This is something else from 2010. They were weird times. But part of me still sees the below story as ambition, rather than fantasy.
There are shells falling outside again. I’m in the meat locker, it’s a big room. I like the night shift. People tried to get in earlier so I locked the door. I can still hear them banging and shouting as the shells are falling. Fuck them. This is my place of work. It is also my place of solace.
You enter the meat locker either through the warehouse, which is closed up at night, or through a big metal door that leads out onto a staircase up to the street. It’s a side street. It’s normally quiet. Sometimes I hear kids fucking or fighting outside, but they’re scum so I don’t worry about it.
Sometimes, lately, if a shell falls close, the lights flicker, but it’s not so often. I’m wondering if a shell will fall close tonight and cut through the mob of scum who are clamouring to get in.
I like to walk the streets when they’re shelling, when I am not at work. I like to look around and feel the earth shake, and see the smoke and fire and debris, and wonder when I’m going to get messed up by it all. I’m okay thus far. It’s only when they’re shelling that I feel comfortable on the streets.
The meat locker is a soothing place, it’s lovely and cool, and all I do is pick out the meat for the next day’s orders, load each delivery into the dumbwaiter, and send it up to the warehouse ready for them to pick it up tomorrow. It automatically gets lifted off the platform when it gets up there, it’s a clever system. I also clean the room, check all the storage and temperature systems. I am supposed to be there for eight hours a shift, from 8pm until 4am. My work takes about half this long. A lot of the rest of the time, I like to sit on my stool or pace up and down the room. Anything basic where I don’t have to think, is very much appreciated. There is a health and safety board up by one of the sinks, that instructs me to wash my hands before and after handling meat. It instructs me to watch my step in case of blood or water on the floor. It instructs me not to run, and instructs me to make sure my hair is covered when I am working.
A shell falls quite close and the lights almost hint that they are about to flicker, but do not deliver on this strange promise. I hear a man’s voice outside rising about the hubbub “I HAVE A DAUGHTER, PLEASE AT LEAST LET MY DAUGHTER IN!”. I think this is irresponsible. I work night shifts in a meat locker. What sort of father would leave his daughter in a meat locker, alone with a strange man who chooses to be there at night? Has this man never seen a horror film?
I am minded to remonstrate with him with regard to his parenting skills, but I am mopping the floor and this is important. The floor must be clean, and then must be dry. I have a dry mop and a wet mop. At present I am using the wet mop, to clean the floor. When I am about to leave, I will dry the floor.
The hat I wear to cover my hair, is making me hot. It does not matter because this mild discomfort will not impair my ability to work, and my appearance is not important because I do not interact with people, beyond the barest minimum. I like to ensure that I am clean, but my appearance is less of a concern. I remember beating a man on a train when I was younger, because he smelled so terrible. I beat him until his howling became a whimper as he lay face down on the floor of the train. Nobody looked at us. It was a fairly busy train, but nobody looked at us. I wiped the blood off my boots, onto the back of his jacket as I stepped off the train.
I decide I must continue mopping the floor. It is therapeutic, a never-ending battle against dirt and dust and slime and blood and scum. I like to imagine that I am cleaning the whole city, the whole world, of people and that at the end, it will just be me, in the middle of a silent and still world, inside the meat locker, and somehow, gratefully and graciously, whatever higher power still exists will turn the key on the outside and jam the door shut so I never need to leave.
When I was a child I became utterly convinced, on two or three occasions, that with the focus of all my willpower, I could freeze the world, and every inhabitant (aside from myself) thereof, in suspended animation at a given time. The witching hout rolled around, and the world was still moving, and I was heartbroken. I was crushed. On the second and, possibly third, occasions, I was the same, but it allowed me to open my heart to a vicious and relentless cynicism and a knowledge that nothing will ever be as I plan. I was probably nine or ten years old at the time, too old for fantasy and yet completely susceptible. I have suffered from susceptibility over the last few years in my life, and now I am ironing it out, I am trying to erase all the hope and the optimism, and instil within myself that perfect discipline, that allows me to work until I almost break, even in the knowledge that there is no reason for this work, because I will always, invariably and inevitably, fail. I believe this discipline is the highest and it is something to which I now aspire.
I have started easily, with my work here. Within the discipline comes a certain soothing, gentleness because I do not have to think. The discipline and the work ethic removes the need for me to think about the rest of my life, which means I am never confronted by the circumstances that will lead to either hope or disappointment, to happiness or to despair.
Now a shell falls closer. The lights go out and in spite of myself I am inhaling deeply. For a second the lights remain out, the noise outside appears to have abated, and I wonder if I am dead, or if the world really has now frozen after all.
But suddenly the light flicks back on, the screaming and shouting begins again at redoubled volume and pace, and I shake my head at the fact that, even now, I am still victim to that naiveté of hope.
I wonder how long the shelling has been going on for now. It is probably three weeks. I have been able to hear it for five or six, but it has only started hitting this part of the city for three weeks. Maybe a little less, maybe a little more. Either way the difference a matter of days and I refuse to be held accountable for that fact that I cannot state, to the exact hour, to the exact minute, when the shelling started. I absolutely refuse to be held accountable. I have given an estimate which is reliable, and I do not intend to give a more specific estimate which may prove less so.
The other night, when I was heading back to the hostel, it was a little past four, I saw soldiers digging ditches across a park. It seems like something is going to happen. Perhaps it will happen soon.
But for now, I am mopping the floor. I am nearly done. I start in one corner of the room, and I will cover that aisle, the mop going from the wall, sideways until it reaches under the nearest set of shelves. It then swings back in a gentle arc that moved the whole process forward. I complete this process, the mop moving side-to-side and steadily forwards, until I reach the end of the aisle. Then I mop the area at the end of the shelf, and commence the cleaning of the next aisle in the same manner. There are fifteen aisles. Each one is twenty paces long and maybe three wide. Even from the other side of the room, I can hear the mob outside the door.
Momentarily, I wonder if I am dreaming, and if I am in fact Frankenstein, or his monster, and the mob are outside with flaming torches, screaming in Rumanian or Bulgarian or whatever language is native to the setting of the book. I am not dreaming. I work the night shift in the meat locker.
It is warm in the evening now. I suppose it is summer, but the heat from the fires and the smoke and the screaming, clamouring mobs looking for shelter inside meat lockers, must surely contribute to the heat. I do not feel hot inside the meat locker, it is cool. Still. On quiet nights, I can hear the hum of the temperature regulator system. Sometimes I imagine it is playing a tune.
People are banging harder against the door now, it sounds as though they are using their entire bodies. I am not a violent man. I am only violent when the situation absolutely and indisputably requires violence. I have decided that this situation may require such a reaction.
I finish mopping aisle twelve. I am irritated that this mob have distracted me when I am so close to completing the mopping, and I am keeping the number “twelve” and the phrase, place name or statement “aisle twelve” throbbing within my head, in order that I remember the point I have reached.
I hold my mop at the ready, the wooden end of the handle first, as I walk to the door. I am beginning to feel my muscles loosen and tighten in anticipation of killing somebody.
The ground suddenly throws me into the air, which I feel is a cause for concern, and the lights go out. I land heavily on my front, the air knocked out of me for a second and the stars in front of my eyes failing to light up the pitch black meat locker. But I must stand up, my mop, for some reason, is still clenched in my hand, and as I cough a little blood into my mouth, which I must swallow rather than stain the floor, I feel my way towards the door.
My ears are ringing somewhat but I can no longer hear the mob. I hope that they are still there. Maybe I will fall upon them when they are prostrate, half-conscious. I will still enjoy it.
The door is locked and heavily bolted, three large slabs of steel on rollers sliding across. I push two bolts back with the vertical mop handle, unlock the door with my hand, and knock the third bolt across with my foot. As I open the door, the lights come back on inside the meat locker.
Everybody is dead. The mob is gone. There is no blood, there are no bodies, and there is no indication a shell has hit, but the mob is no longer here and the street is quiet except for shelling in the distance. The mob must have been killed. Or left and been killed. I do not know.
I do not like to remain outside the meat locker for too long, as strange things are prone to happen, and so I go back in, to aisle twelve, and begin aisle thirteen. Soothing, side to side motion, slow steps forward, the floor will be clean. It is important to take pride in one’s work. It is very important to take pride in one’s work.
And yet there it is again.
Suddenly, and without warning, the door is hammered by the mob, shouting, screaming, and this time I am angered, in spite of myself, for I am normally a very calm person. I throw my mop onto the floor and I march to the door, and slide the bolts and unlock the door and wrench the thing open with a roar.
And yet again, there is nothing. There is nobody there. This is ridiculous now. This is absolutely unacceptable, it is simply not reasonable for a joke to be made of this situation, and I refuse to be party to a practical joke. If I hear any further noise, I shall block it out of my head. I shall not react and give the street-scum whatever perverse, bizarre satisfaction they may gain from such a reaction.
I begin mopping again, but now I realise I have not locked the door, and I am angry at my own ineptitude. This is the height of incompetence.
The door is open. I wonder if I will die if I go outside. I wonder if anything outside is real. If I step outside and a shell hits me, will I really be dead, or will I cease ever to have been alive the second I step out into the madness?
There is a second, just a second, where I catch a glimpse of the sky as I turn away. It is darker than simply night time. It is clouded by smoke. Sometimes, to me, the darkness looks like blood. I cannot explain why black and reddish brown seem so similar.
I can’t quite remember if I left the door open or if it has been opened. I think I can see something just outside my field of vision, and very much inside the meat locker. I am tired. It is that feeling that the body is slowing down, the mind is too numb to take in the surroundings.
I feel that there is somebody else inside the meat locker, and this angers me, this fills me with rage. The carcasses are hanging or laid out on the shelves.
Slowly, I lean my mop against the nearest set of shelves, move down, crouch, and curl myself up, lying sideways on a vacant bottom shelf. The shelves are spacious. I can just about fit. I curl up on my side, facing into the room. I listen. I watch. I have left the door open.
It is strange, the darkness of the outside infiltrating the meat locker. The lights are dim. I am looking to see if anybody has come into the room. There is a shuffling.
The shuffling draws closer.
I am thinking of waterfalls and I feel the need to urinate.
There is no drama. There is no suspense. I see a movement, which proves to be a leg, I reach out and grab, pull the leg into the edge of the shelf, haul myself out of hiding and trample this interloper. My boots slam onto his head, the small of his back, crushing, breaking, bruising, until eventually, I cannot see anything and every movement feels like silk.
Let me be frank.
I am twenty-three years old. My name is David. It is Thursday afternoon and I am at work, in an office. I live with my band and I am being made redundant at Christmas. I’m tired and I’m writing about working the night shift in a meat locker in a war.
I should probably take myself less seriously.