Friday, 7 December 2012

FLASH FICTION: With An Unbeliever On A December Afternoon

I wrote this for the fifth anniversary of Joe Strummer's death. It was originally published in Article Magazine in December 2007. Seems a long time ago.

He said his name was Strummer.

I asked, what was he doing on top of a multi-storey car park in Scunthorpe? He shrugged, asked if I had a cigarette. Leaning into the lit match, he swayed forward and held my arm to steady himself. ‘You can smell the fish and chip shop from up here.’

‘Really?’ I said.

‘No, you can.’ He steered me to face the wind and told me to wait. ‘Only if it blows in the right direction.’ For a moment, I swear there was the faintest whiff of vinegar on the raw breeze, then it was gone in a gust of steelworks sulphur. ‘Did you get it?’ He said. ‘Love that smell – saveloy and chips.’ He flicked the fag end away and the wind took it in a shower of embers. ‘Gotta love a saveloy, man.’ He punched me on the arm and laughed.

‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘gotta love a saveloy’.

He eyed my carrier bag. I offered it and he helped himself to the pasty I’d bought for later. He took a beer from the bag. ‘You don’t mind…?’ He wiped his fingers on the arse of his Levis, opened the can as he walked to the edge and looked over. ‘It’s a long drop.’

‘I know,’ I said.

In the years since that bitter day in December 2002 - a day like this one with its emptiness and dread, I’d had questions. About the things he’d said, the gritty, important things, the politics, the honesty, integrity; had he meant it or cared in the way I did when he’d said it? He’d sent me down a path and as it was going so wrong, I wanted to know.

He looked out across the rooftops. ‘Listen son, don’t tell anyone about me being up here.’

I said I’d keep shtum.

He came back to the bag, swapped his empty tinny for a full one. I took one for myself. We dinked cans and wished each other all the best. I looked at my watch. I was late.

Did he want a lift anywhere? He said not.

My car wasn’t parked where I thought so I made another circuit under the CCTV’s eye. As I came back to where we’d parted, the door to the stairwell slammed shut, rousting pigeons. Sometimes, especially on days like these, you just have to keep faith.

(c) Nick Triplow 2007

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