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13 August 2007 @ 09:23 pm
Red sky in the morning.  
The twisted metal grew skywards piled on daily by a hundred strong men. Laxity had allowed his fingerprints to gather in odd, quiet corners where the dust lay. He’d arrived on the first morning with the others, been offered his hat though boots were not provided. There were men he sometimes talked to about his dogs. There was little else to say, his interests were not easily articulated and they deepened in secret. His mania allowed him general peace but frequent, intermittent misery. He told no-one of his pain but the tenderness of his work spoke of it on the days that he suffered. It seemed to him when this mania descended that he was not the stranger whose boots he wore, whose life and health he coveted but the true version of himself. It caught him like that sometimes and the devastating thing about his mania was the vividness of the picture he allowed himself to be presented with. Not one to be so black and white under ordinary circumstances, he fell into a violent frame of mind that he was alone, that he was unhappy, that there was no release. He felt a heightened sensitivity on those days as though he were a conduit for something. Removing his dirty gloves he allowed his work to speak of this. Tenderly he put the metal into place and slowly, softly joined the casing of the building that they would eventually raise from nothing. This act of creation moved him deeply and regardless of many near misses with his fingers he felt no release from his struggle until he removed his gloves and smoothed each section into place.

There were days when he felt much the same as the others, bored by the grind and counting the minutes down until his breaks and then counting them back up again when lumbered with some tedious and relentless conversation in the outbuilding where they brewed coffee and tea. There was a van for hot food and newspapers but he always avoided the conversation that attended these purchases and sat chewing his tuna salad slowly. He cared little for sensual pleasure and his food was not important to him. The delights of fatty bacon were a mystery that could not be revealed to him through mere verbal recommendation. If the weather was fine he could find a corner of his own to eat and sit in silence watching the building take shape. Even on the tedious days, the organic nature of the structure enchanted him and revived him for the long afternoon. Summer was harder than winter in some ways with no chance of early finishing due to failing light. This summer had been worse than most with the lashing rain and wind causing difficulties with the work but being so sporadic and mixed with the pale sunlight that work was never put aside for the day but merely delayed into the evening.

His boots got wet all the time and he kept a pair of dry socks in his belt always. He was miserable when he had wet feet, miserable and useless. During the flashes of turbulent weather he would retreat like the others into the huts and warm his fingers on his dented aluminium mug, squeezing out his old socks. He would then dry his feet on a paper towel and put on his dry socks. This minor idiosyncrasy was occasionally noted by the others who tended to battle on regardless. This had no impact whatsoever on his practice.

He was in many ways just like the others, by turns bored and absorbed. Yet on the days in question there was a chasm between his public appearance and private emotions. He had never specialised in anything and drifted from one job to another. He was a well-built man, fit from physical exercise and a boringly correct diet untouched by whimsy. With regular features and an even voice he had inspired trust in employers. There had been nothing special he enjoyed at school and from the time he left he had drifted from one thing to another. Competent and thorough in his work he still only received lukewarm references from those he worked for. It seemed that they had a common problem with him – the trust he initially inspired turned to suspicion as he grew to realise that they knew nothing at all about him. Only the occasional passionate description of his dogs allayed their suspicion that he had formed no real bonds. There was never any trouble about him leaving, merely a coolness in his verbal and written recommendations.
He’d worked on building sites for three or four years now and found the work sympathetic to his lifestyle. There was rarely any call for references and the work he did was more than enough without need for too much social intercourse. There was always a sense that a group like that, over a hundred men in close proximity, would contain varied levels of friendships and intimacies and similarly several feuds. This dynamic suited him for it was easy for one man to become lost within many and he didn’t ever really become involved. He was interested only in the work and it was with the building that he felt a communion, not the men.

On the days when his mania deepened, he retreated to the corners of the site which the others tended to avoid. The places where not much initial work had been undertaken could prove difficult to get started and the easier, more satisfying work could be done in other places. Preferring a wild, scrubby heath to a well tended garden he flung his vagabond soul and gloveless hands into the work away from prying eyes.

It had been more turbulent than usual the day the accident happened. Though they were used to working in all conditions, as soon as the earlier shift had arrived it became apparent that things would be more difficult than usual. He came at seven oblivious to the general clamour for tea and coffee seeming somehow to be beyond the daily anxieties and preoccupied with his thoughts. He made his way from the hut where the others were happy to congregate and delay their tramp out across the hazardous site. They knew it was unsafe to work with so much metal in a storm. They had clocked in already and felt safe in the thought that no-one would expect them to go outside in such weather. Huddling around the boiling copper urns and reading the papers or complaining about the lack of food due to the lateness of the van they didn’t notice him slip away out into the darkness.

He wasn’t afraid like the others, he felt such an affinity with the building and the sky was so beautiful that morning, all sheet metal tones under the eerie red light. For just a moment, the rain slowed and a bright streak of sunlight struck the building, shedding sparks across the steel like a glassblower’s torch. He felt coldness spread along his chest at the sight of such beauty and could not control his breathing. In the midst of the violence he felt infinitely calm, walking no more quickly beneath the hissing and torn tarpaulins, battered by the downpour than as though the sky were utterly still. No-one looked over towards him, but if they had, and if they were in an artistic frame of mind, they might have thought he cut an allegorical figure; solitary against a hostile and turbulent world.

The site was wedged neatly between a high school and a hospital. The hospital had small windows shuttered against the cold with beige Venetian blinds. He had asked the others once why the windows at the top were always obscured. They had told him that the higher floors housed the terminal wards and much like a prison, the sight of outdoors could prove unsettling. Someone else had joked about keeping the patients out of harm’s way and the long history of suicides by defenestration. The school on the other hand was fairly modern and nearly all glass. The sixth formers at the top of the building were rather restive, the discussion of poetry with their however impassioned teacher paling beside the beauty of the storm. Sentences trailed off and eventually all the students were contemplating the weather more than the poems. Their administrative block completed the set and rose greyly in the midst of youth and mortality.

That morning he felt a certain fitness to his actions as he approached the crane that was suspended neatly mid-job. He hadn’t known before that he was capable of such passion. The rain did not subside as he removed and discarded his gloves and surveyed the work they had done. He wished there was one person he could tell, it wasn’t often that these flashes of longing touched him, but today one did. There had been his dog, but although she was as close as a family to him, she could never understand. Nor these men he laboured with daily, not one felt exhilaration and despair as keenly as the work took shape. He stood long, staring at the towering steel that he had intimately touched and set into place. A single sob escaped him, the force bending him further into the wind. The sky was darker now and clotted with blood coloured clouds. A thin keening escaped as the winds ripped through the space between the buildings, muffled only by their embryonic construction, a benign presence in the storm.

When he began his ascent, the children at the window were obscured to him, the rain-streaked glass as impenetrable as a one-way mirror. They had given up even half-heartedly dissecting their poems and had been moved rather to take in the terrible beauty of the sky. The poem they had been reading had ended with the line “he offered her a poem; she said to him, it is a dish of plums”. Their teacher had told them to think of the plums themselves as the poem. Some of them began to understand. From the top of their glass block, the first to notice what was happening was a boy named Colin who was sharp-eyed but renowned for his imaginative powers and therefore frequently dismissed. He wanted to tell but something within him wished to selfishly claim it for his own. Like a lepidopterist spearing a butterfly he wanted to crystallise the moment without thought of the pain to his subject. Colin was not to be allowed his moment however as there was a sudden flurry to the window of two sharp-eyed girls who realised that Colin was transfixed by something more than the clouds. By the time they noticed it was already much too late.

As a child, he had been left quite often alone to his own devices. His parents were of the opinion that if you let children run wild they would get into trouble, and if you let brothers and sisters play together they wouldn’t respect each other in later life. He had been a few years older than his sisters and could not penetrate their close world. Though they were forbidden to spend too much time with each other they snuck into each others rooms at night and talked about mysterious things in a giggling whisper. He had felt too shy to ask to join in and felt himself ill-equipped to offer them hospitality himself. His room was small and cold and had nothing that would tempt his sisters in. He knew without being told that his mother preferred girls. They knew it too and bent rules that he would have never have had the courage to. He began to feel hollow as the awareness and intelligence that came with maturity highlighted the unsatisfactory situation he was in. He had never known that life was different until he started visiting his friends and saw the way their families were, the roughness of their discourse, the ferociousness of their debate and the bitterness of their silences. He had never known that silence had different qualities, that it could signify so deeply a mood or emotion. Silence was his ordinary way of life and he was overwhelmed by the realisation that to other people silence was a tool for discussion as often as words were.

Later he realised that the painful spells he could not control were a reaction to the silence of his childhood, never having anything to say as a child, he harboured his intelligence and it blossomed awkwardly under glass. The power of his emotions led to a violent despair at his inability to express them and the more he shut down his daily routine into nothingness, the stronger his rages would come. He let everything go slowly, until that year when he started work at the building site he had no ties left at all. There was a room he went to every night paid for weekly. There was a wardrobe with his clothes. No books or records, no photographs marked his taste from anyone else. There was just his dog. When she had sickened and died he knew it was time to deal with his correspondence such as it was and await the perfect day to end his life. His sisters had no idea where he was and his parents were dead. He would harm no-one by his going and he finally felt ready.

The day he’d chosen was perfect, the beauty and violence of the storm appealed to his romantic side and he felt remarkably peaceful. He knew that work would continue when he’d gone, that he would be part of its history. That gave him the most pleasure he was capable of feeling. That morning as he climbed the crane in the midst of all the metal he had a twinge of fear, wondering what the pain might be like. But he knew it would be over before long and he felt a thrill of excitement at the thought. Before he reached the top, he put the dust mask he had in his pocket over his face, a final gesture to his blank identity, and a kindness to whoever had to bring him down. Eventually, he reached the top of the crane.

There was a wave of fear in the classroom, a sick stomach wrenching silence as they watched his ascent. Their teacher realised what was happening and quickly ran to the telephone in the next room to call for assistance, she didn’t have time to stop them watching. He had reached the top and stood on the metal crane, weaving his body against the wind, his face obscured by the mask and the rain and looking utterly wild. Before their teacher could return there was a huge flash of sheet lightning, which turned the sky the colour of copper pans. They could not hear but only imagined the scream of pain that came from him as he was struck with the full force of electricity, cut off as suddenly as the beating of his heart by the current. Someone began to cry and then someone else began to scream. But Colin understood the man and felt as though he understood the poem better. This man had shown him a poem.