Category Archives: Stories

Road Walker – A Story

Road Walker

 

 

 

The windows on the bus were misted and foggy.

Small gemmed droplets of rain-water had collected on the outside and were very slowly dripping down to the seal. But when the bus was still, humming and gently rocking at traffic lights, the drops shone with the weak Autumn morning sun.

The clouded view from inside showed nothing of the world around the bus. The man sitting on the seat only knew that the bus was stopped at a traffic light because the window mist was glowing bright red. The passenger looked as the glow changed from deep red, to rich orange and then to a green brighter than grass in sunlight.

The man anxiously watched the change as he sat in his seat. It seemed to take a long time to cycle through the colours. So long that he became mesmerised by the glow that covered the seat in front of him.

He sat and watched as a middle-aged man read a newspaper and plucked his nose hairs. The man thought no-one was watching, but on a bus, everybody is watching, especially when the windows are so misted that you can’t look out of them. The man would turn a page and then would insert his paper-print-smeared fingers in to the opening of his nose, grab a few, like chopsticks trap tumbling grains of rice, and yank them out quickly. The man would take his eyes from his paper and examine the hairs, while twitching his nose delicately and then rub the remnants on the page he was reading.

The man sitting across the way watching him hoped that he would be off the bus before the man had finished and decided to move on to something else.

The man’s legs were too long to fit into the small gap between seats and so he sat on the very edge and stretched his legs out into the passage as much as he could. His knee was pressed against the metal bar at the top and it rubbed every time the bus moved. He kept moving his legs to stop the pain in his knee-cap but the movement of the bus kept putting it back in the same place.

The man hated having to sit like this; there was never enough room for his legs, he always seemed to get sore knees. Trains, buses, even planes were restrictive of his knees.

 

The man was relieved to get off the bus; so relieved that he got up from his seat a couple of minutes before the bus stop. The bus was stopped at a traffic light again. The man watched the light on the misted windows as he stood by the driver’s cab.

He got off the bus and walked down a road.

As always, he walked in the centre of the road when he could. No-one really knew why he did this, not even him.

If any cars drove along the road, the man walked along the gutter; not on the pavement or even the curb. The man walked along the quieter suburban roads and streets like this and, when he met a busier road, he would find any chance he could to cross the road to the other side and back again.

On rainy days like this, the roads were rivers. The sloped sides of the roads collected the water in the gutters and fed it down into the waiting gaping mouths. The man felt like he was paddling in streams when he had to walk in the gutters.

His shoes got soaked, but he didn’t mind. He had gone through many pairs of shoes; all cheap, as there was no point in buying expensive ones when he treated them like this.

These ones he had on now were starting to break. He walked back out into the centre of the road after a car had gone past, he could hear the familiar squeak of trapped air pushing out past water and sole. There was a hole in this shoe, not long till there was one in the other.

Wet socks aren’t the nicest of things, but at least he had others at home.

On sunny days, even, the hole in his shoe still squeaked as the air squished through it. His socks rubbed against the plastic insoles and squeaked too, but at least they didn’t get wet.

 

I say that nobody knew why the man walked in the middle of the road but I do know, really. He preferred to walk in the middle of the road. But why did he prefer to walk in the road?

People asked him; lots of them. They saw him doing it and wondered why.

They might not have seen him firstly, but as a car tooted irritably as it drove past him, they turned to look and saw him placidly ambling along just the same. Or they sat in the park near one of the suburban roads and slowly watched him.

What reason could you give when asked about something like that?

Why do you eat your vegetables first and the meat afterwards, or vice versa? Why do you like vinegar on your chips but not salt?

Why wear a jumper when it’s hot and only a shirt when it’s cold?

On some days people would ask him why.

Why do you walk in the road?

 

The man was walking one day and the wind was blowing tightly across fences and through hedges. The trees in the park next to the road were leaning fearfully away from the wind; the noise of the wind threatening to tear the leaves off of the trees was ripping through the usual traffic sound.

A long way ahead, the man saw a dog walking alone along the road. It had perhaps escaped from its owner in the park or had bolted through a gate that the wind had slammed open. The dog sniffed the ground and walked up and down the pavement ahead of the man. As the man saw the dog he stopped and watched it. The dog was still sniffing by a hedge and then stopped and slowly looked up at the man. In this weather the man didn’t trust the dog and stood completely still, in the gutter, watching the dog. The man’s lower legs were flooded with leaves as they gushed past and down the street; the dog had now taken up sniffing again and ignored the man.

A shout called out, and the dog’s head twisted before it ran off back into the park.

The man stood still and watched as the wind blew his hair and his coat collar flapped against his neck. After a few seconds the dog came back out again shortly followed by a woman with a lead. The dog was looking up into the woman’s face. The man had an image of a lost-and-found child devoutly clutching at the parent’s hand.

As the woman attached the dog’s collar to the lead again, the man started to walk along the road. The woman was just about to set off, but startled slightly by the unexpected movement across the road, she stopped and watched.

The man was walking briskly, slightly weaving along the road. Not weaving in a drunk meandering but controlled weaving, like a swerving slalom. As the man came directly opposite the woman and the dog, he slowed down and looked at the woman sideways. She looked right back and before he could carry on, before she had time to think what she was saying, before the dog could even try and sniff the man, the woman said: “Why do you walk like that?”

The man, for a second, stood still as the wind blew on, around and at him. Without any space, it seemed he answered: “Because the pavement always has cracks and holes in it. The road is better looked after. Cars cost more than legs.”

The woman opened her mouth, but finding nothing to fill it, closed it again.

The man saw this and heard the faint noise that the wind made as it circled in her mouth and back out again, and then walked on.

After a moment, the dog pulled the woman to lead her on, and she followed.

 

Another day, clear as water and sunny too, the man was again walking back and forward across the road; stepping into the gutters to avoid cars, only dust trickled over his shoes when the wind blew hot. A car was driving slowly in the road behind the man, the man had heard a long time before the car was anywhere near him and moved over to the side of the road.

Coming the other way, a man on a bike was also drifting along in the gutter, faster than the man.

The trees were sheltering the road from the sun, in fact, moss grew on parts of the pavement where the trees kept it cold and the hedges kept it damp.

The car, leaving room to pass the walking man pulled out further than normal and almost clipped the man on the bike. The car driver yelled loudly at the cyclist as he passed by him and banged on his horn loudly. The walking man heard the slaps of the man’s hand louder than the actual horn and stopped, watching the whole thing from the dry gutter.

The cyclist stopped and put one foot on the mossy pavement, eyeing the car violently as it drove to the end of the road. As the car drove around the corner and onto the main road, the cyclist changed his focus to the walker.

“It was your fault as much as his. If you weren’t walking in the road; he wouldn’t have come over this side so much”

The walker had been watching the cyclist’s eyes and met them as they turned to him. His face was calm and he replied: “It’s all about the right and the wrong.”

“What?” the cyclist shouted.

“The right can shout as much as they like; they believe in what they’re saying. The wrong have to fight against themselves first.”

The man watched the cyclist again for a couple of seconds and then walked on through the dust and small stones washed in to the gutter weeks ago.

The cyclist watched him go and then watched the space that the man had left for a few seconds. Only when a car on the main road tooted, did he see the space for what it was and carried on cycling slowly.

 

Sometimes the road walker would walk and his mouth would move at the same time. When you were close, you could hear a sound; not talking but something like humming, tuneless and endless coming from his mouth. If you were more than half a metre away, you couldn’t hear anything coming out of it, all you could see was the slow chewing, slightly sucking movement of the mouth.

In fact, not many people saw the movement of the walker’s mouth because he only moved it when he wasn’t paying attention to anything else. As soon as he was disturbed in his walking by anything, he would stop his mouth working and focus that energy on something else.

Once, the road walker was walking along the road again, this time in slightly frosty morning weather (the leaves were stuck to the road in the gutter and crunching quietly under his feet), and a young girl was watching him as he walked.

Her dad was on the phone and they had stood still so that the dad could speak without the earpiece rubbing against his ear. The girl had been watching another child being pulled along by their parent but then saw the road walker coming in her direction.

She watched the controlled weaving, heard the slight squeak in is shoe, saw the mouth chewing on itself, working itself into a grin grimace, opening slightly to let sound out and breath in. She watched him till he was almost opposite her and her dad and then tugged on her dad’s coat: “Dad. Why is that man walking in the road?”

The dad, still engaged with the person on the phone, made the bad mistake of saying something as a joke to a child when the child is serious: “I don’t know, darling, why don’t you ask him?”

The girl looked up at her dad, moved her own mouth in confusion, and then in a clear and clean voice: “Excuse me? Why are you walking in the middle of the road?”

The road walker stopped opposite the girl and her dad and looked at her. The dad quickly eyed the man and then his daughter; ‘she had said it, she had actually said it’. The dad had a very quick feeling. Like when walking on icy pavements and having an instant taste of blood in your mouth when thinking about slipping over.

The man had a feeling of dread, of acute embarrassment that tasted like, like he didn’t know. And then it was gone again.

The little girl stayed looking persistent at the road walker and he looked back. The dad eyed the two of them tens of times in a couple of seconds and then settled on the road walker.

The road walker’s mouth had been chewing, speaking in hums to himself and had stopped a few seconds ago. It now opened slowly again and spoke as clearly as the little girl:

“Do you ever see anything but people use the pavement? Cats run across roads, dogs would too if their owner didn’t stop them. Squirrels, hedgehogs, foxes; they all use the road. People don’t; only cross it to get to the other side. So why can’t people use the road too?”

The little girl looked strangely at the man and he looked back with a question in his face. The man then stood up completely straight and walked off down the road.

The little girl’s eyes and her dad’s followed him until he reached the end of the road and disappeared out of sight. The little girl then went back to watching the wind play gently around the stark bare branches and toeing frozen leaves stuck to the path as her dad carried on talking on his phone.

 

A drunken man was sitting at a bus stop waiting for his bus. It was a Thursday and he always got drunk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He sat on the metal bench; it was warm and sticky because it was early honeyed autumn and someone had spilt a drink on the seat a few hours before.

The day was starting to end and he had the bus stop to himself. Not because it wasn’t busy on the road, it was, but the other people who would’ve used the bus stop had decided not to use it this time.

The reason was because the man was drunk. That would be ok usually, but this man wasn’t a pleasant drunk; he was loud and abusive. Sitting on his bench at the bus stop, the man was furiously shouting at someone in front of him. There wasn’t anyone there but as people walked past or near the man, they felt that he was shouting at them. His eyes didn’t even see them; they focussed on something else entirely. He sat there in visionary fury; the drunk’s eyes blurted and his mouth stared.

People made up reasons for his shouting but, like the road walker, the reason was known only to him.

The road walker was walking along the street on this Thursday with the drunken man laughing and shouting ahead of him. Other people crossed the road to avoid the drunk but the road walker crossed the road because he felt like it.

The drunken man filled the road with inexplicable words and sounds and somehow, whether something of the exterior world sliced into his vision or whether it was a coincidence, the road walker heard: “Why the hell are you walking in the middle of the road you fool!”

The road walker had been moving his mouth, following his feet on the ground, only focussing on the present things happening as each sole squeaked meeting the floor. To hear this shout, cutting into his thoughts; it took a moment for him to raise his head and stop the shoes squeaking. The shout could’ve been anything; “Why are you wearing a hat, you idiot?” or “Stop carrying a bag! You look like a donkey!” but amazingly the shout was thrown and caught at exactly the right time.

The road walker started to walk towards the drunken man; he was still shouting, again at nothing, but people around the bus stop were looking at the scene thinking it might be an argument. Something about the road walker’s quick and precise steps towards the drunk suggested that he might be about to shout back, but the road walker stopped a metre or two from the man, still in the road.

The drunken man now realised that there was really someone there, in front of him and finally stopped shouting, his face slowly losing the redness that the drunk anger had boiled in him. The road walker, calmly and without haste spoke: but whatever he said, it wasn’t heard because a bus drove huge, rumbling, chugging by and the sound drowned everything.

The drunk, though, sat still and listened to whatever he heard and the road walker spoke calm and quiet words and then turned and carried on walking along the side of the road.

The drunk sat and watched him leave for a few seconds and then was distracted by something in front of him that wasn’t there. The thing in front of him annoyed him and he started up his shouting again. The people who had moved closer to hear the argument, moved away again in case they’d get shouted at but the drunk was shouting directly in front of him, to no-one.

 

Lots of people have asked the road walker why he walks in the road, and every time the answer has been different.

Either he can’t make up his mind or there is no reason.

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The Time We Let Loose Our Hold

A friend of mine recently told me about something that had happened to someone she knew.

Apparently, her friend had a friend who worked for a company and this company had had an incident in another store that all the other stores were talking about.

They had allowed some teenagers to come into their store for a week for their work experience.

There were two of them in this shop.

One was a quiet but polite boy and there was a more talkative but still aloof girl.

The first couple of days had gone very well, the teenagers had picked up till work, customer service, all the important but repetitive tasks that are essential to shop work, with ease and were becoming more able in actioning the tasks.

The two were very good friends, it seemed, and so were almost always trying to stick together.

The staff at the store remembered that this was a feature of growing up and decided to allow them to be apart from the rest of the staff, when normally that secretiveness and huddled mentality would be seen as plotting, or worse, shoplifting.

Three days went by with the two teenagers slowly picking up skills like a wet cloth on mud.

The two now began to talk more openly with the staff: their confidence had grown and the rest of the staff, and particularly the manager, looked on them shiningly. They felt the gentle fist of adulthood creep open and spread its fingers, ready to grip something.

At lunch on the forth day, the two were sitting out in the staffroom with the manager and another member of staff.

The manager and staff member were reading and the two, as ever, were sitting talking good-humouredly, gusts of laughter breaking out occasionally.

The manager, normally a good natured person, was someone who needed almost complete silence to read.

At each outburst of noise, she blinked sharply and squeezed her lips together as if squishing the last drops of concentration from the attentiveness lemon.

After five minutes, and no juice left, the manager finally spoke up: “sorry you two, would you mind keeping the noise down? I’m just trying to have a little read”

Now, the inquiry was not harshly phrased, in fact, anyone would’ve shut up.

But the male of the two took great offence to this and his female partner saw his neck tighten and his jaw crushing together.

The manager put her eyes back to the page and the male of the two went out of the room.

The female sat there looking worried.

What could he be doing?

Where had he gone?

Finally, after two minutes, the male came back.

He had been looking in the store room for weapons.

The shop was a stationery store, but I’ve told you that already, and so all that he could find was stationery.

And so the male came back with two rulers and a pad of paper.

“What are those for?” the female’s eyes looked at him.

He answered by running over to the manager and holding the ruler over her forehead.

“This is an occupation. You will do as I say or I will slap you in the forehead with this ruler”

The manager looked up at the youth and said, “You won’t hit me with that. Give me that here and stop being such an idiot, I’ll call the school up!”

The youth took the affront with even more offence than he did the request to keep quiet and ripped the air with, “I will hit you. This is an occupation. You will do as I say. We run this place now”

The manager looked at him and then the other member of staff who had his finger in the page he was reading, expecting to go back to it in a couple of seconds.

The male looked at the female and tilted his head to the other member of staff.

She looked at him and then moved across to the staff member with a ruler to his head also.

The male looked at them both and then left the female to watch them.

He picked up the tannoy and spoke slowly and deeply into it: “Ladies and gentlemen. Please finalise your purchases, this store is about to close due to health and safety issues”

The mention of the words “health and safety” cleared the shop without effort.

The two other members of staff working that day closed the doors and locked them then made their way out to the office and staffroom where the male ambushed them with the pad of paper held to their temples.

They were seated on the floor with the other member of staff and the manager while the male typed up and printed a notice which he put in the window and the door:

THIS SHOP HAS BEEN OCCUPIED!

WORKERS GO HOME

SHOPPERS SHOP SOMEWHERE ELSE

THERE WILL BE NO STATIONERY AVAILABLE UNTIL OCCUPATION IS OVER

The male came back to the staffroom and sat in a chair next to the female and opposite the workers seated on the floor.

After ten minutes of silence, the manager finally spoke, “so what are you going to do then?”

“About what?” the male replied without interest

“With us, I mean?”

“Nothing”

“Nothing?”

“Yep”

“But what do you want?”

“Nothing”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing apart from not wanting to go back to school”

“Is that what all this is about?”

“No. The not going back to school bit is just an added advantage”

“So what is the main thrust of this occupation?”

“There isn’t one”

“So why the hell are you doing it then?” the manager was getting irritated

“There isn’t a reason, we just are”

“You must’ve got the idea from somewhere”

“Yes, well I read some books at school. We learned about theBay of Pigsand the Cold War”

“Ah! I always knew teaching kids about things like that was a bad idea”

“Did you?”

“Yes, I always thought that people give kids too much free rein these days. Kids are too arrogant, too cocky for their own good. Look what all that freedom has done to you two”

The male looked around at the other workers; they all looked to the ground.

They looked sorry for themselves.

“For that comment,” the male stood up and looked down at the manager, “you will be kept here over the occupation, the other workers will be allowed home”

The other workers were led to the front of the shop by the female while the male rang up other shops on the high street that had work experience people there and invited them to the occupied shop.

“Bring weapons,” he told them.

Ten minutes later, red-faced and heart-fast-beating from skirmishes, five other teenagers turned up from their work experience placements.

As they were let in, the staff of the stationery shop were let out.

“Tell the people about the occupied shop,” they were told.

From various placements came various weapons: the best they could find.

From a supermarket: a bag of rich red apples.

From a travel agent: a heavy glossy travel brochure.

From a theatre: a torch with no batteries in it.

From a music shop: an empty CD case.

And from a clothes shop: a scarf, already stretched and ripped slightly.

The male and female assessed the teenagers and their weaponry and nodded at each other.

They settled down for the night with food that one of the teenagers had stolen from the supermarket as she had left.

Over the next couple of days, the manager was amazed by the lack of talking among the teenagers.

They never spoke about why they were occupying the shop, what they planned to do or even how long they planned to do it for.

Gone was that secretive talk which the male and female had spoken, giggling to each other.

Now when speaking, if ever, the teenagers announced loudly what it was they were going to do, or what they thought about something.

It was this outspokenness that showed itself fully on the evening of the second night.

The manager had been sitting still in the same place almost constantly for two days and had started to get cold.

She snivelled occasionally and had started to cough.

The male was sitting in the staffroom in silence with the female and after a while the coughing began to get to him.

He kept looking at the manger and she looked away as if she hadn’t noticed.

After a couple of hours of the manager coughing more and more, trying to get a reaction out of the male teenager, the male finally spoke to her.

“Stop coughing”

“I can’t help it”

“Yes you can. You don’t have to cough. It’s not something that you can’t stop yourself doing”

“But I have a cough, I can’t help it”

“I want you to stop it”

“What do you have against coughing?”

“I don’t mind things that people do without thinking: things that they really can’t help, like sneezing. But coughing, well that’s on purpose”

“It’s not. It’s just a bodily reaction thing. I can’t help it”

“Why is it, then, that when people are asleep they don’t ever cough? It’s only when people are awake that they cough, isn’t it? That shows that people only cough when they think someone’s listening or when they are conscious of coughing. That means you can help it; so stop it,” the male said as he wiggled his leg and tapped the ruler against his hand automatically.

The manager and the male and female sat in silence.

The manager was about to cough and then cleared her throat instead.

She looked up at the male and female and said, “so when are you going to demand something?”

The male looked at the female and then back at the manager, “is it just me, or have we already told you that we don’t want anything?”

“But you must want something, or you wouldn’t be doing this”

“We don’t, ok? We don’t want anything”

Again, the room fell to the hum of silence and the frizz of the fluorescent light.

Altogether, the teenagers kept the store occupied for five days.

And everyday a new sign went up in the window and door.

The one put in on the morning of the final day was:

THIS STORE IS STILL BEING OCCUPIED BY THE ‘WORK EXPERIENCE AGAINST (?) COMMITTEE (W.E.A. C)

WE ARE NOT AGAINST ANYTHING

WE DO NOT WANT ANYTHING

WE HAVE NO DEMANDS

The manager had had no idea that the random collection of teenagers had suddenly become a committee.

There had seemingly been no discussion about it, not in front of her anyway.

The name had come from nowhere.

The manager assumed that the male had come up with the name, typed it on the notice for the day and then showed it to the others for their approval and had not met any resistance.

The group seemed to have no weakness, they had no demands and so there was nothing to lever under and between them.

They weren’t against anything so there was no over zealous passion that could be exploited.

They seemed cohesive: they were a tiled wall with no gap in-between the tiles.

At five thirty on the afternoon of the final day, the telephone rang.

The telephone had been ringing occasionally whilst the occupation had been in place and one of the WEAC would pick it up and then tell the customer about the occupation and answer any questions.

This time when the phone was picked up, it was a teacher from the school.

The teachers had been to the front of the shop before and knocked at the door demanding entrance.

The WEAC had always answered by posting a copy of the daily notice through the letterbox.

This time the teachers had decided to ring them up, hoping that the WEAC would not just play an audio recording of the daily notice to them over the phone.

Their hunch was correct.

“Hello,” the teacher said, “could I speak to the manager please”

“This store is occupied, there is no manager,” the WEAC member replied.

“Well, could I speak to whoever is in charge, please?”

The WEAC member put the teacher on hold and then called through to the office where the male was sitting.

“There is a teacher on line one for you”

“Hello?” the male switched over

“Hello, James. It is James, isn’t it?”

“I’m not James anymore. I’m a member of the Work Experience Against Committee”

“But you are still James. And Jennifer is still Jennifer”

“We are all members of the WEAC”

“I understand. But I want you to understand that you are all still who you were before you occupied the shop”

“We are not”
“You are. What’s bought all this on then?”

“Nothing. We want nothing. We demand nothing”

“But where did you get the ideas from?”

“From school. From books”

“Mmm. Well, what’s the reason? I can understand you not wanting to go back to school, but it must be more than that”

“It’s just that. And some other socio-political ideas”

“Like what?”

“That is none of your business”

The phone was silent for a couple of seconds. Then the teacher’s voice went quiet and deep.

“How about you all come out and I’ll get you a big bag of fizzy cola bottles each”

The male thought about it and then said, “I’ll have to get back to you about it”

He took the teacher’s number and then called the rest of the WEAC into the office.

The manager was sat on the floor as they discussed the terms and was disgusted (silently) by the fact that the teacher was offering sweets to the little bastards rather than a slap on the arse. But she kept quiet; she wasn’t stupid.

After ten minutes of debate, the WEAC called back the teacher to tell him that the WEAC had accepted his terms and that the shop was no longer occupied.

“One more term,” the teacher almost whispered with drama

“Yes?”

“The WEAC also no longer exists”

The male turned to his committee members and talked to them as his hand cupped the receiver.

“Ok,” the male spoke hoarsely, “the WEAC no longer exists”

That was what my friend told me about the whole affair, but for what happened to the WEAC members after the occupation was over, you’ll have to look in the newspapers.

The Artist

The artist was a wanderer.

He didn’t stay in one place for long.

For him, the world was full of different opportunities and different experiences.

To stay in one place was to only see one thing and to only paint, write and talk about the same thing.

The world was full of lots of things; some which he liked, some which he didn’t.

But both were experienced and both were drawn upon.

He realised that he couldn’t portray anything without experiencing it all.

He realised that he couldn’t sit thinking and creating in the warm sun if he wasn’t rained on as well.

The artist drew pictures in the sand with his finger and dipped a stick in watery mud to paint.

He wet soil with river water and moulded it into shapes with his hands, then left them to dry in the sun.

All the time he was travelling.

He left some of his art in the places he stayed.

Maybe one day he would come back and find them again.

Maybe someone else would stay under the same tree, next to the same river and find the pieces and enjoy them.

Maybe the weather would destroy them and turn them back to what they were.

He kept a small pad of paper with him and would occasionally use a stick which he sharpened and dipped in ink to write in it.

He would only write after many days of thought.

Two words would form, ones that sounded good together.

Then more would emerge around it.

The artist would change the words around and see whether he liked it.

If he didn’t, then he would sit and think of some more and change them around again, letting the rain or sun drip from the leaves above him onto his head.

If he did like it, he’d take out the stick, sharpen it again and then dip it in the small pot of ink he carried with him.

The artist only wrote a few lines; all that was needed.

The time he had been sitting and thinking, he’d been refining, condensing his thoughts down.

Each line was the result of many hours work; it was all that was needed.

The artist didn’t expect anyone to read the lines, they were for him, and they were the product of his life and his reflection on it.

The artist lived and travelled alone, but if he did meet other artists, he would sit and discuss things with them.

If he felt that they were like him, then they would get together and make a piece to perform together to people in the nearest town.

The artist would take out his pad and use some of the words he’d so carefully constructed and combine them with words from the other artist and from other people he’d met along the way.

He listened to people who weren’t artists and noted down words that they had said in another pad.

The performance collected together singing, dancing, words, acting and art and was performed in a public place.

Mostly, there were no words used; the artists used everything else, their whole bodies.

The artists used the words as a strong light which they stood in front of.

The shadows they produced were the art that people passing watched.

The artists knew they’d never get into an artistic space and because of this; they didn’t want to go into an artistic space.

They knew they wouldn’t receive money or critical praise for their work, but they did it anyway.

Their performance made light of their ousting from ‘real’ art and they made the people laugh with their mockery of the society they so carefully avoided.

When the performances were over, the artists left each other and went back to the travelling they had done before.

They might meet again but they might not.

Each took with them their pad and their pen and their craving for the countryside outside of the towns.

Salty William – A Story

Out of the window on the left side he saw dusty and thick hills. Blue-green with mist and salty-smelling, they grew from the sea and slept down in to the land.

On the window from the right side he could see a dip with the cliffs of houses jutted up from brown soil and at night the lights bunched like collected yellow stars pulled to the ground and tied to the roofs, like balloons caught in trees.

 

William had been here for some days now and, as he woke up on this Sunday morning, he felt different from the way he had felt all the other mornings that he’d woken up here.

It’s not often in houses that you feel that can see the two views both opposite each other from your bed and this is one of the great things about a static caravan.

Other great things about caravans are that the walls are so thin you can hear almost word for word and sound for sound what is happening behind them. Their plastic disposable plate thinness lets out all sorts of sounds that a house wall would insulate from the outside world. The sounds of parents yelling at their children, the harsh sound of arguments, the dull moaning of the television programmes that people are watching, the wonderfully ambiguous sound of sex.

The whole caravan park is like a horizontal block of flats, each one is a room closed off from the others, but surrounding rooms can hear what is happening to their neighbours and everybody knows this. This gives the holidayers a strange feeling: since they could see and hear what others were doing and that others could see and hear what they were doing.  Some worried that they were available for viewing and judgement but others took the opportunity to release themselves from captivity. The caravan park was full of drunken, loud, sex-shouting, revellers and closed-door policing uptight holidayers. A very small handful took neither route but walked the gap and took their fun from both.

 

William woke up on this Sunday and the salt spray reached him all the way from the sea. It woke him up. The past few days had been full of a tiredness born of fresh air and city lethargy.

Now this Sunday salt had slapped his face and tickled his nostrils.

The strange feeling that had taken the others had taken him too but he didn’t police or get policed, he decided that since he knew hardly anybody there, that he should both respect them and take the piss. Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of, on that Sunday William didn’t care what people thought.

On that day he set out on an extended project with no particular theme or direction, apart from taking things as they appeared to him. Waking every morning at six (earlier than every other day before) he would assess the weather from his bed looking out of both windows and then he would eat and leave, opening the door and putting on his shoes, breathing in the crunchy air that was his energy, possibly the origin of his force and sustained him throughout the day.

 

At home William was a lazy bugger, working as little as he could and preparing food at the last possible moment and sitting on his backside all evening before lying on his back to sleep for the rest of the night. This sudden energy and verve had to have come from somewhere, because it certainly didn’t come from William himself. Until now William wouldn’t have got out of bed until the alarm clock went off three times at least. Now he was waking up and getting out of bed before the alarm was even starting off. Three days after that Sunday, William didn’t even bother setting the alarm.

This morning William walked out around the park. He saw people walking dogs, newspapers under arms and plastic bags sticking from pockets.

An older man was digging at the side of his caravan. He was probably an owner, William thought and he approached the man feeling that a little exercise would take away some of the dewy coolness that was in the air. He introduced himself to the man and asked the man if he needed any help with the digging. The man already had a dribble of sweat on his upper lip and down his sideburns and his body was evidently aching from the work. Maybe he’d been doing it for a few days now, but now that William was here, he wouldn’t have to; for a small amount of crispy cash. The man looked surprised at first but then smiled and nodded his head: “I suppose I should be taking it easy, my partner doesn’t like me to be out here doing this all the time, but who else would do it?”

William listened carefully and nodded. He smiled and took a spare shovel from next to the man and began to dig. The man watched for a minute and then went in to the caravan.

The glow in William’s limbs came from work and the feeling that he had let the old man have more of a holiday. The glow was fuelled by the idea that William would be finished soon and would then have the rest of the day off and that he had earned himself some money to drink away at the pub that evening.

Again, this was not like William at all. He would do as little work as he could in order to get by. Getting by was William’s way of life. If it involved physical work, he would avoid it as much as he could. Here, though, the prospect of work and the instant payment at the end, rather than an accumulated amount transferred in to his bank at the end of the month, made the whole thing seem much more interesting to William.

 

William met the old man outside of his caravan for two more mornings and took two more crispy notes off him.

The afternoons were spent lying in the sun on the grass outside the caravan or at the dusty pebble beach. Later on in the week, William would also use these afternoons for finding other sources of money, but these earlier days were spent in the same position as William would spent his afternoons at home.

 

The evenings were spent in the pub about ten minutes walk from the park.

There, fishermen would sit and talk about their daily expeditions out into the flat, endless plains of water and William would listen. William wondered about this pub because it seemed such a cliché; with the fishermen trading tales, it was like something from their own stories, an old story from a thick yellow book, covered with crusty tang and spoken with a mouth that’s breathed in roaring storm air and the thick clumps of sky from calm seas and stale land.

The drink made William want to tell stories himself but he didn’t have any to tell. And so he listened and made up his own stories in his head as the drink filled up his belly. He had enough money from his work to make up a lot of stories in his head and to absorb plenty more from the fishermen.

Why this pub seemed so pretend was unclear to William but it seemed to fit in with the whole babbling nonsense of the caravans and the whole loss of privacy and William’s own feeling that he was above it all. He was watching it all and finding what he could from it. Plucking what he needed from the situation.

William the seagull grabbed fish, or whatever he could find, and ate them. Everyone else just watched and laughed or watched and complained to their partner and/or the park authorities.

 

After helping the old man for the first three days, William had started to search for other means of employment and found other people on the park who needed help. One couple wanted a babysitter while they went for a coffee and a walk in peace for an hour or so. Another man needed help with cleaning his caravan; William cleaned it within an hour and took two notes off the man.

It was at this time that William decided to use his afternoons not for lazing about but for work as well. None of the jobs took longer than two hours at the most but William still took crunchy and clinky money from them all.

These days seem to me, and probably you, to be going on for a very long time; like his holiday was eternal, infinite amount of days seeming to fit into the smallness of a holiday of two weeks.

This is how it felt to William as well. It was a summer holiday of his youth coming back; the days were long, endless and full and yet too short to fit in all of his activities.

William despite being at the long end of being a teenager, felt young and free again; there was no end to his summer.

 

 William took the first journey out of the park that he had had since he arrived there and went to the beach. Sitting there and watching the children playing, William noticed that the adults would sit in their own self-contained groups away from other self-contained groups of adults, while the children would play in gaggles that would become smaller and larger; like the waves, running up the beach, destroying the sandcastles and then, later, pulling sticks, pebbles and sand back with it.

William had noticed this in the pub at the park, the children running in groups around the pub and the adults sitting alone at tables, and at the caravan park, adults alone watching television or reading in the caravans while the kids ran and shouted, the entire park theirs.

In the park, William had felt the lack of the usual restrictions in everyday life, but now with the wind in his ears and the taste of sun on his lips at the coast, he felt that there had never been any restrictions.

He carried on with his work as if he had never known any other way.

 

One day, when he had gone into a shop next to the beach to buy a newspaper to get change for the laundrette, his mind was changed again by his surroundings.

The man behind the counter at the shop was reading the paper distractedly; he looked up quickly when William came in and then flicked his eyes back to the newspaper, worried in case the words on the page would run away while he wasn’t looking.

William grabbed the cheapest paper and handed over a taught ten pound note with it to the man.

The man took a great amount of time and effort to move aside his paper and looked hard at the price on the newspaper, then the ten pound note and then at William’s face.

“Haven’t got anything smaller?” the man asked.

“No, sorry. I want the change for the laundrette next door”

“Oh bloody hell! How many times do I have to tell the park authorities? I’m separate from them and I don’t give change for their bloody facilities. I’m going to ring them now and tell them to put a bloody sign up in the laundrette”

The man picked up his phone and looked out of the window behind him. He found the number for the reception emblazoned across a tinted window and dialled it.

The man spoke to someone, shouted at someone and carried on his harangue over the phone with William still standing at the counter waiting for his change or at least to be told that he could leave.

But for ten minutes William had to wait. More people came in and waited behind him. They tutted and sighed and looked at William as if it was him who was keeping them waiting while the sun was waiting for them outside.

The man finally finished and then looked at William, surprised that he was still there.

“Can I have some change then?” William asked, slightly irritated.

“Did you not hear what I was just talking about on the phone? Of course you bloody can’t. Now bugger off and go and ask the park authorities.

William walked away from the counter leaving the paper there but taking the tenner with him.

The man shouted something after him, but William was out of the door before any of the shout could be heard.

Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of; on that day William decided to do something.

 

Walking past the shop on the way back to his caravan, his arms loaded with wet washing, William saw that by the door there were small fishing nets, buckets and spades and beach balls.

They were there to entice small children and their parents in to buy them but they encouraged a different feeling in William. Not a buying feeling, something else.

Ten minutes later, William was back outside the shop breathing in the air before walking in.

He stepped inside, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and then he was strolling past the man again. The man briefly looked up as before and then returned his eyes to the paper in front of him. This was what William was waiting for; no recognition and then no shouting. He walked once around the shop and then towards the door. The man wasn’t watching and so William quickly and quietly grabbed a small handful of fishing nets.

He walked out quickly and then returned to normal speed as he got around the corner from the shop. He’d got away with it.

He got back to his caravan and then counted the nets; four all together.

Five minutes later William did the same thing and got another four. He also looked at the price and saw that the man was charging three pounds for a net.

Later in the morning, William returned four more times and all together grabbed eight nets, four beach balls and five buckets and spades.

He noted the price of all of them in his head; three pounds for the nets, three for the beach balls and five pounds for the buckets and spades.

William decided that he would charge two pounds for the nets, two for the beach balls and then four pounds for the buckets and spades and that he would take them all down to the beach and sell them.

 

That afternoon William sold all of the stuff and had another handful of papery money in his pockets.

He spent the evening down at the pub listening to the stories of the fishermen and making his own up in his head. The angry man spent his evening at home, wondering why he hadn’t remembered selling any buckets and spades, beach balls or nets when he seemed to have sold loads.

 

The next day William repeated the exact same thing and again sold all his stock. That evening, however, he spent selling sweets that he had taken from the shop to all the children who were playing outside of the park clubhouse.

He went to bed that evening tired and woke up the next morning swearing that he would have the day off.

After a brief walk around the harbour, he realised that it was going to be a beautiful day and that he would be able to sell loads if he went out.

Without a sense of reluctance or hesitation, he went to the shop three times and stole as much as he could and sold it all that morning and afternoon.  He made even more money than he did the day before.

 

Before long it was going to happen, as things will always happen I suppose.

The man at the shop realised that somebody was stealing his stock. It was the constant lowness of his stock and the fact that he saw family after family with the nets, buckets and spades and beach balls even though he had sold hardly any.

The news that there was a thief around stealing beach toys reached William very quickly and he realised that it wouldn’t be long at all until somebody linked the stolen stock with his abundant money and beach toy collection.

Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of: William decided to run to the hills around the park and, in particular, the cliffs right at the sea front.

 

William had constantly seen small black figures silhouetted against the golden sky and dusty hills around the park and decided that he wanted to be one of them. He liked the solitary image of them up there, away from everybody and the parks. They were icons, symbols to William and so he ran up a hill until the people sitting on the beach saw him as he had been seeing the other figures.

 

After that, nobody ever saw William again. Not up close anyway.

It’s nice, perhaps, to imagine William, dusty face and sandy shoes, salty clothes and sun-tanned lips living up there.

Like a spirit, people claimed they saw him up on the hills or cliffs, but they could never fully prove that it was him or not.

In the two weeks since his disappearance and now (because that is all that it has been) people have been attributing everything that has gone missing or has gone wrong to William. Caravan owners with missing cutlery say “Must’ve been William”, plants belonging to locals that have been blown over by the wind say that William must have been along their street, parents with crying children blame William for their child’s grottiness.

Seagulls crying have a strange noise. Sometimes they sound like babies, or sometimes like voices calling. Now children in the park tell younger children that the noises are William coming back for more things.

William’s name is still everywhere. How people found out his name isn’t known, but ever since I have arrived in this place, it is all I have heard.

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