David R Ewens

Rescue

19th December 2008

Matty Williams wiped his hand over his face. He’d done his best, but it wasn’t a just a matter of hitting the buffers. If this had been a train crash, the train would have gone straight into the concourse and beyond. He’d built up the business from nothing, and that’s back where it was going. Everything was falling apart, and just before Christmas. The office was quiet because there was nothing to do. Graphic design was not exempt from the recession.

It was 5 o’clock. Darkness had already crept over the city and the streetlights werecasting a dismal orange gloom over the greasy pavements. Matty got up abruptly.

‘I’m popping out’, he said to no-one in particular. ‘I won’t be back this evening. See you tomorrow.’

He grabbed his coat and stumbled onto the pavement. He had no urgent business, except perhaps to get in the receivers, and Alice, his former girlfriend, had long departed from the flat after the latest, most bitter row. Time for the pub. Time to get drunk. He felt sly, though, and didn’t want anyone from the firm to catch up with him, so he turned off his mobile and went through the square to a pub beyond the fashionable city centre. Outside the Blind Dog, two young women with almost identical faded blonde hair, roots beginning to show, dragged desperately at their cigarettes, hunching themselves up against the cold and drizzle. A warm fug of beer and human staleness met him as he pushed open the door. It was early. Most of the regulars had not arrived yet. Here and there though, blokes who had clearly had nothing better to do all day did a different, proprietorial sort of hunching over their pints. The dark patterned carpet felt sticky underfoot. The pub was obscure, but Matty spotted the bottles of Newcastle Brown in the cooler behind the bar. Above the till was a crude, hand- written notice – ‘Chicken tikka massala – half price’. That made it £3.99! Matty hadn’t eaten all day. He imagined a large tray of plates of chicken curry, pre-made in some factory in the Midlands, waiting for to be heated up, and a bored short order chef with a grubby apron and bitten down nails. Still, a blast in the micro-wave would kill pretty much anything, it was cheap, and he’d have to get used to this kind of night out. He placed his order. So dinner came to £7.59 with the initial pint.

The beer tasted nutty and sweet. The first and the next pints he swallowed quickly. The third and fourth he nursed, allowing himself to feel hard done by- and anxious for his staff. Jimmy and Michael were talented designers. He felt bad for them. They might be OK in the long term but they were really going to struggle for a couple of years. Jimmy had just bought a house. Michael had a huge debt from uni.Thinking of Janine made him feel even worse. She’d just announced that she was pregnant, and he knew that her husband’s company, where he worked as a mechanic, was in difficulties. She was a really effective and cheerful office manager, but there were no shortage of them in the current economy. And Gemma was going to be (would have been, he sighed to himself) a brilliant apprentice. What a team. What a waste.

Matty stuffed down the last of the naan bread and washed it down with the dregs of the Newcastle Brown. He’d been glad to remember the taste, but had forgotten how drunk it made him. He lurched back into the night. A gaggle of students sashayed and whooped past. The girls, all boobs and legs, were barely clothed at all in the drizzly bitter night, but their skimpy costumes and Robin Hood felt hats suggested Christmas elves. Their arms were pitted with goose-bumps. The boys seemed to be in togas or black plastic sacking. On one, Matty could see a t-shirt on which a hobgoblin offering a glass of dark ale leered ‘What’s the matter, lager-boy? Scared of the taste?’ Their joy just darkened his mood.

A couple lingered outside a kebab shop. The young girl hada ring in her nose and stabbed the air with her finger. Her invective was as spiky as her blonde and purple air. The young man paced back and forth, white staring eyes and dark, dark skin. That was more like it. Stress and conflict to match his mood. Matty could smell beef fat and chips. In the misted up window of the kebab shop, someone with the wit to reverse-write had sketched out a message. ‘Save me’. Little moist footprints led away from the appeal. When Matty was a kidhis mother had shownhim how to do them with the sides of his bunched fists and his fingertips.

He had abandoned thoughts of driving home long ago. He began the trudge to the bus-stop. In theunderpass, the lights reflected on a chewing gum minefield on the ground and the 2-D tags on the walls – ‘jomo’, ‘tomi’, ‘baz’ and others more obscure. The puddle in the middle looked permanent. Just beyond it a beggar in a woollen Peruvian hat played a barely recognisable song. As he got closer, Matty recognised ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’, its inherent sadness made worse by the guitarist’s incompetence. He drew level, and the beggar’s eyes made their inevitable appeal. It was clear to Matty what they were saying: ‘I know it’s rubbish, but what about a couple of quid?’

Matty’s smile was tight, and he shook his head. He thought it was rubbish too, but he handed over a two pound coin. In the usual way of things, he waited 15 minutes for a bus and then two came together. His evening tailed off into oblivion and despair.

*

Matty was astonished to find himself outside his office in the morning, and only a few minutes later than usual. He’d been determined to stay away. He could still taste the beer and chicken tikka. What was the point of being here? But he knew he’d have to face his colleagues and tell them what was happening. He had to start winding up the firm and getting in the receivers. He dragged himself through the door. Christmas decorations had appeared. Why? Nothing had changed from the gloomy mood of yesterday.

Janine’s small, eager face appeared from a box of Christmas baubles she’d just opened.

‘Matty, we’ve been trying to contact you since five thirty last night. Where have you been? Why was your mobile turned off?’

He shrugged. Janine was good, but at times her enthusiasm grated. This was one of those times.

‘I’ve got some news,’ he muttered. ‘Better get the others’.

‘They’ve all gone out to get mince pies and stuff. You don’t know what’s happened, do you?’

Matty frowned.

‘When you’d gone, we got a call from that new company that contacted us a couple of weeks ago – Horizons International. They want us for that major contract – £750,000 for two years!’

Matty should have felt a surge of joy. But what he felt was a prick in his eyes, and the snail’s trail of tears down his cheeks.

David R Ewens

 

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