End Of The Summer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A story of the everyday struggle between a group of workers and their managers.

Submitted: July 03, 2017

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Submitted: July 03, 2017

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END  OF  THE  SUMMER.

Monday Morning

Today felt damp and cold, with a bright sky. You could see your breath. It was very still, the lawns were loaded with dew. You could smell the cool fresh soil. There were six of us planting tulips this Monday morning; me, James, Mrs Fry, Jean, Graham and Bob. We were all in our mid-twenties, except Mrs Fry, who was sixty. She and Jean brought out a barrow, loaded with packs of bulbs – we had thousands to plant, this time of year. They went round, leaving a dozen packs by each bed. “Oi, give us a hand, Neal. Stop daydreaming!” said Jean to me. “Oh, alright”, I shrugged. Me and James tore some packets open, then James started laying out the bulbs. He was tall, with dark curly hair. We all knelt at the edge of a freshly dug bed, with our planting trowels. Everyone liked this job. We raced each other, counting as we went. Yes it was cold, but we just got on with it. How long could you keep going, without looking up? Afterwards, you’d argue about who’d won, but there would still be a long way to go. You got a bit warm in the chilly air. We forged ahead, watching each bulb vanish in the soft soil.  Who’d stop first? Don’t look up till you reach the end of the bed. Feel the blood going to your face…forget what’s going on around you. We were quite engrossed, then I sensed someone looming over us. “No, it’s alright, don’t stop what you’re doing. Maybe I could give you a hand, I’ve got a few minutes”. It was the foreman, Gerald. James stood up. “No, we don’t need any help”.  “Oh. Have it your own way”. We all stopped and got up, feeling very warm. “For God’s sake, go and help someone else!”, said James. “Well I won’t bother then. Get as much done as you can. Come and see me later, James, I’ll be about”. As soon as he’d gone, James rounded on us: “He’ll pay for that! Eh Neal?”

 “I hope so”, I said. That made Graham angry. “You’ve gone and upset Gerald. Now he’ll have a go at us!” But James spread his hands. “I hate him too. He knows exactly what he’s doing”. Bob burst out, “don’t worry, ‘e can’t sack you, ‘e just finks ‘imself important”. James glared at him. “Leave me alone”. He walked until he couldn’t hear them any more. He went and sat alone in the shed. In the stillness, he could hear the leaves falling. That was a thankless task, clearing those up. At least the ground was dampish, so that stuck them down a bit. He took a besom broom and swept them up into a heap. Soon a length of path was clear, and he raked the grass to either side. How big a heap could he make? Just when he’d made progress, the visitors always came along and got in the way. You had to smile and be patient. It’d be alright for them, they could go home whenever they liked. Oh well. No-one would notice his hard work anyway. Cheer up. It must be lunchtime soon. James set-to with a will. There – that was the main area cleared, till more fell of course. He tackled the smaller paths, not looking up, nor back to see where he’d swept. “Hey! Watch what you’re doing!”  Gerald barred his way. “I thought I told you to see me later!” But James shrugged. “I had a row with the others”. Gerald calmed down slightly. “I’m on my way to the office. You come with me”. When they got there, David was outside. He and Gerald went in and the door shut firmly. James had to wait outside. He could hear them shouting. “I’ve had enough. This is just about it!”  “This is the last time!” “Will you tell him or will I?” Then the door opened and David came out: “You’re in serious trouble. Alright? Don’t say a word. Off you go!”  In the canteen at lunchtime, the others crowded round him. “What happened?” “What did they do?” James hung his head. “It looks like my final warning”. He turned and walked away. None of us tried to stop him. “What’s the point?”, he thought. He went and stood on his own at the bus stop. “I’m leaving this place anyway”, he told himself. He just wanted to get as far away as possible and not come back. “Why does Gerald keep trying to drive us away? I thought I’d be happy here. How can I, when the management keep having a go at me?”, he worried. “There must be a better job somewhere, where they don’t bother you all the time”. James stared across the road at the gardens, and the soft grey sky. He didn’t want to be leaving! Finally a bus appeared in the distance. It came nearer, and he heard footsteps running down the pavement. “No. Just a moment”, said Mrs Fry, “I’m not letting you get on this bus till you tell me why you intend to leave”. He didn’t want to talk to her. But she insisted. “Look. You know and I know, that you bring out the worst in the managers”. That was a bit harsh, he felt. “You’ve made up your mind that they’ve got it in for you. Admit it”. James had no answer. He let the bus go. “Yeah. You’re right”, he said, deflated. “Then will you speak to me and tell me all about it”. He stared. She’d never lost her temper with him like that before. “You wouldn’t like to be me. Gerald uses Neal to get at me. He knows we’re good mates. I actually like working here, but David and Gerald – especially Gerald – ruin it for me. They make something out of nothing. And Gerald’s a bit two-faced!” Good. She was shocked. Now it was her turn to be speechless. Bob and me, Jean and Graham were surprised when James and Mrs Fry came in the canteen at the end of lunch. At first, nobody said anything. But I had had enough. I took him to one side and demanded to know exactly what had gone on. All I could get from him was that he couldn’t face the canteen today, so he’d eaten outdoors, alone. In reality, Mrs Fry had shared her packed lunch with him, to show that she was a friend. That afternoon, the weather was disappointing. A mid grey sky and a chilly breeze. Bob and I were keen to make a start, but not Graham: “It’s going to rain any time, look at it”. It was mid-October. All of us had on light summer clothes and wore our hair short. We looked across the wide lawn…there did seem to be spots of rain in the wind. I had cropped hair, I always joked, “I’m the first to know it’s raining”. Graham, taller, poplin shirt and jeans, lean face and dark ‘man bun’. Bob was quite tall, stocky, wavy brown hair. James was medium-height, curly fair hair. Our work today included digging out the summer borders. “James should be helping us”, I moaned to Graham. “Yeah. I wonder when he’ll come back?” “When he likes!”, I said. “Let’s just get on with this, put in Bob, “never mind about him”. We made progress, digging out the borders, waiting for it to rain. The barrow got full of plants and I went to empty it. I pushed the barrow halfway to the yard, then I stopped by the office, all shaded by trees. I looked into the distance. Nobody there. Presently I went to the yard; I saw Gerald, the foreman, coming towards me. “He’s busy”, I hoped, but he called out to me, “Oi, I’ve been looking for you – all over!” “Alright. What is it?” “Look Neal. About James. What’s he been up to?” I stood my ground: “Well?” He looked at me severely. “Last Thursday, when it was wet, he went home after dinner…and didn’t come back!” I shrugged. Not my business. “Oh come on. You know all about it don’t you. I know what you’re like. You’ve covered for him. He thinks he’s got away with it”. “Think what you like!” I walked off, leaving the barrow there. Went and hid myself under the yew trees. Don’t know where Gerald went. Found myself something to do, picking up the grass mowings. Still no-one about. The day ended and I didn’t see him again. On the way home, I calmed down. If he upsets me, it’s not important. Some people can’t help being like that.

 

Tuesday.

 

Next day I was in a hurry. My friend Bob caught me on the way in. “Hi Neal. What’s up?” “Don’t say a word. James is in trouble. He went home early, I’m sure he had a reason. But Gerald’s found out. “Oh I see”. Then we went to join Graham on the lawn. We had turfing today. The new turf had been piled up under a yew tree. I started raking the soil, Bob came and picked out the stones for me. Graham and I fetched some turf strips, and Bob made them fit snug. With luck, we could do most of it by midday. “Excuse me, I knew I’d find you here”. Oh, no. Gerald again. Leave us alone. “Neal. I think we got our wires crossed yesterday. I’m to blame. Sorry about that OK? I’ll leave you to it then”. Gerald whistled to himself as he walked away. We stood and watched him into the distance. Graham said to me quietly, “don’t let him talk to you like that”. I didn’t answer. We just got on with our work – not looking at each other. Let’s see how much we can get done before lunch. The sun was getting warmer, the air began to get humid. We worked even harder. After some time we looked back to see what we’d done; we’d done well. No more standing back, we pushed ourselves for a long time. Crowds came past, stirring up dust on the gravel. Still we didn’t look up. I just didn’t want to stop. But it was lunchtime. Bob stuck his spade in the lawn. “Dunno why we been workin’ so ‘ard. They don’t fink no more of yer!” I couldn’t put it better myself. We sheltered under the trees awhile, before going in. The others walked into town; I went to the newsagents’ across the road and bought a newspaper and sandwiches and a drink. When I came out, a voice said, “oh, you gain. I can’t get rid of you!” Gerald. He knew I’d be there, and pretended to be surprised. “What now!” I snapped. “I’m warning you. I reckon you saw James go home. You did – didn’t you. Why didn’t you tell me?” I stared at the ground. “And it’s not the first time. I caught him going into town when he should be working. He won’t do that again. I’ll have him in the office so quick his feet won’t touch the ground. And you can watch out too. You’ve tried some tricks in your time, eh! Come and see me in my office after dinner!” Then he took himself off. After a minute I went to lunch. It was cool and quiet in the canteen, doors and windows wide. I could hear only the clock ticking and wind in the trees. It was very light, with skylights. No-one in here. I sat down to take in the stillness. It took me awhile to settle, after that telling-off. I was tired as well, from this morning. I opened the sandwiches and the drink. After lunch I made my way to the office. The sun was warm on my shoulders. It looked spooky by the shaded office….what was I supposed to have done? I knocked at the door. “Come in!” Gerald stood behind his desk. David, the deputy boss, was already there. He stared at me in an unfriendly way. I gazed at them, reluctant to sit down. “There!”, ordered Gerald, pointing to a chair. I did as I was told. “Right! I hate to bring you in here!” said Gerald. I’m sure you do, I thought. “Neal. I’m afraid you’ve been breaking the rules whenever, and wherever, you like. I’ve known you to disappear mid-morning, just when we needed you”. I looked past him, through the window, pretending to be somewhere else. “Tuesday last, wasn’t it? I saw you leave by the far gate and go down by the river. I was in the car. You didn’t see me. You were away for two hours!” God I was scared now. I really thought no-one had noticed. “Yes and I saw you again on your way back. Don’t deny it. Then on another occasion, you even left with James, not a care in the world. I can’t let it go on!” I stared at the floor. “Alright. You can go now”. When I returned to where we worked earlier, they’d gone. Perfect work on the lawn – we could be proud of that – but where did Bob and Graham get to?  I’d better go and find them. I had to search everywhere. In the end I found them in the Rose Garden. It was warm and quiet in there, the high walls had become warm in the sun. “Where d’you think you’ve been?” demanded Graham. I took them aside and told them about Gerald. Graham grabbed me by the arm. “You should’ve said you had permission! Gone to fetch something, I don’t know….Don’t let him do this to you”. “Get off me. They weren’t interested. Just told me what I’d done”. I’d brought it on myself really. I never thought Gerald would bother about it. The day ended and we went home.

 

Wednesday.

 

The next morning, it was cloudier, with a cool breeze. We were back in the Rose Garden – Gerald was impatient with us today. “I want you to fork over the beds, mow and edge the lawn, and go all round, dead-heading. Can you do that? I’ll be back later. Let me know when James turns up”. The roses were blowing about in sun and shade. After he’d gone we were chatting. He’d given us loads to do, but he’d be gone ages. Mrs Fry hurried round, dead-heading, to make it look like we’d been busy. Meanwhile, James was at home. “I’m not going in”, he thought; it did look stormy out there. Better phone in sick. He got through to Gerald’s secretary. “Hello dear. Yes, you just keep in, and keep warm, James, and we’ll see you tomorrow”. Then a voice said, “Gimme that! You just get in here now. No nonsense. Be here in half an hour”. Gerald had got him. It took him ages to get into work. And all because of that man. Did he have to be like that? By the time he got there he’d be too tired to work, and he’d only get another telling-off. “I’ll take it easy today. Serve him right”, he thought as the bus crawled along. When he got there, Mrs Fry saw him: “What’s wrong?” He told her about Gerald. “Oh….He’s like that. Try not to take any notice. I’ll have a word”. “Thanks mum”, he said glumly. At least somebody cared. She smiled and hurried off. James went in the Rose Garden. They were busy, shoulders hunched. It did feel cold now. No-one even looked up. There we are, they don’t even need me, he thought. Then Bob threw his tools on the grass and waved at the sky. He’d just felt some rain. “Come under ‘ere!”, he shouted, and we ran under a tree. At some point, if it got worse, we’d make a dash for it to the canteen. Meantime, Mrs Fry tapped on the office door. “Yes. Make it quick I’m busy”. She came in. “Oh it’s you. Make yourself useful will you. Hand me those letters. Thanks”. At least be nice, she thought.

“I’ve got some more over there. Put them in the drawer”. Mrs Fry glared at him “I’m not your secretary”. He frowned a little. “H’m. Whaddya think about young James?” – he stopped what he was doing – “am I too harsh? With Neal, too?” “You do your best”, she said diplomatically. He didn’t know how to take that. She left then, in case he got upset. A bit later, the rain turned to heavy showers. We raced through to the canteen. All the lights were on, David and Gerald were there. We threw off our coats and stared out at the rain. “Lovely. Just what we like. Let’s all go home”, laughed David. “I think we should”, added Gerald. Bob rolled his eyes. “Trust us to be stuck with them two”. He didn’t mean to bring Gerald over. “Can I join you? I’m sorry, James, if I’ve been tough. Don’t mind, do you?” James looked glum, his arms on the table. “Yeah, he’s ill now”, called out Jean. Mrs Fry shook her head. “Oh. There’s no need for that, love”. The managers pretended not to notice. “Right. We have to go”, announced David, and they ran out. When they returned a little later, the rain had almost stopped. Jean, Graham and Mrs Fry were playing cards. The managers strode round the room. “Now let’s see….what can they do….” murmured David. “We’ll think of something….,” added Gerald. Graham stared at them. “I’m not going out in that!” Gerald clapped his hands. “C’mon. You’re no use to us indoors!” Reluctantly, we all prepared to go out. Rain dripped through the trees, large pools flooded the paths and skimmed the lawns. The tulip beds were full to the edge. “Oh. It’s worse than I thought”, conceded Gerald.

 

Thursday.

 

The next morning it was bright and cold. The wind whipped across the gardens. “Why don’t we have a quick teabreak before we start?”, suggested Mrs Fry. So we crouched behind a low brick wall with our sandwiches and flasks. It was grim and chilly; we didn’t think much of the idea. The beds were soggy from yesterday’s heavy rain. “Who’s coming down the Café, asked Graham. “Might as well”, said Bob. So we all agreed. The gardens were bleak and deserted. The office was quiet as we passed by. In the Café, all the lights were on. There were a few people in, no-one who knew us. We could see the gates to the gardens, across the road – and kept an eye out. No-one came in or out of the gardens while we were there; we knew they wouldn’t. “Perhaps we shouldn’t stay too long”, suggested Mrs Fry. I had eggs on toast and tea, Bob had a milkshake. Graham had several pizzas and chips and sauce. It was not often we could get away with this. We sort of knew when we could. It was worth it. When we came out, the wind was blowing gusty. It didn’t take us long to get back to where we were working. Now everyone felt better. We’d been away a long time – but we’d work faster to catch up .It was right to look after ourselves, why not! Nothing doing in the gardens. “We should do this again, some time”, smiled Mrs Fry, searching in her holdall. Someone came up and tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped. “What did you think you were doing?” Gerald had caught us. “You of all people, Mrs Fry! You ought to set an example. Whose idea was it to spend all morning at the café?” We looked subdued. Gerald stamped about, complaining. “I should really make you work through your lunchtime. As it is, you can go to the canteen now. Don’t let me catch you again”. After that we didn’t even want to be in the canteen. No-one said a word all lunchtime. Soon Gerald was back to send us out again. Graham trudged ahead of us. “Who’s left the barrows out?” he fumed. “Well spotted!” said Jean sarcastically. Mrs Fry came over. “Now then, I’ll go and get them”. The barrows were far away, surrounded by deep puddles. Nobody wanted to help. We all looked on as Mrs Fry dragged them towards us, two at a time. Then she stopped. “Come on, help me. Who do you think I am, Superwoman?” So we took one each and trundled them back to the yard. There was dirty water sloshing about in the bottom. Suddenly Graham shouted, “alright, race yer!”, and took off with his. Bob laughed and ran with his. He caught Graham up, but Mrs Fry tried to stop them. “Ahh….let me go”, yelled Graham as she grabbed his sleeve. He broke free, and the barrows bashed into each other. “Oi, oi, oi”, cried a man as the tyres slithered off. Just for a second we all thought it was Gerald, but no, the man was a stranger. “Is this what you get up to all day?” he asked. We looked ashamed. “No, not all the time”, said Mrs Fry. Bob was aggressive. “Did you want anything mate?” He looked awkward. “Er, I wonder, is this the best way to the office?” Mrs Fry took charge. “I’ll take you”, she said firmly. We all followed along. Nothing happening in the gardens. We trooped down the path, and the man knocked at the door. “Come in!” Gerald brightened as he saw who it was. “Harry! Come on in!”

What was going on ? We all came in, but Gerald took no notice of us. I saw that Mrs Fry looked proud.

“Yes, he’s a good lad,” she said, turning to us all, “Harry’s my son. You didn’t know about my son, did you ?”

None of us knew what to say. Mrs Fry’s a bit of a dark horse, I thought, keeping quiet about her son, when all the while he was friendly with Gerald. Harry glanced at his mum. She’d shown him up in front of us all, typical ! As for us we were gobsmacked. We couldn’t get over seeing Gerald in a good mood. We were taken aback. Mrs Fry was a bit nonplussed.

“Don’t all look at me like that. I was as surprised as you lot. I don’t see him very often.”

Gerald had never mentioned Harry. And they were as close as that. We’d been shut out. What was all that about. Still, I was just pleased to see Gerald in a good mood for once. I slapped James on the shoulder.

“Quick round of applause,” said Jean lightly.

 

 

THE  END

 

 

 

 

 

 


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