Ivory, by Steve Merrifield
Available for free, at Smashwords
Martin Roberts is a successful artist, but is finding that his creativity is slipping away until he is responsible for running a teenage girl down in his car.
Miraculously the girl survives, but stranger than her lack of injuries is her striking physical appearance; stark white hair and skin, and jet black eyes. Haunted by her looks, he seeks her out, facing dangers of this world and another.
Phillip Mayhew surveyed London’s buildings as they stretched out from beneath the crane cab into the grey haze of smog on the horizon. The site was at the heart of Camden where three high-rise blocks of flats had been demolished. The neglected and dated buildings had been cleared to make way for a smaller affordable housing development. He thought it a shame they would be low-rise and lose the arresting view that North London had to offer over the basin of the city and its landmarks; the skinny finger of the post office tower, the glittering glass gherkin and the group of skyscrapers around the obelisk of the Canada One building at Canary Wharf.
The crane’s cab creaked in protest against a gust of wind that leaned heavily against it. The sway became a lurch as the wind’s strength built and it was several minutes before he felt the crane shift back into its centre as the current of air weakened. The floating-like motion didn’t concern him since he had spent fifteen years working with cranes in his time in the building trade. As a labouring lad if there had been a crane on-site he would ask to go up it and if a foreman actually refused him he would sneak up anyway. That kind of mischief had got him suspended from sites for a few days, but he had taken his punishment of lost earnings like a man, and would then commit the same crime again if he had wanted to.
The days of being a labourer were far behind him now, but he still couldn’t shake his love of being in the cab of a crane. As an architect he had even less reason to be up there than his crane stowaway days, but it was well known by those around him in his office that whenever he visited a site where one of his company’s designs were being built, he had the quirk of giving a foreman a laugh or a coronary by asking to go up a crane. No one had any reason to suspect that today his motive for his visit was different.
Although his body lacked the energy of his youth and the climb had exhausted him, the experience had lost none of its appeal. It was a combination of things that drew him to the crane cabs, the view obviously – it didn’t matter what area the site was in, the height always made for an awe inspiring panorama. The constant listing drift of the crane was how he imagined it would be as a bird suspended in a thermal updraft. There was also the sense of power through being in control of a giant arm that would reach down and lift heavy things from the ground and move them effortlessly around the site, like Zeus in the Clash of the Titans film moving people around like pawns. He laughed as he remembered fantasies he had as a lad of plucking miserable foremen up from the ground and depositing them high up on builds on exposed girders.
However, what had drawn him to the crane today was the solitude the cab gave him and the much needed sense of escaping the mess that he had made of his life. At that moment in that place – his cherished place – he experienced a comfort and a peace that he imagined faith would give to those that had it. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and produced a dog-eared photograph of his wife Brenda and their three boys. He rubbed the corners, trying to smooth it out, but the creases were too deep. He couldn’t fix it. Like the family in the picture – he couldn’t fix what he had done.
The love he felt for the family in his hands sharpened his guilt into wicked barbs in his chest. He and his wife had planned their life well. In the early years they hadn’t allowed their love for each other to distract them from their university courses, and they had made it through four years of living in different parts of the country while they studied. They then threw themselves into their respective jobs and getting themselves noticed by their employers. Once the money had been good enough they got married and bought a house and allowed themselves the luxury of a family, with the knowledge that they could give their children the good start in life they had both lacked themselves.
Over the thirty-five years they had known each other, Brenda had gained some weight to her face and her skin had lined in the delicate areas around her eyes and mouth, but she was still attractive and was all he had needed to fulfil his fantasies. He had the love of his wife, and his fantastic boys and he was a success in his job. That was supposed to be enough.
It had been enough. Until he had seen the girl.
He had never considered straying before – it was against his moral code. Yet he had. She was unusual in appearance but strangely attractive. Considering the probable thirty year age gap she would never have looked at him twice if she hadn’t been a prostitute. Going to a prostitute was something else that he would never have considered, yet he had been to her many times now.
He had felt shame every time. It was an awful feeling. A feeling that he had wanted to cut out of him if he could, along with his sin, but his shame hadn’t been potent enough to stop him paying for her again and again. The cancer of guilt had grown with every visit. He had no idea of the going rate for such services, but knew she was expensive. Even if she had cost less he had seen her every other day for months on end and he would still be facing the same financial crisis.
He had tried to stop himself, but she was beautiful. Even after the first month had destroyed his personal savings, he hadn’t been able to stop himself squandering the family savings, money that had been reserved for his boy’s education, their deposits on property and cars, and the nest egg for Brenda and himself in retirement. All gone on sex with a prostitute. Brenda was due an annual statement any time and his betrayal would be uncovered.
He stifled a sob. He hated himself. Yet that wasn’t enough to stop him meeting the girl. He would make up for it. He would replace all the blood money he had wasted and his family would never know what he had used the savings for. He might even retain the love and respect of his wife and boys. He looked at the cityscape of north London. It was a powerful panorama that imbued him with inner strength. He felt more than the weak man he had become. He felt free. Like a bird. Like a Giant. Like a God. Like the young man that had craved this view throughout his dreams and achievement of love, family and success.
Clutching the photograph of his family he stepped out of the cab and plummeted. The air rushed over his body, pulling at his clothes like a thousand snatching hands. After this industrial accident the insurance pay-out would cover all his debts. He did it for Brenda, the girl who had lived next door to him as a child. The girl he had courted, the woman he had married. Did it for the babies he had cradled, the young men he had raised. He did it for his family. He crammed his mind with their faces and scenes from their life together like his own imagined heaven. They would be the last thing in his mind as he died. It would secure his link to them in the afterlife. Christmases, births, birthdays, picnics, day trips.
A face filled his mind. It was a pale phantom of a face with blackness for eyes. The girl. The thoughts of his family scattered. He slammed against the concrete below and burst open. The last thing in his mind and heart was not his family, but his guilt.
“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.
God and Devil are fighting there,
and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
Dark bloated clouds swathed the night sky in a low crawling ceiling, haemorrhaging their substance over London, turning the dark grey streets into stretches of black glassy marble infused and splashed with the reflected lights and neon signs. Martin Roberts’ Volvo estate hit a puddle with the impact of a hydroplane touching down, sending fans of silvery water into the air like wings. The lights of the streets were distorted by the vertical veins of rain and the watery pearls that twitched across the glass away from the direction of the car.
The outside world was a blur in Martin’s peripheral senses, swept away by the trudging march of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A that strained the speakers of his music system, blocking out the sound of rain rattling onto the roof and the hiss of the tires thrashing the puddles. The music’s steady climb to its crescendo imitated the rage that was building from the red lights and busy junctions that seemed to conspire against Martin’s need to get home and end his evening. The track came to its quiet close but instead of another pounding classic taking its place it was replaced by bouncy notes and saccharine voices – the Tweenies. One of the boys CD’s had been left in the CD changer. Ditched by the powerful classic tracks his mood suddenly had nowhere to go, and he had been so enjoying his rage. Feeling passion instead of the constant mire of his underlying melancholy and frustration was a refreshing change.
Ivory, by Steve Merrifield
Available for free, at Smashwords