Mickey was getting a bit out of breath as he reached the top of Turner’s Hill. He sat down on a wooden bench. A young lad was already sitting there but that didn’t bother him – he fancied a chat.
The bench had a panoramic view of the Black Country. It was a cold but sunny day, and he could see tower blocks, pylons, trees, and houses for miles around.
‘Alright mate?’ he said, his breath casting plumes of vapour in the air. The lad nodded, barely looking up from his phone.
‘I can remember coming up here with my old man when I was a kid. In them days, the factories were still in full swing, and you could taste the smoke as well as see it. Not like it is now.’
The young man looked up for the first time. ‘Yeah, my Nan used to say that. All a bit before my time though, mate.’
‘I bet it was, hardly out of school ain’t you? Mickey’s the name.’ He held out a hand.
‘Oh, I’m Ethan, pleased to meet you.’ They shook hands rather awkwardly. Mickey carried on talking.
‘I came here once with Carol as well. We’d been out for a few drinks and were walking back this way. I love the view at night when it’s all lit up, it’s like Blackpool Illuminations. These days there’s too many yobbos about, but it was alright back then. I’m not saying you’re a yobbo mind, but you know what some of ’em are like now. It was a summer’s night, she lay down and…well you can guess the rest. It wasn’t our first time, but it was the first time it all went really well. You know what I’m saying. When I remember her, I always think back to that night.’
Ethan looked at the ground and fidgeted with his phone. He had no idea why the old dude was telling him this stuff but wished he’d shut up.
‘We were happy then of course. Carol didn’t mind me wanting to join the Army, not at first. She was even okay when I said I was going to Northern Ireland. She always said if anybody could look after their selves over there, it was me. She was damn right as well.’
‘You was in the Army? I don’t think I’d have the bottle for that mate, fair play,’ said Ethan.
‘It wasn’t all bad, you know. They only ever showed the worst parts on the news, but there were great times over there. The lads were first class, second to none, and some of the locals were alright as well. But when it was bad…well…’
‘Yeah, I went on a stag do to Belfast last year. My Dad laughed when I told him where we was going, said nobody wanted to go there twenty years ago.’
Mickey didn’t seem to hear him.
‘My happiest days were in the Army. I was gutted at first when me and Carol split up, but it was for the best, I suppose. Five years we was together, five bloody years. But the Army just takes over your life. The mates I had back there were the best, like I said. It breaks my heart that a lot all of them never made it back… but it was more than just a job. I wasn’t doing it for the money, it was for Queen and Country.’
‘Well…yeah I suppose.’ Ethan looked thoughtful. A jogger trotted past, carrying a water bottle, oblivious to the world in his oversized headphones.
‘Everything was going well, and then I got invalided out. Can you believe it? It weren’t the Provos who did for me, it was my own dicky ticker. I still had years left in me, but the health and safety brigade wouldn’t have it.’
‘That’s rough, man.’
‘I tried to make a go of it in Civvie Street, I really did. I even got back in touch with Carol on the computer, but she’s married with kids now, and good luck to her. I really mean that. I got a job as a driver at first. I enjoyed that one, but the recession killed it all off. I thought I’d get another job. I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t, but it’s all changed now. Too many people after not enough jobs. You got a job, mate?’
‘Nah, not really. I’m doing an apprenticeship, training to be an electrician.’
‘Good lad, get a trade behind you. I wish I’d done the same, I wouldn’t have ended up on the scrapheap then. You’d think after all them years of serving my country, after everything I’ve been through, that people’d want to give me a chance. Yeah right! I couldn’t get a job for love nor money. I tried everything, but they said I had no skills. No skills! That and a dodgy heart did for me every time.’
‘Well, I’ll be going now.’ Ethan stood up; this was getting too weird. Mickey carried on talking and Ethan hovered uncertainly, thinking it would be rude just to walk off.
‘I ended up working in a supermarket. I hated the sight of the place. Wearing that bloody fleece all day and having to be nice to all the thick customers, showing them where the baked beans were, explaining the two-for-one offers. And did one of them even say ‘Thank you?’ Did they hell.’
‘It’s funny really. If you think about it, it was like Belfast all over again. If you wear the Queen’s Uniform over there you’re just a Brit, and the locals think you deserve all you get. But I’ll tell you one thing. I’d sooner face a mob on the Falls than the kind of low life we used to get in that shop.’
He pointed down the hill at a large bland warehouse, the sun glinting on the tiny cars parked outside.
‘The scum of the Earth they were, worthless pond life every last one of them. They thought they could talk to me any way they liked. Well, I wasn’t having any of that.’ He seemed to be trying to concentrate on something.
‘And I had to wear that nametag with ‘Mike’ on it. I’ve never been Mike, I’ve always been Mickey, ever since I was a kid. But if you ask me though, the customers ought to have called me Mr Farmer. I deserve a bit of respect.’
‘Well, as I said, I’d better be off.’ Ethan tried once again to leave. This guy was starting to sound like some kind of psycho.
‘So what if I told that old biddy to eff off? She was asking for it. Moaning because I wouldn’t honour her coupon. It was out of date! So that bloody kid who runs the place only went and fired me. Me! I’ve dodged bullets from the Divis Flats, seen my mates get blown to bits, and I get ordered about by a spotty little toe rag like him.
‘What those scumbags don’t realise is that you don’t spend as much time in the forces as I did without learning a thing or two – not to mention making a few contacts. Just look down there, mate.’
Ethan looked to where Mickey was pointing.
It took several hours for Ethan to give his statement. When it was finally over he went straight to the White Swan, where he promptly downed three pints in ten minutes. He was glad he his mate Kev had agreed to meet him.
‘You wouldn’t believe it, Kev. The crazy bastard just sat there, calm as anything. One minute I was looking at the supermarket, the next it was a ball of fucking fire. I’ve never heard a racket like it, my ears was ringing for ages afterwards. I heard it and felt it at the same time…people was screaming as well.’
There was more to say, much more. But Ethan couldn’t find the words.
‘Another pint?’ Kev asked.
Ethan waved vaguely to indicate yes, and looked forward to oblivion.
Daren Carpmail is 50 years old and lives in Smethwick. Several of his short stories have been published, both in print and online, and he has enjoyed some success in writing competitions. He hopes to self publish a novel in the near future.
Banner image: Daren Carpmail