From FIRST CHAPTERS
Affluence and Effluence
Trapped like a rabbit I hesitate. Which way to run? Its pointless
of course but I try
As one door closes
another one opens.
When the first one closed on me the whole lot took their cue. Bloody frenzy
of slamming wood. Every hole in every wall sealed up and I was left with
a bunch of redundant keys.
Some might think I deserved this, indeed, saw it coming but then thats
my wife. Shes great with I told you so. Plans, ideas
and half-formed ambitions were atomised and scattered to the wind in the
space of a few months. Perhaps my chagrin has amplified the drama because,
Ok, there were a couple of doors left unlocked but, doors into cupboards
allow only a couple of steps before you hit a wall. Narnia doesnt
So here I am alone in the internet café. Cant really afford
the hot chocolate with cream but, hey, in for a penny and so on. I pay
with a five pound note. Not that I havent got change. I have but,
probably not quite enough to cover the cost. I could scrabble about in
the thin, torn pockets of my suit but, that would lend credence to that
which I deny. Broke.
Ill continue the illusion as long as possible. At least outwardly.
I suspect the waitress is aware of the truth. She smiles and adds an extra
dollop of cream unasked for. My gratitude wells up and almost trickles
out. Coughing, I turn away.
I approach the screen in the window seat. I should really be limping.
Crippled and hopeless. Cast into the world of the unwanted. I dont
even belong there. Is there an under-under class I should apply to join?
I think of Groucho Marxs disdain for any club which would have him
as a member. Yeah.
Are you alright? A voice enquires. It hits me hard. Am I so
visibly pathetic? Do the Samaritans stalk cafes looking for trade?
Do you want me to log you on? The voice persists. I turn to
see the waitress smiling at me. I smile back and the bristles on my face
feel stiff. Unused to changing their positions.
No, Im fine thanks. Just working out where Im going
first. You know, stock market, investments or holidays. That sort of thing.
Involuntarily I duck and weave my head with the words. I must look like
I did indeed used to be wide. My suit bears witness to this. Recently
Ive deflated like a cheap inner tube. The weight has left me along
with my comforts. My eyes flicker to the side to see if anyones
watching the exchange. She speaks again. Log you on. I agree
it might be a good start. Surfs up she smiles. Let
me know if you want more time. Thanks I say and watch
her as she takes her leave.
I log onto my e-mail provider. As I wait for the algorithms to chatter
and the electrickery to function my stomach tingles. Welcome
I read. That in itself is depressing. Computers are the play things of
the affluent. Im effluent.
Luckily the boxes dont differentiate. Politeness is written into
the codes. Nice. Guess Ill hang out with computers then. See if
I can replace the woman at the DHS with a box. Come to think of it, the
doctor, the solicitor and the wife. Turn her into a box. Box. Put her
in a box. A spark of passion fizzes weakly to the front of my mind but
I manage to dismiss it.
I scroll down the list of messages and tick the box for delete all. Debt
counsellors. cheap print cartridges, casinos. Anti-virus software? No
need, I have a quilt for that. Thin and ragged with a 70s geometric
pattern in brown and gold. Helps keep my kidneys warm.
No, as I expected. Nothing of interest. No invitations to interview. No
consultancy needed. My finger hovers over the mouse as I take a final
gander and then
. See it, saw it. Back and forth. Who has sent that?
Who knows my name?
Hey, TT. Open me up.
TT. Thats me TT. My abbreviation. Who knows that? My heart beats
fast at the thought of Docklands again. The light railway. The lift to
the heights of corporate technology. I am being called again. Tarquin
Tebbit. Your ship has come in. Triumphantly my finger stabs the button
and my eyes greedily devour the fantastic news.
What? Whats that mean? Who the hell is Alouitious Haydock? I scroll
down quickly looking for the detail.
IT director? Head hunter for technology group? Nothing. My mouse drags
and clicks in all directions. Thats all.
I stare out of the window until the door bursts open and a group of youths
fall in laughing. Im not sure I want to share my space with 16 year
olds who have more money than me. My thoughts interrupted I read the message
again and exit without deleting. The cream has sunk into the chocolate
making each mouthful exquisite and I long for a fag. Pity internet cafes
are so PC. Reluctantly I leave, pausing only to smile in the direction
of the waitress. She isnt looking. Effort wasted, I wander and wonder
Throwing the quilt from the sofa I stretch out and turn the state-of-the-art
TV on. Digital in so much as I change the channel with my finger, it flickers
into life with a vitality to match my own.
My wife says Things happen for a reason.
I reflect upon this as I eat my coco-pops. These own-brands arent
half bad. The brandy gives the milk a fresher feel and helps disperse
the curds. Shuttering light plays across the bare walls as the cars pass
by. Commuters hurrying home to loved ones. Dinner on the table. Gentle
conversation and wrestling with the kids. A world of light years away.
Things happen for sure.
Hey! Volvo. Recognise the light clusters. Wouldnt be surprised if
this next ones a
.Mondeo. Bloody right again. Should have
a quiz show. Id win it hands down. Head down. Shoulders bowed. On
my knees. Steady Tarquin. Steady. Lighten up man. Get a grip. Thingsll
change. Pop up to the local and have a chinwag. See old
mebbe not eh? Cant afford it anyway.
I wonder, do they still refund money on lemonade bottles? Been years since
Ive done that. Always a nice little earner at 11. Ill nip
out later. See if I can find some. Singles of fags or, Five Park
Lane please hen Id ask. Casual, confident in my Jock accent.
Illegal but Id get them. Always.
White and sterile save for darkened windows into the inner room the
design is stark, functional with no deference to comfort.
Through the window light is dimly seen. A matrix of neon green, violet
and red boxes hang in the dark. They are still but if you were able
to look closely you would see each line is moving, rolling and spinning
around itself. From time to time a section of colour flips out and dies.
It is soon replaced and the harmony of the shape restored. Occasionally
a crackle breaks the silence.
OK Philo. Got the reclaim grid? A shadow moves. The beams
are broken as he walks through them. They reform after he has passed.
Philo nods and grins. It is plain he is enjoying himself. His baggy
trousers are slung low in the fashion of the time. His hooded head and
sunglasses complete the image. Surf or Nerd. There is no board visible.
The voice speaks again as Philo consults the metal tablet. Light faintly
glimmers as his fingers fly. Philo were going at the low
grade stuff today. Weve had some interest from our sponsors in
usage patterns and tail off. Theyre looking at competition and
the effects on the business usage and cycles. Philo taps his board
again. Alright Mr Vader.
Philo. Dont piss me off with that old film crap. Were
paying you and your pal good money for enjoying yourselves. Dont
push it. Philos voice drops lower. Sorry Mr Bader.
Baders voice assumes the calm timbre of the scientist. His hand
strokes a pad on the wall next to the window. The hole is filled with
a pale and gently moving mist. Colours flood the hologram and paint
in the delicate shapes and forms of a control panel. Briefly seen through
the diffused light Philo plays with the superimposed icons. As he turns
to the matrix floating behind him he hums a tune. With a flourish and
a gentle skip he presses the pad in his hand and watches. A thin white
light springs from the control and meets one of the segments above him.
Slowly it tracks the grid until a junction makes it veer away on another
route. Philos sunglasses reflect the patterned screen in his hands.
He mutters to himself. He turns to look at Bader through the hologram.
Ready for burn. With a gleeful smile he points his gloved
hand at the screen. Rock and roll!
My coat is pulled close around me as I glide from shadow to shadow.
Like Zorro, light forms no-go areas for me and the bag is awkward to
carry. Shh! Bloody bottles. I grin in spite of myself as I remember.
Tanner a bottle. Inflation mustve increased that. I relish the
thought, the jingle of coins in my pockets. I am rummaging in the bags
at the back of the building when I freeze. There is a snap and rattle
of chains not 5 feet from where I lurk. With a jerk the door swings
back and a trembling falsetto breaks the night. Whos there?
Come on I know youre there. What do you want?. I dont
move. She wont see me if I stand still. I have forgotten about
the light from the open door. Trapped like a rabbit I hesitate. Which
way to run? Its pointless of course but I try. My legs flap at
and slap the rubbish bags which, like the shallows of the tide try and
hold me. I grimly struggle toward the alleyway. My shopping bag clanks
and rattles in my wake. I am almost there when I my leg connects with
the edge of something sharp and I fall beneath the sea of waste. As
I hit the ground profanity eases my pain. Bugger.
Bollocking, buggering bollocks.
Blood is soaking through the suit. Cost me £600 Two years ago.
Shit. I look up at the door but no-one is there. Thank God for small
mercies. Ill sneak off and thatll be that. Bollocks
I spit. Mostly at my stupidity but also, at least a little, at the buggering,
Theres no need to be quite so rude.
Shit. I look wildly for the source. Shes right next to me. In
the shadow I can just make out the blonde edges of her halo. Clusters
of curls ring her head and her dark eyes study me intently. She reminds
me of something. Alien. Grace.
Calmly she stares at me. Not at all frightened now. She has bearded
Philo lifted his hand in greeting as he trotted down the spiral, chrome
staircase. The chrome floors and chrome walls disrupted the shapes and
images of the punters hovering in groups around their selection screens.
Diggy rested high in his chrome armchair directing response to selections
and transactions. A mini holo hovered half a metre from his head. His
fingers pushed and pressed the coloured frames and icons and the punters
collected their holo-discs in their carriers.
As Philo advanced toward the back wall of the store he allowed his hood
to slip off revealing curly blonde hair. His baggy jeans and top echoed
the dress of some of the other shoppers but most of the kids wore the
latest carbon basket threads. The colours spun and changed according
to the settings embedded in the weave. He shook his head as he walked.
What dyou expect from airheads and kids? Philo ignored the critical
looks while acknowledging his fellow-travellers. The congnoscenti. They
knew the score. What was really important.
A door, as though embarrassed to be seen in such a wall, grew faintly
visible. He stepped through onto the rubberised floor. Light was replaced
by darkness and music. Real music played by real people, artists. He
paused, grinning, as he soaked up the atmosphere. Rock and Roll.
In the gloom he could just make out the stages hovering a few centimetres
above the floor. On one, a white clad figure gyrated his hips while
the rhinestones on his wide belt glittered. An adoring group of youths
jigged and jumped in response to the images pointing finger. Elvis,
clearly, is not dead. And, as Philo glanced at another stage he saw
that in fact he had multiplied. From Viva Las Vegas back to Rock-a-hoola
all at the same time.
In the distance and through an archway he could see tables and the bar
but his interest was swayed to the flash of a start-up. As the stage
began to take form and the colours above it began to build he stood
transfixed, smiling broadly. In excitement he watched as the band began
to perform. A bit on the early side for his taste but still worth the
watch. Quickly he identified the girl responsible. She was new. Dark
and slim with short hair. She was very pretty, wore straight leg jeans
and T shirt and boy, was she into the music. Perhaps he might try 1969
for himself. Quickly he moved to her side. Completely lost in her selection
she ignored him. Maximum R and B screamed the poster behind
the group. The drummer was mad for it.
Cool said Philo. She glanced at him then back at the stage.
Shh! He tried again. Who is it? She frowned
and repeated. Shh! Im listening. Ive only paid for
a shorty. Sorry. Philo folded his arms and watched.
He was impressed by the energy and the wild banging cyclical strokes
of the guitarist. The singers hair shone and the sweat stuck strands
to his forehead. Hope I die before I get old. Good lyrics
thought Philo. The holo began to fade and the sound diminished until
all was dark again. Philo was relieved but also disappointed. He could
now ask her. So. Who
Brusquely she answered him then looked him up and down slowly. Thats
right. Didnt think youd like them. You look too
baby retro. He glanced down at his jeans. Baby retro. Ive
never been called that. Whatre you then? Retro-Chick? She
looked scathingly at him. Retro-Chic. New boy. Get an education
before you come in here again. Her teeth were white and neat and
her lips glistened as she spoke. Nice. Before he could riposte she pushed
past him and strode toward the exit. Philo stared after her. He removed
his sunglasses and stooped to rub furiously at his calf. The itch was
I notice the large and heavy torch in her hand. I suppose just in case
I get uppity. Get up. her voice is smooth and clean. I like
it. I nod manfully but grimace as I try to rise. My trouser leg is flapping
open. The blood looks black in the half-light. Come inside and
Ill see what I can do. Do anything wrong and Ill break your
arm. Understand? I smile weakly and hobble after her. Its
as if the bag-sea parts for her only to close for me. I still grip my
bag of gold.
Im sorry for startling you. I try. Just to break the
ice really. She is behind the counter switching switches and unboxing
a box of plaster. I see her place a bandage on the espresso machine.
I hope she isnt going to heat it up first.
Want to tell me what you were doing?
If I do, it might diminish any grandiose claims I may have later on
in the conversation. She lifts the torch and stares into my face. I
Gonna sell the bottles. She looks up from behind the machine.
Is she smiling? Smirking? Im not too sure but she continues. Wouldnt
you rather tell me the truth? It may stop me involving the police.
I cannot bear to look her in the face. If my leg didnt hurt so
much Id be rubbing my toe back and forth across the tiles as I
answer again, head down. Gonna sell them
.at the newsagents.
She snorts and I look up. She is laughing which makes her blond curls
fall forward. She reaches up and throws them aside as she looks straight
at me. Still laughing she asks. How much for each bottle you get?
I shrug and admit I dont know but we used to get a tanner each
so with inflation
She interrupts me. When did you
last try? I grin. Thirty years ago.
Her hands are slim and well formed. Smooth and strong but delicate.
The nails well manicured sport clear varnish. Her cuticles are
cute. I like hands. And teeth. They hold my leg. The hands that is.
She cleans the long, deep, moon-shaped fissure in my flesh while I struggle
not to whimper. As she applies the bandage she looks up at me.
What do you do? She asks. When not recycling lemonade
bottles or sitting in cafes?
Clearing my throat I go for honesty. I dont think shell
be taken in by any concoction of mine. Maybe on a good day when Ive
a belly full of food and a hefty consultancy contract in my pocket.
Not today though.
I have my own company. The hands stop. She stares at me
then What does this
..company do? Bugger! To
tell the truth, nothing. At least yet. It does exist but Ive yet
to source the funding.
.Honestly. She continues.
Were the bottles part of the funding plan?
No. They were to buy cigarettes.
Cant you get another job while you are setting up the business?
I have one. I work at the concrete factory.
Cant that fund the project?
That funds my wife.
He set off for the selection tablets, hands thrust into his pockets.
With a backwards glance he saw she had gone. A sense of disappointment
stayed with him until the selector switches glowed under his hand. Responding
to the prompt he searched the lists until he found it. The headings
were split into decades. His finger stroked the 1970s icon and the index
grew into focus.
There it was. Hed planned and saved for this for a while and now
the time had come. The code presented, he waited. With the customary
fizz, the stage began to form in front of him. He was aware of other
shadows joining him. A familiar voice called. Philo, Hi.
The stocky shape of Tigger came into his peripheral view. He would not
take his eyes from the holo. Didnt want to miss a single second.
The voice carried on What we got today? Something obscure, exotic?
Philo acknowledged him with a short response.
The huge, steel-framed canopies tower over the dirty floors of the factory.
Panels of glass high up over the workers allow some light in. They are
streaked and filthy collecting a yellow film which in turn attracts
and clutches to itself any passing particle of dust. The sunlight is
choked. Shut out for good. Freezing winds out of Russia screech across
the North Sea and batter the towers of the installation. The sheds stand
open to the elements at one end like giant metal windsocks, inviting
bitterness and resentment to flourish. Us and them. The workers and
the office staff. Secretaries. Bosses. Toiling in the dirty, dusty,
cement covered landscapes. A Land of Mordor. Orcs. They make decisions
affecting us from within their cosy burrows. Hobbitt hegemony.
There is also me. I push my barrow around the site. Dirty white stained
boots splash through unevenly formed puddles of filth. The shift stretches
endlessly increasing the misery of physical labour. Wind batters me.
Rain spatters me. Closing matters to me. I am in sales. Was in sales.
Want to be back in sales. I am a cubie. I work in the laboratory
testing concrete strength. No white coat or comfy surroundings. Laboratory
is a misnomer. Dirty shed is more apposite. We test the concrete strength
then throw the cubes away. Mind numbing. The guys on the shop floor
think its cushy for the lab boys. We all think its cushy
for the office workers. Everyone thinks its cushy for the bosses.
The walls of the rest area are papered with papers. Newspapers.
More exactly page 3s from newspapers. The toilet walls are evidence
of time warp which transports sinister, juvenile poets and artists in
at night to decorate.
I sit here and listen to talk of sport, women and, strangely, in this
filthy building, fish and birds. Aquarists and ornithologists talk with
passion of their recreation while others pore over the days racing
fixtures. A moment of portent is looming but I do not realise it. A
word half-heard reaches me through the babble and smoke. Where have
I heard it before? My mind scans back and forth through jumbled images
looking for the thread. Alouitious. What was that again? I focus upon
the man with the sports paper and tune in to his discussion. Five to
one. I begin to lose interest. They are talking of racing. I continue
my solitary thinking waiting for the whistle to blow. Inevitably the
lonely howl signals us back to the shop floor.
We lever our weary limbs off the benches and head for the doors. The
man in front is the sports paper reader I had listened to. I can just
see the black type-face jutting from under his armpit. The word I can
see is familiar too. A wild, stupid thought occurs but the weight of
my barrow chases it away.
The damned wind is battering me as I struggle with the bike. Multiple
layers of clothes are pressed hard against my sweating skin as I wobble
and push on towards home. I have a day-glo vest to warn the car drivers
I am on the highway. It billows and snaps like the canvas sails of a
man o war. I hate the wind. It speeds me to work but impedes my
escape. I hate the winter. I hate the bloody bike. The pedal snatches
and jerks as the rusted gears choose. Everything is against me today.
As each car passes me there is a small respite. The slipstream seems
to nullify the winds power for a micro second allowing me to progress
a bit but, it returns with fury as though irritated by any diminution
of its malevolence.
Was that a finger held up? Bastard! Cosy and smug in his sad little
car. I used to have a bloody Saab
you bastard! . A
horn is blowing somewhere behind me in the line of cars. I ignore it.
If I turn around Ill lose momentum and have to push the bike.
Grimly I redouble my efforts. The long hill stretches ahead. I hate
this bit. My trousers rub against my leg and the bandage feels wet.
I press on. With sudden resignation I lurch into the lay-by and stop.
Just in case the passing drivers think the hill has beaten me, I theatrically
examine the wheels and gears. No not knackered. Just got a technical
problem. I pant with the exertion of looking.
Shit! A car has joined me. I dont look up just rub my stubble.
A technician faced with an interesting fault. I frown and bend down
as I hear the car door open. Hello, I thought it was you. Problem?
Reluctantly I shift my gaze to the voice. Its her. The café
angel. The curly whirly girly. The wind tries to defeat the curls but
they just whip around her flushed face. Her eyes glance at the bike.
Yes, gears playing up.
Nothing to do with the hill then?
Or the awful
I grin. She does something to me.
Want a lift?
Sure I say after a decent pause. Thatd be great.
My bike projects through the hatchback. It has been secured by string
and now bounces happily up and down as we progress through the gears.
I sit turned towards the rear of the car in order to make sure it remains
where I placed it. This also gives me the opportunity to steal glances
at my helper. She is beautiful. The perfume she wears is light and contrasts
heavily with my own work stained, sweat stained, concrete spattered
odour. Surreptitiously I sniff my arm. Her curls lie gently on her collar.
I quickly look toward the bike as she turns her head slightly.
Hows the leg? Did you go to the doctor?
Bit sore. I scraped it at work.
What did the doctor say?
Didnt have time. I needed to work.
You really should get it seen too. What about tetanus?
Yeah, I guess youre probably right. Tomorrow.
Why not now? We pass the hospital.
The nurse has cleaned the wound and a gleaming white bandage now clamps
my calf. I watch as she reappears. My hands twist the pale blue paper
on the trolley bed. The paper sticks to my wet palms as she draws nearer.
She waves a small papier-mache tray. It holds my gaze. I am a cobra
spellbound by the fakir. No. Shouldnt call her that. She is only
trying to help. She doesnt know I dont like needles.
I limp out from behind the curtain aided by the nurse. My Samaritan
friend stands. Everything ok? The nurse smiles and praises
me for being brave. They exchange looks which unite them in sisterhood.
I know what the look translates into. We turn and walk down the corridor
together. I feel I should say something. She beats me to it. Where
can I drop you
. I leap in. Tarquin.
Tarquin Tebbit, er, my friends used to call me TT. She laughs
as she speaks. Her curls toss and sway as she swings her head to look
at me. Her eyes pierce me. Brown. No. Yellow. Im not too sure
now. They seem to change in an instant. I cant hold the gaze.
I hold my breath in case it contaminates her.
Ive found you rummaging in my bins, taken you into my premises
late at night, and now picked you up in the middle of nowhere and brought
you to hospital. Im not a risk-taker by nature. Just opening the
café scared the living daylights out of me. I must be going mad.
I interrupt her. Maybe you are mad. Buying back the very bottles
that I took them from your bins.. I laugh in order to indicate
no offence meant. I dont need to. She giggles and then whacks
me. It feels nice but on the downside, I bite my lip. Its my injection
I begin to unfasten my bike from the car while she watches.
Affluence and Effluence by Neil Wills. © Neil Wills 2001-2002
First Chapters of a completed novel by Neil Wills enquiries to
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