Tuesday, 29 March 2011
THE STRANGE NOISE OF TURBULENCE IN THE SEA - a novel segment
Okay, so in the wake of one novel here comes a bit of another. The only difference in this instance is that this one isn't 100 percent finished. In fact, this bit here is really the only bit of it that is. The idea is that I'm going to try and write new lumps of this every day and let it evolve in a more broken-up, non-linear way. This chapter is surprisingly linear, so hopefully makes perfect sense on its own. It may equally work as a short story. It's either going to be called 'The Strange Noise Of Turbulence In The Sea' or 'Hotel Novel.' Okay, that last one is only a floating nebulous working title. Like you couldn't guess that yourself...
Neil went to let himself into the flat but found the front door locked. He was a bit pissed off seeing as how he had left the hotel twenty-odd minutes ago only now to discover there was no-one in. And, seeing as how there were three people living there with only two keys allocated to them - an impenetrable piece of hotel politics he had yet to fathom - it was necessary to go all the way back to the hotel in order to find Donny and get a key off of him. This meant another dull march through the expected vistas of the village.
Going down the front and along the high street - such as it was - Neil spotted old Henry coming out of the newsagent. The doddering old bastard was temporarily curtailed in his activities by some American tourists who, while also coming out of the newsagents, decided to do that typical American tourist thing of stopping dead where they were to take in the view and - being vaguely obese as some Americans often were - get in everybody’s way.
Old Henry became trapped like a tragic woodlouse somewhere between the Americans, the postcard stand and some further individuals coming out of the shop. He put his head down and waited patiently for something to happen.
Nothing happened. The tourists seemed to be enraptured by the mountainous sight to be seen on such a clear and balmy day out across the water.
‘Scuse me pal,’ a voice familiar to Neil sounded from back in the shop. ’Would y’mind movin yir erse a wee bit so the rest ay us can get oot ay here? Ah ken it’s a village an aw, but no all ay us are oan holiday, y’ken!’
‘Oh, I beg your pardon, madam.’ the largest and most ebullient of the Americans responded. ‘I am truly sorry. I was just admiring that magnificent view out there across the bay!’
‘It’s no a bay,’ old Henry announced, beginning to move his small yet lumbering frame back into action. ‘It’s a fuckin’ pier. Get yir facts straight.’
Grinning like a loon at the local drama, the lead American and his presumed brood backed off to allow the others passage. ‘Boy, you sure do got some colourful characters here!’ the American said to the woman coming out of the shop, as old Henry turned and made a beeline for the pub, his usual port of call on an afternoon.
Marian emerged from the shop doorway. She was fiddling with her purse and grimacing into the light. ‘Aye, an a bet you’ve no been doon the Captain’s Arms at closing time yet either,’ she barked at the tourists. ‘Gie that a go the night, pal, an you’ll see characters so colourful you’ll wish ye were colourblind.’
The Americans chortled at Marian’s turn of phrase and slowly began to drift off in the direction of the nearest tartan-adorned gift-shop. Thankfully for them, there was one immediately next to the newsagent, so they didn’t have to go far. Such are the advantages of villages.
All the time this eventful non-event was going on, in Neil’s head there was still the idea of her; Jasmine-something. As she had been that night. The girl he had talked to for two hours, yet so foolishly had failed to confirm either her name, her email, or a whole lot else.
This had of course been the Captain’s Arms. Usually the haunt of ugly old shites like Henry, hotel flotsam, sloshed fishermen and the legendary gang of glammed-up harpies from the supermarket. On this rare night, Neil had found himself at first far too bored to even progress on to a second pint. Unperturbed by the initially sombre atmosphere, Donny managed to work his way through about seven beers before last orders; and on the momentous occasion of what the DJ suspiciously referred to as ‘disco-time’ lurching into the lounge area at about nine, Donny had taken this as a sign for him to start slow-dancing with the pub’s golden retriever; fairly atypical behaviour even for him. Somehow, Monday night had turned into Funday night.
Jasmine. Although of course that hadn’t even really been her name. Might it have been Jessamine? Was that even a name?
She had been perched next to him at the right-hand side of the bar; by far the best place from whence to observe the sordid occurrences involving disco-time, and the dancing and karaoke spectaculars that regularly went on of a night. What she had been doing there at all was something of a mystery to Neil; she had been on her own - attractive, demure, impeccably dressed and unfailingly polite - despite being surrounded, to an almost meancing extent, by the cream of Scotland’s worst alcoholic degenerates. Despite all of this, and despite Neil’s usual self-imagined lack of tact and charisma, they had talked.
He had found out after a time that she was from some unpronounceable suburb of Paris. She also knew an unbelievably vast amount about movies - although these had mainly all been French movies, so such a potential deal-clincher had left Neil a little bit lost on many points; although, reassuringly, they did come to agree after a fashion that most movies were ultimately a bit crap, and so rarely reflected anything that ever happened in the real world. She also kept touching his shoulder affectionately and grabbing onto his wrist while she laughed; not something Neil was used to by any stretch, but also still no guarantee of anything other than that she was European, and perhaps just a little more tactile than the average village girls who weren’t always exceptionally drunk. Neil expected more people would interrupt them, or stare and make snide remarks, but weirdly this never happened for those too-short two hours. Then closing time had rolled around and they had gone their separate ways; his mystery woman declaring she would be ‘around’ for a few more weeks - but despite having had hardly anything to drink, Neil struggled to recall the exact details of her location and placement in the village as anything other than frustratingly vague.
But all this would surely come to nothing. Knowing Neil’s usual luck, the girl would not turn out to be any kind of a local. The locals were always the ugly and psychologically unbalanced ones - hence their inevitably electing to come to the village in the first instance, get jobs in the supermarket and stay for indefinite years on end. Neil often wondered if any of the locals had ever not been ugly and psychologically unbalanced; or if such a constitution was perhaps something they were duty-bound to pick up on the way in; like some sort of area-specific witches’ curse.
Neil tried to focus his mind on the short journey ahead to the hotel and back to the flat, but got distracted by Marian surging out of the newsagents. She gave Neil a brusque nod.
‘Awright, Neil. How’d you go this morning? It wis the restaurant you were in?’
‘Aye. No that bad, all things considering.’ Neil answered, briefly reviewing the morning’s exciting goings-on. ‘Went quite smoothly. Pretty much done by eight. Did get some miserable bastards moaning about the toast again though.’
Marian gave a conspiratorial smirk. ‘Table twenty-two?’
‘Aye. You got it.’
‘Been here aw week. Typical soor-faced cunts. Wurnae happy aboot the steak last night either. Some people jist go oan holiday tae complain. Dinnae have tae tell you that, though, Neil. You’re a seasoned veteran.’
Neil took the remark as a compliment; of what sort he was not sure. ‘Aye. I suppose so, Marian. Are you on the night?’
Marian spread her hands in supplication. When am ah no? But is anybody gonnae gie me a night off? Never. Isnae in His list o’ immediate priorities. I tell you, Neil, Ah’ve jist aboot had it wi’ this place! Anyway, ah’m wasting your break-time, I’ll see you later. Ah’m off tae see what Hubby wants, for this stupid party thing. Mair responsibilities…’
Marian disappeared up the high street at her typical rushed pace. Realising he had become distracted in his progress back to the hotel, Neil resumed his normal route down the high street, up the dingy back-alley leading across the park, past the leisure centre and back to the hotel. There were no further dramas on the route; unless you counted the old drunk standing next to the mobile cinema and swaying, with a look of fixed concentration on his face; as if he was seeing some ghost-movie projected out of the van and onto his eyes alone.
Neil got to the hotel, slipped in the back door and went down several dreary hallways lit by questionably dim bulbs until he reached the back of the main kitchen.
Inside and at the dishwash area, Donny was bent drastically over the big back sink where he seemed to be attempting to give the plug-hole some form of brutal sexual attention it certainly had not asked for. The hot tap was on full burst and steam billowed everywhere.
‘Donny man, what the hell are you doing in there?’
Donny’s sweat-flecked brow emerged stressed from the sink. ‘This fucker’s bunged again! I telt that Vladimir no tae pour oil doon it, but he disnae hear you!
‘Have you got the plunger?’
‘Bugger that, Neil, I’m usin’ ma fingers. Always best that way.’
‘That’s what you tell all the girls, though!’
‘Aye, ye ken that’s the truth. Never mind that though, what aboot you and that Belgian bird?’
Neil felt a pang of nostalgia; even though it had been only two hours, three nights ago. He had barely been thinking about anything else since.
‘She wisnae Belgian, Donny. That was the other one. Mind? The one who looked a bit like Amy Winehouse?’
‘Oh aye, ah mind - the minger!’
‘She wisnae a minger, Donny. Your understanding of women classifies them into two distinct camps, neither of which are especially accurate.’
‘Aye. Mingers and swingers!’ He shook his head and boggled his eyes by way of explanation. ‘There’s nae need for any other form of classification! If they’re mingers, you gie them a wide berth! If they’re swingers, though…’ Donny made a disturbing and perhaps inappropriate fist which he proceeded to pump in a manner Charles Atlas might have considered employing had he, at some point in his no-doubt estimable life, been a over-excitable Glaswegian ned washing dishes in a highland hotel kitchen.
‘Then, WHA-HEEYY!’ Donny continued, confirming the maths of his equation with a heroic and now double-fisted pose. ‘Oaf ya go! Mingers oot, swingers in! Come OOONN!!! I telt ya, Neil, learn the rules! Git them in yir noggin! They’ll set you in gid stead fir the rest ay yir miserable, self-pityin’ life. Huv ya no phoned her yet?’
Neil produced a huffy snort of irritation. ‘Look, I huvnae got time for your weird mind, Donny. I need the keys.’
Donny broke from his bodybuilding poses to pull a questioning frown. ‘Is Graham no in?’
‘Naw, he isnae! Mind he went away the other night? Off to Dingwall to see a man about a car? Don’t think he kens where he’s going half the time. Took his key with him. Come on, I cannae hang around here on my off-day, watching you getting creative with your fingers.’
Donny now looked slightly disappointed. He peered back into the still-steaming sink unit.
‘Aw look, man,’ he declared, excited. ‘It’s goin’ doon the plughole. At last… But aw this weird slime’s comin’ oot an aw. Now that is whit ah wid call minging.’
A threatening lump of a heap with wild ginger hair and an expression that suggested consistent and sustained periods of heavy drug use leaned out of through the arch that led into the main part of the kitchen. ‘Haw, fannybaws! Stop arsing aboot wi’ that sink and wash some pots ya skiving’ bastard!’
This was Mark the head chef; whose appearance and general demeanour was that of a wine-starved derelict but who in all actuality could sometimes be quite a decent bloke. Although only sometimes.
‘As for yir mysterious slime there,’ Mark continued, gazing down at his underling on sink duty, ‘That’ll be that Vladimir. He’s been spunking his freaky Polish load in there when nobody’s been lookin. I myself reserve ma ain spunk fur the main course. Or a wee bit o’ garnish fur the starters. Nuthin like a wee bit o’ extra special bonus flavourin’ fur those miserable English bastards.’
‘My dad’s English, Mark.’ Neil deadpanned, reluctantly joining in on the hilarity. ‘I’ll have you arrested for bigotry.’
‘And what in hell’s name are you doing here, Neil?’ Mark continued. ‘Have you come to witness the world’s fastest pot-monkey break his own record of only wan pot washed per hour? The people fae the Guinness Book ae Records are comin’ doon here soon wi’ thir stopwatches, Donny, ma boy, so you’d better get a shifty oan, ya big speed-machine, ye!’
Looking browbeaten by his boss’s overbearing verbal assault, Donny pulled his key from his pocket, chucked it to Neil and bent back over the sink, his attention gone from making bizarre wrestling poses and back to the far-more-persuasive lumps of bacon burned so lovingly onto several metal trays by the new breakfast chef.
There was a moment’s quiet punctuated only by the incessant drone of the extractor fans. Still leaning into the pot-wash area, Mark gave Neil a cheeky thumbs-up, before skelping the bent-over Donny on the arse with one of his ever-present kitchen cloths.
Donny’s reaction sent several washed trays clattering onto the floor. He spun around in a combination of alarm and confusion, his face now completely red.
‘Fuck’s sake, man! That’s no a joke! That wis painful! Away back tae yir paperwork, ya fuckin’ bully!’
Mark cackled like a oversized camp schoolboy. ‘Oh, you love it, big boy! I’d ask you to chase me at this point, but that widnae be very responsible o’ me in a kitchen, noo, wid it? Health and safety, an aw that.’
Sighing a sigh of despair turned all the way up to eleven, Neil glowered at the cavorting pair of lunatics in their steamy cavern of ineptitude for a few more seconds before turning and leaving.
Maybe, if I see her again, he thought, as he made his way back down the ill-lit staff corridor that lead out of the hotel and back into so-temporary freedom, I could introduce her to my friends.
Then again, I could always just punch her, scream at her and vomit in her face. That’d probably put me in with a better chance. Round here, that’s first base. Arse-skelping is only second.