Arthur’s van was broke and so he called me father, and we went over the two of us to Arthur, our grand little van we used to sell the vegetables from when I think about it now. Anyway so Arthur had come in for a good bit of scrap and his van was broke and when we pulled into the camp he was standing there all smiles from faraway but when we pulled closer he turns like that was the least a brother could expect kind of thing, the other to be doing a favour. And me father was already on his guard by now because we were gone out the camps years, and he knew that others’d be aware of him now all suspicious, the break he’d made and with the house and that. Top of that, it was all I knew the house now by this stage and there was a part of him didn’t want me being around the camps. But he’d agreed to it because I said I wanted to go. It was nothing like well it’s good for the boy to see where he came from, nothing like that, because as I say me father wanted none of the old life no more. It was more—well it’s hard to put it, but I think, it was getting to now, even if I meant nothing more than I wouldn’t mind the diversion, it was getting to, well, if he thinks we should go, there must be something more to it. See me father now if I was strong about something he’d stop and listen, he’d listen to me now in those rare moments. Me father always in a fit, he’d become less agitated. And it’s a sad day in a way.
Arthur so’d got this scrap from a factory that was cleaned out. He’d been promised it a long time and the fella dropped it by himself in the lorry said it was no good to him, and it basically amounted to a load of old pipes and mainly radiators far’s I could make out. So me father and him and meself with some of the smaller lengths of pipe we began shifting the stuff to the back of our van, copper all of it. Well I could tell something was not quite as it should be and I could see it in me father’s eyes and the glances between himself and Arthur, me father sort of what are you trying on kind of thing, and Arthur it’s no bother that’s the way these things operate, a mocking shake of the head and not looking at me father straight, dismissive really’s the word. It was the weight of the radiators, much heavier than they should have been, in the sound they’d make hitting off each other, and in the way the pipes’d pack into the palm of your hand had me father suspicious. I didn’t think it was nothing really, that was the way it’d been done oh years, filling old radiators and pipes with dirt so’s to put extra weight on the scales in the yard, but me father with his new ideas, this was the worst—a symbol—this was the opposite to the way he’d want to be going if you know.
Me father though with a slight turn of the head and a whisht was all, no more of it I don’t want to hear let’s just be done with this now and we were away in the van, me father driving and Arthur and me on the passenger side the two of us squeezed on the seat, and Arthur with the six of them to the trailer, the childer and wife, Arthur laughing about that, and me father quiet and both hands atop the wheel following the road ahead. And so it was the start of the journey, Arthur laughing with me and not the bit of guilt, because he knew his way and me father knew his, and Arthur giving out the directions, me father not that familiar with the road into Dublin. Me father has a way though and Arthur after a while was spent if that’s it, uneasy is how I’d put it, quiet now most the journey and the instructions shouted like a dog, next lights next lights, like it was something me father should have known. But me father wouldn’t rise and even when Arthur had a go at him for not having the money to hand for the bridge, me father was very steady about it and reached into his pocket, and the traffic all behind. And on the bridge well it was curious because we thought, the two of us, me father was turned about to say something the way I saw him the side of me eye. And I turned and so did Arthur to face him but he wasn’t turned to us at all, he was looking beyond us out the window our side over the river as we were crossing. I looked out too and the river was flat and white and high and Arthur was saying that the cranes down the end were putting up the new buildings. Well, he’d be familiar coming and going.
The yard was across not far on the other side. When we pulled in Arthur saluted to a gentleman and then he directed me father the way to the scales. The scales were a platform you drove your van on and they weighed your van with the scrap and then they off-loaded the scrap and you came back and they weighed you again and you were paid as per the going rate for the type of scrap you had. And so we got ourselves weighed and I took down the numbers and me father drove us up ahead where the piles of scrap were lying on the ground. When we got out the van Arthur was muttering something about it was some of the young lads we’d want to be getting and not Mr whoeverhisnamewas who was the owner of the yard. But I think Arthur was saying this because he seen the yard owner come out and he knew it’d be him we’d be dealing with. So he has his young lads helping us lift off the scrap but before long don’t you know he’s holding out the hand and he’s got them passing one of the radiators along to the lads with the cutting machine. I looked across to Arthur but he seemed calm about it and I looked at me father and to be fair to him there’s no looking over at Arthur, we were stuck in it now all of us together. The yard owner comes back anyhow this concentrated look in his eyes. Says he’d give Arthur sixty pound for the lot and though I knew Arthur’s scrap was worth probably more than that there was no argument out of Arthur because he knew he’d been found out with the dirt. Now clear the rest of it off, the yard owner says and so we offloaded the last bits. And when they were on the pile the yard owner speaks up again, and his black fierce words caught us all out.
You effing pack of knackers he says. Think I’m an effing bloody fool. You can get your van and get out.
Well me father couldn’t take none of that and he stood up to him he says now hang on there’s no need to be speaking like that.
Eff off out of here knacker the yard owner says to me father.
Now whisht a while whisht a while says Arthur and he turns to me father like he was addressing him as much and he goes back to the yard owner and says like the man says there’s no place for language like that and you don’t want to be jeopardising our partnership because I been good to you these years and I got plenty more good stuff good quality copper lead aluminium—
Says the yard owner I don’t want it he says, I’m selling up in three months. Think scrap is worth eff to me it’s land is where the money is or words of that nature.
And Arthur lets it fly then calling him as good as he got saying what kind of a person was he to take the scrap off us at all and him having made a deal with someone to sell the land it disgusted him it did and he spat on the ground. The yard owner so takes his sixty pound out and throws it on the ground where the spit was. Arthur goes to pick the money up but me father grabs the top of Arthur’s arm to stop him and it was only after the yard owner and the young lads had turned away that me father and Arthur got down and picked up the money.
And pick ourselves up after that is what we had to do. It was the nearest to an apology Arthur could give saying that the trick filling the radiators was normal, that he’d been found out once or twice before but he’d always been able to get back with the man. He said the man depended on him as much as Arthur the man—and that thought struck him hard so I could gather. He took it very personally, felt betrayed in many many ways, not the attack as bad, but the sale of the yard because it gave him something to do as much as the earnings from it. But with me father it was the attack was the thing. He didn’t take it at all well being called a knacker what with the house and the distance he’d tried to put between us and the camps.
Sure you’re only after going round in circles says Arthur realising a sudden we were going the wrong way to the bridge.
With that me father hit on the brakes. Get out the van he says to Arthur. You’ve made a fool of us today and you’re setting a bad example to the boy.
Arthur started to laugh but me father lifted the fist to him and he says I’m serious now Arthur I’m serious.
Well Arthur, his face never dropped further than the barest smile but he got out of the van nonetheless, a kind of shock on him the way me father was behaving. And I must say I was shocked too.
What is it father I says. And he started up again and we went forward. What is it father I says and later I learned what it was on his mind, that it was the memory of the buildings he saw down the river. The thoughts that the likes of Arthur were pushed lower than scavengers now and to alms. Me father wanted nothing to be doing with that after all he’d done for us getting the house and me into a good school and me reading and seeing that maybe it was a natural thing in the family. A knacker said the man, but what was he being judged on? That he was in the yard and that he was with Arthur, the smell of the camps off him? He wanted to see what people would make of the two of us on our own and I suppose in a way he couldn’t properly understand he wanted to see could we be getting by without having to put on an act. But this I only understood later.
Why do you want to be going into Dublin I says. Father you’re not going to leave Arthur now, and no way of him getting back home I says.
And me father slowed and slowed, his foot weaker on the pedal the further he got, and his eyes falling to the road immediately in front and then to nothing till he stopped. And him gripping the wheel tight. And he thinking there.
And eff it he went and brought the van around in a u-turn, and there was Arthur on ahead, back turned, walking on, his head down already checking the ground scanning it for what could be got.