Abattoir Terrace was steep. As usual, Landon Shaw felt he was stepping off the end of the world as he left number twenty nine a few paces behind his father.
It was a bitter November night; a day’s sullen drizzle had already begun to freeze on the pavement. November was an awful month, little wonder it’s only real celebration was someone burning on a fire.
“ Dad,” Landon tacked sideways to avoid a mini glacier issuing from a frozen downspout, “ will the meeting last long? I mean, with Saffron expecting, well, you know, women... she gets sort of lonely.”
Jellicoe Shaw, five foot four of true northern grit, ploughed on into the wind . Landon thought he heard a reply, before the wind whipped it away over the rooftops.
“...just the last half hour lad...don’t worry...yer mother’s bought a fresh bottle of sherry for tonight...they’ll be fine...”
Landon struggled to keep up, worrying. He knew Saffron was most particular about what she ate and drank, with her being six months gone, but he also knew his mother could be very persuasive. Time would tell.
Their rapid descent eased as the canal bridge appeared. Jellicoe paused, scanning the approaches intently. Away to the left, darkness boiled round the circlip factory.
“ Trouble Dad?”
Landon felt very alone beneath the sodium lamp’s baleful glare. Something scratched in the bushes.
“ Could be son.”
Jellicoe beckoned Landon forward.
“ Th’ole ecosystem’s knackered. Remember how the rats deserted their natural habitat, the canal bank, and moved off into town; richer pickings and far less competition.”
This time the bushes moved.
“ Don’t tell me another pest’s moved in.”
Jellicoe edged forward.
“ It’s worse than that son. They’re back. With all the Council spending cutbacks, the town got so disgusting the rats couldn’t stand it. Now they’re home and hungry as hell. Now.”
It was some time before the Consul realised he was no longer in the Farolito, time which had stretched and shrunk like wet leather drying on a horse's girth, the horse so dramatically freed by himself in some time ago, mescal time in all probability yet beyond doubt some other time. A dead dog lay still beside him, quite sure of it's future on this propitious slow ledge some way below the barranca's rim and despite the mescal's glib assertions, on it's very own remarkable day, a day yet being celebrated with torch and candle, Death had overlooked the Consul.
Of course there was pain: not the excited anticipating pain of Yvonne's departure, a pain exquisite enough to cultivate sparingly, to set aside as a reserve against enjoyment, like the bottle of tequila cached deep inside the bougainvillea's labyrinthine roots, roots abstractly penetrating Mr Quincey’s bizarrely coiffeured, manicured, set aside and distressingly precise garden, nor the disembodied ephemera of Hugh's presence with it's overtone's of brotherly hate, but a solid pain, the honest life giving pain of a bullet wound. It wasn't serious; for in the Farolito mescal had taken it's toll on marksman and target alike, unsteadying aim like a pricking conscience at the front, a front now returning to Western Europe heavy with the hopes of a world tiring of slaughter, as he himself had tired so quickly, on a boat, some time ago. Vermilion lake advanced darkly across the soiled linen of his clothes from the flesh wound in his side and he lay for a while longer, bleeding gently into this auspicious night.
And as he lay, more time flowed through the barranca, patient and undemanding as above the sky darkened and then became lighter, hurrying scattered diamond stars away to morning and the Consul forced himself erect with an effort that recalled frequent Taskerson episodes, indeed he remembered a similar occasion when one of the boys had got in the way of some pellets at a duck shoot, and how there had been no time for the indulgence of pain, only the dismissive bravery of manliness.
' I will,' the Consul spoke firmly in the direction of the Pleiades, ' no, I must find Hugh.’
Catherine Lebrun felt pain before she heard distant voices, whispering, echoing somewhere behind her in the room. Movement was impossible; arm and leg restraints cut deep into her flesh, a broad leather strap held her head down. That alone would have been enough, but she knew the butterfly valve leaching pethidine into her veins had already robbed her of the ability to move.
At the foot of the bed, an Arab boy swam into view through the mist blurring her vision. He smiled, fastidiously picking his teeth with a cocktail stick. Seconds later, deep, sickening pain arced Catherine’s body as he drove the stick under her big toenail. Another smile, and he repeated the punishment on her other foot.
Despite the pethidine, Catherine tried to scream, failed. As the pain rose again, she lost control of her bladder, biting back bitter tears.
A second, olive skinned, face joined the Arab.
“ Catherine...don’t cry so. Youssuf will leave us now.”
The boy vanished, the pain remained.
“ Fat Man popped today Catherine. You know what that means don’t you? Oh so bright...oh so pretty...oh so many dead. And all your fault Catherine. Do tell us what we need to know, and the killing stops.
Dolores sloped into the deck chair under the pavilion’s awning and welcomed the sun. She lay, slim frame sickle curved, gently but firmly held by the chair’s rough blue and white stripes.
Already a flaw marred her pleasure. Beneath the chair’s left runner a fissure ran through the concrete slab supporting the pavilion. Started perhaps by shoddy construction, or, Dolores thought briefly, the beginning of a global subsidence that would end in total collapse. Despite her efforts to remain inert, the chair rocked infuriatingly over the telltale crack. To the ants, busy in it’s dark and inviting recesses, it offered opportunity; security in a hostile world.
Dolores stretched, feeling her skin reach greedily for the sun, absorbing it, consuming ray after ray; longing for more. As the arid soil around the edge of the lawn longed for rain, fresh and invigorating, the life-giver. Rain that would flood the ants’ nest, frenzied beneath the fissure, eroding still further the pavilion’s vanishing foundations. A hard rain.
Across the tangled rooftops, overlooked from the pavilion in Dolores’ garden, grey and richly flecked with lichen, unsteady in the heat, a church clock struck twice. Echoes harried amongst the chimney stacks; it was two o’clock and Time vanished with the last notes of the chime; she’d half an hour, the family was due at two thirty. A slight movement of the deck chair caused it to rock over the crack. Ants, in twos and threes at first, but then in greater numbers, emerged in turmoil carrying impossibly large flecks of soil, monoliths of gravel. Dolores abandoned herself to the sun, but before closing her eyes, she stared at the lawn, which lay, green and puzzling in front of the pavilion.