Drew-Townsend

Short Story: The Outer Edge of Light, by Drew Townsend

pickupThe sun was still high.

Two men sat in the only two seats within the old pick-up that trundled its way down the slow lane. The wings of the vehicle wobbled with the undulations of the road and the canvas tilt that covered the back, where a lurcher slept patiently, moved with the flow of air that streamed up from the cab and down the other side.

‘Better pull in at the stop ahead for petrol,’ said the man driving, he had a thick brummie accent.

‘Right,’ said the passenger, whose accent was northern but not brummie.

‘We need anything that you know of,’ said the driver.

‘Don’t think so. Did you bring anything to drink?’

‘Bevvy?’

‘Yeah.’

‘There’s a box of brown in the back, and a bottle of whiskey.’

‘Be enough.’

‘Should think so.’

As they pulled up to pumps, the pick-up drew many stares. The Brummie got out and started to fill up, not bothering with the free plastic gloves in the dispenser nearby, like others did as they filled their family sized saloons and German coupes.

The passenger got out of the other side. He was a lot smaller than the Brummie, fatter too. The Brummie had a lean look about him, like a farmhand, but the other looked rough and broken, unshaved and clad in old joggers and a greasy pullover.

‘I’m going for a piss,’ said the passenger. The Brummie nodded back.

The pick-up drank very little and soon the Brummie was inside and paying for the petrol. He went back out but the passenger still hadn’t returned. He got in and turned on the engine and rode over to wait at the stop on the other side of the station lot. He then got out and went to the back of the truck and lifted the main flap on the canvas tilt.

The lurcher lifted its head. The Brummie made a few clicking noises with his tongue and the lurcher dipped its head in recognition. The Brummie very lightly tapped the nose of the dog and the dog pushed back a little against the back of his fingers.

‘Good boy, be there soon,’ and he rolled the canvas back down and secured it in place.

The passenger was returning.

‘What yer park over here for?’ asked the passenger.

‘Others was wanting petrol,’ said the Brummie.

‘Blow them, I had to walk further.’

‘Do you good, what took you so long, thought you was just pissing?’

‘Had to take them pills, couldn’t get the bleedin top off.’

‘Right, you good to get goin again?’

‘Yeah, yeah. What time we be getting there for?’ asked the passenger as they both got back into the truck and pulled the doors closed with a couple of thuds.

‘Probably about half four, we’ll have to park up a little way from the field, wait for the sun to go all the way down.’ The Brummie pulled the choke and started the motor and pulled away.

‘And you sure you checked it all out?’

‘Yeah, there’s good track and there aint any houses about.’

‘Just I don’t like taking my chances in this thing, it’s too old and slow. Dunno why you don’t just get some old Jap thing like all them other boys use.’

‘My dad used this, never let him down.’

 ‘Yeah, yer dad, that was back in the seventies.’

‘We’re both too old to be running from the rozzas, might as well take the charge.’

‘As long I don’t get time, and with my ticker all over the place I’d be in the ground fore long, the stress it would give me.’

‘No worse for you than those girls you pick up down Vauxhall road.’

‘They do me good, free everything up.’

The Brummie winced a little at the thought of the passenger’s carnal activities. He wouldn’t call him a friend. He’d just known him for so long that he felt grafted to him, like old bone to new bone.

 They pulled back onto the main road south.

The passenger said nothing, and it stayed this way for a good half an hour.

 *

country-roadThe sun was low, a dark orange.

They turned off, then off again onto a minor road. A heavy rain had delayed ploughing, and the fields were still covered with rough stubble and the growth of forgotten crops from previous years, now germinating into the open sky above.

Many turns were taken but the Brummie knew the way well. Eventually the green flash resumed its ebb and he pulled the truck onto an old beat pad and switched off the engine.

‘How long we waiting here?’ asked the passenger.

‘Bout a half hour, maybe forty minutes, just to be safe.’

‘Reckon we’ll get any hare?’

‘Na, I aint really thinking about hare, more here for the rabbits, for the freezer.’

‘I’ve eaten hare.’

‘So have I, but the only game with hare is betting and we aint betting.’

‘We could bet.’

‘I aint betting.’

‘Oh, right, yeah, forgot that was yer weakness.’

‘Ain’t my weakness, I just don’t do it no more.’

‘Fair, fair, simmer down.’

The Brummie looked out at the muddy road they were parked beside, he could see the rotten scraps of sugar beet off in the verge, fermenting fluorescent yellow. He looked off over the flat plain and saw a pair of muntjac over in the distance.

‘Muntjac over there.’

‘That would be good for yer supper.’

The Brummie nodded.

‘The old missus used to make a sound like a muntjac when she was sick, a real bark it was. I used to tell her to shut up. Bloody annoying it was,’ said the passenger.

‘That was good of yer.’

‘Don’t be feeling sorry for that bitch.’

The Brummie looked at him and narrowed his eyes a little.

‘You don’t miss her then?’ The Brummie asked.

‘Miss her? Yer joking. Used to give me something to warm up on before a night out. She was so ugly she wouldn’t even say no to me. Bout only time I’ve not had to pay for it.’

The Brummie sniffed hard and looked away.

 ‘The cancer did me a bloomin favour. She were stinking with all that chemo as well, used to make her guff like a mare.’

The Brummie began to lightly bite down on his knuckle.

‘Why’d you stay with her then?’ the Brummie asked.

‘She cooked for me. Didn’t tell the rozza’s when I came in drunk and roughed her up a bit. Took a shag when I wanted it.’

‘Rough her up a bit,’ not really asking, more repeating.

‘Yeah, I mean, having to live with that, it were hard not letting myself soften her a bit, yer know, when she was being a real hag.’

The Brummie coughed and looked out.

‘Fuck me, she ain’t bad,’ said the passenger.

‘What’s that?’

The Brummie started looking out the rear window, he couldn’t believe that someone would be about.

‘Not out there, here.’

The passenger held up his phone and showed the Brummie a picture of a middle aged woman wearing a night dress. She was big breasted and wore a lot of make-up.

‘Who’s that?’

‘Dunno.’

‘What do yer mean yer dunno?’

‘Just on POF.’

‘POF?’

‘Plenty of Fish, like a dating website, but just for shagging. You should get it.’

 ‘I’m alright.’

‘Mind you, it probably wouldn’t work on that thing of yours.’

‘My thing works just fine.’

‘Not yer codger, yer phone.’

The Brummie had an old phone. He’d left it at home.

‘Let’s have a few browns why we wait,’ said the passenger, and he got out and walked to the back of the truck.

‘Yer wan’t one?’ shouted the passenger.

 The Brummie was silent, lost in thought.

 ‘Oi, yer want one?’

‘Na.’

The passenger got back in.

‘Tell yer what, that dog of yours sure as hell don’t like me, she curled her lip up as I grabbed a beer.’

‘He, it’s a dog.’

‘That’s what I said.’

‘No, you said she, he’s a dog.’

‘What you talkin about?’

‘A dog, a male canine, if he were a she I’d call her a bitch, but she ain’t, she’s a he, a dog.’

‘A fucking rat crawled up yer drain pipe or something, calm down. I wasn’t exactly looking at its tackle.’

The Brummie looked back out. Fifteen more minutes and it would be dark enough.

The passenger finished three beers in ten minutes. He then rolled a cigarette and lit it, picking out the tobacco that slipped through, dropping it on the floor of the vehicle.

‘Smoke outside the truck,’ said the Brummie.

‘You aint never cared before.’

‘Well, I care now.’

‘Suit yerself,’ and the passenger got out and walked off to a small line of mildewed hay stacks and relived himself in a haze of steam. The passenger flicked the cigarette away and started walking back to the car.

‘It’s dark enough now, let’s go,’ said the Brummie as the passenger got in.

‘About time.’

The Brummie drove off into the ever hastening night.

*

It was pitch dark.

‘Where the bloody hell are we,’ asked the passenger.

‘Pretty much there.’

The Brummie took a turn and the truck shook with the clods and folds of the field underneath. The Brummie was leaning forward, looking, then he saw what he was looking for. A cluster of blackthorns came into view at the edge of an apple orchard and the field they were in. He drove right up to it and turned left. He stopped, and turned off the lights then the engine.

‘We here?’ asked the passenger.

 The Brummie nodded.

‘We here?’ asked the passenger a little louder.

‘Yes, keep yer voice down.’

They sat in the car a time.

‘I’m gonna get out now,’ whispered the Brummie, ‘you know what to do?’

‘Yeah,’ whispered the passenger back.

The Brummie walked to the back of the pick-up and lifted the canvas tilt. He opened the cage door and pulled the  lurcher by the collar and out  over the tailgate into the mud of the fallow field. He waited and listened for the sound of rabbit feet.  There was a gentle thud over the track that criss-crossed the field to the old black poplars on the other side. Rabbits.

He tapped gently on the tailgate and the field was illuminated in the hot halogen glow of the truck’s full beam. He stuck his head round the side of the truck and saw the rabbit eyes green and small and still in the light. The lurcher pulled, smelling the game. He let go and with a fury the dog tore round and into the field and the spread of light. The green eyes stayed still until the lurcher’s silent blow extinguished them.

It didn’t take the lurcher long to clear the lit fallow. Eighteen rabbits lay dead. Their spines broken between the shoulders. The Brummie put the dog back in the truck and the dog licked its paws in satisfaction.

The Brummie walked out with an old potato sack to collect the rabbits. The lights were still on, and off in the distance, on the outer edge of light, the Brummie caught sight of  the golden scowl of a hare. He stopped. The hare’s eyes burned a little in the un-dipped beam, then slowly they retreated back into the night. Not a sound was heard on the track through the fallow, but down in the poplars on the other side the hare loped into a sodden mire of reeds where it sniffed the air with a twitch of the nose. The Brummie stood for a little while. He lifted his hand and the passenger turned the lights to dipped. He lifted his hand again and the lights went off. He looked off into the darkness. The air felt warm for the time of year. He stayed still and listened. The stench of rotten beet from the field over was strong. He waited a little longer. He wasn’t thinking about the hare. He was thinking about the passenger. He needed the darkness to think.

He whistled,  and the lights came on. He whistled again and the they were un-dipped. He stooped and picked up a rabbit, and dropped the limp game into the canvas sack.

He put the bag of rabbits in the back near the dog, but the dog was obedient enough not to worry about this sack of fresh meat. He walked to the cab and got in. He quickly turned the lights out.

‘Don’t leave them on like that.’

‘Thought you weren’t bothered about the rozzas.’

He looked off into the field.

‘Be a minute,’ he got out and went to the back and opened the tailgate, rummaged around and came back to the cab.

‘I left some out there.’

‘What, how many?’

‘Only a couple.’

‘Well go back and get them.’

‘You go get em. There your ones anyway. I aint splittin the load with you unless you do. You’ve done nothing the whole time. I could have done this on my tod and been far happier and all.’

‘Yer know, you can be a real git when you want to. Where are they?’ asked the passenger as he started to get out the truck.

‘Over to the left of where the full beam lands,’ said the Brummie, switching the lights back on and clicking the main beam switch down near the clutch.

The passenger looked over at him a little unsure, then stumbled off, out into the light.

The Brummie looked at him, the way he walked, dragging his right foot a little. He looked behind then back out again. The passenger was now looking all round, tripping occasionally on the odd clod of earth. Then the Brummie turned off the lights.

There was no sound.

He started the engine.

A faint cry.

He whacked into reverse and drove back and hard to the right, then slipped it quickly into first and pulled away harder than he liked to in the truck. He was pretty much blind, driving off sense, but he waited a little before putting the lights on. Up ahead was the field entrance, he slowed down as he got there and without looking took the right onto the road and sped up again. He didn’t look back once.

He was on the motorway when he noticed the rattle in the footwell. He picked up the culprit, a small bottle of pills, and read the label: take every four hours. He pulled into a services a mile down, and parked in the dark end of the car park. He sat for a little while. He looked back down at the bottle of pills and read again the instructions typed on the label. He looked out at the orange light of the car park, then started the engine and drove off, back into the night.

 

***

Drew Townsend is an English teacher living and working in the Fens of East Anglia. He has previously been published in the literary nature journal The Curlew, and is an alumni of The University of Edinburgh’s Creative Writing MSc.  His greatest inspiration is the English countryside and the myriads of people and beings that inhabit it. 


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