Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Story

Angel Face

‘So where did you get this?’ Alec picked up a head from where it lay on Tom’s workshop floor amongst coils of chain, steel brackets, a redundant ring gear and a starter motor.
‘Skip. Behind Makro’s,’ said Tom, wiping white paint down his boiler suit leg.
Alec cupped the head in his hands. It had beigey-orange flesh tones and a cleanly machined amputation at the neck. ‘Wanted someone to talk to - that it?’
Tom took the head out of Alec’s hands, stood it on the plastic-sheeted block, pulled his mask back down, and took aim with the paint gun. Alec noticed how he was careful not to spray too heavily, avoiding drips. The head turned white, hair and all. Alec found it hard with its new, eerie finish, to imagine it on display in the window of the local clothes store, parading on its missing body some daft shell suit. Like the red one he’d seen last week, with the white trim, labelled ‘For your seasonal flight of fancy - only £9.99’.
He looked away, stood for a moment shaking his head, then stomped back to the canteen. Tom was away with the fairies. He never joined the boys at lunchtime these days for the ricochet of dirty jokes and crossword clues through the smoke and coffee fumes. He stayed in his workshop with his lunch-box propped open behind him, eating as he messed about with his useless, ugly constructions. And now it seemed he was spending his nights scrabbling around in skips behind the arcade.
He’d better watch it, that’s all. Alec had seen Nina’s pinched, crabbit face glaring after Tom from their doorway. She’d never exactly been a beauty queen, right enough. But these days she was chewing lemons. He knew trouble when he saw it – the shadow of a silent battle raging between her and Tom. A battle Tom maybe didn’t even know about.
When Alec passed the workshop again after his lunch, Tom was gazing at the white head, hands on his hips. Alec caught sight of a long straight nose, and hooded eyes that now seemed naked of lashes and pupils.
He’d seen people standing like Tom - in the museum when he’d taken the kiddies that time. Lost and absorbed in front of paintings. Look, look, look. They’d made him want to laugh. All that looking.
‘What flavour is it anyway?’ he shouted at Tom, making him jump. ‘Male or female?’
‘Never really thought,’ Tom turned his gaze back to the head.
‘And, eh… what’s it for?’
But Tom didn’t hear him above the clank and wheeze of the machines being started up again after lunch. Or he didn’t answer anyway.

Alec noticed in the following days how the head watched over the workshop from the bench, silent and serious, while Tom painted other bits and pieces in his lunch-hours. He’d welded together an upright T-frame taller than himself. Lengths of drive chain were now draped side by side over the horizontal bar to make a dense sheet which reached to the floor. Then he sprayed it white. From a distance you just saw a waterfall of white, not the chain at all. But he’d wrecked it. The parts would never move again with that paint seizing up the plates and rollers. Alec wondered if the boss knew.
Flat on the floor Tom had coiled some chain within the outline of two lozenge-type shapes. He’d fixed the chain rigid. Painted them too.
Now he was spraying a ring gear, taking care to penetrate the paint deep between the teeth.
Alec hovered nearby, waiting. Tom eventually turned off the gun and pulled up his mask.
‘Got all the bits now, Alec. Just need to assemble it.’
‘Into what?’
‘See this,’ he indicated the ring, ‘this is going to be the..’
‘Christ’s sake, man.’ Alec’s frustration barked across Tom’s explanation.
‘Well if you’re not interested...’
‘What do you want me to do – burst out in fairy lights?’ Alec watched Tom clearing up, presumably preparing to resume his paid work. ‘Do you not need your job anymore?’
‘And what about Nina?’
Alec felt himself fumbling, something child-like rising behind his eyes, connected to the angry knot in his stomach. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘Look.’
Tom frowned.
‘Look,’ Alec tried to lay the words down calmly, to breathe. ‘It’s that long since we’ve had a pint together. How about the Cross Keys later, eh?’
Tom was wide-eyed. ‘I was going to ask you a favour.’
‘About your pick-up. Any chance of a hand tonight, a lift? With your pick-up?’ Tom’s smile smoothed his face, licked it into a mesmerising grace. ‘Then a pint, eh?’

Read the remainder of the story in The Searching Glance
First published in 'Southlight' magazine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm hooked and want to know the rest of the story ! From windy and winesoaked Wick.......Veronica PS. Have a great time in Corsica !