Talkswindon Archive - 2005 to 2010

Coffee Talk & What's On => Writers Group => Topic started by: Tobes on January 06, 2009, 10:40:59 pm

Title: Peanuts
Post by: Tobes on January 06, 2009, 10:40:59 pm
A little something to get us started (and so I can claim in true 4chan styleee - 'FIRST!') - something wot I wrote in an idle moment after a night wondering about what middle aged barmen did before they became middle aged barmen....


The flashing lights of the fruit machine acted like one of those hypnotic dream-machines. Green, orange, red, green, orange, red – accompanied by illuminated promises of impending wealth and fortune.  But instead of having to strap on a pair of stupid stroboscopic LED glasses and put up with the piping whale-music of the hippy health centre in town, Norman could indulge alternate universes here in the Prince of Wales, eyes glazed, fag trailing a drooping two inches of ash onto the bar, weakly cupping a half pint of warm larger. With his 56th birthday in two weeks, he’d now attained the heady career heights of a part-time barman, working with, and for, peanuts. Yep, dreams were the only escape from now on, one element of daily reality that he reluctantly had to acknowledge.

The nicotine and dust encrusted hands of the yellowed clock on the wall slid reluctantly round to 3.15. Only old Fred sat across the bar, engrossed in the crosswords, the moist stub of a pencil dangling from his lips as he absently picked at the elbow of his beige cardigan. Rain pattered the pavement outside, just audible over the feint inanity of the radio floating through from the backroom. God, how he hated the daytime shifts… But he was lucky to have found the job so quickly, given his age and health problems.  Pushing the issue with the landlord wasn’t Norman’s style, seeing how reasonable he’d been excusing him from cellar duty and especially given the cloud under which he’d left his previous job. 35 years with the Post Office. 35 bloody years and a career that he’d well and truly cocked up, resulting in a marriage that had finally petered out into resigned mutual contempt and brittle tolerance. Just daydreams as far as the future was concerned now, which was an irony, given that they had been partly responsible for getting him into this situation. Even now, they still exerted their influence. Norman dogged out the cigarette and allowed a hand to steal under the bar and into the carrier bag. The dry touch of envelopes sent a thrill of excitement up his slumped spine. Across the bar, Fred coughed, and with a furtive glance over to the oblivious Norman, deposited a gobbet of phlegm onto the linoleum.

Carrying a regulation 11-kilo postbag on your shoulder isn’t easy, especially when you’ve been nursing a slipped disk for the last five years. The doctor had written a very kind and understanding letter on his behalf. He also pointed out that Norman had developed a number of debilitating allergies and breathing problems over recent months and was undergoing a series of tests to determine the best course of treatment. These ailments were an additional burden, making his round even more difficult to complete on time – even though the postmaster had long since organised a local route. At least the extenuating circumstances had had been taken into account during the disciplinary hearing and the resulting limited sympathy had probably been the thing that had stopped the enquiry board from referring matters on to the police. The issue of missing or undelivered post was a serious one, as he’d been told over the whole of his 35-year career: The greatest sin a postman could commit. Norman had tearfully confessed that he’d been hiding undelivered post and returned three bags worth which been accumulating in his shed over the last couple of months. It was agreed by all that it would be best for all for him to accept the pay in lieu and quietly depart. As things transpired and given that they only knew the half of it, he counted himself lucky. Even the union guy didn’t have much else to say.

Fred belched, stretched and leaned forward on his barstool. “One last pint of Skinner’s, if you please…” Norman pulled his eyes into focus and his elbows from the bar. “Coming up Fred…”. The pale brown ale pulsed and gurgled its way into the mug.
 â€œCare to join me for one Norm?” He shook his head,
“Thanks, but I’m having trouble enough staying awake mate – this place is too dull for words on a Wednesday. Once you’ve left for the bookies, it’ll just be me for the rest of the afternoon, unless one of the local little shits comes in to try his luck with the fag machine.”
Fred gesticulated across the bar with a yellow-toothed leer, “Well, join me for a packet of dry-roasted then, I’ve been waiting to see that beauty’s jubblies for the last six weeks! If I eat too many more bloody nuts, I’ll be crapping Marathon bars!”
“They’re called Snickers now,” Norman wearily corrected, as he slumped over and pulled two packets of peanuts from the cardboard dispenser, revealing the bulging bikini top of the airbrushed model printed beneath.
“He he he! Well, whatever, she can smuggle my peanuts anytime!” gloated Fred, handing over the coins but keeping his eyes welded to the thin triangles of material and their convex contents. Norman casually tossed his packet onto the bar top and allowed his eyes to relax into another glazed stare, as what passed for conversation in Fred’s world shifted from mammary glands onto horseflesh and the inconsequential but inevitable blather about some nag he’d had a tip on for the afternoon’s race.

The trouble is with bad habits, Norman soon realised, is should you get away with them the once, they remain as an ever more attractive bait for future temptation. The first few letters were just some in the bottom of his postbag he’d overlooked. No problem, he’d fit them in the next day…Trouble was, the next day his back had been playing up and those letters had been simply traded for a few more from the next delivery. Most of the other lads on the shifts who were on the temporary contracts would have just dumped them back into the sorting department and let them become someone else’s problem. But Norman had something they lacked – ironically, given that he was breaking the cardinal rule: He had a sense of professional pride. He always promised himself that he’d make up the time but could never quite beat the backlog. As a consequence, the garden shed back at home had become a ‘temporary’ storage facility as he tried to catch up. When he realised that wasn’t going to meet the ever-increasing flow of left over post, he moved on a stage. He knew that more than half the letters were just crap – the inevitable junk mail, the circulars and assorted rubbish. They’d never be missed. The brazier at the bottom of the garden started to see increased activity. As a precaution, he told Dianne that he was having a tidy up of some old paperwork and packaging. Their otherwise complete lack of interest in each other’s affairs kept his guilty secret intact for the time being. However, it was a chance conversation with Mrs O’Shea on his early round that caused the next escalation. Had he seen her book club renewal letter, she asked as she was collecting her milk from the doorstep. She’d been expecting it for over a week now. Norman guiltily thought of the thick layer of ash in the brazier, concluding that a more complicated level of intervention was going to be needed. And that’s when the trouble really began.

Other people’s lives are interesting. That was especially true for someone whose marriage held as little mutual affection as his. Even more so, as Norman hadn’t any other interests or hobbies and few friends. Gradually, his evenings ‘pottering about’ in the garden shed took on a new dimension. The first few envelopes he opened with a guilty frisson, the self-awareness of the Peeping Tom, but once the taboo had been broken, Norman ever increasingly poured himself into a life of vicarious pleasure and imaginative daydreaming. Some letters were banal or unimportant and these were placed in a pile for the brazier. Others were of day-to-day importance, gas bills and the everyday minutiae of people’s lives. If dates and deadlines for response didn’t appear to be pressing, these were placed in Norman’s ‘2nd class’ pile, to be delivered on any shift in which he expected a fairly low workload. The final pile - and the envelopes that diverted his main attention and concern - were those concerning all manner of priority issues. They ranged from the Court summons and County Judgements, through to biopsy results and the final appeals of heartbroken lovers. A panoply of plots and stories for his imagination to play dot-to-dot with, spread before him each evening. The letters were devoured with an ever more voracious appetite and Norman perfected his skills with damp sponge, kettle steam and paperknife, teasing open, reading and resealing the intimate details of the private lives of both strangers and neighbours. These letters, his ‘first class’ went to the top of his pile.

On deliveries, Norman had always tried to maintain a complete air of professional nonchalance and to conceal the advance knowledge of the likely effect of the letters he was posting. Instead, he imagined the tears, the fights, the whoops of joys – so many reactions all taking place in otherwise secret behind the familiar doors and letterboxes he’d touched for 35 years.

Occasionally he’d happen across someone who he’d delivered a letter of great import to whilst on his rounds. Despite keeping a poker face for the most part, Norman liked to think that in his own small way, the occasional bit of banter, the broad smile or look of sympathy might go some small way to helping these people on their way for the day. Maybe he could be a small positive influence, but he knew that he couldn’t be any more obviously involved for fear of exposing his secret. And so things continued for months…That was, until someone back at the sorting office noticed some discrepancies between the frank dates and deliveries during a random performance assessment. The Post Office Special Investigations Unit was called in – and it soon became apparent that an unusual percentage of pre-paid commercial mail wasn’t getting to its destination either. A few simple checks and Norman’s round was identified. 
Fred tossed back the mug with a final gulp, followed by the usual loud belch. “Righto, I’m off down the bookies. See yer.” And with that, trailing a feint odour of mildew and stale tobacco, he had struggled into his decrepit McIntosh and was off through the door. The hands of the clock had struggled round as far as 4.00. ‘Oh dear God,’ Norman sighed to himself, ‘three hours of this to go.’ He wearily washed, polished and replaced the pint mug on its hook. Thank heavens there was something else to keep him awake for the rest of the shift. And indeed, there they lay under the bar, hoarded like a secret trove to be slowly eked out, the last of the letters.

He hadn’t meant to mislead anyone – he’d simply forgotten until after the investigation that his postbag still contained a number of his ‘first class’ deliveries. In fact, it was getting on for three weeks after his departure before he realised. The question of course, was what to do next. Shame, and what left of his tattered pride prevented him from returning these last remnants back to the sorting office and from having to endure the pitying looks of his ex-colleagues. Besides, he’d already assured management that he’d handed everything back. No, instead, he continued his old habits – but slowly, reading each letter in turn and luxuriating over the detail. He’d either then return it to sender marked ‘undelivered’, or if something of apparent great importance, he’d slip out after dark and post by hand, marking the envelopes with spurious notes such as ‘delivered by accident to number 11’. As long as he kept the numbers low, he knew the chances of the post office finding out, being able to prove his involvement or then even bothering to do anything, were small.

The boiling kettle sent little swirls of steam up amongst the grime encrusted Toby Jugs hanging over the bar. Their chubby pale faces peered through the mist like the clients of some weird inverted sauna. Norman poured himself a glass of lemonade. Extending his hand into the carrier bag, he caressed and wormed his fingers between the envelopes before sliding one forth and bringing it up onto the bar top.  Brown envelope. Typed address. Unlikely to be commercial mail – but not a personal letter either. He suspended the back of the envelope over the steam and counted a slow ‘five’. Anymore, and the steam might penetrate to paper and cause inks to run, any less and he might not weaken the glue sufficiently to avoid tearing. Many painstaking hours of trial and error had perfected his technique.

He placed the envelope onto a clean bar mat to allow it to cool for a couple of seconds and as he did so he caught sight of the packet of peanuts he’d chucked along the bar earlier. Mind excitedly tripping over the possibilities of what lay within the envelope, he impulsively opened the packet and grabbed a handful. ‘Blimey’, he thought, ‘I don’t suppose I’ve eaten peanuts since I was a kid.’ He rolled them around his mouth, savouring the salty flavour and returned his attention to the letter.

The flap popped open easily and cleanly, revealing a single sheet of folded A4 within, typewritten. He flipped the envelope back over to the read the address and suddenly found himself stopped short. ‘Mr N Patrick…. 44 Holman Hill’. Good God – it was addressed to him! He munched contentedly on the peanuts. Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later; in fact he was amazed that it hadn’t happened before, given that his old round covered his own home. Still, given the emptiness of his life, the lack of regular post was hardly surprising. At least this was one recipient for whom delivery would be easy. He unfolded the letter and spread it before him.

Dear Mr Patrick, began the letter which, he noticed idly as he reached for some more nuts, was typed in an ancient courier font.

I’m pleased to inform you of the results of your recent tests.  If you have any further questions, please feel free to address them at your next appointment, which I urge you to book at the earliest opportunity.

Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Norman tugged at his shirt collar and wheezed.

I would like to draw your attention to the top of the table of results outlined below which indicate several areas of immediate concern. In particular, it would seem that you have a strong and possibly highly dangerous allergy to a specific foodstuff. Please avoid ALL consumption of ANY foodstuffs that include Arachis hypogaea , the groundnut or common peanut.

Eyes wide in panic, he coughed and the cough turned in a choking, spluttering fight for breath. He pitched forwards, half off the barstool, knocking over  the kettle and smacking his chin on the top of the bar. He convulsed a couple of times and then relaxed amidst the steam which bollowed up from the spilled water. A thin bead of blood trickled from the side of his mouth as his eyes glazed into a distant, vacant stare.

Across the room, the lights of the fruit machine flashed;

green, orange, red, green, orange, red.

Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Krippers on January 19, 2009, 04:43:38 pm
Excellent start to the board Tobes. I think the quality of such works can be reflected in the possibilities of painting the images they create. There's certainly a few in this. Well done.

As an input I do feel that you could emphasise the process of the dismissal a bit more, the mechanisms and failings that exist in such systems are so cold and de-humanising that it may have lent a greater significance to the existence of the final few letters.
Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Tobes on January 19, 2009, 04:53:14 pm

Cheers chap...!

Good thinking re the dissmissal - I shall work on a new draft...
Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Geoff Reid on January 19, 2009, 08:12:32 pm
Enjoyed that, a lot...produced a belly laugh from me at the end.

Dittos Krippers comments re: mental images.

I loved the irony of Norman being the architect of his own demise  :)
Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Alex on January 21, 2009, 07:49:44 pm
Loved it!
I was convinced that it must be autobiographical for the first half, it painted such a detailed picture ( and not having met you! ) I was riveted,  visualising the interior of the Beehive, finding it evocative of those empty days between school and full time work years ago in a similar establishment.

 I also assumed that I would be able to predict the end - nope! Didn't see that coming....

Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Jules on January 14, 2010, 01:51:09 pm
Wow - great piece! Nice twist. I like the dispassionate lights of the fruit machine making a return appearance at the end. I think it's good that you don't labour the point of the dismissal - makes it more believable that this is from Norman's perspective. Laughed out loud at Fred's 6 month wait to see the peanut model's boobs!! Really good writing - and very evocative of place - brought to mind many a pint of guiness consumed in the POW.
Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Geoff Reid on January 14, 2010, 01:52:54 pm
Laughed out loud at Fred's 6 month wait to see the peanut model's boobs!!

Aw, c'mon, we've all done it!  :emb:
Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Jules on January 14, 2010, 01:55:57 pm
Well it's a new one on me - I guess if the peanut models were male I'd concur!  :D
Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Tobes on January 14, 2010, 02:36:46 pm
He he! Thanks for the kind comments Jules... must dust of my pen/keyboard and have another crack at some further work (and come on the rest of you! Lots of us are interested in some creative writing - seems we just need to break the inertia of posting some stuff up! ;-) )
Title: Re: Peanuts
Post by: Geoff Reid on January 14, 2010, 03:17:40 pm
come on the rest of you! Lots of us are interested in some creative writing - seems we just need to break the inertia of posting some stuff up! ;-) )

I have half a dozen bits in various stages, I think my muse is suffering constipation, which is odd 'cos I'm not usually stuck for something to say...  :-X  :)
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