THE GAFFER’S GLASS-EYE STAYS OPEN WHEN HE BLINKS
He calls it his all-seeing eye when he’s ragging the lads. It might be funny if he weren’t such a cunt. It’s hard not to stare at it. I can’t help but smirk when he gets narky. His glass-eye seems to get bigger and he looks like Popeye. He’s well pissed at me today. I make myself look at the calendar on his desk. August 22. Monday. Without contraries is no progression. William Blake… And frankly, he says lifting his coffee cup to his lips, I was bloody appalled to hear of your behaviour, Billy… He drinks, his good eye closing, his bad eye eyeing me over the rim of his cup. I say nothing, picking at a loose thread in my work-trousers. He puts his cup down, picks his pen up, looks to the notepad on his desk. The clock on his wall ticks 8:45. 6. Behind me I can hear the muffled rumble of a pallet-truck. Behind him on the wall is a poster showing different sizes of breeze-blocks and lintels. He taps the pen on his notepad, clears his throat… The manager of the hotel, whom, might I add, was absolutely bloody fuming, spoke to me on Saturday morning as me and Valerie arrived downstairs for breakfast. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear… He looks at me across his desk. I don’t know which eye to look at… What do you think he told me, Billy?... I shrug… Pardon? he says… Twat… I don’t know, Mr Grindley… Though I think I do… Right, he says, looking down to his notepad again, It seems that after my wife and I left the function room to retire... He looks up at me again, his good eye half-closed in a scowl, his bad eye wide-open… A function room paid for by the new company owners. As was the four-course meal. As were the twenty-four rooms in said hotel so that we could all enjoy a good night. So the new company owners could get to know the people that work for them. Us. A builders merchant on the verge of collapse until they stepped in, whom, might I add, have been on the telephone to me already this morning regarding this very matter, and I’m telling you here and now laddy, they ain’t bloody pleased Billy-boy, THEY AIN’T BLOODY PLEASED… August 22. Monday. Without contraries is no progression. William Blake… ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME, BILLY-BOY?... Yes, Mr Grindley… Twat. He clears his throat again, looks down to the notepad, tap-taps his pen on the page… At around 2am, a guest approached the night-clerk in the entrance lobby asking to be served alcohol. When the guest was told that the bar was closed, he pestered the night-clerk for a further twenty minutes, which resulted in a desk-bell being thrown across the lobby… Grindley looks up at me. Well? he says… I think about this a moment… I just asked if there were any more wine, Mr Grindley. And I didn’t throw a bell across the lobby. I knocked it off the desk. Accidentally… Grindley raps his pen on the notepad again, once, with a loud PUK. ACCIDENTALLY! ACCI-BLOODY-DENTALLY! THEN HOW THE BLOODY HELL DID IT END UP DINTING A BLOODY DOOR THEN?... I shake my head, shrug... AND AS FOR MORE WINE! HADN’T YOU HAD A-BLOODY-CHUFFIN-NOUGH? IT WERE FREE DRINKS ALL CHUFFIN DAY!... Enough for some… Grindley shakes his head, blows air out through kissy-lips, looks back to his notepad. PUK… At some point in the early hours of Sunday morning, an unidentified guest wrote, all the way across the bar in tomato ketchup, FIGHT... Grindley looks up at me again… FOR YOUR RIGHT… TO PARTY… A grin starts tugging at my face. My fingers dig into my thighs but the bubble in my belly is hard to keep down. Grindley throws his pen onto his desk with a clatter. I FAIL TO SEE THE BLOODY HUMOUR IN THIS, LAD! PARTICULARLY AS WHOEVER DID THAT ALSO STOLE A BLOODY BOTTLE OF PORT FROM THE SAME CHUFFING BAR, THE EMPTY BOTTLE OF WHICH WAS FOUND LATER IN THE LADIES TOILET, STUFFED INTO THE SANITARY TOWEL DISPOSAL, WHICH WAS ALSO COVERED IN TOMATO BLOODY KETCHUP FOR GOD’S SAKE! Grindley leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. He screws his face up, his good eye scrunched, his bad eye staring blankly. I’m still wondering what the fuck I was doing in the women’s toilet… AND! Grindley pops, leaning forward and unflexing his face, THAT ISN’T ALL OF IT. IS IT, BILLY?... I start to say that it wasn’t me with the ketchup, or the port, but Grindley leans into his desk and glares at me, his breath smelling like a damp carpet… A-pparently, at the after-dinner disco, you greatly offended the new MD’s wife, didn’t you, lad… He picks his pen up, looks down to the notepad again. PUK… August 22. Monday. Without contraries is no progression. William Blake… I don’t know what you mean, Mr Grindley… And I don’t. He sits back quick and slaps his hands on the desk. SO SHE’S A BLOODY LIAR THEN IS SHE BILLY-BOY? SO YOU DIDN’T GROPE HER BACKSIDE? EY? THEN TELL THE MANAGING DIRECTOR TO EFF BLOODY OFF WHEN HE CAME OVER TO RESCUE HIS POOR WIFE FROM YOUR DRUNKEN BLOODY LECHERY?... Oh yeah. Now I remember… Well? Grindley says, his lips all tight like a ventriloquist’s dummy. I think about this for a moment, and I remember she was pissed too, grabbing hold of me when that shit Whitney Houston song came on, and oh yeh, saying she liked my shirt… I was only messing about, Mr Grindley. I wasn’t... MESSING ABOUT? MESSING A-BLOODY-BOUT? Grindley leans forward again, his eyebrows arcing into the bridge of his nose, his good eye narrowing, his bad eye massive, a clay-pipe short of an Ah’ll saves ya Olive, that damp carpet smell still fugging from his gob… Yes Billy, he speak-whispers, I’ve heard all about what you call messing a-bout… He glares at me. There is something like disgust or hatred on his face. My guts fill with mercury. Since that thing with Curtis and Jane a few weeks ago some people at work have been weird with me. I didn’t know whether I was imagining it or whether it was real. Me and Curtis haven’t spoken since that night at his. Since then he’s stayed over on his counter and I’ve stayed on mine. I’ve even avoided the canteen if he’s in there. I’ve been getting a strong sense that Curtis has been telling people things. Some of the office girls don’t speak to me anymore. Some of the lads are different with me. Sometimes when I walk into the canteen people just stop talking. Grindley picks his pen up, quick tap-taps it on his knuckles… I’m giving you a final warning, Billy. One more lapse and you’re out. Get it?... My lion sits up… How? That stuff at the hotel was out of work. How is... YOU’RE A DISGRACE TO THIS COMPANY! he barks… My belly starts to burn. I prod the desk with my forefinger as I speak… So let me get this right. You give us shit-loads of free booze then punish us for being drunk? How does that... NOT US, BILLY! YOU! YOU ACTED LIKE A BLOODY ANIMAL! HOW THE HELL DOES YOUR MISSIS PUT UP WITH IT? NO WONDER SHE DRAGGED YOU OUT THE CHUFFIN HOTEL BEFORE WE ALL GOT UP! I BET THE POOR LASS WAS ASHAMED! AND AS FOR BEING OUT OF WORK-HOURS, YOU WERE STILL REPRESENTING THIS COMPANY, YOU, YOU, BLOODY IDIOT!... The word idiot hangs in the air a second. Fuck this… REPRESENTING? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU ON ABOUT? YOU PAY ME SHIT-QUID TO FLOG FUCKARSED BRICKS EIGHT HOURS A DAY TO FUCKING BUILDERS IS ALL ... YOU DON’T FUCKING OWN ME!... Grindley slaps the desk with both hands and sits bolt upright, starts wagging a finger at me… I’M WARNING YOU, BILLY! ONE MORE OUTBURST AND THAT’S IT! YOU’RE BY FAR THE WEAKEST LINK IN OUR CHAIN! YOU’RE CONSISTENTLY BLOODY TARDY! YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A WORK-SHY NAIL IN OUR BOOT!... Red-faced, he leans over his desk, finger still wagging, and I realise that we’re both stood up. I smell damp carpet again as he leans even closer, so close I can see myself reflected in his glass eye. That look of disgust settles on his face again as his good eye looks me up and down, his bad eye staring dead-fish ahead. A fleck of spit hangs off his bottom lip… And, I can tell you this much, he hisses, his good eye narrowing to a slit. I don’t like what I’ve been hearing about you Billy-boy, I don’t like it one little bit… There’s a moment’s silence between us, bar the drone of Phil Oakey from the shop-floor radio. I reach over and tap Grindley’s name-badge with my forefinger, once, twice, then I tell him. You know nothing, you fuck-eyed ignoramus… He goes to slap my hand away but I’m already turning. Through his office-window I see a small crowd has gathered pretending to stock-check U-bends. Behind them are others, craning their necks from various counters across the shop-floor. I swing the door open, slamming it shut in my wake. I spot Curtis half-hiding by a rack of security lights. I rip my name-badge off, spinning on my heel, throwing the stupid fucking thing towards Grindley’s window as I turn and climb onto a pallet of floor tiles. I point to Curtis over the rows of metal shelves. He blinks, then adjusts the angle of a Par38 lamp-holder like everything is normal... THAT BENT-BASTARD OVER THERE IS A FUCKIN LIAR!... I start to get down from the pallet but I stop and point at Curtis again. His hand is over his mouth. OH YEH. HE’S GOT AIDS… Curtis disappears behind the cable shelves as something like a dozen bicycle pumps are drawn out, pushed in. From the shop-floor speakers Peak-FM says Rain, but as I leave the building the white sun glares off the black tarmac making me blink. I keep my eyes half-closed all the way home, and when I get inside I lock the door and close the curtains, curling-up in bed, my head under the covers, breathing the same air over and over again, a feather of sleep spinning downward like a sycamore seed, until I look down into that deep well through darklight, that moon-mirror glinting up from the pit, myself staring back at myself, the well-walls now crack and groan, I didn’t, I didn’t... that sound downstairs of the dog scratching at the backdoor, this tin-taste of blood as my fist hits my mouth, again, again… I get up, let the dog out, go get lager vodka Blue Nun.