By Lee Rourke.
language is such a mess
I take my table at the Lobster Smack. Everything feels good, like I’ve spent the day reading at the beach, or something, but Mr Buchanan can easily sense that I’m more than half cut. I try to act normal, but this only makes things worse. It’s obvious that I have things on my mind and that I’m unable to control the alcohol in me. I swallow huge gulps of air, one after the other, hoping it’ll revive me, but it doesn’t and I soon give up and just sit there. I must look a mess, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.
The pub is full. I regret not stopping off at Uncle Rey’s caravan first, just to freshen up, maybe have a wash, or a change of clothes. I’ve left my stick at the door for some reason, knowing that it won’t be taken. Mr Buchanan is behind the bar, smiling. I don’t know if it’s for my benefit or it’s just a thing he does when he’s behind the bar.
‘What do you want to drink?’
‘Oh . . . lime and soda with ice, please.’
‘Not drinking tonight, Jon?’
‘Oh, no . . . early start on the caravan tomorrow.’
He walks over with my drink and a beer for himself. He sits down next to me, his body spilling over the chair.
‘Mind if I join you?’
‘No. Please . . . take a seat.’
‘That’s okay . . .’
‘So . . .’
‘So . . .’
‘How are you, Jon?’
‘And how are things with the caravan?’
‘Well, yes, it’s warm . . . comfortable . . .’
‘No . . . I mean, clearing it . . . Your, you know . . . Rey’s stuff.’
‘Oh, that, yes, well . . . there’s still a lot to do . . .’
‘Right . . . I thought you’d be making progress by now, see . . .’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, there’s no sign that you’ve done anything . . .’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There’re no bin bags, rubbish, unwanted stuff . . . belongings . . . You’ve left nothing. It’s as if nothing has been touched . . . as if you’ve just been living there and not really doing anything. You do know that the lease is up? Rey only paid until the end of next week . . . And then . . .’
‘And then everything will be taken away.’
‘I see . . . I see what you mean . . . What if . . . ?’
‘What if what?’
‘What if I moved in, started paying you rent?’
‘Well, no, see . . . it’s being rented out to contractors for, you know, the refinery. It’s closing down soon, the refinery, and there’re contractors on the island to help take care of everything. It’s all been booked already, contracts signed . . . We really have to get things moving here.’
‘Do you understand?’
‘Yes. Of course.’
‘I know it’s hard. It’s difficult, I know. But I’m running a business, here.’
‘A business, I know.’
‘Listen, Jon . . . I know what happened is tough . . . it’s tough for all of us who knew him. I know how that sort of thing . . . well, I know what it can do to a family. He was a good man. A quiet man. He spoke softly. He was kind-hearted. I doubt he ever hurt a fly in his life. He had his secrets, like us all . . . You know, he just wanted to hide . . . but I just have to think of my business . . . Something like that happening, well, it gets in the papers, people start talking . . . And then, well, you know what can happen . . . These things aren’t good for business.’
‘Yes, he was a good man, from what I can remember . . . And I’ve been working in the caravan. I’ve been sorting through all his tapes and recordings . . . I’ve even found a book he attempted to write; it’s an odd thing, more about not being able to write it than anything else. It’s about the truth, his search for the truth, how to put the truth down on the page, I think . . . I don’t know what he was trying to attempt . . . some sort of facsimile, I think. But it’s full of mistakes, errors, smudges, spills, cross-outs. All I know is that I have to edit it, get it into some sort of shape . . . to see . . . to see if there’s anything worthy in it. Once I’ve done that, I promise I’ll clear the caravan. It’ll all be completed by the end of next week, honest.’
‘A book, eh . . . I’d never have guessed. Something to do with music, yes . . . but a book . . .’
‘I don’t know what he was up to . . . some kind of moral crusade, as if he was trying to right all his ills . . . The thing is, it’s all a jumble, and I can’t make any sense of it. Then there’re the recordings . . . The recordings, his diary recorded each year, on random days, explaining to those who’ll listen . . . As if he’s talking to me and no one else.’
‘Maybe that’s how he wanted it to be, messy like real life, over before you can take hold of it . . .’
‘It’s these recordings, hundreds of them, spanning decades . . . all his daily frustrations are spilled onto them . . . words, language is such a mess when you are confronted with it . . . head-on, you know . . . Him, leaning in, staring, facing the camera in his favourite chair . . . No one in my family knows they exist, and I don’t know what to do with them. The ones I’ve watched, hours of footage, he’s just so . . . angry and lost . . . and he’s drunk and high on weed so much of the time that he’s practically incoherent, to the point where he’ll burst into song, usually something by Dr Feelgood . . .’
‘Oh, yes, he liked those lads. Canvey lads.’
‘It’s all just a bit overwhelming for me at the moment, so I hope you understand if it looks like I’ve yet to make any progress with the caravan and all his stuff, there’s just so much of it . . . I’ll make progress, I will, I will . . .’
‘Okay, Jon . . . Now, what would you like to eat? The lamb is good today.’
‘I’d like the steak. I’d like the steak again . . .’
‘I’ll see to it . . . rare?’
About Vulgar Things
A novel that is haunted by other stories — by ghost stories, by quest narratives, by myth — but that makes something new out of them. Jon Michaels — a divorced, disinterested and fatigued editor living a nondescript life in North London — receives a sudden phone call from his brother, informing him that their estranged uncle Rey has been found dead in his caravan on Canvey Island. Recently sacked from his job, carrying a hangover from hell and craving some sort of escape, Jon reluctantly agrees to spend the week on the island to sort through his uncle’s belongings. Haunting, modern and utterly compelling, Vulgar Things follows Jon as he unearths a disturbing family secret while losing himself in the strangely alluring landscape. Vulgar Things is a novel about love, longing and being lost. It’s about desire, the sea, big skies and nothingness. It’s about money and how much we’ll dirty our hands to get it. But, above all, it’s about how a chance meeting with a mysterious person can change your life forever.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, June 28th, 2014.