He is sitting in his Twin Cam.
The engine is ticking over and the booster fan on. Full heat, and arrow at the head of the white matchstick man. The windows might soon fog because the controls aren’t right, but he has had his last look on town in the early morning air so the windows stay up. Shut.
He rolls the seat back from the wheel and springs off the belt. The headrest is no ease so he turns and kneels back sharp and tears it from its sockets. It’s a faceless creature with two notched legs, and he stands it as a passenger to the side in the seat.
Jersey off, and his browned arms are strong in the sawn-off T-shirt. He fist-slaps his knees and turns up his grimed hands looking at each in turn. Clenches, flexes, then motions outwards to catch a slow ball.
Gone. Clean through his hands.
Eyes widened then shut, he grabs fists of his hair and pulls his head down into his chest till he rocks back and forth, first like going to sleep but then faster and faster winding up.
He finally stops, and stops grinding his teeth and the grinding sound in his throat and stretches back up. Eyes wider again, he rolls the seat forward and sits down straight.
Clutched, he feels the bone-joint sound of the stick through the gears. Looks down for some sense in the lines between numbers. Think. First. Second. Third. Keep going. Fourth. Fifth. Think.
Handbrake off. Pedals set underfoot. He reaches for the roof and clicks off the little interior light.
More visible now as it brightens, along the pier there is still only him to think the speed in this thing you should see her go.
They had started into the digging not long after they bought it.
James had sold his old two-door for parts and bought his turbo diesel ’00 reg and there was no way too much time would go by now before Noel would have to do the same.
James was for the inner details, but for Noel all depended only on the look, so when they spotted the ad in the paper all Noel could see was sleek silver metal over thick black tyres while James went through the given specs and made approving judgments about mileage and model resale value.
Alloy wheels. Front and back spoilers. Remote CD changer. Clean, reliable. Will accept nearest offer…
A quick mobile call, a trip to the Credit Union, and this morning they were wrapped safe in the blare of James’s five-door-speaker stereo on the way to do the business.
Pulling out after a quick Supermac’s meal deal halfway there, James told Noel to pull out the map and see if he could find the small hole that somehow had a decent man with a decent secondhand for sale.
But after the first turn off the main road the directions somehow went skewed, so when they saw her thumbing they said they’d throw her a lift and she’d maybe set them back right the same time.
Hard to tell what age, but she hopped in lively, hardly waiting for the ask when they’d stopped.
No, she wasn’t afraid of thumbing these days, day nor night nor anytime. Far? She’d tell them when she knew she was there. You know yourself she said and stuck her head out from the back, looked them right and left in the eyes.
She was wearing the white blouse of a waitress, with a name tag too faded to read.
She was just coming off a twelve-hour shift she said, but when they pushed her for more they got none, and she sat with her arms laid over the backseat like she was with them all day for the trip.
They looked at each other quick and James slowed.
Hang on now. Stall it all here a minute.
Give it to her.
When Noel moved to turn around he was near afraid of interrupting her humming, but he handed back the ad page to see. She took the map and his elbow, and keep going along here she said, then there and then there.
Great. That’s great.
Faster now from the help, James said she should give them her number, there might always be a next time.
No. And her head came forward again. But why don’t both of you give me yours?
There wasn’t much talk after that and they let her off at a forestry scheme where she said. All they did was look as she went straight across the road to the trees.
What do you say to that?
Not long after they let her off, they pulled into a large yard at the end of a byroad pointed out finally by a strolling old couple who had a good gawk at the pair of them sitting within in the noise and a good shake of the head at the cut of the car. The exhaust left them for dust.
Along a line of revamps, Noel spotted it quick. And could picture it alright as he circled. Could see all this silver and black and himself, cruising. That designer interior behind his reflection in the windshield would be something at weekends.
Mick Giblin of Midland Motors had come hand-rubbing Swarfega out of a galvanised shed at the back of the yard and was already head to head with James. After a quick test run there was a thumbs-up all round and Mick Giblin was sticking twenty for luck in Noel’s shirt pocket.
True lover of bypasses, James led them on the way home onto the best acceleration stretches, and they got into town as it darkened to do three or four dual circuits of the square.
Noise it up.
This town. This town knows above ever they’re alive.
They finished off along the pier before pints, with James rolling the first of a new grass stash and repeating his gospel of the day. It was time for Noel to get moving now this was sitting under him. He would have to learn to do his own improvements. Get up to speed.
There was only one thing for it. He would have to dig his own pit.
Then in for the retelling of the mighty many ways of going bloody astray. Fame and shoulder-punches and a round of shorts. Daft. Hard to say what she looked like. A royal midlands tour, hah? Middle of nowhere and she was gone.
Tell us again.
And the day got bigger each time.
They decided anew on their favourite fundamentals in the course of the digging.
James took a long weekend from the joinery and came round early to Noel’s despite the Thursday night half-spree, set on hitting the tone for the day ahead as he handbraked in round the back of the house driving the cattle mad away from the fence with his fanfare horn.
Noel’s father had soundly given the go-ahead for the conversion of the old carthouse at the far end of the track down to Rafftery’s field, and Noel had already made a quick rough box in there dragging an old harrow pin along the packed surface clay.
But walking across this now, James sent Noel off to finish his morning jobs and took in from his boot his old surveyor’s tape and powder reel. Just about smiling at Noel’s skewed eye, he made his own calculations. And then he chalked the lines. Slow and clean and solid.
Then they were soon moving. And they went from one known area of talk to another without much disagreement as the work went on.
Didn’t matter how often they took off early twice a week for a half-hour’s puckabout before training so long as they reached the quarter-finals at least.
Nothing short of a miracle that Joanne had agreed to go out with James in the first place. Let alone to have agreed to engage him once her four years were put down now
If you got hitched up you’d have to steady up a bit.
Whatever happened with anything you’d always need to know the shape of things quick.
Hell with the panic anyhow.
Stay put. Keep the head down.
No. Kick away into the action plan. Take off.
Out of town. The country.
Or finish it.
One way or the other just go. Go.
Shovel, pick, spade and barrow took them late that day into the ground, a hole two men long, man and a half wide, one man deep.
It took almost the full following day to do the concrete floor and the blocks up the sides and fit it out with a few racks and stands for all the tools James had made Noel buy at the Traveller market.
Now that’s some pit.
You could live down there. Settle in.
By evening, when they backed the car in over and James had given Noel a few quick pointers down underneath, they were thirsty with achievement. As ready for the night as if they’d been taking their ease.
Joanne had made it home out of the blue just for the night. She’d some friend or other with her and there might be something there for Noel. Friday and Saturday night would be rolled sure into one.
They took both cars.
Noel filled her up on the way in and put down the time it would take James to get out to Joanne’s home place and back by practising his handbrake turn in the car park out at the pitch.
Then flat to the mat into town.
He parked just off the square, in tight between some sort of old camper van and a beaut of a Merc Sports.
Through the lounge in O’Connell’s, down to the proper bar at the back.
James and Joanne and this friend of hers were taking their time alright.
His second pint tasted like his pure worth as he set it down and elbowed in to take the cue and chalk up and break for his turn.
He cleared as ever table after table. Finished a last quick black before handing his win to the next up when James finally stuck the head in and signaled him drinks in hand towards the front. Up at the bar there, Joanne was whispering into the ear of a honey done up in all pinks and whites and killer jeans.
After Noel welcomed Joanne home and she’d quickly done the hellos he was left to his own devices with Nicola. She was all talk. Even took him to the side by the hand. A lot of questions without much wait for the answers Noel began to want to give.
He was wondering about James and Joanne over on their own in the side snug when Nicola moved for the bar and told him to have another.
Just the one so.
But when he looked back from studying the day’s match results on the corner telly Joanne and Nicola were coming at him at the same time. All he got from Joanne was bye Noel as he was shoved his pint and the girls tugged one another out the door.
Barely a chance to sit before James stopped his stare in his glass, downed it and stood.
C’mon. Put yours in you quick. Have you your keys? Go up for a few cans. Time we saw what she can really do.
They only started racing when they’d gone beyond the lights to dark but known roads.
More pints later would help fill in the story, so time enough. Lash into the cans for now.
They pulled up alongside and yelled across through their rolled-down windows.
Gave those stereos volume.
Belted along grand for a bit.
Then he got in front.
He hit a mock emergency stop. Took a small tip on the back bumper.
He roared ahead again.
He caught up. Pulled ahead on a bend and gave him the full fog-lights back into the face.
Catch up. Quick.
Fast. Open her up.
And he rammed ahead for one last time. And he saw the lights go in rearview.
Never be fast enough. So he swung round sharp in the next gap.
He had seen it as a simple sailing in over a soft-margined low ditch and almost missed the spot going back. He faced his lights in, and now he fell and ran through rushes and seepage and slipped out onto tyre tears on newly cut grass to where after whatever number of turns the car showed off to any looker only a steaming damaged belly and reflected in what of its windows was left only the night sky.
When he sees him twisted half in and half out of the windscreen he knows straight away it’s all done. He thinks he can’t but he can and he checks anyhow, unwinds arms and legs and drags him out, lies him down and tries for the heart and the breath. Does the chest with his hands, tries again and again until he can hear himself shouting.
Then grabs out his mobile.
But ring who?
On his knees, he looks down long at the closed eyes and hears now louder as if they’re happening the chats upon chats rounded off in handshakes.
And another sound comes through. How the hell can an upturned smashed engine still be running?
He is shook beyond himself.
This is what?
Like sober and stocious at once.
Count to yourself. Count.
Do something. Tell no one. Yet anyhow. Do something yourself.
However long he would sit all he would ever see or hold here was blood and bone and glass, and skewed coloured metal that looked thin enough to mould back into shape in the hands.
This is where?
No sound now almost. No passing lights.
He is sitting down in the dark.
He has driven here straight, left it all back there behind.
When he climbed down into the pit first he stood, ready to fix all round him, but when he drank the last can he stopped his quick pace end to end, and sank.
Sit. Steady now. Stop the speeding head.
Smell of clay and oil and drying concrete under the old rib-rafters he can see now with the strong new inspection lamp in his hand. On and off with the lamp for a long time up out of the ground, a signaling surely for other lights that will soon come.
Sit down here and wait. See what comes.
But soon he points the lamp slow along the pit walls and stands up.
All the tools lie there lovely, look at them, laid in order in rows, and he moves his hand along them.
He takes up a spanner and turns it around in the light. He thumbs the adjustment one way, then the other. Drops it and picks up another. And another. Then ratchets, hacksaw, combination wrenches. Throws some. Lets others fall. Angle grinder. Lump hammer. Socket sets size by size, extension bars, hex keys, grip-pliers.
Finally he climbs out and looks at it all dropped shining in a heap down there. All that chrome.
He drags the lamp on its stand to hang down along the edge.
On or off or smash it?
Outside, the night is near gone, so just go.
Go and have a last look at town.
He sits in. Starts and turns her for town. Then revving her up to the last he takes off back along the track a lot less quietly than he’d come.