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A short story by Kieron Green

It’s cold but I find the rain invigorating and life affirming at 6.45am in late November. I feel the early Monday morning cycle ride to work to be a meditation, clearing my mind of the clutter of the previous night’s dreams. I repeatedly check my pockets, ensuring my keys are still there, at the stops for lights and zebra crossings. I do this even though my logic tells me that they can’t be moved.

My lamps are flashing, as if in time to the rhythm of my peddling feet. 6.55am, and I hit the traffic lights, near the recently opened new large supermarket; I’m going to make it on time. 7 m and I have the key with the red tape in the first door’s lock. Even though I’m expecting it, the piercing scream of the alarm, always sets my heart racing. I already have the yellow coded key ready as I climb the dungeon like concrete stairwell. The door creaks open and the cacophony now obliterates all other sound as I semi jog to the office door and ram the green key in, putting all the right side of my body’s weight on its handle and tumbling in, managing not to fall over by the counterbalance of my rucksack.

It takes a full five seconds for my eyes to adjust to the harsh white light before I plug in the five-digit code and make everything descend into silence. Yellow light slowly makes its way up the ramp as the shutter doors are raised, making a harrowing grinding noise. I don’t wait for the process to finish, as I make my way to open the front doors to allow walking customers access. On returning to my office, I open the hatch to my first customer, Bill the butcher. He wordlessly pays for his usual five-day pass. After this I take my seat at the desk at the back of the office and take a paperback from my rucksack; I can get through one a week, when it’s quiet. This week’s choice is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Just as I’m about to lose myself and be immersed into its world, the next customer is at the hatch. Mr Gallo, the restaurant owner, buys his usual 7-day pass. He is a tall and huge man, in his thirties, with bushy eyebrows and a wide nose that gives him a severe look, he also stammers slightly. When he walks, his heels barely touch the ground, like he walks on springs, as if he is going to pounce on someone. He inherited the restaurant from his father, who he describes as both gentle and idle, traits that Mr Gallo, with his macho personality, despises.

After he leaves, I put on my navy-blue fleece, getting ready to do my first patrol of the day. We were issued with company uniforms at the beginning of last year, when I first started, but I gradually replaced each item of the uniform with my own clothing until what I wear today, except my steel cap safety boots, is my own. This is my small act of rebellion against the corporate machine. My work outfit consists of a navy-blue fleece with a rock band tee-shirt underneath, blue chino trousers and a hi-vis jacket with no logo on it.

It’s 11 am and all 3 levels are nearly full of cars. Locking the office door behind me, making my way away from the entry ramp, deeper into the first level of the carpark. As I reach the stairwell, I’m greeted by a distinctive and unpleasant odour, something like potpourri, damp fungi and antiseptic liquid. This accompanied by a silhouetted flapping figure, with a large plume of blue-black fog like bilious smoke trailing behind, ascending the stairwell. I manage to follow and just before I catch up with him, he turns and silently consents to leave. I walk behind him descending the stairs, finally watching him leave by the front door.

I wait, standing at the bottom of the stairwell for five minutes before making my way up, passing the two sheltered levels to the park roof, exposed to biting wind, and the screeching and beeping traffic far below me and just in time to glimpse two ragged spectres entering the fire exit, leading to the streets below. As I am following them down, I hear a familiar low droning frequency, rhythmically signalling in my left ear to tell me the battery needs changing. The alarm activated by the opening on the street level fire exit by the ghost-like figures is deafening but to me sounds distant and unthreatening. The only thing I can now hear in my left ear is an infuriating ringing. I view the rowdy but to me temporarily noiseless gathering of smokers outside the adjacent bar as I haul the two, heavy cast doors towards me, obliterating any sign of life outside.

In total darkness I must hug close to the railing as I guide myself up the narrow spiralling ascent and into the glaring-white artificial light of the second level of the park. Now as I move slowly upwards, I must rely on memory in this muted labyrinth where sounds have been changed into attack signals, and what is barely audible only adds to the confusion. I rush back to the office and seconds after entering, key in the code on the alarm control unit, knowing that this will now cause the infernal cacophony to cease.

Sitting down at my desk, and replacing the battery, and securing the aid into my ear, my auditory sensory levels are restored to me as best as naturally possible. Peace is restored and I return to my book. On a quiet week I can get through a novel from beginning to end, losing myself pleasantly in its pages. The novels are my portal to the wider world; reading is my key to briefly seeing the world through another’s eyes, an insight into their minds and my license to utilise my senses empathetically. Some people might think my existence here is a strange one but I have grown accustomed to the solitude over the last year I’ve worked here and I now realise that I actually enjoy it. Some might feel that I must get lonely, especially on a double shift from 7.30 am to 7.30pm, but I have plenty of reading material for company so never feel alone.

I check my watch as I lock the office door behind me, it’s 4.30pm and already darkness is settling outside, another half an hour and that darkness will have seemed to have doubled. It is around this time that Blackpool’s dispossessed will congregate round the shadowy recesses of the car park, wretchedly and desperately trying to avoid detection and to get some brief shelter from the bitter elements. At certain points in the day, I pretend not to see them, leaving them undisturbed to experience a modicum of comfort.

Many other buildings in the past have stood on the site of the car park. It has been a deluxe railway station, complete with bar and restaurant, that was eventually demolished and replaced by various budget price supermarkets, before becoming the local branch of the bargain store chain the carpark now sits on top of. Many ghosts must haunt its brutalist structure, but the more visible ones are the living ones who haunt here. One of them, an ex-soldier called Greg now beckons me over to his hiding place in the corner by the fire exit at the far side of the second level. He recounted to me last week how he’d given his life away to an imperialism he didn’t understand or could not possibly believe in, only to be tossed out on the streets when he was no longer seen as useful to the military force of a crumbling empire. He is a street philosopher and I’m always happy to hear his pearls of wisdom.

“Listen,” he says. “This is how I see it, all empires of the past, including the British one, will have you know, and will tell itself, that its mission is not to control but to liberate. This is a lie.” His talk is cut short by the buzzing of my walkie-talkie, the garbled panicked voice of a security guard. On answering tells me to make my way to the roof now. Greg’s voice is now a distant blur as I make my way as rapidly as I can to doors leading to the roof. Everything seems to move in slow motion as I notice a crowd of Police officers, late afternoon shoppers and others in hi-vis clothing. My senses are overloaded as I train my eyes on the place where theirs are focused. At the edge of the roof’s wall, with his legs dangling precociously in the open air, Mr Gallo is talking on a mobile phone.

Kieron Green is a student of English Language and Literature at the University Centre, Blackpool and Fylde College. Main image by Jeremy Segrott, Creative Commons

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