Down in the Dirt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
‘I’m going to make egg, chips and beans. We don’t serve poo in this house’.

Submitted: March 05, 2008

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Submitted: March 05, 2008

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Out there, where we lived, there were barely any people. The only cars that were visible were those bobbing silently along the A17 - so far away it would take you the best part of a day to walk to the side of the road and see them properly, actual-size. From the point on the septic tank upon which I stood on the day of the clearance, the cars were miniature boxes sliding along a two dimensional surface in the distance. Dennis stood beside me, tail wagging as we watched them driving along the horizon.

 

We were disconnected from civilisation beyond the tiny farming community three miles from our door. They were always out in the fields, muck-spreading, harvesting, ploughing up the deep, brown dirt. They were only ever at home when it got dark. They would sit in on battered sofas, doors locked, televisions blaring in the corner, in houses with fittings that smelled of marzipan and cooked beef.

 

  The isolation suited us well. The boys weren’t prone to troubling influences besides the television. Lucy and I could get on with our lives, detached from work in our time off. I would plant runner beans in the garden while she baked pastry in the kitchen. The old cottage always needed repairs and I would throw myself into fixing the trouble-spots, constantly enjoying the struggle of guarding the ancient house against the crumbling passage of time. The boys played outside when they weren’t at school. Television would only be watched upon waking and before sleeping. Mainly they would bounce around in the garden with balls and bats or go exploring along the thin lines of the drainage dykes. They would come home muddied and receive faint discipline before being told to wash themselves before dinner was served.

 

The septic tank had lowered our water rates and the cost of emptying it was minimal. Despite the idea of a cesspit at the end of the garden being somewhat repulsive, it was proving itself to be useful. When the men came to clear it, the stench was comically unbearable. We had lived there for a year already, and in that time it had only recently become full. The liquid, all of our piss and washing water, would drain out of the sides and back into the earth whilst our scum - used soap and toilet paper - accrued on a slimy surface, eventually filling the tank.

 

I’d taken the day off when they came with their huge suction machine to remove all the detritus from within its huge, hollow cave. They removed the three manhole covers at the top and talked me through how the structure worked, speaking with thick, yellow-belly accents. They pointed down through the inspection port at the layer of greasy, grey-brown gloop. They laughed as my face turned green and as they closed the cover I retched a dry heave.

 

It was a faster process than I’d imagined and the smell wafted away on the gentle wind as quickly as it had surfaced once the manhole cover had been replaced. As their HGV wobbled into the distance to join the A17 in the distance, I heard a loud ‘clunk’, somewhere beneath me. I turned round and saw that an inspection port had been left open. I tried to lift it with my hands but the cast iron plate was too heavy. I located my pick axe and, looping the blade through the buckle, positioned it back over the top before returning to a plastering job in the master bedroom, closing the backdoor as I went in. I locked it behind me.

 

When Tom arrived home, delivered by the council taxi service to our door, the dog ran out to greet him. He played outside for a while. I overheard him giggling, talking to the dog as though it were human. When he came in, I picked him up and asked what he’d like for dinner. Dennis ran around my legs, dirty from the games, smelling slightly as though he’d run through the trail of sludge the lorry had left behind.

 

‘Chips? Egg and chips – how does that sound?’ I asked the boy, knowing it was a favourite of his.

 

‘Poo pie!’ he replied. We’d talked about the sewage-clearance earlier in the day. Clearly it had fired his imagination.

 

‘Poo pie would make you very ill’ I warned. ‘Seriously – what do you want?’

 

‘Poo pie!’ he replied again.

 

‘Tom?’ I gave him a stern but indulgent expression.

 

‘Dad I want poo pie! Colin gets poo pie every day!’

 

I frowned, searching my memory. ‘Who is Colin?’ I asked. ‘Someone from school?’

 

‘No. He’s the brown man’

 

‘Tom. We don’t say that. We never call people ‘brown’’

 

Tom was distracted and looked away, eyeing up the action figures that littered one corner of the drawing room. I put him down and he scampered off to play.

 

‘I’m going to make egg, chips and beans. We don’t serve poo in this house’ I called after him.

 

He was at the age where faeces and urine had become comical and would be thrown into conversation erratically. I took it as a healthy signal of a fondness for toilet humour. Encouraging, really, when one considered how quickly he was developing.

 

When we had finished the meal I sent Tom off to run a bath. He was old enough to wash the dog himself these days, and Dennis needed it.

 

Lucy arrived home with Jeffrey.

 

‘It smells terrible out there!’ Lucy commented.

 

‘It’s the septic tank. You should’ve smelled it while the cover was off’.

 

‘While it was off? I just checked it. It’s still off. Doesn’t it need to be off?’

 

‘No. I put it back myself’ I replied. Sighing to myself, I realised I’d have to go out there, in the dark.

 

The wind blew with some force and hair tangled on my scalp as each strand was whipped here and there. I shivered in my shirtsleeves, hastily prodding the cover back over the tank before running back in, hugging my own torso for warmth.

 

‘No wonder it stank so bad. I must be losing it’ I remarked.

 

The next day, a Saturday, was routine and the usual traditions kicked in immediately. The paperboy arrived, exhausted after such a long ride, dropping the paper on the porch. Lucy gave him a boxed drink and we spread the broadsheets across the breakfast table as we sipped coffee, with an eye on the boys in the garden. Jeffrey was teasing Tom, as usual. The older of the two, he used his authority to mock his younger sibling mercilessly. I smiled as I watched them play and contentment spread through my veins like the warm butter that melted on the toast we ate.

 

The day passed in glorious sunshine, the boys outside all day, enjoying their youth and the summer. They disappeared as the sun began to set, but with no neighbours for miles, Lucy and I were unconcerned. They always returned when their stomachs began to rumble.

 

‘I might go to be early. I feel a little dizzy’.

 

‘Oh. Ok, dear. Want a drink to take with you?’ I asked, vaguely concerned.

 

‘I’ll be fine’

 

I stayed where I was, drinking ale and reading my book, occasionally stepping onto the porch for a cigarette over the course of the next couple of hours, looking out for the boys so they wouldn’t catch me indulging in a bad old habit.

 

They still hadn’t returned by nightfall. I called their names as loudly as I could. Tom emerged from a bush, covered from head to toe in dirt. Jeffrey trailed behind sluggishly, laughing loudly to himself.

 

‘Where on earth have you been?’ I asked. ‘I’ve been worried’

 

‘We’ve been playing’ Jeffrey replied. ‘Where’s Mum?’

 

‘She’s upstairs sleeping. You know you should be back by night-time Jeffrey. Try to set your brother some kind of example’ I said, ruffling his hair. When I moved my hand from his crown I noticed that it was caked with dark matter. I sniffed it, instinctively and then pulled it away quickly, recognising the waft of shit.

 

‘Christ. Where have you been playing?’

 

‘Down in the tank!’ Tom said. His brother gave him a hard glare, warning him to zip his mouth shut.

 

‘What does he mean Jeffrey? You haven’t been down in the tank, surely?’

 

Jeffrey looked bashfully away, a slight smile on his face. I was more shocked than angry.

 

‘But the cover – the manhole cover weighs a ton…’

 

‘Colin lifted it!’ shouted Tom. Jeffrey kicked his ankle to silence him again.

 

‘Colin? Jeffrey – who the hell is Colin? An imaginary friend of Tom’s? Have you been encouraging him?’

 

Jeffrey shut up shop, his jaw muscles flexing, silently stating his refusal to talk.

 

‘You’re in big trouble. Big’ I told them. ‘Where’s Dennis. We need to get you all inside and washed’ I told them, looking around the garden for the dog.

 

‘He’s over here!’ shouted Tom, still not fully aware of the trouble he was in. He ran to a corner of the yard and pointed behind a patch of nettles. I grabbed Jeffrey by his upper arm and marched him over there, the light shining through from the drawing room our only guide, throwing only outlines of shapes.

 

‘Where? I can’t see him’

 

Tom pointed down and amongst the stinging plants, brown fuzz I could just make out a pile of brown hair.  I pulled my sleeves over my wrists and parted the leaves.

 

Dennis was dead. His mutilated fur, torn apart in a fuzz of flesh. Blood had left the grass there slick and stained. I grabbed the boys, lifting them both to my chest and ran unevenly towards the back door. Once in, I bolted and double bolted, closing all the blinds.

 

‘What happened to him?’ I whispered, on my knees in front of the boys.

 

‘I think he bit Colin’ Tom said.

 

‘Who is Colin? I need you to be very serious and tell me’. My patience was running thinner and thinner now and fear was creeping over me as the image of dead Dennis instilled itself at the forefront of my concern.

 

‘The brown man!’ Tom replied.

 

Before I could stop them, both ran up to the bathroom, locking the door behind them. I heard the bath taps being turned and the boiler kicked into gear.

 

I ran upstairs to check Lucy was safe and still sleeping. When I opened the door she was under the covers, visible in the dim light from the bedside lamp, looking dazed.

 

‘Darling?’ I whispered.

 

She came around and lazily looked at me. She moaned softly, as though delighted. Her cheeks were flushed and her hairline damp with sweat. I noticed moisture seeping through the bed sheets and dragged them back from the mattress. Underneath, streaked all across the fabric and over her knees and thighs, skidmarks and faecal matter. I caught a glance at her crotch which was obscured by matted sludge. Taken aback, I stumbled on my knees. Without preparing for landing, my head cracked against the corner of her dressing table.

 

My vision flickered as I lay looking through half-opened lids at the lampshade. The glowing bulb in there rotated, spinning around and around as I passed through the back of consciousness. The last thing I saw, as darkness fell like hard shards of ticker tape across my vision, was a looming figure. It wasn’t Lucy.

 

Through the blur I tried to study his features, but all I could see was a russet murk. Wet and bulbous, a mess of contrasting browns, with small hazel eyes peering through the mess, down at me.

 

 

I came around, face down in damp darkness. My cheek was embedded in a wet mound of something sticky. The stench of effluents was all around and the air was thin. I woke because I was choking, my body revolted with every breath as my lungs struggled to inhale the ammonia scents.

 

I pulled myself to my knees, a migraine pounding at my skull. A beam of light from above blew apart the pitch-black – I considered that the source was the round manhole in the ceiling of the tank. I squinted as I attempted to look out at the world from the depths and through the blinding beam of sunshine.

 

Colin had his arm around Lucy, dripping shit on the blouse I had bought her. The boys looked up at him as he spoke. I was unable to hear his words as he extended a long, turd-finger down at me. Bluebottles buzzed around his hand as he extended the digit at me, the sound of the flies obscuring the conversation above. As they all smiled and patted one another, Colin kicked the cover of the septic tank back into position, leaving me alone, in the darkness, down in the dirt.


© Copyright 2017 Swineshead. All rights reserved.

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