Friday. One o’clock finish. Any working day that ends at one is alright in my book. It was ten AM. The beautiful mind in me calculated that four, no three hours remained. Despite the early finish Fridays had a tendency to drag. Expectation lingered, pushing against the ticking hands of time.
The kettle boiled. The sun was out and so were we. Basking in the warmth of the spring heat, sat on wooden deck chairs in the dusty boat yard amongst decaying carcasses of old wrecks, eyes closed or squinting, heads cocked to the left for maximum full facial exposure. I’d taken a copy of “1984” outside to read but multiple clamorous conversations around the yard impeded my concentration after a couple of paragraphs. ‘What you reading?’ Asked Anthony, blowing into a mug of coffee that read “You’re my cup of tea”, accompanied with a smiling teabag. Anthony’s powerfully built, six-foot-one. Shaved head to hide his ginger roots. I’d taking a liking to him, he had some nous. An interesting guy and well read. I’d wrongly misjudged him when I’d first arrived after watching him place a meat and potato pie between two slices of white bread, making a sandwich. He had powerful hands, accompanied by eight fat fingers the same size as his two fat thumbs, all resembling semi-hard dicks. He had the power in them to break jaws with a single punch. I’d heard a few stories in my first couple of days of him putting them to good use. ‘1984.’ I replied, ‘You ever read it?’ ‘Yeah. A while back. Preferred Animal Farm. What d’ya make of his stuff?’ ‘Orwell?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well I’m finding this a tough read. Not because its badly written, but because of how relatable it is. You know, with everything that’s happened over the last twelve months. Ahead of its time I guess, without wanting to sound too cliched.’ ‘I’m not sure I buy into that.’ Continued Anthony taking a sip, his voice guttural from smoking twenty a day. ‘Into what?’ I asked. ‘These authors who are renowned for being ahead of their time. Don’t get me wrong, they’re obviously talented and their works are correctly considered masterpieces blah blah blah. Most of them anyway. But ahead of their time? Really? All you have to do is read any book on history to know that it repeats itself. Nothing ever seems to change, excluding technology. We, the human race, churn out the same mistakes, discrepancies, prejudices, arguments, acts of violence over and over. All Orwell and the like did was look at their current society, the society before them, saw the same thing and predicted the same would happen again. Just with dystopian high-rises and flying cars and shit to spice things up. If I wrote a book set two-hundred years from now on Mars, about some Bladerunner looking cunt murdering women of a different race under a totalitarian regime, I’d be considered a genius in 2220. When in fact all I am is some arsehole on shit pay who likes a scrap every once in a blue moon.’ ‘I thought you just condemned acts of violence?’ I asked, laughing. ‘I didn’t condemn it. I just said it repeats itself. I don’t condemn violence. Sometimes you gotta give someone a fucking slap.’ ‘What you two bells talking about?’ Interrupted Miles, also around the six-foot mark. Fair hair, short back and sides. Dumb eyes. Body pumped full of steroids. ‘Animal Farm.’ Answered Anthony. ‘The one about the rabbits? I saw that a school.’ ‘No, not the one about the rabbits.’ Replied Anthony. ‘It’s a porno right?’ Called out Beavis (due to his uncanny resemblance of the nineties television character), ‘The one where the woman fucks the horse?’ ‘Oh yeah shit, I remember that.’ Reminisced Miles. ‘Hey, remember that story of that woman who fucked a horse with a semi? But then the horse got fully hard and split the woman in half.’ Anthony turned to me, straight faced. ‘You see? Sometimes you gotta give someone a fucking slap.’ Joe, the manager came scuttling over wearing either a smile or a scowl. It was hard to tell. ‘Oi Harry.’ I looked up at him without answering. ‘The dust extraction bags are full. Go and change them.’ ‘I haven’t been working in the warehouse this morning, that’s not my job. Plus, I’m having my coffee.’ ‘I’m the one that decides what is and what is not your job. Finish your brew later, get them bags changed now. And don’t fucking answer me back’ He replied irritated. ‘Why do you keep calling him Harry?’ Asked Beavis. ‘That scar running down his face. Looks like Harry Potter. Don’t ya?’ He looked at me, desperate for a rise. I decided to give him one. ‘I’m not convinced that someone with dog shit smeared over their head should be taking the piss out of anyone’s appearance.’ He touched his unusually large birthmark. His face reddened from both anger and humiliation. ‘I have to be careful with this.’ He replied flustered, ‘If this gets too much UV exposure it could become cancerous.’ ‘I’ll have my fingers crossed for record highs this summer.’ I answered knowing I’d over-stepped the mark, feeling a little guilty, but stubbornly not wanting to apologise. Joe wasn’t sure how to react, so while he pondered, I got up and walked away to change the bags.
I was planing nine eight-foot pieces of sapele down from fifteen millimetres to seven and twenty millimetres to thirteen through the thicknesser, half a millimetre a pass, so not to chip the wood, when Joe came toward me, looking calmer than usual, making me uneasy. ‘Make sure you don’t chip these, like the last lot you did. You think this stuff grows on trees?’ I couldn’t tell if he was cracking a terrible joke, or if he was actually retarded. I made some half-arsed attempt at a laugh, annoyed with myself for doing so. ‘Fancy doing some overtime sometime?’ He asked smiling or scowling. ‘Yeah sure. Just let me know.’ I replied, trying to weigh up if this was some sort of olive branch. ‘Ok…thanks.’ He muttered, staring at the ground, pained from the common courtesy.
One o’clock reluctantly struck. I changed out of my god-awful overalls that gave me the look of a diplodocus, shook my sawdust covered hair and walked to my car. ‘Oi Underhill. Where you going? You said you were working overtime?’ ‘Now? Jesus Joe, I thought you meant next week.’ ‘Fridays are the only time we can offer overtime because of the early finish.’ ‘Fucking hell.’ ‘Stop pouting. You only have to stay a couple of extra hours.’ ‘Fine.’ I said, begrudgingly. ‘What is it you want me to do?’ ‘The Nantucket Clipper needs cleaning out. Sweeping and jet spraying.’ ‘What the fuck is a Nantucket Clipper?’ ‘Jesus, just how useless are you? It’s that boat over there?’ He pointed to a rotten, dismal-looking boat. About thirty-foot in length. ‘That piece of shit? Why does that need cleaning up? It’d be better burning to the ground.’ ‘She’s in her prime. Once you’ve cleaned her up, she’ll look the part. Someone’s coming at three to take a look. We’re selling her.’ ‘Prime? There’s a fucking hole in the hull.’ ‘Hull! I am impressed. Just get it done.’
At half three I’d done all I could to get the boat looking, well, a little less shit. In all honesty I hadn’t made a dint, despite my aching back and dripping in sweat. ‘How you getting on?’ Asked Joe. ‘I’ve worked solidly for two and a half hours is how I’m getting on. I’m leaving.’ ‘Good Job.’ Replied Joe, walking away.
Walking to my car, a pickup truck reversed into the yard, blocking the exit. ‘You can’t park there mate, I’m about to leave.’ I shouted over. ‘I’m just here to pick up the thirty-footer.’ Called back the bearded fella getting out, wearing a red and black padded lumberjack shirt; the sleeves rolled half-way up his enormous forearms. His Cumbrian accent thick, broad. ‘Oh right, so you’re the one buying it. Hope you’re impressed, I’ve just spent the last few hours cleaning it.’ ‘Buying it? That piece of shit? I’m taking it to get scrapped. There’s a get fucking hole in the side of it. What you bin cleaning it fer, yer daft fucker.’ I looked across the yard at Joe, laughing so hard he began coughing and spat out a ball of phlegm, some of it landing on his chin. I closed my eyes, trying to calm myself. Just not hard enough. Thoughts of hate, factual and imaginary, hurtled through my mind, at hurricane speeds. An overwhelming sensation of dizziness and nausea rained down. I placed a clammy palm on the roof of my car to help balance. ‘You alright lad?’ Asked the pickup driver. I didn’t answer. Couldn’t answer. Instead tried smiling, but even that felt like an impossible task. I slinked into my car and held my head in my hands. I wanted to cry, scream, rip someone, something, anything limb from limb. I wanted all this built up hostility, loathing, released. I wanted the freedom of death, a vast nothingness. I bit down hard on the fleshy part of my palm, just below my thumb, stopping just short of penetrating the skin. The vile, wretched thoughts blazing through my head worsened. I watched my hands shake uncontrollably, eventually placing them under my armpits in an attempt to stop them. A knock on my window startled me. It was Joe. ‘What the fuck you doing in there? The exit’s been cleared.’ He shouted. My thoughts slowed. I began to focus. My hands ceased shaking. ‘Nothing.’ I said coldly, staring straight ahead. Started the engine, reversed and drove out of the yard.
I drove through Bowness, Ambleside and Grasmere without knowing. My mind elsewhere. Only when I reached Thirlmere did I realise I hadn’t paid any attention to the road, the journey. I’d parked up at Highpark Wood when Bobby called. ‘Hello.’ I answered. ‘Bloody hell here he is. Where’ve you been hiding? I thought you’d died.’ ‘Sorry man, just been busy. You know, work, shit like that.’ ‘Anyway,’ he continued, not listening, ‘When we meeting for beers? Beer gardens are opening pronto.’ ‘I dunno, I’m really not in the mood for all…’ ‘Bullshit. You’re coming. We’re getting smashed.’ ‘Ok.’ I agreed, just to get him off the line. ‘Anyway, I gotta go, I’m about to set off hiking.’ ‘Where you going?’ ‘Up Helvellyn.’ ‘Nice. Stay safe. Text me later to discuss getting wankered.’ ‘Will do. Bye.’ I hung up, threw the phone in the boot, grabbed a map and got my bearings. I’d originally planned to park further north in St. John’s Castlerigg and Wythburn, taking the route past Brown Crag and Keppel Cove, but with arriving later than planned I was conscious of the time and amount of light left in the day to reach the summit of Helvellyn and back without requiring a torch, especially being unfamiliar with the route I was taking.
The day wasn’t as clear as it had been. Clouds began drifting in and out of the scene, which turned out to be a blessing walking the steep ascent with The Swirls to my right and Piketoe Knott to my left. I hurriedly bounded up the steep terrain. A little too wary of the time, that I had in abundance, walking at the pace I’d set. The anger coursing through my veins also added to the drive in my heels, relaying the earlier incident with Joe and formulating multiple scenarios that all concluded with me stamping on that fat fucking smug head of his.
I’d neared the summit in impressive time. Stopping to take a breath, I took in the sights of Catstycam, Striding Edge, the south-western and north-western fells. All changing form in the blink of an eye from flowing clouds and a dipping sun. The wind gathered speed at this altitude and began working its way into my scar. I breathed warm air into my cupped hand, placing it on my forehead, attempting to alleviate the pain. It didn’t make a difference. When I’d started hiking the fells six months ago, I’d done so to escape the banal repetitive existence that was hammering me into the ground. Heavy drinking and all the bullshit that comes with it. Heavier hangovers and lying in bed all day, depressed from the chemicals, shame and quick-trigger ugliness on social media. Not to mention the passive two days that follow – all ready to go again the following Thursday or Friday night. It had worked for a while, but now I’d begun feeling restrained in the fells. The escapism turned to weighted shackles. Each mountain began closing in. They all linked. Were all visible from one another. Every summit reached now came with a memory. Some a wound. The views didn’t provide the same spark they had done since…well Faye, I guess, despite feeling protective over them. I constantly waiting with bated breath for some inconsiderate piece of shit to disrespect the beauty of the area. And if that didn’t happen, I began imagining it happened, getting myself just as worked up, if not worse. ‘What’s the matter with me?’ I whispered. A melancholy drifted through me that I derived an unusual amount of pleasure from.
The summit was raw. I bowed my head into the wind hoping for a little protection. But that’s all it was – hope. At this height, this time of year in a land that could be as intransigent as it could yielding, the sun had no influence. I walked to a wind shelter in the shape of a cross, nestling into a corner facing north-east. Clouds began rolling in, packing the sky. I studied the extraordinary landscape segregated by stone walls, astounded by the man hours put into such dedication. No sooner had the clouds began tightening their grip, sunlight shone through, glaring down on the valley below, bringing to life little pockets of shadows. The landscape no longer looked real. Like I was staring into a masterpiece in The Louvre. And in the blink of an eye the sun turned away; the painting lost forever. Once the wind died, I walked along the ridge, heading south. Not too far away was Dollywaggon Pike. I smiled to myself at the thought of a flustered Bobby, four months ago, perturbed because his frozen hands lost the ability to roll a cigarette. I stopped myself going any further knowing time was of the essence and turned back. A man wearing an orange hard shell jacket popped up from behind the wind shelter. I was unsure of how long he’d been there but presumed he must have been there longer than I had. ‘Christ, I hope I wasn’t chittering away to myself.’ I muttered…to myself. I watched him wipe his mouth, dust off his hands and wipe them on his waterproof pants for good measure. Then zip up his bright lime green rucksack, throwing it on his shoulders and clipping himself in. He set off in the direction of Striding Edge. I walked around to where he’d been sitting, noticing a crushed bottle of Coke, scrunched up tinfoil and an empty packet of crisps wedged into the wall. I sized him up as he walked away, weighing up whether to say something. He was around five-nine and didn’t look all that so jogged over to him. ‘Excuse me. Oi, excuse me.’ I called out. He didn’t turn around until I called out to him a few more times until I was finally only a couple of feet away. ‘Yeah?’ he replied, turning. He was late-twenties, maybe early thirties. It was hard to tell with his patchy facial hair. ‘You left your litter back there. Go and get it. Put it in your bag.’ ‘It’s not mine.’ ‘Bollocks it’s not yours. Don’t be a prick, just pick it up and take it home.’ ‘You pick it up if you’re that bothered about it.’ ‘Do you not feel like an arsehole, leaving litter. I don’t get it. I don’t get how there are people like you, tens of thousands of you, more, who are so inconsiderate. Who just don’t care. I’d love to know why. Just tell me, tell me your train of thought.’ I asked, almost pleading. ‘I told you, it isn’t mine. Now fuck off ‘cos you’re starting to get on my nerves.’ He turned away and continued walking. I ran in front of him. ‘Pick up your fucking litter scum bag.’ I said aggressively. My jaw clenching. Anger beginning to surge. ‘What did you just fucking call me?’ He asked, squaring up to me. My knees began shaking, I locked them as flashbacks from the car park at Red Screes flooded my memory. I decided to hold firm. ‘I asked you a question.’ He shouted, pushing me. I looked back. We were closer to the edge than I’d thought. My hands began sweating, I wiped them on the back of my legs trying to hide what I was doing so not to appear afraid, out of my depth. He pushed me once more. I pushed back, he slipped on a loose rock falling down, cracking his elbow. Anger exploded across his face as he leapt, charging. I kept my ground, leaning in toward him but keeping my legs away for balance. I don’t know how but I managed to spin us both around, so he was now closer to the edge. He bent down, picking up a rock but I kicked it out of his hand. He backed away. Uncertainty and fear washed away his anger. I could see defeat on his face. For the first time I was in control. Calmness rained down. The hatred had steadied me and was controlling my every movement, every thought, like an autopilot. I let it guide me, comfortable in its presence. ‘Alright fuck, I’ll pick the fucking litter up, you fucking maniac. Just let me past.’ He shouted out, pleading. I laughed, eyes narrowing, creeping towards him, feeding off his fear. ‘You don’t know the fucking half of it.’ I snarled. And with that a flash of white catapulted from the back of my skull and through my eyes.
A sickening throbbing rattled the inside of my brain. As I came to, I was crouching, holding my temple with both hands. I looked up searching for the guy, unsure if he’d struck me. I couldn’t see him. For a second I wondered how long I’d been kneeling. I scanned the summit. Nothing. I ran over to the wind shelter. Nothing. ‘What the fuck?’ I muttered, confused. I hurriedly walked back to the ledge to see if he’d tried to clamber down, my breath shortening from panic. Again, nothing. Then I saw it. An orange smudge against black jagged rocks at the bottom of the crag. It was him.