The brew hut was a chamber pot of toxicity. The manager, a fervent supporter of schadenfreude, constantly scoured the workplace for any signs of joy that he could rip out like a rose amongst thorns. What events must have unfolded in his life for him to have ended up so bitter, so full of hate? This train of thought probably could’ve led me to showing sympathy towards him; if he wasn’t such a cunt.
I’d been at the new job a little over a month and had already taken to having my mid-morning brew and lunch away from the rest of my colleagues. Instead choosing to sit in a considerably cooler, darker room further down the hallway, so I could escape the bland meaningless noise that poured out of their foolish mouths to read instead. The only reason I had managed such a victory without becoming ostracised was by claiming I was concerned about the social distancing that was non-existent. But with the success and speed of the vaccine roll out, my excuse was nearing expiration. ‘Perhaps I could feign Stockholm syndrome when the time comes?’ I pondered, staring blankly at a dead mouse in the dank corner that I felt I had more in common with than any one of my good old work buddies.
‘Oi Harry Potter. You staying in there all day, or are you going to grace us with your presence?’ Snarled the manager, Joe. Joe’s around five-three, stocky with thick arms, narrow eyes and a curved nose. He has an egg-shaped bald head with an untrustworthy looking birthmark above his left ear and a large gap between his two front teeth that whistles when certain words, usually beginning with a ‘sh’ or ‘su’, are spoken. He wears a cheap cologne that smells like car freshener, making one feel nauseous when standing near him for too long. ‘Harry Potter?’ I asked. ‘Yeah. With that scar down your face.’ I didn’t reply. Any remark would signify I wasn’t happy with the nickname, only adding fuel. Instead I got up, squeezing past him as he blocked the doorway, praying for me to make a comment. Instead I kept walking, unclenching my jaw. I rinsed my mug overhearing one of the guys (Graham I think) jabbering on about some bollocks. ‘So, the boss called to tell me there was a problem with the boiler. So, I say “have you called the boiler man?” She said “no.” So, I said “well call the boiler man.” Anyway, she says she will do when she gets chance.’ I walked out, head down, pissed off after becoming less intelligent for having to listen to Graham’s (I think) awe-inspiring speech.
Walking across the yard I caught my refection in a car window. The scar still looked angry. Fresh. I ran my fingers lightly over it. I’d become engrossed with it. Hating it, but unable to cease staring at it, thinking about it constantly. The doctor told me I’d been lucky it was only eight stitches and no fracture. I didn’t feel too lucky the following week sporting an uncanny resemblance to the Elephant Man. People had begun staring. Flashing disapproving looks. A shop owner had asked me to leave his premises when browsing for camping stoves because a man with scar very similar to mine had shoplifted from him the day before. However, Paul, the owner of the company I’d begun working for, had been kind enough to let me start two weeks later than discussed. I kind of got the feeling he was originally calling with a rejection but changed his mind after the news I’d taken a beating.
So far it had been a cold spring. Or maybe the temperatures were about normal. I always get ahead of myself this time of year, expecting soaring temperatures prematurely. That morning my job was to help Eddie get one of the wooden launches ready for its first sailing in the coming days. Eddie’s late fifties, silver hair, skinny with a slight gut and reddened nose from a love of spirits, particularly on a Sunday watching a movie. ‘I love a drink on a Sunday, watching a movie.’ He began, ‘Watched Sagittarius the other night. Loved it.’ ‘Never heard of it.’ I replied, bored. ‘Yeah you have. It’s got that superhero who went to rehab in it. About that murderer in San Francisco in the sixties.’ ‘Zodiac.’ ‘That’s it. Belter.’ We were both varnishing the sides of the boat; Eddie, port. Myself, starboard. ‘The other day I was cleaning out the shitters in the brew hut.’ He continued, ‘And I came across a perfectly smoothed, round, brown ball.’ ‘Ok.’ I answered, trying to remove a paintbrush hair that had become stuck to the varnished surface. ‘I couldn’t tell if it was a Malteser or a perfectly round smoothed piece of shit.’ ‘Ok.’ I answered, wiping wet varnish from underneath my fingernail. ‘So, I picked it up and smelt it.’ ‘And what was it?’ I asked, stopping, looking over at Eddie. ‘Shit.’
‘So, the wife’s been on the phone. Turns out she found the number of the boiler man. So, called the boiler man. And now the boiler man is coming to take a look at the boiler Tuesday. Or is it Wednesday? It’s either Tuesday or Wednesday. When’s the thirteenth? I’ll text her.’ Graham’s (I think) voice was thick, deep and reverberated. It bounced down the hallway of the brew hut and into my dark, cold room, distracting me from my reading. I began fantasising how wonderful it would have been if my attack had left me comatose and far away from Graham (I think) and his boiler man. My thoughts quickly ventured to the faces of the three assailants, that appeared hazy now. My fantasies bled into vivid imaginary revenge and what I’d do if I came across them again. Bizarrely in the same car park below Red Screes, one would be walking alone. I followed him from somewhere I couldn’t place. And how I stumbled across him was just as unclear. I parked away from him. Waiting for him to walk into the blue night air. I slowly, quietly opened my boot, killing the light and grabbed a black metallic baseball bat with “Slugger” printed in gold on the side, that I’d bought from a K-Mart in Daytona on a family holiday twenty, maybe more, years ago. I jumped over the wall, my feet landing in damp marsh land. I crouched, running up against the wall trying to avoid any squelching noises. The skater was walking along the steppingstone footpath toward the ascent of the mountain. I’m silent, fast. He doesn’t hear me. I toy with him, on his heels. I whistle. He turns, sees me smiling and gasps in shock as I swing, driving the baseball bat into his temple. The sound of metal on skull thrills me as he falls landing on his back. He looks up groggy, unsure, barely conscious as I drive the end of the bat down into his mouth, shattering his teeth. He makes a sickening indescribable sound and raises his hands feebly begging for me to stop as he chokes on broken shards of teeth. I take no notice and swing away at his knees until I can feel them crumbling, turning into mulch. I follow this up by grabbing the back of his head, and pushing him face first into the boggy marsh, drowning him. ‘Not so tough now are ya?’ I scream. ‘Are ya?’ I scream louder. ‘Jack?’ ‘ARE YA!’ I continue to scream. ‘Jack? Mate? You ok?’ I stop, snap out of my trance that had brought me to the floor. Jaw clenched, hands pushing down on the concrete floor back in the brew hut. I look up to see Eddie staring down at me from the doorway, a look of concern and horror etched across his face. I try to compose myself, embarrassed, playing it anything but cool. ‘Yeah…course.’ I smile, wiping my hands on my overalls, ‘Just…my…head’s hurting…that’s all.’ ‘I thought you were whispering something?’ ‘Who me?’ Nah, course not. You’re cracking up Eddie.’ I laughed nervously. Eddie stared, looked me up and down and left. I sat back on the chair, embarrassed, empty, full of malignancy I couldn’t shake, running two fingers down my scar, sweat pouring down my back. ‘Boiler man’s coming Thursday.’ Shouted Graham (I think).
After lunch I walked back across the yard. Low cloud filled with relentless drizzle spread itself across the sky, dropping temperatures with it. I’d been told to scrape and repaint life rings until the end of shift in the an old portacabin. There were two choices in there: 1. Freeze, but have clean(ish) air extracting the paint fumes. Or 2. Have warmth by clogging the extractor fan with an oily rag in return for a little warmth. I’d just eaten leftover vegetarian curry that I thought tasted better than the previous night, despite not being a huge fan of cauliflower. The turmeric seasoning along with garam masala curry powder disguised the flavour of the cauliflower quite nicely. With a stomach full of spice, I decided on clean(ish) air. The job at hand was unpleasant. I recoiled, drawing my shoulders tightly up towards my ears and sucked my tongue against my front teeth as I began sanding the life rings. To mask the sound, I put my headphones in and began listening to a podcast that I wasn’t particularly interested in listening to but incited me nonetheless to float away. ‘No headphones.’ Screamed Joe, poking his egg-shaped head round the door. ‘What would happen if a colleague injured themselves and called for help and you couldn’t hear them ‘cos you had your headphones in?’ ‘Erm, the same thing if I didn’t have my headphones in?’ Joe scowled masterfully, slamming the door causing the extractor fan to splutter. I checked the time. 13:45. I put my headphones back in and began thinking about how much money would be an adequate sum to save until I could quit and travel. Never come back. ‘Ten grand? Twelve? Nineteen? Nineteen would be more than enough. I could travel to Mexico, live on the beach. Fix up an old fishing boat. Wait. Isn’t that the ending to The Shawshank Redemption? How did he attach that poster so tightly to the wall from inside the hole? Without a single rip no less.’ The flaws in that movie began stirring an unease inside of me. ‘Oi, what did I just say about those fucking headphones.’ Screamed Joe, poking his egg-shaped head round the door once more, the shape of his birthmark shifting. ‘Put the radio on if you need noise. I walked over to the radio in the corner that looked like it’d been the victim of a fierce bukkake and switched it on. ‘Meghan Mar…’ I switched it off. I checked the time. 13:53. Two hours seven minutes left. I continued scraping. ‘Yeah, living in Mexico, fixing up at boat on the beach.’ I continued dreaming, ‘That’d be some life. You’re fixing up a boat on the shores of Windermere right now. Yeah but Mexico would be different.’ ‘Jesus, it’s freezing in here.’ Cried out a fellow worker (Ian I think), interrupting my comforting daydreaming. ‘Stuff that rag into that fan, generate some warmth.’ Ian (I think) walked past searching and lifting tins of paint. ‘I’m looking for the varnish, you seen it?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘Here it is.’ He popped the top with a flathead screwdriver. ‘Gonna varnish these seats in here, keep out of Joe’s way, if it’s ok with you? Not that it matters cos I’m staying here regardless.’ I didn’t answer. Potent fumes from the varnish and paint soon filled the room causing light headedness. I checked the time. 13:49. ‘For fuck sake.’
At 16:01 I was walking to my car with a real spring in my step. ‘Have a good ‘un Henry.’ Shouted over a co-worker. I couldn’t tell if it was another shitty nickname or if the guy actually thought I was called Henry. Either way I replied ‘Evening’ whilst racking my brains for famous Henrys with notable scars on their faces. None came to mind.
I drove toward Bowness. Empty cans of baked beans, half used brown sauce bottles, an array of plastic wrappers and so close but so far lottery tickets filled both sides of the road. It was bin day; that must have been the cause. I tightened my grip on the steering wheel frantically searching for people to blame. I couldn’t even tell if this was about litter anymore, or just allowing the built-up rage to spew out of me with such ferociousness every last drop would drain away in one eruption, leaving me with nothing but contentment. Not that I remember such a feeling. I switched on the radio seeking distracting, ‘Piers Mor…’ I switched it off.
I pulled up on the far end Glebe. Grabbed the bag with the paddleboard inside that I’d bought to cheer myself up along with the pump and bamboo carbon paddle. I walked over to Cockshott Point. I was expecting it to be busier so was pleasantly surprised when only a few dog walkers and a couple smoking weed were jaunting sporadically. It had stopped raining but remained overcast despite the sun threatening to pierce through causing the cloud to stretch to the point of snapping. I pumped up the paddleboard, careful not to inflate past fifteen PSI. Once pumped and with an aching ankle, I hid my bag under a bush on the beach, changed into a pair of swimming shorts; sky blue with multiple orange sunsets printed on them, an old pair of white, grey and mint green Nike Air Max trainers and a plain, brilliant white hoodie. I waded in trying to balance the paddleboard on my head until I was knee-deep and set it down. The lake was serene. An autumnal feel filled the air. Perhaps every spring feels this way, but in autumn it’s more apparent after the chaos of summer. I suppose calm following on from death isn’t as noticeable as when taking the lead from life.
I paddled over to Belle Isle. A few feet off the jetty I watched a large white poodle, lying down, staring back, not keeping guard as such, more observing. The privately-owned island boasts a large round house at the southern point. I remember my grandad making wise cracks when I was younger that the reason behind its shape was to prevent cats shitting in the corner. He was a witty alcoholic was old Burt. It’s an impressive island but I couldn’t help but think what a pain it must be going to buy a packet of Mini Eggs whenever you’re hanging out your arse. Mind you, they’re probably so wealthy that they have Jesus walk over to Tesco on the other side of the bay at the ring of a bell.
I continued north, crossing the bay and past another island that had been decimated by cormorant shit, causing corroding. Watching hundreds of these birds perched on dead trees felt eerier than a Hitchcock picture. ‘Maybe they should build a round house on there as well.’ I thought, feeling a little too pleased with myself. I stayed close to the shoreline past Fallbarrow and Rayrigg Wyke. I could feel hope in the hearts of the locals as life slowly began to move forward; a new dawn. I desperately wanted to feel happy for them, but an apprehension I struggled to place overpowered any joy.
Once I reached White Cross Bay, I decided to head back. I widened my stance as a breeze from the west rocked me gently. A diluted tawny light had tinged the landscape. It suddenly felt tempestuous. I read the inscription of the white cross, “WATCH THEREFORE FOR YE KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR.” Story has it, years ago, two fishermen capsized when a storm blew up drowning them both. Personally, I’ve never seen weather wild enough on Windermere to create such drama and often wondered if they were secretly lovers who faked their death so they could run away together. Of course, I have no basis for this theory, but you know what they say: First rule of politics; never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
I paddled back wondering if I’d make a good politician, surrendering to the fact I’d have to resign in my first week due to the dirt they’d dig up on me- most visible from the surface. Ahead, a Mastercraft charged out of Bowness Bay toward the widest point, pulling a wakeboarder behind. Happy hardcore blared from its speakers, agitating me instantaneously. The boat circled like a shark. The wakeboarder flipping and spinning like a performing seal continually looked over as if expecting me to hold score cards above my head shouting ‘BRAVO, BRAVO.’ The circle narrowed. The look of delight in the eyes of everyone onboard enflamed as my balance weakened. I tried slowly kneeling as the board rocked in the waves but fell into the bitterly cold water. I gasped, shocked, clinging to the board as cheers from the boat erupted. ‘WAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! NICE ONE KNOB HEAD!’ A voice shouted, eroding into an echo as the boat shot up the lake. I couldn’t catch the accent, so mulled over areas known for wealth and twats – landing on Cheshire. I managed, after several attempts, to pull myself back onto the board. My hair and clothes pinned to my skin as I tried to forget about the breeze that became gusts agitating the shivering. Through trembling lips, I managed to say aloud to no one, ‘If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.’ (another of Burt’s gems) and proceeded laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of it all. I hadn’t noticed a canoe with a mother and her two young sons paddling up behind me. The boys stopped, engrossed by the sight, as the mother, looking straight ahead, anxious, paddled harder as my laughter grew. I looked over to the western shore, in particular the path Jenny and I walked along weeks ago resulting in her storming off. I hadn’t spoken to her since, even when she tried calling after the attack. I hadn’t wanted to see much of anyone lately. I began feeling better alone. ‘It’s none of your fucking business what I do with my life anymore is it? What gives you the right to offer me any advice? And you call me arrogant. What the fuck have you ever done?’ I caught myself saying through gritted teeth. To who? I had no idea. In what context? I had no idea. All I knew for sure was that my head began tightening and a tooth (the same tooth as always) on my upper left jaw throbbed.
Back on dry land, changed, walking to the car, all things boasting colour had turned in for the night leaving shadows to roam. A group of teenagers sat around a struggling campfire listening to “Light my Fire” shared a joint. ‘Nice.’ I said to myself enviously, until realising it was Will Young’s cover.
In the car I turned the heating up, pulled my jumper sleeve over my hand and fingered my right earlobe soaking up remnants of lake water. I switched on the radio. ‘The Quee…” Switched it off and drove into the night, my mind alive with wayward, detrimental thoughts.