Carbon

The exhaust on the Land Rover is gone, forget about it, it’s Chinatown. The thing was noisy before but now it’s noisier. Worse than the noise is that the cab fills up with thick black smoke. Especially when I’m reversing. I’m pretty sure it’s dangerous even with the window and vents fully open.

Yesterday I had flashing zig-zags around my peripheral vision. I was scared, actually proper scared and had to go and walk around until my vision returned, which it did, but for the rest of the day I had a stiff neck. On the plus side I’m thinking if I poison myself with cigarettes and car exhaust then, when I stop smoking and fix the exhaust, I’ll get so much clean oxygen into my lungs that my body won’t know what to do with it! It’ll be like I’ve spent seven years at altitude. I’m not saying I’ll win next year’s London Marathon but I might be worth an outside bet. Or I might die.

Still not sure my brain is A1 today. At work this morning some idiot was having a big barbecue. He wasn’t having it at the shop, of course! He was buying supplies for his barbecue at the shop, but the problem was he wanted somebody to carry the charcoal to his car. He was old but not that old and looked capable of carrying the charcoal himself, had he put his mind to it.

“Can I get some charcoal?” He asked me like I was going to say, ‘oh no, oh Jesus Christ no, the charcoal we have on display out there? Outside our shop? With prices actually on it? No, that mustn’t be sold! Ever!’

“Go for it,” I told him.

“Can somebody give me hand?”

I thought about applauding. “Marcel should be out there.” I got up on my tip toes and pretended to look for Marcel, really I was just demonstrating to the guy where he should go and look for Marcel. Marcel wasn’t there but if the man went outside he’d realise he may as well get the charcoal himself, hopefully.

“Marcel?” The man asked.

“Little guy, used to own a circus until his elephant died.”

“Out here?”

“Should be.”

I knew Marcel hadn’t arrived yet but Marcel could’ve turned up at any moment. That’s when he usually turns up, at any moment. The man went to look for Marcel and of course failed to find him and came back to me. Lazy twat.

“There’s no-one there,” he said.

I sighed. “Okay, I’ll do it then, shall I?”

“Erm…”

“Fine!” I said and followed the man out. He wanted four 20kg bags of charcoal. “You don’t have kids or something? Who could do this for you?” I asked with full-on seriousness but the man only chuckled.

“Thanks,” he said after I’d put the first bag in his boot. I’d carried it with my arms locked at 90degrees so the bag didn’t touch my clothes. I was a bit like The World’s Strongest Man. I rolled my eyes.

When I got the second bag the man told me the barbecue was in aid of cancer or in cancer of AIDS. One of the two. I didn’t care and nodded. When I got the third bag he chuckled and said, “it will probably rain now.” I laughed madly at his oh so funny observation. He didn’t say anything when I put the last bag in his boot. He paid and then I washed my hands and cursed Marcel who at that moment turned up.

“The fuck have you been?” I demanded.

“I overslept,” He said shaking his head.

“It’s been non-stop out there, you can’t keep doing this,” I told him. Now, I’m not really Marcel’s boss but I’m better than Marcel. He apologised to me. Sucker! “You gotta sort yourself out.” I told him.

Marcel looked suitably abashed. “I know, I know,” he said.

“Yeah right,” I looked at Marcel. He wasn’t very tall. “Just pull your socks up and your finger out.”

“I will,” he replied. He was really was apologetic. To me! Like I really was the boss. It felt good.

“Just do your best.”

“I have to find somewhere to live,” he said. “Today.”

“How come.”

“Evicted.”

“Oh shit.” This was by far the longest conversation I’ve ever been involved in with him. I wondered why I didn’t speak to him more, he was pretty cool, particularly the way he treated me as his better.

“Yeah, we really have to find somewhere new right away, like, today.” We? Did he have a significant other? Couldn’t see it. Still.

“Just, tidy this up,” I said gesturing to the coal and charcoal and disposable barbecues that I’d messed up getting that guy’s charcoal, “then we’ll go through the paper. Inside.”

I went in smiling and a few minutes later, wiping his hands on a cloth, Marcel joined me.

First I checked the sports pages, nonchalantly, to see if there were any running race results in it with my name like I was famous but there weren’t so we found the property pages.

“St Ouen, yeah?” I said scanning the ads. The shop was in St Ouen. We were in St Ouen. I live in St Brelade but that’s right next to St Ouen.

“Oh no, Gorey probably.” He said twisting his head to look at the paper.

“Gorey?”

“Yeah, that side of the island.”

“That’s… that’s as far from here as you can get, you want to move closer to work, no? Seeing as you’re always late already?”

“That’s why I want to move far away.”

“What? That doesn’t…”

“What do you mean?” He asked. I stared at him. He wasn’t smiling, he was staring at me.

“You’re going to move a long way away so you can get to work on time? I mean… is that what you’re saying?”

“Well, yeah.”

I felt okay. No headache yet, my neck had loosened up but something was up.

“That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.” I told him. I shouted Paula to tell her so that it would double Marcel’s embarrassment. I explained to her – stressing words here and there – that Marcel was moving further away so he could get to work on time. She said it was a good idea and the zig-zags reappeared around my field of vision, only faintly. I leant on the counter staring at the paper. I had to keep talking so I wouldn’t die because you can’t die when you’re talking. “Look there, St Ouen,” I said pointing unsteadily to an advert that had ‘St Ouen’ written on it, didn’t read the rest of it and it could have been for a big house or a garage for rent.

“It’s too close,” he said and I was thinking I’ve had enough of this. “Look, if I only live two minutes away from work and I’m late I can’t make up the time on the journey, can I? But if I live an hour away I could make up loads of time.”

I thought about this. The paper had turned into a black and white kaleidoscope no matter how hard I blinked. I don’t know how long I stared. I heard myself say, “eh?” and when the paper eventually swam back into focus Marcel was outside.

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