Monday 19th of December
If asked by those who knew him, Beaton Earnest was what many people would describe as a happy and contented man but on a closer inspection it would appear that he went about his daily life as would an automaton. Performing his daily tasks over and over again without a thought as to whether or not it was really what he wanted from this life. It was his willingness to accept his situation that meant he must surely be happy. Why wouldn't he be, he lived comfortably and had good health, a steady and reliable job. All the trappings of a modern life. Every morning Beaton caught the six twenty four train into the city and every night he would return by the six fifteen. At weekends he studied all the newspapers at the local library and did his weekly shop and paid his bills. The truth was, he felt so removed from the world he had created and his surroundings that he never quite knew for how long he could maintain the pretense of his contentment. Still the days rolled in and out like the waves on a shore and the weeks, like the tides, rose and fell away from the calendar without anything truly interesting ever happening.
Then, like a house of cards, the precarious structure that he had erected for himself, came crashing to the floor. A weak lintel amongst the many strong, unable to support his burdens any longer. A fault line, a corrosion from within. The busted valve that brought everything to a grinding stop. Four weeks to the day, before his court sentence, the train that Beaton Arnold Earnest was travelling on became stuck in a tunnel. Beaton sat in the dark and listened to the hushed whispers and panicked breath of his fellow passengers and felt the slight alien tingle of excitement from somewhere deep inside. He imagined all the reasons why the train could be stuck, a multitude of scenarios and terrors clamoring for space inside of his screaming mind.
'What if another train should collide with us?' he marvelled. 'All that twisted metal and smoke, a blinding white flash and nothing more or Better still, what if a bomb goes off?'
He sat and fantasised of all the things that could happen in such Darkness A dark twitch, the uncoiling of a sour black worm inside Beaton's brain. He reached out as if to to rest his palm on the person next to him. Somebody had stepped on his foot and the corner of a suitcase had found the temple of his head. A crush of bodies and muttered curses and apologies. Further down the train a child started to cry and very soon the darkness ceased to be a source of excitement. He was glad at last when the lights returned to the carriage and the driver announced that the journey would shortly be commencing. It was a minor incident but it was the tiny spark that touched the tinder, the wind that fanned the flame.
When Beaton went to bed that evening, the ghost of his feelings that day returned to him in the night time of his room. He couldn't sleep and he lay awake and imagined that he was still in the tunnel, with all the other passengers, waiting. He began a train of thought in which he likened the Town to the broken down carriage. Everyone in the night time of the Town waiting in the shadows for the lights to come back on and for the world to wake up and start moving again. In his fantasy he roamed the night like a phantom, hovering over the townsfolk, drinking in their fear like a bat with a humming birds beak. Noiselessly beating his wings as he fluttered from house to house. He was the shadow caught in the corner of the eye, the devil waiting at the foot of the bed. He wished he was death. Beaton felt something snap inside of him and sunk beneath the weight of his loneliness. He was gripped by a terrible fear that he had hitherto never felt before. It was the fear of obscurity, of never being realised. A fear that tomorrow will be just the same as yesterday was and that nothing would ever change for. On and on it would go, like the waves on the shore. Turning him over like a stone, rolling and wearing him down into nothing. He heard once again the terrible scream of a frightened child but it was merely the cry of the foxes in the garden. Beaton wished that somebody would step on his foot to shake him from this waking dream. He knocked his head with his fists and the hot fat tears rolled down his face but the lights stayed out and he sobbed like he was a child, there was no driver here to start this train again.
His alarm had not woken him, he was sure he had set it. He felt for his watch on the side cabinet. He ran his thumb over its shattered face. Rough slices marred its smooth glass surface.
'It must have happened in the crush of people on the train.' He stretched the gold metal wrist band over his hand. His arm would always felt naked without his watch. He looked out the window at the dead leaves and the sodden lawn. The bare trees, like biology textbook drawings of capillary systems, were stamped onto a skyline of cheap red brick houses. The cold steel frames of the gas works rising on the horizon above the empty sports field and the humped ramparts made by the railway tracks. Clouds of white steam from next doors boiler drifted past his window and melted into the grey sky. The scene outside gave him no clues as to what time of day it was. He realised that this place did not know him at this time of day at this point in the week. He should have been at work.
'I could still call in, they would understand', he picked up the receiver but placed it back down immediately. 'I seem to spend most of my times financing these empty rooms and I'm hardly ever even here at all.' Standing stock still he listened carefully, straining his ears. The rattle of the boiler, the ticking of a clock on the mantle, a cooing of a pigeon perched on the chimney above, the sound of hammering off in the distance. This house didn't need him, it didn't even want him here, it ran perfectly well all by itself. He fixed himself some breakfast of coffee, two slices of toast, butter and marmalade. He munched on his breakfast whilst listening to the radio. The weatherman warned of record breaking snowfall in the coming days.
Beaton walked past the dismal rows of terraced houses that were common to that part of his town. Their pebble dashed facades streaked with years of black grime from burst gutters and hoppers clogged with moss and leaves. There was little sign of life on the weekday street. A man working on a roof was doing something to a chimney stack. The postman with his bicycle receded from view then reappeared as he played out his daily dance down the road from door to door. A cat blinked from a sitting room window. The few shops and businesses on the estate had long since closed down or moved away. Beaton tried to recall how they had changed over time.
'That used to be the old fire station.' he thought to himself 'and after that it was a video shop. The one on the corner was the butchers and that became a nail bar. In the end all we had were nail bars and beauty salon. Nothing of any use to anyone any more.' He kicked at a flattened can as he walked along, it bounced and rattled up the street. 'All people want is shit. Shit, shit and more shit. They don't really know they're actually alive.'
A narrow lane cut through to some garages and led around to the back of an abandoned factory and their derelict workshops. He crossed an open car lot that was used by some of the townsfolk as a popular dumping ground. Weeds had begun to reclaim the concrete surface that was crumbling and pock marked in places. An upturned sofa, it's lining torn and the springs exposed. Car tyres, a shopping trolley, a stack of half burnt pallets on a sodden mattress. A rusting yellow generator forgotten, filthy and flyblown. Itself a victim of the numerous types of failed contracts, lost opportunities and half hearted regeneration projects that came and went and never came back again. The money finally running out. At the end of the lot was a muddy path through some tall nettles. It was well used by dog walkers and teenagers alike. The high banks of the railway tracks were covered with buddleia and blackberry bushes. Their purple blossom a distant memory, the hard black fruits on the thorny brambles a left over reminder of a summer past. A low tunnel beneath the train tracks opened out onto a disused towpath. The path ran alongside the railway line for some distance before making its own way south away from the town and up to a disused quarry. The canal was mostly dry from water except in a few boggy places. If you looked carefully enough you could still make out the trees that had been planted at even spaces along its route. Beaton always felt like he was walking through the onion layers of time when he walked along here. From the Car park to the Railway tracks and out onto the old canal.