He leaned into me, blue eyes wide, face twitching.

‘My elbow’s fucked mate. I can barely open it further than this.’ An arm extended, palm facing up. ‘It’s from plasterin’ mate. Plasterin’ and wankin’.

His skin was blotchy and sagging. Bags were grey and oily under his eyes. He kicked a clump of mud off his boot.

‘I’ve done a bit of everything, me. Worked in a timber yard when I was 16. Drove muck-away trucks out of Croydon. Did fuckin sewage works. That was good money, fuckin good money. I was on 210 a day mate, done by 1 o’clock. It was fuckin grim. You get used to the smell after a while. Couple weeks in you don’t even notice it. Some of the pipes you had to clean out you’d be shoulder deep in fuckin shit and piss mate. Had your arm like this. Deep in the pipe, sewage fuckin right up against your cheek, fuckin grim mate.’

He leaned further in, an eager expression rising to his face. His blue eyes flashed as he began.

‘I used to do the carvins for the headstones in the graveyard. Clean them up and that. The boss man asked us to move one of the bodies, to dig it up and move it. Somethin in the law about how you can move your dead family member if you wanna take them back to your country or somethin’. No word of a lie mate, my boss stood there and says, “Who wants to do it? One fifty in cash.” I was like, yeh.’ He stopped and looked at me as if I had insulted him. ‘For one fifty I’ll fuckin do it. So me and my mate got down there and fuckin started diggin, fuckin rapid mate. I was diggin’ for two hours straight till I got to the body, no box, nothin, It’d all rotted away, just a pair of stockins and a pile of bones. I took the bones out and put them on the side.’

As if fed up of telling the story, he shook his head and let out a short breath, almost a laugh. Looking up, he fixed his eyes on me. ‘I passed the skull to my mate. I says, “I don’t fuckin want it mate,” and threw it to him. He fuckin’ threw it back. We was throwin this fuckin skull to each other and there was a woman watchin’ the whole thing from the gates. She reported it and the boss was over. Went fuckin mental mate. He went proper off on one, blue in the face, fuckin shouting at us mate. I says to him, “if you don’t calm down I’ll put you in the fuckin hole.”


Rupert Wolfe Murray
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