Furnace

Furnace

by Wayne Price

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780956613585
Publisher: Freight Books
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author


Wayne Price has won many international prizes for his short stories and poetry and his work has been widely published in anthologies and journals. Furnace was shortlisted for the Scottish First Book of the Year and longlisted for Frank O'Connor Short Story Award and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize.

Read an Excerpt

Furnace


By Wayne Price

Freight Books

Copyright © 2012 Wayne Price
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-908754-03-5



CHAPTER 1

THE GOLFERS


When my older brother Alfie left school for good he got a job collecting up the balls out at the airbase golf range. He couldn't learn how to drive the little electric cart they normally used but he helped out on foot, lugging a great sack behind him like a baby-faced Santa, ducking too late when anyone sent a ball close and bothered to yell. I think they took him on as a favour to my mother's boyfriend from those times, a pink-skinned, sandy-haired sporting type whose name I can't recall now. Anyway, this boyfriend drank and golfed with some of the airmen who practiced there. Or maybe it was my older sister Carol who fixed it for him. She drank with plenty of airmen too.

In late July of that year sudden, incredible rains flooded the river and all the brooks around town and then, just as suddenly, a freakish, continental heat set in. The air felt baked and stifling, not just in the day but for hours into the dark. At thirteen, the feel of that weather was entirely strange to me, and ominous. I've never forgotten it. In all the back yards giving on to water a kind of eggshell glaze, pale orange from iron oxide in the local streams, topped the fine silt left behind from the floods. There was a wide expanse of it left at the foot of the empty schoolyard, a place I often escaped to in the summer holidays. I spent one wholly absorbed morning there, treading out long careful lines of footprints in the weirdly perfect, pastel casing that covered the black asphalt and sports markings. It was like breaking the crust of some virgin, alien world.

Like any sudden change, the strangeness of the weather was bad for Alfie. Early one morning I wandered into the kitchen and found him transfixed at the window, sweating in the sun. He was waiting for Carol to take him out to the golf range on her way to work. Only his right arm was moving, like part of some machine – jerking up and down between his throat and hip, a spasm every few seconds. Each time the hand went up, the big pink fingers went fluttering over the tight collar button of his shirt. His round face was sheened over and puffy and he grunted quietly each time he touched the fastening. His eyes were bulging, almost glassy, but he never went open-collared, not even at home. Not even in pyjamas. I watched him for a minute or so.

Oh just open it for Christ's sake, I said at last.

But then Carol yelled through from the hall – Alfie, I'm going! Get in the car! And he went, lunking past me same as he always did like I hadn't said a word.

* * *

Later that same day Jez and Fisher call round. I'm hiding from the sun, living room curtains drawn tight, sweating into the sofa and sipping from one of my mother's bottles of sweet blue liquor. Both Jez and Fisher are Alfie's age, three years older than me, and only sometimes want me around. When the doorbell rings – one heavy, drawn-out chime – I know it's Jez. My head's swimming a little from the drink, making it hard to stand up quickly. The bell goes again, even slower this time – someone's finger grinding on the face of the button. Once, a single fat turd came through our letterbox on Halloween, and whenever Jez rings the doorbell the way he does I remember seeing it there on the doormat and feel like I know for sure it was him.

Jez takes the bottle out of my hand as he moves past me into the hall. What's this? he says, and fills his mouth with it.

It's spirits, I tell him, watching his face.

His lips pull back tight over his teeth.

It's my mother's, I say. But it's strong. Check out the label.

He ignores me and passes the bottle to Fisher. Taste that, he says.

He moves restlessly around the living room, picking things up and putting them back somewhere different. Then Fisher settles himself on the edge of the sofa, tilts himself forward and takes a couple of really big neckfuls, sucking at the bottle like a baby on a tit. When he swallows I can see the gulps moving under the fat.

Let's go, I say.

They glance at one another and laugh.


The heat outdoors is a shock even though I'd been sweltering inside. The tarmac's cooking along the sides of the gutters and the thick oily smell of it seems to carry up off the road with the heat shimmers, rolling along with us as we walk.

It's not long before we leave the streets and wander into the back-alleys near the allotments and the old railway line. The flies are worse there, but at least the tar-pit stink is gone. Jez and Fisher are hanging back from me, like they usually do, plotting and sniggering. It doesn't bother me much, though sometimes I slow up to eavesdrop and check if they're planning anything bad for me. Now though, Jez catches up with me and whips the backs of my legs with a thin branch he picked up somewhere.

Hey Nicky, he says, where's Carol hanging out these days?

I shrug.

She still working out on the estate?

Yeah.

A fat summer bluebottle razzes right across our faces. I flinch back but Jez doesn't even seem to notice.

What time does she finish?

I take a quick look at Jez, sideways on. How would I know? I say, trying to sound calmer than I feel. I pull some air back in and try to whistle.

He grins, showing his teeth. They're tiny and very straight. Just tell me what time she gets home, he says.

Most days she picks up Alfie and then brings him home with her, so they get in about six.

Jez suddenly stops walking. Big Alfie's got a job? he says, amazed. Hey Fish – Alfie's got a job!

Fisher gives out a loud, false laugh from a little way behind us. A job! Alfie! he crows.

Jez starts walking again, but he's interested now and leaves off swiping at me. So where's he working? he asks.

I tell him about the job at the golf range and he just walks quietly alongside me for a minute or so, thinking about something. It's funny, eh? he says. You and Alfie.

I don't say anything because I know exactly what's coming.

I mean Alfie being just a big soft fucking retard. And then you. He looks me up and down as we walk. The sly professor, eh? He swishes the branch onto the backs of my legs again. Little Professor Pinkdick.

Yeah right, I say.

Then there's Carol, eh? And when I don't answer again he turns his head and calls back to Fisher – hey Fish, what about Carol, eh? What about Carolingus?

Yee-hah! Fisher shouts, and when I turn back to look at him he spits straight up in the air and scoots under it, grinning all over his white fat face. He carries on jogging so that he catches up with us.

It's having different fathers, Jez pronounces.

Yeah right, I say again, sweating even worse now.

That's why though, he says, seriously. It fucks up all the natural stuff. It's why you're hot for your own fucking sister. That's right, Fish, right?

Fisher sniggers.

That's what it is, professor, believe me.

We carry on in silence for a time. Jez maybe senses he's gone too far because he starts switching the branch at Fisher's legs instead of mine.

Nicky, you ever been out to the golf range? he says at last.

No, I lie.

They've got pitch and putt out there, behind the range.

I shrug.

Jez slows up with Fisher and soon they've dropped back behind me again, conferring, and I'm on my own trying to stop the flies landing on my head and neck in case they follow the trails of sweat and end up inside my T-shirt.

Around noon we've drifted right along to where the railway used to cross the river. Without saying anything we scramble down the embankment, through dusty gorse and broom and bramble bushes, until we're in amongst the big river rocks left high and dry by the low water. We stop there for a smoke, sitting on the warm boulders. What's left of the river curls away green and quiet between the broken pillars of the old viaduct. It feels peaceful to be there, sitting and smoking in the sun. Even Jez looks relaxed, watching the smooth run of the river, letting the smoke come lazy out of his mouth and nose.

Then, somehow not making a sound, Fisher vomits onto the rock between his legs. He keeps his head down a minute while Jez stares. A cord of sticky blue stuff links his chin and lips with the mess on the boulder but it's like he doesn't have the energy to spit it clear.

Christ's sakes, Jez says, turning back to the river again. Let's go play golf.


It's a long walk in the heat but Jez makes us tramp all along the road to Milo's garage at the edge of town before he lets us get on one of the small airbase buses. We're the only locals on board – the well-dressed airmen's wives with bulging carrier bags and the airmen in civvies are all on their way back to their quarters on the base. Jez spreads himself wide to take up the whole of his double seat and smokes, though the whole bus is no-smoking. After a while one of the women starts giving him disgusted looks, but the airmen in front of us don't seem to care and nothing gets said.

Fisher keeps pretty still all through the ride, looking down at his feet like he's concentrating hard. I wonder if he'll throw up my mother's booze again, but he keeps it in.

The big wooden sign advertising the range is just a few hundred yards in front of the sentry boxes guarding the base. I notice it before Jez or Fisher and stand up to ask the driver to stop. He eyes me without saying anything, but slows down anyway and lets us off. As I step down to the grass verge one of the airmen sitting near the driver says something I don't catch, and the driver lets out a quick sharp laugh.

Behind the sign a rough gravel track runs straight and very flat between two fields to a line of low sheds in the distance. That must be it, Fisher says, almost the first words he's spoken since the river.

It is, says Jez.

Far off in the base a jet engine starts to whine, builds to a kind of howl as we start walking, then dies down again without anything getting airborne.

Soon we start passing faded wooden boards marking out yardages. White golf balls, some of them split and showing their pink insides, are nested everywhere in the dried-out patchy grass. A car passes us, crunching over the grit and pebbles, carrying three airmen in uniform. Another follows a few seconds later, this time with just a single woman driving. Both cars get to the sheds, then swing left and park. By the time we reach the end of the track the airmen and the woman have unloaded their gear and disappeared through the nearest doorway. We follow them into the shade.

Ahead of us the woman is crouched at some kind of battered steel vending machine. She pulls sharply at a handle and a quick landslide of golfballs rumbles and fills a wire basket at her feet. She heaves the basket up in one hand, three or four golf clubs in the other, and hauls it out to a line of wooden bays like wide open toilet stalls. Fisher squats down and snakes a hand up the funnel where the balls fell but doesn't get hold of anything. Jez and me look across at the woman and the airmen in their stalls. The woman's stretching herself, bending sideways from the waist, grimacing, but the men have stripped off their uniform shirts and are already cracking long, arcing shots into the blue sky.

A guy calls to us from a doorway near the machine: You boys needing clubs? Balls?

We need everything, Jez tells him.

The guy nods. He looks about fifty – fat but tough-looking with a big shaved head. An oily black and grey beard is spread in a mess all over his cheeks and chin and neck. It's two pounds per club, he says, his eyes fixed on Jez. Fifty pence if you lose a ball. He scratches the right side of his beard, from the cheekbone all the way to his collar, waiting for one of us to say something. When we don't, he reaches into a pocket on the faded blue boiler suit he's wearing and fishes out a pack of smokes. He's already turned to go back through the doorway when Jez tells him we'll hire a club to share between us.

He stops and turns back to face us. Pitch and putt or the range?

Jez shrugs. Which is cheapest?

Pitch and putt. He rolls his tongue around the inside of his mouth, then draws on his cigarette. You got balls?

I'm expecting Jez to give him a smart answer but he just shakes his head. A ball too, he says.

One ball? You don't want a ball each?

Just one, says Jez.

The man sighs out a big stream of smoke and then leads us into his office. A row of cheap-looking golf clubs are lined up behind his battered wooden counter. Newer bundles of clubs, gleaming and with price tags on them are set against a side wall along with some golf bags, a half-filled barrel of balls and a couple of shelves of spiked shoes. The room smells of leather for some reason, maybe because of the shoes. You'll want this for the pitching, he says, handing Fisher a club from the row behind the counter. And you'll need this for the putting. He hands another, smaller club to me. He turns to Jez. You can have a damaged range ball for free or you can use a new one and pay up if it gets lost. What'll it be? He takes a deep drag, then taps delicately into a small, overflowing ashtray.

What's the difference?

He grunts. You won't tell the difference.

A new ball.

The big guy pushes his tongue around his mouth again. Right son, he says.

Jez takes the clubs and then waits while Fisher and me dig enough money out of our pockets to pay for them. All the time the guy watches us, especially Jez. When we're done he points us out of the shop towards a fire-escape door propped open with a half-brick. Through there, he says.


To start with we get the whole course to ourselves. From the first tee-mat, perched up on a dusty mound, we can see every one of the nine holes and they're all deserted except for a big, lumbering figure hauling a rake over one of the miniature bunkers six or seven holes away.

Alfie, announces Jez.

Call him over, says Fisher, smirking.

Jez shakes his head. We'll catch up with him, he says, and drops the bright new golf ball onto the rubber mat at his feet. He's not going anywhere, he adds. And sure enough, for all the time we watch him, Alfie's rake drags over and over the same little patch of sand like a stuck needle on a record.

Out of the corner of my eye I can see the guy with the beard watching from the shed doorway. Hit the ball, Jez, I say.

Jez spreads his arms wide, keeping us out of his sight line, then steadies himself, feet wide apart and knees locked. He takes a wild heave and misses, pounding the rubber mat so hard a big, chalky puff of dust comes up. Fuck off, that was practice, he mutters when Fisher makes a move for the club. He sets himself rigid again then beats down even harder, this time getting the ball to spurt off twenty yards or so along the yellow grass. He tells Fisher to fetch it back for him and I can feel the manager's eyes still boring into our backs.


By the time we get to Alfie, the airmen have finished with the range and are playing right behind us, hitting proper, high golf shots that thump down and bounce head-high off the hard ground as soon as we leave a green.

Alfie's excited to see me. Nicky! he barks out. I'm too hot and uptight to go to him but Jez and Fisher start slapping him hard on the back. Then they reach up to scrub their knuckles on the top of his head. Alfie's hunched up already, throwing me cowed looks that make my guts churn.

Suddenly, a golf ball whacks in amongst us and Jez and Fisher leave Alfie alone to jump away from the green. Hey! What the fuck? Jez yells back at the airmen. They shake their heads and one of them sends another ball thudding in front of us. We move off to a hole they've already played, Jez dragging Alfie along with us.

Fish, what's the time? he asks, and like I'm just waking up, I realise why we're here. Carol.

I move off a little way and sit down heavily on the rim of a bunker. I try to calm myself by just concentrating on my dusty shoes and the dirty rough sand round about them. This could be the desert, I think to myself. It could be Africa, or somewhere out of the Bible. I close my eyes and blood-coloured lights throb in and out of the black. I can hear Jez and Fisher getting Alfie to put down his rake and take hold of the golf club. He doesn't want to, but that just makes Jez more determined. I'm thinking I wish I could bury myself in the sand right here without anyone noticing, or disappear into a desert forever where no one knows anything about Alfie or Carol or me.

The thing that finally makes me look up is the guy from the shop coming over to check what's going on. Even then I only open my eyes because Fisher sends him over to me. It's okay, I hear him say, we're all just having fun. We're Alfie's friends. That's even his brother. That's his little brother over there.

The big guy walks over to me. I can hear his footsteps coming and that's when I look. You're Alfie's brother? he says.

I nod and look up but I can hardly see his face for the blood-lamps still drifting across my eyes.

He shakes his big untidy face. Leave him alone, he growls to all of us. He's got work to do. I catch you messing with him again, I'll mess with you, brother or no brother. Everyone understand?

He goes on staring at me for quite a while, but doesn't say anything else. In the end he turns and trudges back to the sheds.

I look over at the others. Alfie's got his rake back and he's stood in a bunker but looks like he's forgotten what to do. He keeps shrugging and repeating something quiet to himself, over and over, too quiet for me to hear the words.

Jez goes and rolls the ball onto the nearest tee-mat with his foot. You do it, he tells Fisher, and hands him the club. A jet screams low, leaving the base and climbing.

A Buccaneer, says Fisher, and his mouth stays open. They're just trainers, he goes on to no one in particular, disappointed, but he watches after it anyway until it's just a speck in the hot blue.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Furnace by Wayne Price. Copyright © 2012 Wayne Price. Excerpted by permission of Freight Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

THE GOLFERS,
THE WEDDING FLOWERS,
DEAD OF WINTER,
EVERYWHERE WAS WATER ONCE,
SALMON,
UNDERWORLD,
FIVE NIGHT STAY,
MY TEETH IN HIS MOUTH,
RAIN,
WHERE I LIVE,
IN THE VALLEY,
A PIECE OF THE MOON,
THE SUMMERHOUSE,
THERE IS A SAVIOUR,

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Someone once told me that sleep is a form of death. Spooky. Maybe I died while I was sleeping and now I don't have to fo to flight camp. But some stallions had pins that say they were counselors. <br> Tha figure was walking towards me. She was covered in clouds and looked bruised and battered. And there bwas no flying Cutie Mark to be seen, not even any Cutie Mark at all! She kept trotting up until, finally, she reached me. "Um, hi?" I said. "Hi. Uh, I'm Scootaloo, and I was wondering if you wanted to be my partner," the filly said. She was bright oarnge with an unruly purple mane. "I'm a terrible flyer." <br> "No worries. So am I." <br> "You- you are?" Scootaloo cowered a bit as she looked at her tiny wings. "Can't even hover. Birds would make fun of me." <br> "Oh." <br> "What's your name, by the way?" <br> "Hazy Dream." Just then, a pink filly with a magenta and white mane and a tiara trotted by, accompanied by a silver filly with a light grey mane and glasses. The pink one stopped. "Stop, Silver Spoon!" The pink and silver fillies stopped next to us. They sneered at Scootaloo. "Who's the new blank-flank? Are you gonna ask her to join your club, what's it called, the Cutie Mark Crybabies?" <br> "Diamond Tiara. How did you get into Cloudsdale?" <br> "My daddy bought me wings and a horn." <br> "Don't mess with me and Hazy Dream." Diamond Tiara jabbed Scoot in the chest when she said that. Before walking away, me and Scootaloo both heard them whisper, "Retard." Scootaloo wiped tears off of her face. "What's a retard?" I asked. Scootaloo sniffled. "Can you keep a secret?" <p> More coming today or tomorrow. <br> ~Thrackerzod