BLACKOUT Chapter 1 Read by The Naked Blonde Writer
yes yes I know it’s two o’clock in the afternoon and no I’m not at work and yes I want a double vodka and coke now do I look like I’m joking just push the optic do your fucking job john john the bar john the angel john the puerile pint puller yes john i know i was paralytic friday and no i haven’t stopped yet but don’t shake your head at me lovely boy with prices like that you should clap your hands not shake your head when you see me a-coming or act like you give a fuck about my problem what problem? problem-free that’s me you’re the one with the problem see look i’m the only paying customer here except for good old ron in the corner over there and we all know he can ponder a pint for four hours but me i’m on a mission me a magnificent mission pregnant with redemption oh you wouldn’t understand john so stop going on and on just gimme my change and go back to the crossword there’s a good boy now let me arrange my plan.
She did not speak except for, “ta, John, love.”
Outside was winter. Incessant relentless winter.
Another day up the Angel. She sat at the window, drinking the weather away.
The Angel was a public house high up in the forgotten Valleys of South Wales, not too far from the Brecon Beacons. On this particular Monday afternoon, except for old man Ron the ex-collier in the corner, its only paying customer was an untamed Welsh Valley girl named Tessa. The Angel had stood there for over a century. Tessa had been sitting there for a fraction of that time, since the age of fourteen. But there was no time to consider that today. It didn’t matter anyway, she was only twenty nine.
the angel what a name what a misnomer i mean the angel the slapper more like the slut the whore the dog the bike the guarantee-even-you-a-shag any saturday night how many slags conceived bastards up the angel toilets then? dunno but it’s a fucking lot me probably consanguinity shared most likely with god knows who what she always used to call me you little bastard, you bloody bastard bitch ah the constant cadences of her dulcet undertones well i’ll show you mother now then let’s get down to my plan.
Vodka melted Tessa’s veins. By the end of that first glass the gloom would begin to clear so best she drink it down quick even though she had promised her self so solemnly, and only a few days ago, (or maybe yesterday) that there would be no drinking from Monday, that from Monday she would be seriously sober so as to execute her plan with clarity. Except that clarity was no sister of sobriety no more. Clarity came only with a few drinks and so if that was what it took then that was what it must take.
the angel what a fucking joke proletariat public piss pot probably christened by some prurient pervert back in the good old days and now no matter how few teeth you got you’re guaranteed an orgasm up the angel and why do we say up when we gotta walk down to get to it oh the lewd symbolism of it all ah well no prole me for much longer once i perfect this plan but one more i think that first one hardly does the trick quick quick now john go on and pour just one more look at him looking at me like that again right then now then now then.
“You know what you are John?” Tessa asked the Angel’s Landlord.
“What am I Tess’?” he replied, with an apathetic eye.
Tessa looked at him.
“You and that look of yours… invidious.”
John the Landlord didn’t even pause.
“Been reading the dictionary again, is it Tess’?” he said and, dropping the change into her hand, returned to the crossword.
No one ever sat ‘in’ the Angel, no one ever said ‘at’ the Angel, no one ever went ‘to’ the Angel. It was always ‘up’ the Angel. She, the Angel, a drinking venue with a mystical reputation in the Valley where Tessa lived, was a sanctuary from the weather, as warm and comfortable as the womb and in order to get to her everyone had to walk down a hill. It therefore remained a mystery to Tessa why everyone always said ‘up.’ Perhaps it was something Freudian, she thought, deeply entrenched in the collective unconscious of her drinkers who had, for over a century, nurtured and passed on the limitless connotations behind the word ‘up.’ But never mind. There were far more important things on Tessa’s mind that day. The Plan.
Tessa had one ambition left: to become a manager in the factory where she had been working for the past seven years. This was the plan that had prompted her to go up the Angel that afternoon. Back she went to the empty table. After twenty nine years, the heart kept on pumping, the lungs kept expanding, the limbs kept moving. Day after endless day she exhaled over the same scene: grass, sheep, factory, pub. And every Friday at three, when the factory closed down for the weekend, Tessa began the two day descent up the Angel again. Mostly it was a two day descent, but occasionally two days unwittingly became three. That was why she was still there today. And, of course, there was the plan.
Tessa made clocks. The factory, to be more precise, made clocks. The workers – the women – nicknamed the factory ‘Tick-Tock.’ No one could remember its real name. It had been ‘Tick-Tock’ for years. Tick-Tock. It sounded like some jolly, lovely nursery-rhyme where everything skipped along in glorious technicolour, as Tessa joyfully put the second hands on smiling clock faces. That was what she was paid to do and that was what she did and that was what she had been doing for the past seven years. Clock face after clock face came down the line and down the line and when the face stopped in front of her she put on the second hand and let it go on down the line. She clocked in at eight, she put clock hands on clock faces and she clocked out at three. Tessa made clocks tick and tock and for the past seven years she had managed to do this with astonishing regularity via consistent inhalation of cannabis resin.
vodka please aw for fuck’s sake john are you gonna look at me like that every time i come up here or what d’you say? you’re watching me die? well i’m watching you die too and i bet it’s a lot more entertaining from where you’re standing aw come on john don’t be like that mun we’re all dying didn’t you know? downward trajectory second law of thermodynamics and all that unavoidable void stuff so come on fellow mortal just let me get on with it no not dying you nutter not dying today but forward planning a clever clever way out oh never mind just let me get on with my plan.
She handed more money to John and he took it, shaking his head. Occasionally the cannabis supply dried up and then she was forced to go to Tick-Tock unstoned. Those rare straight days at work would inspire her to whisper to her self, “I’m basically just making time.” Once, accidentally, she had said this out loud. The girl next to her had looked up, curled her lip and said to Tessa, “innit?”
Innit: a wonderful word which holds a world of Welsh wit. Innit: two syllables, simple to use and sufficient to punctuate any of the brutal realities which existed within the factory walls. Innit: the essence of that slow, incessant, relentless drip. They speak it slowly, they speak it quickly. They shut down sentences of the deepest tragedy with it and thus render such tragedy comical. Barely is a sad tale told without the addition, from someone, of the word ‘innit.’ No matter how fucked things were, innit made everyone laugh. It defiantly justified all things Welsh.
The other girls were making time too. But all the other girls had babies now. But the other girls were women now and their babies were little kids. She had been making her own time, they had been passing it on to others. And while she was silently stoned most of that time, they were always talking. They had so much to say about these kids for whom they were making all this time. Tessa didn’t believe that birth was a miracle – up there it was usually an accident. She had been on the pill since the age of sixteen and had never forgotten to take it. Sometimes the doctor said it was adding to her misery, but she refused to stop having sex so she refused to stop taking the pill. She didn’t trust any of those fuckers to know how to use a condom, the statistics had proven her right time and again. She was never going to end up like her friends, who weren’t really her friends anymore once they had started multiplying. She watched them with their diamond rings, she listened to them fight with ‘him’ and sometimes, only sometimes, she wished to go back to school when at least they had had shoplifting in common.
Beneath the hard surface surely there must be something soft? She sensed it was there, but she couldn’t ever find it. All the girls professed to hate that factory. Yet every one of them went back day after day and never called – out loud – for change. They were badly paid, they were over-worked. Health and Safety conditions: suspect. Maternity leave: unacceptable. Holiday pay: atrocious. Breaks: too short. And yet day after day, week after month after year Tick-Tock kept on ticking and no one resigned, no one made demands, no one called for a strike. All they did was spurt invective between them selves, in hushed tones. Up and down and in and out, all day long, the Welsh tongues wagged in disgust at the anonymous English boss and his handful of ‘workhouse’ managers who were utterly to blame for this and that and God knows they’d never get away with it in London.
No one had actually seen the big boss. Was he a myth? His managers insisted he was real – everything that happened was because of the big boss. One day, Tessa believed, he would surface. One day, she would meet the man to blame for all this misery. One Friday the managers would come to the pub with them instead of heading back over the bridge for the weekend and then she would find out who he was – this mythical maniac responsible for keeping so many women in chains.
It is possible that conditions at the clock factory were not quite the epitome of Dickensian oppression that those wagging tongues might have liked everyone to believe. But Tessa believed it. She listened every second to the slow, incessant, never-ending hum of machinery and misery. It rang in her ears from eight till three each working day. It had never occurred to her that perhaps they enjoyed being miserable, perhaps they needed misery so that they had stuff to talk about. And who better to blame than an anonymous English man? Furthermore, Tessa’s belief was not only based on seven years of her own personal experience. There was a deeper reason. Tessa had a Mother. Tessa’s Mother: Bronwen. What a woman. One helluva girl.
Now Tessa loved Bronwen as only an only bastard child of an unloving Mother could. And where Tessa had been exploited for seven years, Bronwen had been exploited for almost thirty. Thirty years had Bronwen ticked and tocked. Yes, Bronwen was a relentless survivor. Her body grew harder, her face stiffened, her shoulders hunched further forward but come frost come rain through endless winters and wet summers, Bronwen arose morning after morning to go to Tick-Tock. Because come hell or high water Bronwen had to pay the bills: the TV license, Dwr Cymru, Neath-Port Talbot Council, British Telecom, Orange Mobile, Asda Insurance, the this the that the you name it, Bronwen had to bloody well pay it. She had to buy lager and fags and food. And most annoying of all she had to pay the fucking rent. Rent! On that tiny little box they had the cheek to call an ‘ouse! Rabbit ‘utch, more like. Bronwen was living in a fucking rabbit hutch on a council estate full of slags and wankers who did nothing but gossip behind her back. And she worked harder than all of them put together. All her life Bronwen had worked. She was a single Mother and the longest survivor in the factory. And what thanks did she ever get? Bronwen: Tessa’s Mother. After nearly thirty years of hard labour all she got from them rich English pigs was the condescending title of ‘Supervisor.’ Innit?
But now something had come. Something, finally, just like she always knew it would, had come. Tessa had waited long and hard for that something. She had prayed to an invisible silent God in whom she did not believe to send something. And now. Now she must make sure she did not fuck it up. The plan must be perfect. And in order to perfect the plan another drink would be required. She must set her self in motion. One more hour and they’d all be getting on the bus, chitter-chattering over the big news. Tessa had no time to chatter. Idle chatter produced no change. In one more hour her plan would be perfect… But first she must get more Vodka.
The something which was going to change everything had begun as a whisper at the far end of the first factory line, closest to the management offices. Doris heard one of the managers say “he’s resigned” and the fact that only one manager – Rowlands – was absent that day meant it must be him who had resigned. Rowlands was the HR Manager and this time he had gone back over the bridge for good. He hadn’t even waited for the end of the week. Miserable bastard left them in the lurch Thursday. Lucky he’s not in charge of wages… HR means Human Resources, Doris had told Stella, and then Stella told Dawn and Dawn told Kelly and just as Bronwen was coming up the line towards Tracey to let her go on first break she heard Kelly telling Tracey that Rowlands had resigned. Well that would mean they’d be getting a new HR Manager; someone good with people, hopefully, someone more human than Rowlands ever was, hopefully… And within ten minutes of Bronwen knowing, every woman in that factory knew that HR meant Human Resources. Well he didn’t do any bloody work anyway, they said, and knowing the big boss he probably won’t even bother getting a new one. Save on wages like, innit?
Bronwen was no more of a gossip than any of the other girls, really. Supervisors simply had more news-spreading power. She had been a supervisor for almost ten years now, so while most of the girls were strictly clamped to their chairs during clocked-in time, Bronwen’s job allowed her to walk up and down and in between the lines, checking her clipboard, allocating breaks, marking off targets and simultaneously getting and giving all the gossip. Bronwen got it all. She got who shagged who on the weekend up the Angel… in the toilets or in the car park… she got who fathered the foetus in so-and-so’s womb… and she gave it all out to those who didn’t know yet. A dirty slag could be transformed into an alright part of the gang if Bronwen was in a good enough mood and opinions changed daily. Bronwen, also, could be a ‘dirty slag’ or a ‘good laugh’ depending on which line and what mood the girl at the head of that line was in. There was always someone to annihilate and that someone was always, miraculously, absent. The factory was a haven of ill-will for fellow womankind. No one escaped unscathed and anyone who reacted, frowned or faltered couldn’t take a fucking joke.
Rowlands’ resignation was undeniably momentous. The girls were thrilled they had finally broken him. Throughout Bronwen’s Friday morning rounds all they were talking about was why the bastard had gone – with his tail between his legs
because of this, because of that. Rowlands had been at the factory for twenty odd years, as the Human Resources Manager. Finally, just like they’d always known he would, he had snapped.
“Hey, you’ll never guess what,” Bronwen said to Tessa, clipboard in hand, her back to the window of the management office. Tessa was too stoned to guess anything. Bronwen nudged her.
“Rowlands has walked out,” she said.
Mother and daughter clocked each other for less than a second.
Tessa said, “good fucking riddance.”
Pleased, Bronwen noticed a twitch at the management window, feigned deep interest in her clipboard for a moment, pretended to check something over Tessa’s shoulder, ticked an imaginary box and moved on down the line.
Tessa listened to the hum of machinery, the underscore of chatter and conjecture, voices bubbling with excitement masked from the management by apathetic eyes. The manager’s office blinds were down. In there they were talking too. Tessa’s heart beat quickened. Her red eyes brightened. She saw her self arising, leaving her machine, walking across the floor and entering the office where the English men were talking… She was there to take over from he who had jumped ship… She was there to be appointed as a woman among women… she was there to re-inject the ‘human’ into ‘resources.’ Tessa! She was the new HR Manager! She was fighting the big boss for better pay; she was refusing to back down. She was introducing new pension plans and stricter health and safety regulations. There was no more turning a blind eye to the risks these girls were taking every day. No more denying, no more hiding and no more exploitation. Most of them couldn’t even spell exploitation – but Tessa could and Tessa would and Tessa had spelled it out. No more exploitation! The result? Tick-Tock became a hubbub of the happiest, healthiest working women in Wales. Productivity improved, absence declined. No more backstabbing – the girls loved each other and the managers loved the girls. The interminable feud between England and Wales was dead. The bells were ringing: hallelujah… Ding dong verily on high did the bells ring out during those few minutes of Tessa’s imaginary promotion. All the girls around her were beaming like the sun, and the sound of the machinery and their voices became one. It sounded sweet, kind, warm and soft and all the girls were singing beautifully, not defiantly, and those bells kept on ringing until Jackie nudged her saying, “for fuck’s sake Tess’ wake up mun, the bell’s gone.”
Morning shift being over, and, it being a half-day, it was time to go to the pub.
As was usual for a Friday, they got off the bus and went straight up the Angel for a three o’clock pint. Tessa was acting weird, so Bronwen got in the first round. Skandal was in the corner. He clocked the weird look in her eyes as soon as she walked towards the bar. What was she on?
Within an hour she was acting so weird that Bronwen turned to Skandal and said, “have you given her that bloody Cocaine stuff again?”
He grunted at Bronwen, watching Tessa closely. Whatever she had taken, he must get his hands on some of it. Why wouldn’t she tell him what it was? Perhaps she’d had an out-of-body experience. Or perhaps time travel really was possible. Were they back in the early nineties? When her eyes had been like that every night of the week?
“Come on Tess’, tell me what you’re on,” Skandal repeated.
The afternoon faded into evening and Bronwen, as usual, went home to watch TV. As the amateur drinkers began to slur, Skandal persevered in his quest to find out what Tessa had taken and where he might get some for him self.
skandal skandal he’s helluva boy skandal i woulda been dead probably been long dead without skandal look at him one of the original terminally unemployed permanently stoned semi-intellectual but tragically uneducated sensitive a-sexual non-marrying pacifistic funny-as-fuck types you find in any small place i suppose well skandal’s ours a diamond in a mine full of coal and a bastard like me no father brother sister friend.
Somewhere in the early hours of Saturday morning Tessa told Skandal the secret reason behind her newfound glow. It was neither Drugs nor an out-of-body experience, nor was time travel possible, she assured him. It was simply a plan. A magnificent, beneficent plan with which she intended to manipulate her way into the rooms of the hierarchy and improve the lives of the girls. She was going to be the new Human Resources Manager at the factory. Come Monday she was going to make an eloquent speech, citing examples of her seven year commitment and ability to understand the girls better than any outsider ever could. And with this speech (which she was going to write down and memorize) she would win favour with the General Manager and get the promotion she needed in order to improve their working lives. Because it wasn’t the girls she needed to get on her side because the girls, well, they were already on her side and they all wanted the same things. But if she could get the General Manager on her side then, well, then…
The beautiful thing was this: Skandal really listened. Human, he said to Tessa, well there’s no one more human than you. And as for resources, you got resources coming out of your ears.
“You’ll have then eating out of your hand, Tess’, no doubt about it,” he said, rolling another joint as she beamed like the sun.
He always called her a ‘Celtic warrior’ when she was on a mission. Usually Tessa’s missions involved the seduction of some rugby player she had spotted in town and planned to corner up the Angel where she would play, try and defeat him. But this mission was different. This really meant something. And now all she had to do was construct a perfect speech to get the General Manager eating out of her hand so that he could go to the big boss up in London and say, ‘hey, we don’t need another outsider up here, we have the perfect candidate in the Valleys and she can start straight away and she’ll even take less pay than an English man…”
There were very few left in the bar by then, but they had no intention of leaving. Fridays were usually all-nighters, and tonight they had more than usual to talk about. John had called last orders ages ago, but never mind.
yes he’s listening and he is listening because he’s seen me get so low that i nearly because what he wants is to see me smile like you used to tess’ when we were both young enough to believe that the old men dying over there in the corner were different to us no skandal we’re not like them you and me we’re gonna be wild like this forever courageous outrageous you and me not for us a life like them dead sad fuckers over there you and me skandal we’ll be mad like this forever how time flies but this plan is gonna make it all change.
In the most fragile part of her voice Skandal sensed a crack in the enthusiasm. For less than a second he wanted to smash the Angel to pieces for breaking her the way it would never be able to break him. But then he noticed his pint glass was empty. So that was the plan in the early hours of Saturday morning as Tessa sat by the bar, talking nineteen to the dozen to a sleepy-eyed Skandal. All she needed now was some solitary thinking time to write the speech down on paper.
Then she would recite it before the General Manager Monday morning. As Skandal sunk into one of his sitting-up slumbers, Tessa climbed mountains in her mind, forming the words that she would eventually put on the page that she would eventually present in person…
“Mornin’ Mr Parkhurst. Could I have a word with you, please? Oh thank you, you’re very kind. I hope you don’t think I’m being premature here but as I’m sure you’re aware, all the girls on the floor are in a flutter over the fact that Mr Rowlands has resigned.”
She paused in thought. His response at this point might vary. If he was unaware that the girls were aware she resolved to resort to the trusty adage about it being impossible to keep secrets in the factory. And if. And if…
She must have gone home at some point because when she reappeared John noticed she looked clean again. So on with the speech she went, drinking and smoking and talking and drinking. But between somewhere late on Saturday night and probably early on Sunday, time began to lose sense and whether it was still the weekend and there was still time to speculate or it was actually the end of the weekend and time to write the speech down on paper became unclear.
John never threw his best customers out, he couldn’t afford to, there were so few of them. When he’d had enough of drinking with them, he turned off the lights in the main bar, removed the cash drawer and headed up stairs to his bed, certain that those few left behind would still be there when he came down to open up in the morning. After he’d gone, they put their money in a jar next to the empty till and drank steadily into the early hours of another grey day. Then they snorted some Speed and drank more. When John resurfaced at eleven he remarked that they both looked dead. Tessa went home because Skandal went home. She passed out and didn’t come to for six hours…
She opened her eyes to a fully blown hangover with the words of her speech, as yet unwritten, banging about in her head. She crept downstairs for water, hoping to avoid Bronwen and was stunned to find the house empty. It wasn’t Sunday at all: it was Monday afternoon. She’d missed a day. Panic gripped her momentarily. She had to get well as quickly as possible, no point worrying about losing Monday now. She must get well and write the speech. Tuesday was as good a day as Monday to enter the office. This had happened for a reason: the speech had to be perfect. And in order to write the speech perfectly she had to feel better. How to feel better? Hair of the dog; the only way. Back up the Angel she went. And so on with the speech…
“Mr Parkhurst, I would like to ask you to consider appointing me as the new head of Human Resources.”
Then she decided to say “HR” instead, because it sounded more professional.
“Let me just tell you why I think I am suitable. First of all, everyone in this factory knows me and while you may respond that familiarity breeds contempt I have long since harboured a belief that actually, familiarity breeds content. I know that the girls would respond favourably to a more personal relationship with their HR Manager and having known me for most of their lives, how could they fail to feel comfortable? In addition – or rather, secondly, and – from a practical point of view – having been employed here for the past seven years (with an excellent attendance record I might add) I know exactly how this place runs. I work far more quietly than most of the other girls, as I’m sure you’re aware, and that’s because I prefer to observe and absorb rather than simply do my job. While watching and listening I am, in effect, paying attention to the bigger picture. Namely; understanding exactly how this operation works. With minimal training I believe I could be a fully operational HR Manager in less than a fortnight. I have five GCSE’s, two ‘A’ levels… I have excellent communication skills, I am computer literate and… I know, I know… I sometimes ask myself that very same question – what the fuck am I doing at this factory? Well, Mr Parkhurst, without wishing to sound sentimental I am lost without my people. You know, I grew up with most of the girls in this place and my Mother has been here for thirty years. And, in three words – I love them. Plus it’s very difficult when one lives so far away from any town worth mentioning to find interesting work elsewhere. The factory is the only option for most of us and I can’t drive – I mean I can drive, but I never passed my… but obviously if that poses a problem I can easily get my license and besides I can get to work on the bus, I mean that’s how I’ve travelled here for the past seven years so it should be okay for the next seven…”
yes yes the stuck up bastard will probably think it aint befitting for a manager to be sitting aside the scum bus riders well fuck him my mother comes to work on the bus always has and she’s given her fucking soul so i’ll tell him fucking straight there’s nothing wrong with public transport mate and if so-called executives executioners more like used good old buses instead of cruising around in fucking massive petrol guzzling monsters like you then p’raps this planet wouldn’t be in such a state so don’t start looking at me like that oh fuck oh fuck it’s half past three look at the state on me i been here that long already any minute now she’s gonna walk through that door and i’m gonna get where you been? where the fuck ‘ave you been? what d’you think you’re playin’ at? block it black it out am i ready? steady? yes yes tomorrow morning first thing no excuse i’ll just walk in and tonight inculcation inculcation inculcate till i know it backwards so right that’s settled then no turning back now and turn again tessa girl thrice to the bar yes john i do want another drink no i’m not dead yet you cheeky fucker just starting to live me john just starting to live love.
In came Bronwen, hardfaced, blaring into the room with an invisible cloud of cold air behind her. Today, at half past three, her bad mood was all Tessa’s fault. Tessa took Vodka number five or six back to the table and shivered as she sat down. Bronwen dragged a chair, screeching, across the floor and plonked her self down. John looked up from his crossword and smiled.
“Alright Bron’, what you havin’?” he asked.
Bronwen flatly declined the offer. She never drank on work days, as well John knew.
She was darkhaired and had darker skin than her daughter. She always wore too much foundation which made her seem more wrinkled than she really was. But caked foundation is fashionable in the Valleys; all the girls wear it like that. And she didn’t care about being pretty anyway. She could have been pretty. And she had been pretty for a short spell. But her mouth was so habitually downturned that any potential beauty was obscured by an endlessly ugly expression.
“Where the fuck ‘ave you been Tessa?”
Bronwen’s accent was as deep and dark as the Valley outside.
“What the fuck are you playing at?”
Tessa looked at the woman sitting opposite. She clocked the stomach bulging over the jeans. A moment of rage murmured and threatened to escape but was deftly destroyed by a large sip of Vodka and a little cloud of cigarette smoke.
“D’you wanna drink?” she asked her Mother.
“No I don’t want a bloody drink! Fuckin’ ‘ell Tessa, mun!”
In the corner, old man Ron the ex-collier coughed into his pint.
Bronwen rolled a cigarette, stuffed it between her downturned lips and lit up.
“It’s fuckin’ Monday,” she went on, “what d’you think you’re doin’ sittin’ in here on a Monday? What ‘ave I told you?”
Outside, the day darkened.
“How d’you think I feel having to lie for my own daughter?” Bronwen puffed.
Then, impersonating her self she said, “‘oh no she’s awful bard Mr Park’urst, sick all night she was ‘onest to God…’ And there’s me thinkin’ if she fuckin’ turns up now when I’m tellin’ all these lies for her I’ll fuckin’ kill her I will, aye.”
Outside, it began to drizzle.
“Aw for fuck’s sake, Mother, shut up will you?” said Tessa.
With a beaming smile, she turned to John and shouted, “I got a good reason… haven’t I, John? Tell her, John! I been busy all day, haven’t I?”
John feigned deeper interest in the crossword.
Bronwen looked at him and tutted. John never supported Tessa when Bronwen showed up. He had known Tessa all her life, but he and Bron’ went way back. And no matter how much money Tessa put into his till, he didn’t want to have to be the one to call the ambulance again.
“You shouldn’t be serving her John!” Bronwen caterwauled across the floor.
He shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “innit.”
“Come on,” Bronwen said, pointing at the Vodka, “drink that and let’s go.”
She stood up, but Tessa grabbed her Mother’s arm and pulled her back into the chair.
“Mam, sit down… I wanna tell you something…”
Finally, Bronwen took a proper look at her daughter’s eyes.
“Jesus, Tessa, you’re fuckin’ steamin’ you are!” she said, enraged now, “four o’ clock on a fuckin’ Monday and you’re fuckin’ steamin’… I give up with you, aye… and I tell you another thing, you better be in fuckin’ work tomorrow…”
With this, Bronwen went to grab Tessa’s bag, but Tessa snatched it back. She finished her drink in silence as Bronwen waited, smoked and sulked.
As the last of the Vodka went down, Tessa surrendered to the end of the afternoon’s reverie. She folded the piece of paper which held the speech with the tender precision of a drunk trying to appear sober and put it carefully inside her bag. Bronwen saw the paper.
“It’s what I been trying to… tell you…”
Tessa was arising from her chair, but she misjudged her footing and slumped straight back into it.
She looked at her Mother and said, “you know the job?”
“Oh, what job?” asked Bronwen, turning towards the door.
“You know… that job… Human Resources Manager…”
“Well, Mother-dearest, you are looking at the new Human Resources Manager…”
Tessa flung her arms open to emphasize the grandeur of her declaration.
“What the fuck are you on about?” Bronwen said, wishing she was still small enough to smack and send to bed.
“I’m gonna be the new HR Manager… I been sitting here writing… you know… a speech, for my application… Mam sit down! Listen to me! For fuck’s sake!”
But Bronwen was already on her way to the door, shaking her head at John as she moved.
Tessa got up again and did not trip.
She began to follow her Mother, triumphantly dancing away from the bar, shouting, “oy! John! Oy! Ron! Oy! Mam! Listen to me now, you three… I am gonna be a manager in the factory! Me! Yes! I’m gonna be a fucking manager!”
Bronwen looked at John, John looked at Bronwen. Ron coughed and swallowed back some phlegm.
Suddenly Bronwen began to laugh. At first slowly then incessantly, then relentlessly.
“Look at her!” she said, “she’s gonna be a fuckin’ manager! Innit! So long, John, love.”
“Manager!” John repeated, grinning at Bronwen.
The door swung open. Another invisible cloud of cold air circled Bronwen and sent a shiver down Ron’s curved, ex-coalminer’s spine. Tessa paused at the threshold then jumped out into the elements, her head held high, where she was pushed along from behind by her Mother. John watched them go. Ron watched them go. Both men shook their heads and shrugged.
“I dunno, aye…” John said, examining the till.
A faint smell of damp air drifted over the bar. It was raining outside. Raining and cold as usual. They clocked the weather briefly with the exit of the girls until thankfully the heavy door slammed shut.
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