A New Dawning
'By Jesus,' remarked Bernie rubbing his hands, 'I'm dying for a cuppa. That's what we need to warm us up I can tell you.' Pete and Bernie, dripping with water, stomped their way into the cramped interior of the caravan, banging the door behind them. Bernie bended over the camping gas stove and struck a match. The flame coughed into life. He made a muffled grunt as he straightened up and reached for two stained cups from the cluttered table. He dropped a tea bag in each, followed by heaped spoonfuls of sugar and a slurp of milk, and stood over the stove, staring at the pan of water, 'Itíll take some time with this thing, why don't they give us a kettle?'
Pete shrugged and walked towards the door.
'Hey what you doing?' asked Bernie.
'Why for fuck's sake?'
'Just looking? More like letting the cold in and the heat out. Whatís there to see? It's raining. Cats and dogs. Don't you hear that?' Bernie jerked his head upwards to the continual patter on the roof, 'This is on for the duration. No more work today I can tell you. We can have a quick cuppa and then head off for a pint. What do you say?'
Pete looked at his watch. 'I dunno. We should stay a bit longer in case it eases off.'
'Ease off my arse. I'm not staying here freezing my bollocks off. Might as well finish up and get back bright and breezy in the morning.'
'Iíll just go and check the gear.'
'Itís all okay Pete. Címon stop worrying, sit yourself down and relax. We deserve a break.'
'Wonít be long.'
Bernie tutted, 'Arsehole.' He sat down with a sigh and stared at the blue flame. He sniffed and rubbed his nose. He sniffed again and a harsh guttural sound grated his throat. He drew a glob of phlegm in his mouth and balancing the gob on his tongue walked to the door and opened it. He was about to spit outside when a shadowy figure blocked his way. He swallowed, 'Fucks sake Pete,' then his features changed to barely disguised scowl, 'Malcolm. How are you? Come in, sit yourself down. Teaís just brewing.'
'Thanks. Whereís Pete?'
'Oh heís out checking the gear. Yísee, if the stuff gets wet before it dries then itís no use.'
'So I said to him, ďtell you what Pete, no point in both of us getting soaked, Iíll go and brew up and itíll be ready for you when you come in.Ē'
'In fact here he is now.'
'Come away in with you, Pete,í said Bernie, ĎHereís a nice cuppa. What do you take in yours Malcolm?'
'Do you have coffee?'
'Coffee? No just tea. PG Tips.'
'Donít know how you can drink it like that. Here you go.'
'Thanks. It was when I was a student. We always ran out at our digs so I just learned to take it without.'
'Ah you students, strange tastes. So anyway Pete, still chucking it down?'
'Yep,' replied Pete wrapping both hands round his cup.
'I shouldnít think weíll get much else done today,' continued Bernie, a look of concern on his face, 'Itís set in for the duration, I can tell you.'
'Well, itís only midday,' said Malcolm brightly, 'Might just be a passing shower.'
'Doubt it,' said Bernie shaking his head, 'You get to know these things when youíve been working the roads as long as I have. I mean Malcolm, youíve only been here, what is it?'
'Two months. Iím telling you, weíre stuck with it for the rest of the day. They can't teach you this at the university. Out here experience counts.'
Bernie held his hand up, 'Donít worry Malcolm, me and Pete'll keep you right, eh Pete? I mean, even if it clears up, by the time we get things ready itíll be time to pack them away again.'
'Well letís just see,' said Malcolm tersely.
'Probably better to pack up for the day and have an early start tomorrow. Weíll get more done that way. What do you think Pete?'
Pete blew air out of his mouth, 'Mmm, maybe.'
'Weíll just hang on a bit longer,' said Malcolm trying to sound assertive, 'Mr Filey said he might come to see how weíre getting on.'
'Aye, spy on us more like,' said Bernie.
'Itís part of his job to oversee the work.'
'Come off it Malcolm, he goes around finding faults. If he didnít find faults he wouldnít have a job. Heís on a cushy number that one, I can tell you. All that meddling. If heíd just leave us in peace weíd get the work finished in half the time.'
Malcolm coughed and shuffled his feet, 'Iíll just go out and check the gear.'
'Arsehole,' whispered Bernie.
'Oh, heís harmless,' replied Pete.
'Heís a fuckiní arse. Clueless.'
'Oh leave him alone, heís doing okay for his first job.'
'First job all right. Doesnít know the first thing about a working day. When has he ever got his hands dirty?í
'Heís a qualified surveyor, he isnít meant to get his hands dirty.'
'Heís a college kid that canít wipe his own arse.'
'Of course you could do better.'
'Thirty years Iíve worked the roads. Doesnít that count for anything?'
'Sure but your no surveyor. Jeez Bernie, youíve got a right chip on your shoulder.'
'I just donít like being bossed around by some kid.'
'Heís not bossing you around. We've got our job to do and he's doing his. If it wasnít him it would be someone else. Just go with the flow. We're all in the same boat. Here,' Pete flung the newspaper across, 'Give me a tip for this afternoon.'
A cold draught came from the door. They both looked up.
'Still raining,' announced Malcolm.
'Tell the papers,' muttered Bernie. 'Listen Malcolm I'm not trying to take over or anything but this rain is on for the duration. Iíve been working on the road for thirty years and you get to know these things.'
'Oh lay off Bernie,' protested Pete.
'Fine. Only trying to help. Iíve worked in all weathers, I know Ė'
'No-oneís doubting what youíre saying,' said Pete, 'But we just have to be sure. We donít want Filey to turn up and weíre not here. Then weíd all be in the shit.'
'I could phone Mr Filey,' offered Malcolm, 'And ask his advice.'
'Be his fuckiní lapdog if you want,' spat Bernie as though he had just swallowed sour milk.
'Okay,' said Pete calmly, 'Letís wait half and hour and see. Just relax.'
Cigarette smoke hung like a veil between the three men. The continual patter of rain drummed overhead. A newspaper rustled as a page was turned. A tea spoon clinked against a cracked mug and the calor gas stove puffed and wheezed. After some time Malcolm got up and opened the door.
'Seems to be easing off,' he said facing outside.
Bernie looked at him for a moment. 'Maybe, but we have to wait for everything to dry off. That'll take time, eh Pete?'
'I reckon so.'
'We canít go tarring a damp road Malcolm, surely you know that,' said Bernie.
Malcolmís mobile sounded, 'Hello?Ö..Yes Mr FileyÖÖokayÖ.sureÖ.yesÖ..okay
Ö.bye.' He replaced his mobile in his pocket and turned to the others. 'Mr Filey wonít be coming today. He'll pop round sometime tomorrow. He said we should clear up some of the mess round here.'
'Címon Malcolm,' protested Bernie, 'Itís hardly worth it. We'll get soaked. If we skip off now, we can all have an early night and start first thing and put in a good 9 Ė 10 hours.'
Malcolm breathed slowly. His mind chewed up the options. 'Well I donít know, what do you think Pete?'
'Maybe Bernieís right for once.'
Bernie rubbed his hands together and smiled, 'Címon, Malcolm, weíll buy you a pint, thatíll make you see sense.'
'Iím telling you,' slurred Bernie, his face purple like a stubbed toe, 'George Best was the best player ever.'
Pete shook his head vigorously. 'No, Maradona.'
'That fat fucker? Give me a break. So when did you ever see him play?'
'On TV. The World Cup.'
Bernie gave a condescending tut. 'Malcolm. George Best or Maradona?'
'I dunno, ' replied Malcolm slowly, 'Footballís not my thing. I prefer rugby.'
'Rugby? Poofís sport. That suits you with your University education. Youíre all at it there.'
Malcolm's jaws locked. The hubbub of the conversation on the next table became louder.
'What the fuck is your problem.' Malcolm lunged over the table trying to grab Bernie.
'Oi,' intervened Pete, 'Enough.'
Malcolm pointed at Bernie, 'Heís always having a go at me.'
'Iím not,' protested Bernie.
'You are. I donít know if itís jealousy or what, but if you want to sort it outside then címon.'
'Hey,' said Pete, his hand on Malcolmís shoulder, 'Enough of that.'
'Are you asking then?' asked Bernie seriously.
'C'mon you two.'
'Yeah,' said Malcolm unconvincingly.
'Look calm down,' said Pete, 'This wonít solve anything.'
'Outside then?' asked Bernie.
'C'mon then.' Bernie stood up. Malcolm looked at Pete. Pete wearily got to his feet. 'Címon Bernie you know itís the drink talking.'
Bernie stared steadily at Malcolm. He reached down for his drink and drained the glass. He belched, then laughed.
'Sure, your right Pete, no point. Sorry Malcolm. Let me get this one in. We're all in the same boat, after all. Lagers all round? Malcolm?'
'C'mon mate, put it there, it's better to be for than against, I can tell you.' Bernie offered his hand. Malcolm stood up and took it. 'I didn't mean anything Bernie, no offence meant, there's no problem,' he said in false camaraderie.
Bernie gripped tightly, his forearm tensed as Malcolm tried not to wince.
'Right, lagers all round,' continued Bernie and went to the bar.
Pete sighed as he and Malcolm sat down.
'Don't worry about him,' he consoled.
'He's always picking on me,' protested Malcolm.
'He's okay. He's vun-er-able, this trade isn't good for men his age. He thinks he always has to prove something. Deep down he's all right, there are some worse.'
'What are you doing working here?' asked Malcolm.
Pete shrugged his shoulders, surprised at the question. 'It's my job.'
'Look, despite what Bernie might think I'm not daft, there's something not quite right about you, you're different, your more like.....like me.'
Pete shifted in his chair and glanced over his shoulder towards Bernie at the bar. 'Okay. Don't mention this to anyone, but I'm a qualified teacher, maths.'
'What are you doing working here then?'
'Dunno. Pays better for a start.'
'But there's nothing here. No future, no prospects.'
'It's hassle free. I just go home and forget it. Like switching off the lightó'
'Do you know what I just read in the paper,' said Bernie as he returned his hands wrapped round three pint glasses, 'A father tried to sell his amputated leg on the Internet. He kept in the freezer, right? But he got no bids and twenty complaints. I mean who the fuck would want to buy a limb?'
'Why did he want to sell it?' asked Malcolm.
Bernie blinked and shrugged his shoulders. 'To raise money for his daughter, she's diabetic.'
At closing time the three men stood in the doorway of the pub watching the rain fall. There was something about it that captivated them, like looking into a coal fire. Malcolm took a deep breath. He felt invigorated by the contrast of chill air and the cushion of alcohol.
'Well,' he announced, 'I'll be off. See you tomorrow.' He turned the collar of his coat upwards, stuck his hands in his pockets and took a step into the downpour.
ĎMalcolm,í the voice was soft. He turned and sparks filled his eyes. He felt himself spin and clattered spread-eagled onto the ground. His eyes focused and he saw Bernie standing over him. Pete had his arms clasped round Bernieís waste and was trying to pull him away, 'Címon Bernie, calm down, itís not worth it, címon man.'
'Donít you fuck about with me pal,' spat Bernie pointing at Malcolm before letting himself be hauled back.
Malcolm looked up into the dark sky. Lights pranced merrily. He felt the rain scuttle over his face like minute footsteps. He opened his mouth trying to catch a few drops. Then his face broke into a smile. He started laughing. He laughed and laughed until Pete helped him up and set him on his way home.
The three men sat in silence in the caravan reading newspapers and taking an occasional gulp from chipped mugs. The brilliant morning sunlight glowed through the grubby curtains. Malcolm looked at his watch. He stretched and yawned loudly.
'Okay gentlemen,' he said in good humour, 'Time.'
Pete put his paper down.
'We've got a hard day ahead,' continued Malcolm, 'So let's get cracking. Bernie, can you rinse out these cups.'
Without a word Bernie gathered the mugs and strode over to the sink and rinsed them.
'C'mon then,' said Malcolm, 'Let's go.'
And the two men followed him outside.