken back, when he’d been unable to keep up the payments.
Janey had been so happy when they first married, but the shine went off that pretty quickly, especially when the factory had closed down, and the bank had taken back the keys to No 66.
So many of his young friends had bought “the dream” just like him and had been deeply disappointed. What choice did you have? Self-anaesthetic, or Suicide. So many young men opted for the permanent solution. Advertising had sold them a dream, school and parents had sold them a lifestyle, everywhere they looked were more happy people shoving their dubious stories into their faces. Was any of it ever true? To get so far down the line, and then suddenly see the truth of their own situations versus where life had told them they should be by now….well it was enough to make many of them end it all in disgust with their lives, or their partners lives, or just with the lies..
Of course, there was the other option. Lie to yourself, buy the garbage they were selling, look the other way, work hard and die early. Sometimes it was just too exhausting to even bother thinking about life, just work and die, that’s the best way, and try not to cause too much fuss as you step quietly into their corporate grave…
He’d tried Zoomazol himself quite a bit, and mixed it with lots of Alcohol. Wowee, they’d had some crazy nights, but no matter how much fun, the next day he was filled with remorse. His body felt tired and bloated these days.
The TV had been his constant companion when he was young.
Wow, those people sure knew how to live. Their teeth were so white, and this skin so glowing.. that’s all he wanted, that was all anybody wanted..! He had caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror that morning and has though how little he actually looked like the men on TV. His eyes were sunken and sallow, his skin was greying from his work with the chemicals, and is psoriasis was flaring up everywhere.
He’d stopped cooking for himself quite a while back, because it was much easier to instantly heat up a plate. When you live alone, it was easy to fall into patterns. He knew what he liked, and so he’d never really had to look at the boxes or the ingredients list.. just click, and ping, and there it was.. another thing that TV suggested, and that he’d followed.
It had made him really sad for a while, seeing their perfect lives that were so different to his.
For starters, they didn’t have to deal with all this dust!
There had been a lot of green stuff around in the old days, but that was before the soft-drinks bottling plant had turned up. It made so many new jobs, nobody had minded when the water table started to get lower and lower.
Over time the Plant got bigger, and the jobs became less.. the water never really came back.
It’s so dusty these days, we are thankful that we can get the bottled water a just over cost price from the factory shop, what a boon.
The turning point for him had come in Grandma’s last days.
He’d spent much time beside her bed, she’d whispered many things in his ears.
She’d come from a town down the road. He’d never ventured out in that direction, but he was headed there now!
She’d told him that things were handled differently there.
She’d once tried to go home, but Grandpa had gotten so cross with her.. he’d ridden out with five other men to bring her back.. she wouldn’t tell me the full story, just that Grandpa had persuaded her to stay, and not go home again..
For her the dust and noise of the factory and the bottling plant had always been too much.
For him, he’d never noticed it!
She told him that the quiet he’d once experienced when he hid under the stairs, could be found in her old town every day!
She had said that the constant shouting of parents, TV, and employers, the constant announcements and encouragements over the town Tannoy system along with the traffic sounds and blaring of car horns didn’t happen where she came from. Could he imagine it she said? (He said he found that very hard to do!)
He struggled to remember that quiet she’d reminded him of.
For starters, he’d have to remove his headphones!
Initially the idea of life without sound had rather scared him, the same way that stopping the Zoomazol, or the alcohol had done. Bit by bit, drip by drip, moment by moment, he’d done as Grandma asked, and allowed a little quiet into his life.
She’d instructed him about the herbs in her garden, how to make teas from them to calm him, and bring back his appetite back.
Food had been an interesting rediscovery for him. He’d harvested her home-grown fruit and veg, such a funny old fashioned thing to do! He’d remembered about cooking for himself. He was feeling stronger and better.
Grandma’s greatest gift was to tell him that he “wasn’t his story” – at first he didn’t really understand that. Everybody had always told him how to live, they had always told him what people like us do.. they had always told him how much like his father he was.
Of late, he had stopped believing them though.. he didn’t feel that it was true.
Feel? Yes, that had been another gift from Grandma. She had talked him through his stories. Did he really believe that thing that the church had told him? What about the TV? School had given him so much hope.. did he believe in that? What about Love! We saw it on TV every day, had he been taken in by that?
Slowly but surely, Society was exposed for the fraud it was.
The more he looked, the more he found he could see right through it.
Grandma’s tool of “silence” was a most unusual thing!
It seemed that the less he thought, the more he actually understood. For the first time in many years, he was beginning to understand his place in the Universe.
That was another interesting side-effect! For the first time ever, he started to consider what might lie beyond the Garage at the end of town.
Well, Practice makes perfect they say.
There were times of the day that he was able to be there “in this life” but not really be there.
Everybody thought he was just playing the game like them, nose to the grindstone, it’ll be over soon…
They all secretly hoped that they would get an “easy” cancer, or a degenerative disease that wouldn’t kill them so quickly, but that they would have time to take sick pay, have time off, have people care about them.. it was the magic bullet! No more work, lots of sympathy, well paid, and eventually a small pension for their grateful family from a corporation who never gave a shit about their health whilst they were alive, and certainly didn’t give a shit that they were now dead!
He was different these days. He was able to spend long passages of time with his mind empty.
He looked like he was thinking, but the truth was that his mind had finally escaped the bounds of this fly blowen, dust bowl.
Shortly after his mind escaped, his body started urging him to do so to..
That’s why he was leaving the City limits right now.
Nobody would come after him, not from this town. Nobody would really miss him. If the truth be told, most people had begun to think him odd. They felt he was out of step with them. Deep down they suspected his moral compass had gone astray. It wasn’t something you could put your finger on, more a look in the eyes that scared them.. like nothing they had seen before.
None of his friends could ever come with him, partners, lovers, family and children… they all wanted no part of it. Most of them thought it was too difficult, some too scary and yet others downright wrong or sinful.
Somewhere inside, he had connected with the truth of whom he really was. Once found, it could never be forgotten or denied.
One sight of the freedom had been enough to start him packing, one deep soulful gap in his day, like a plunge into a cool lagoon on a baking afternoon, had been enough to convince him that it was worth leaving everything behind. Just touching that Truth was enough to let him know that nothing could ever be “wrong” again, and that everything had started flowing. He just need follow the watercourse, and that life would support him.
If he walked into any doors, he’d know that he’d taken a wrong turn.
As he walked into the cool night, the firm asphalt beneath his feet rose up to meet him, and the stars lit his way. The cool breeze whispered words of truth into his ears.
The New World lay ahead, empty, still, quiet, and inviting. He felt sure that from this new perspective, life would all start to make more sense.