The Broken Watch extract early first draft of novel The Four Gifts

I talk the the dead.
They give better evidence than the living.
Especially when you’re dreaming. Let’s look the evidence. My father had just died at my sisters wedding. I was patrolling a closing pit, when this ghost starts speaking to me. Honest, no wind up. You hear all the ghost tales you want on patrol as a security guard but this is true. And it looked like our local grocer. Spoke like him too. He said

Sorry to put the wind up you, Jim. Just to say your dad’s OK. It was just Tracy saying I do after she’d told your dad that she were’ having a bairn. You get the picture.

, Now Jimmy Boy … · God I hated our grocer when he called me that. ‘Where’s you’re Dad ‘s pocket watch?

I searched my pockets. Against the cold I was wearing three coats, four pockets each.
Come on I haven’t got all day

I wanted to say why do want it. It hasn’t worked since the day the Red Elephant, (as my wife Mary called her father-in-law), died anyway. I found it. Handed it to him. It hovered in the air above his palm.

It was then I noticed.
He was dressed odd. Leather aproned and shoed like a blacksmith. He held an flat metal object with holes in it. The holes went from large to small. Suddenly my skin prickled with heat as if from a furnace and he seemed to glow with a gold aura.. I saw him take a long piece of hot metal and pull it through one of the holes so it became thinner. He pulled it through smaller and smaller holes till it clicked what he was doing. He was wiremaking. He opened the back of the watch and removed a piece of wire. He replaced it with the bit he’d just made. When he handed it back to me the watch told the right time and ticked. I remembered I’d arranged to meet Mary after my shift. Part of our agreement when she found out I had a mistress called Linda.
‘Now you can you do something for us. Find out who killed your best schoolfriend’
Said the Grocer-wiremaker, bringing me back.
LOZZY!’ says I, mouth open, drooling at the watch. You get the picture. ‘Ay,’ he says cool as cucumber.
‘Any time to … ‘ ‘Yes or no.’
‘Yes. ‘ I said without thinking. Letting myself into God knows what. , You know don ‘t you?’
‘We still do jigsaws in heaven.’ he said and disappeared.
At three-thirty in the morning my eyes start going. I stumble round the pit in the cold. It’s only the cold that keeps me awake. As it is my stomach feels queasy and my throat is swollen with caffeine. About now I daydream.
Time passes.
Always in my mind is a broken frame in broken house in a desolate garden. The broken frame is that of a sepia photograph on the dusty floor showing nobody I know. The photograph is escaping its frame. It is lit by dusty light from a window, also broken. The white window frame paint is peeling. Tiny holes like pin-pricks, like the wood has been punctured by a hypodermic needle too many times dot the white wood. A used red shotgun cartridge is asleep on the window ledge.
I remember the eaten front door Lozzy and I had to shoulder charge. As we climbed the ‘wooden hill’ of the stairs I recalled the carpeted stairs of my ~ parents I was told to go up when they started shouting. I entered my room as I enter this one. I feel at home in this broken house, this broken room. I look out of my window at the black spot of the motorway crossed by the wobbly metal bridge. We look out of this broken window and see the ivy breaking up the red bricks. We see the weeds crossing paths. The garden is ill. Tall weeds hiding the shape. It had shape once, this garden. It was once cared for. There are strawberries, there are roses, redder perhaps, because they are wilder, like blood. We shout into the garden and nobody answers. Our voices are breaking.

Time passes.

I like light to come to my eyes gradually. I would stand on the slagheap at midday and watch the fleeting clouds pass their shadows over the pit built solidly below. It reminded me of wind gusting through cornfields. White clouds moving over hills in the Lake District or the Peak. I sat on the edge of the manmade hill and saw the different shadows ripple over the great washer building, over the cylindrical slurry tanks, move flat across the concrete bunkers where lay the remains of unused sand, gravel and lime. It reminded me of the darkness a few days before when I was on nightshift at this place. Freezing till the veins of my hands stood up purple and ice encrusted in tlie ground made the concrete more hurtful when you fell like when I delivered the post one Christmas in Royston and shipped, the weight of the bag hauling me down to push and prise open the sprung letter boxes put the letter. through so your whole hand went inside the house and then quick out for the lid to slam shut in your face. The shadows were never what they seemed and as the long night became morning without getting lighter you imagined bushes were people: old men slumped down after working the pit, gentlemen in cloaks, or women in jeans so during the day real people seemed like those shadows. Never what they seemed. I always thought whoever I met wanted to hurt me.

The brash people are like lights snapping on. They hurt my eyes. They frighten me. I want the darkness again. And yet the darkness always makes them what they are not. I imagine shapes that revealed in the spotlight of my hat lamp are not what I imagined. My father hit me when I was nine in a room whose electric brightness was too much for me. It even invaded the darkness behind my wet eyes when I closed them. My mother tried to hug me but she was ironing her dress for going out. She was in her bra and panties. She hugged me to her and all I could see was the bright light, blinding me. I turned away from her, away from the light. Used my own body as a shield for my eyes. Electric light reminds me of grief and tears.

The bulb was especially bright the night my mother told me that .dad and her were divorcing. It had been too bright all the evenings they were arguing themselves into it. I learn gradually. I think in cliches because it’s easier. The light dawns. When someone tells me something I look bemused because it takes a long time for the light to dawn. I have no flashes of inspiration. My intuition is gradual, cumulative. People shine bright lights in my eyes when they try to hurry my thinking along. Because I do not think as fast as they would like me t9. My thoughts are the clouds passing over the redundant pit and this is my life as far as I am concerned.

My last mistress Linda, used to dim the harshness of the lounge light before we had sex on the couch awaiting her son, whom she said did not know we slept together, call ‘Mum. When you coming to bed?’ I always waited half between awake and asleep for his call like a harsh light in the eyes to come and alter the situation, for she always went upstairs and I was left to sleep alone and in comfort the rest of the night.
How do I explain why I went with Linda to my wife, Mary? How would
I explain myself? I looked at my mended watch. Maybe it was a good sign.

A DOG CALLED DEATH

‘How s Martha?’ I said to Mary there in the pub before I arrived. I thought I’d ease the way into talking about US’.
Mary smiled dangerously and looked at me with those white blind eyes.
‘Dreaming again.
I could never tell whether she was talking about me or Martha. I sat down with the words
‘God its brass Monkey weather! ‘She’s been telling me her dreams. I ‘Martha’
‘She thinks her dreams led to Arthur’s death.’ ‘Yeh.
Well, it had been a weird shift so Life may as well be consistent.
Mary went on to tell me that she’d persuaded Martha to bring down from her son Lozzy’s bedroom his box of favourite stuff and from her dressing table her box of memories. She placed her box nearest as if looking into Lozzy’s was too much to begin.
I asked Mary if she wanted another half She said:
‘Just shut up and listen!
I sat back down. No way was I going to tell her about my grocer ghost. ‘Martha took a photograph showing Arthur on their wedding day out of her box’ After a moment when all Mary heard were cars up and down the street, Martha told my wife her ‘first river dream.’

The dream had come to her, unexpected, after Lozzy’s death two weeks previous. Beside the River Dearne some of her furniture was laid out in a field as if it was still in her house: a pair of chairs, a sofa, a dining table, a radio, a dog bowl. She had gone up to each of them and felt forced to ask the question:
-Tell me what makes you you?
To which all of them had answered -Ask another.
She was confused.
Then she felt a wetness touching her leg. She looked down and saw a dog.
It looked familiar, like a greyhound, but not quite. And it spoke:
-Hi! I’m Death. How do you do?
She was too stunned to answer.
-1 understand it must come as bit of a shock to find Death in such beautiful surroundings. 1 met your son Lozzy at the same place. I’m not aware of the Lord of Dreams telling me you would be arriving.
Now Martha knew this dog could give her information on how Lozzy -had died. She woke up, and began to cry. How could she tell Arthur, her husband, that she knew where Lozzy had died and could fmd out why through a dog called Death in her dreams?
‘Weird’ I proffered finishing off the dregs of my pint.. ‘Like me and you’ she said.
‘Eh!’
‘You used to notice me more. My new dress. I’m the one who’s blind. You’re like Martha A world outside and you can’t get beyond your own selfishness. ‘
‘Mary. 1 did not come here to be insulted. I ‘No. You came here to justify lying to me.’ Now listen to another selfish man.
As soon as Martha told Arthur about her dream he said:
– There is no reason to this! Lozzy died. That’s it.
Arthur stood up from the table leaving her to clear the pots.
-And what’s this nonsense about a dog called Death in a dream ? In a dream telling you where and why our son died. Wake up woman!
-1 knew you’d be like this Arthur …
She held a handkerchief to her watering eyes.
-1 knew once 1 told you …
-Nonsense!
Arthur opened the back door and strode the path to his garden shed.

-Please Arthur? There are more things on earth than …
-No! A dream means nowt!
He slammed the shed door.
Just like us’ said Mary.
‘Eh!’ I proffered again, gobsmacked.
Mary said Martha continued:
While Arthur chewed on his anger in the garden shed, I cleared away the pots. I decided to get on his good side and cook his favourite meal. Anticipating his reaction to my news that I could learn about Lozzy’s death through a dog called Death in me dreams, I’d bought a chicken. Arthur liked white, succulent breast with sprouts.
‘Where’s this tale going, Mary? Make sense, lass! ‘Patience, Jim.’
‘Bugger Patience!’
‘Watch your language. Listen and learn!’
Under the bloody thumb again left me looking forward to a pint that evening with Bill my brother-in-law.
Mary continued:
Martha said she binned the giblets and prepared the chicken. It would sit in foil and oil. It’s fragrance would drift out of the kitchen window into the garden shed. Arthur would water at the mouth.
The way to a man’s heart.
I placed the sprouts in a pan, preparing a cup for the green water. Arthur always said:
– Green Waiter is good for thee. Puts hair on thee chest.
Arthur had a bird breast himself All small and hairless.
As I checked the whitening chicken spitting in the oven, I thought of the blackness of the dog called Death. As I turned the sprouts down I thought of the green of the grass by the River Deame where Lozzy had died and Death had stood.
Soon I heard the shed door softly shut, the pad of Arthur’s shoes towards the kitchen door as I drained the green water into his mug. As usual Arthur knew when the chicken were ready.
‘Alright, alright. What’s the point? What are you getting at?’ ‘You can’t see what’s in front of your eyes. ‘
‘No I can’t! I’m a typical man beaten into submission by a superior woman.’ ‘Don’t you dare patronise me. After spoiling our marriage. After lying to me and then having the gall to keep on seeing her.’
‘Look what’s this all about? Explain to me then we can both go.’
‘We agreed to these meetings for a reason. I’ve got no explanation from you as
far as I can see as to why.’ ‘Why?’
‘Give me strength! Why you preferred her company to mine. Wasn’t I good enough for you? Didn’t I fetch and carry enough for you?’
And I stomped out like somebody had set my arse on fire. I wasn’t sitting there to be insulted. I got back from a pint with Jim to find she’d phoned and said she’d see me as usual the following week. The cheek of the chuffmg devil. Also Linda had phoned. She wanted me to come for a meal on my next evening off.

THE HIDDEN RIVER

If I tell a bad tale, I’ll get ‘em in. all right ,lads!
Bill was centre of attention again, as usual, surrounded by his cronies.
River Dearne never follows a straight course. Meanders, like our Tracy’s mam who’s in a home. Deames supposed to start at Birds Edge, up Penistone wqv. Well, 1 stood at the Edge, But 1 couldn’t see or hear owt.
‘Hidden’, that’s what you said it means ‘Deame.’ Didn’t you Jim?
In Old English. A nd he should know ‘cos he’s been to college. A nd he’s not codding. Gonna and me spent yonks finding the right road what River Dearne starts from. It were like me trying to find summat after the Wife’s cleaned up. According.to Jim, the road we were on were made 6y a lad last century called
‘Blind Jack of Knaresborough for four hundred odd pounds.
Anyroad me and Gonna found the right road latter end of the blazing morning~ It were on a cart track past some rich buggers house. He had a spanking BMW parked outside and 1 Jelt a right one frogging past with Gonna pulling at the ‘leash. 1 felt there were these eyes burning into me, saying
‘What you doing here? You’ve no right to be walking down our drive.’ Scream ing like lhe wife does.
As Bill rambled on I suddenly thought what the grocer-ghost had said:
Now you can you do something for us. Find out who killed your best schoolfriend. ‘
and the wife saying:
Martha knew this dog could give her information on how Lozzy had died.
A wow bit of detective work eh! So all I had to do was get the wife to tell me more of Martha’s dreams. It meant spending more time with the wife, but who am I to gainsay a ghost!
Anyroad once we got past the house all we had watching us then were cows. 1 kept looking for horns but they didn’t have none.
Jim told me to do these walks ‘cos he’s educated. He said I might learn summat. 1 did that. 1 learnt to look where 1 was going. Took me hours to clean the shit of me boots. Any road 1 couldn’t see owt of river. It were really hidden. Jim told us to look for the source. Told us to listen for the sound. 1 told Gonna to do so to. He were more interested int bloody cows and their shit.
Going down hill toward Denby Dale I could hear a gurgling. Like our Scott, poor ‘bairn, when he’s asleep and dreaming. I were walking through an orchard that changed to a road after skirting another posh wooden house. The road was through a forest. The light was different. It were all half light. Like it were coming morning and not near lunch like it were.
Jim told us the Dearne used to be covered in trees and that’s why it were probably hidden. The gurgling got louder till it were a gush like our tap gone wrong.
‘Ducking stool. ‘ A – voice behind me said. I turned round slow. I feared I’d strayed on somebody’s land and gone wrong road. It were an old man with a crook and flat cap.
‘W hat. ‘ I said.
‘Sorry, laddo. Didn’t mean to startle thee. See the name of yon road.
I had a gander. It said “Cuckstool Road.’ ‘AY’
‘Well it were where witches were put on a ducking stool to see if they’d live after being submerged under the Dearne. Didn’t tha know that, {ad’ He said
smiling and sauntered off. .
I think- yon wife’s a witch. ‘
I took Bill to one side to ask about Lozzy. He said
Age makes a difference, like when our posse went too far with that old tree.
The posse was a gang called after U.S. Rappers who took it from cowboy films.
You remember posse found the tree down Lovers Lane, overarching the canal: full of old bedsteads and wheeltrims. Over a fag scratched our names in it, dint we, shinned and slung a rope round a branch overreaching the water.
Remember we had competitions seeing who dare swing furthest without getting wet, and Lozzy were really good at it.
Then fatty Buff had a go. Expected happened, the limb snapped
and he told his mother he’d slipped in a puddle when we’d a ‘drought a week.
Later; some of us, like me and Trace, the wife, courting down the canal, would boast of these cracks. Even then the tree looked sorry for itself, dint it.
A II wrinkly and scabby wounds. Still, some of them, sap’ bleeding all over, hacked their names with ‘LUV’ imbetween or an arrow through a heart.
Then fatty Buff overreached himself with a joyride. Took a collectors Chevvy, down Smithies, dumped and set a light to it. Bugger had it too close!
Bill’s angry now.
Our childhood tree went up.
Lately, me and Trace, take steady strolls by the water find younger couples
carving Lovers hearts in what’s left on it.. ,
Why did everybody I asked about Lozzy ramble on about something else entirely? I was beginning to think that the only one I got a sensible answer from was Grocer-ghost. And that putting all this together was like doing a jigsaw. Only I didn’t know how many pieces there were and what was a comer and what was an edge. I knew little bits of stuff about Lozzy, like I knew little bits of stuff about local history. What I needed was an idea of the big picture.

MEAL IN A BREATHING PLACE

Striding up to Linda’s my head was full. Her eleven year old son, Ben, was playing soccer outside in his Man. United shirt. I waved to him, but it was dusk already and he was too absorbed with his mates.
Linda let me in and dashed upstairs again with the words:
With you in a minute, love.
I looked out of her new window at the moors and remembered how we’d
met. We were both on a writing course. I’d admired her from a distance for weeks. One older gent who didn’t know I was married said ‘Get thee sen in. If she sqys no won’t hurt any.’ So I did. We went for a drink and got really absorbed in conversation, as you do, missed the last bus and stayed the night at hers with a brief call to Mary to say I was staying over at a friends who’d had some bad news and was in a bad state. The conversation continued till three in the morning and ended in me massaging her neck, which led to a kiss. I wrote a series of poems about her and me called ‘The Breathing Place’ and four short stories about the group we went around with called ‘Laced With Bingo’. She doesn’t want me to publish them because she says it’s private.
She’d gone to town as usual. Four courses. Rosties with herbs, chicken drumsticks, and creamed carrots. All to go down with Liebfraumilch. Then she said:
You’v’e seen her again, haven’t you. No.
I know you have. Your usually talkative. A lots been happening.
Seeing ghosts again are we?

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