Beached Head by Matthew Ennis Cromwell
CHAPTER ONE – A day…
Darren’s alarm clock sounded as ever at 5.50AM. Darkness still dominated outside the bedroom window and Clare did not even stir as the alarm’s monotone like drone went off besides their queen sized bed.
The bedroom was a neatly boxed 16 square meters. A cheap eighteen inch plasma sprung from the wall directly in front of the bed like a badly placed Jack in the Box. To the left of the bed, two book shelves were filled to breaking point. The top shelf was full of perfectly new Lonely Planets and Rough Guide travel books covering most areas on the globe. Darren’s fascination for all things travel related, the collection definitely implied that he was a global traveller, sadly the truth took delight in ridiculing this suggestion. The lower shelf contained mainly books of quotations, philosophy and military history.
To the right, was a plywood framed photo from Darren’s first holiday with Claire eleven months ago. The photo had been enlarged poorly by a friend of Claire’s and their faces looked bloated to the extreme. However, the lack of joy in both their eyes was still recognizable, regardless of the scale of their pupils and the brightly coloured ice cream cones.
Instinctively Darren turned away from Clare and held closely to his pillow. Ten more minutes he concluded to himself as he pushed his face once again into his discounted House of Frasier pillow case. 600 seconds passed quickly as Darren, in his semi- conscious snooze state of mind, contemplated his day ahead. His biggest decision that day, he concluded, would be which topping to grace his lunchtime roll with. He usually favored Tuna & Mayonnaise, but sometimes could be tempted into Salami if it was pitched enthusiastically enough by the industrial estate’s sandwich lady, Marie. Everything else would exist on auto-pilot for the 9 ½ hours that made up Darren’s day at Warden Exports.
Three Weetabix and a glass of Tesco's economy orange juice was usually enough fuel to allow him to complete his 840-ish second stroll to work. Two years earlier boredom had led him to time his length of walk over a period of 10 days and then find the mean average. It actually came to 847 seconds give or take a few decimals. However, when you are doing the same tedious activity for 34,200 seconds each working day (approximately), minus 3,300 seconds for lunch and afternoon break, then a few seconds here or there really made no difference within his existence. Darren resented his expertly developed knowledge of the 60 Times Table and how these multiples dominated his day– at least his A Level Maths qualification had a tiny amount of use, all be it in a way that sucked the life out of him daily. His mathematical teacher had once told him that he ‘had a magical way with numbers’ and that his ’fortune’ would be made from this subject. Darren didn’t consider his current £6.20 per hour to be a fortune, especially after seven years of loyalty to his employer.
“I’m off,” whispered Darren once he had put on his minimalist uniform of faded bootcut jeans and an oversized light grey T-Shirt.
Clare stirred for a moment before raising her head up without opening her eyes, “Enjoy.” Darren was surprised to hear a voice from his partner of 14 months (non bill paying flatmate of 5 months). Usually a grunt or a nod was all he received as he departed. Clare’s day would usually not begin for another three hours when she would wake to witness the inbred fighting and pointless dialogue on the Jeremy Kyle show. Clare wanted to consider herself to be the kind of girl who in the morning who listened to Radio 4 and drank expensive Machiattos. In reality though, she always opted for a warm coke and a dose of troubled ASBO teenagers being preached to by a satanic host.
The streets of Hastings were a lonely sight at this time of the morning, especially in the winter months where daylight did not even consider making an appearance until well after 7AM. Even then, rarely did sunlight actually break through the dense grey that lingered for far too many weeks to be anything other than an enemy of this once glorious Victorian town. A small scattering of commuters headed towards the train station and the long journey towards paying their monthly bills . Occasionally the odd middle aged man would attempt an early morning jog, although the sloping roads caused all but the strongest to walk before their target distances were ever met. Rarely was the same jogger spotted more than once – their expensive designer sports clothes, which has symbolized such hope at the time of purchase, were soon pushed to the back of the wardrobe for a lifetime of exile. Perhaps one day to have their design ridiculed when speculatively put up for sale on ebay.
Out of sight and out of mind. This was very much how Hastings was now perceived by the nation – a town that had slipped into irrelevance and no longer had a purpose or point in the twenty first century. Its modern shopping complex was dated before the plans were even approved, the ‘regeneration’ projects failed to serve the local community and its prime asset, the Victorian pier, was burnt down by local children.
Darren looked at his aged Casio watch as he reached the gates of work –an 814 second walk, not quite a record (that occurred back in 2007 when he was being followed menacingly by a group of drunk Kurdistan refugees who lived in Warrior Square), but certainly one of his quickest walks in recent memory. The added haste could be explained by the cold wind from the English channel that was battering that January morning. In fact, the south coast had been relentlessly under attack since late autumn from the powerful .
As ever, Bendex and Razor (the cute guard dog) were waiting at the gates of Warden Export’s site. Razor was asleep as he was most mornings, presumably chasing small cats within his doggy dreams, large cats would no doubt dominate this particular timid dog. Bendex was wearing his increasingly tight purple security uniform provided by the company. It had once fitted him perfectly, but two years of english cusine (café culture as he called it) and a lack of exercise had transformed his body into a much more rounded shape.
Before Bendex’s arrival there was no night security guard at the warehouse and his additional seemed very strange considering that there had never been a break in at Warden Exports. Darren estimated that the stock at any one time in the warehouse would be worth less than the cost of thieves hiring a van to put it in. The real value of the company was in the obscene mark-up value that they put on their products for overseas clients. The quality and tackiness of most of the stock would struggle to find buyers in this country , even if they were prominently displayed inside Poundland!
Bendex had arrived with the Easy Jet masses from after the EU had lifted working regulations, an honorable financial immigrant who was happy to work hard and live cheaply to maximize his savings. Actually, Hastings used to have a lot more Eastern European workers, but most appeared to have headed back now to their motherlands. The irony being, as their countries developed and economically grew why they were away, that they could now earn almost as much in their country or origin, so their financial migration had naturally gone full circle.
“Good Morning, Mr Darren,” said Bendex standing up as if greeting someone with far more importance.
“Hey, Bendex,” Darren replied as Bendex opened the gate to the warehouse, “Anything fun happen in the night?” It was a question that was asked mainly out of obligatory politeness by Darren each morning, yet Bendex always attempted to answer with sincerity.
“No,” he said in a sad voice that seemed to yearn for something more exciting than sitting about each night alone, “I thought at maybe 3, that there was a fire in the warehouse, but it was a cloud.”
“I guess Razor would have smelt it if there was a fire.” Said Darren as he bent down and gently woke Razor up with a big hug, “Because you’re amazing, aren’t you Razor?”
Razor stood up gingerly on his aged legs and acknowledged Darren happily with a single lick, before slouching back down again as gently as he could and closed his eyes once more.
“Actually, I think his sense of smell has gone, but if I tell Mr Warden then he will want to get rid of him. Dogs like Razor have nowhere to go, you know?”
“Your secret is safe with me,” smiled Darren as he patted Bendex on the shoulder, “Nothing worth stealing from here anyway.” Although Darren had never really got to know Bendex since he had arrived from Poland four years earlier, he had always liked the sense of loyalty that he embodied each day no matter how menial his position at the company was. He had a sense of honor and self-respect that almost made him rise above the daily mediocrity and pettiness that existed throughout the Harley Shute industrial estate.
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