Fergus On A Bridge
© Clive Gilson 2016
Shakespir License Statement
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The right of Clive Gilson to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licenses issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
There was a certain immature swagger in their collective step. Four young men on the still industrially stained streets of an as yet unregenerated city. Leeds. Nineteen eighty-one or thereabouts. Drainpipes and frayed surplus army jackets. An overcoat, a white button down shirt and a bootlace tie. Students. An Arafat scarf. Pixie boots. Baggies. Boot cuts and plaid shirts. Vaguely stubbled chins. One of the boys was brave enough to wear mascara. Broad grins and urgent laughter. An early eighties twitch away from punk towards Smithian Cures and McCulloch’s Bunnies. In the wild and wuthering Yorkshire heathlands superimposed on the otherwise blank landscapes in their heads these boys never cried when they were on a promise.
They were, though, still gentling boys, most of them, breathing the sweet airs of a spring evening on the trek down from Burley towards the Arndale and then along the Headrow to The Warehouse. Sweet airs upon sweet air and all just a wheeze away from their digs and fetid piles of washing lurking in corners by desks laden with every accoutrement known to a Maggie Thatcher-era student except essays and assignments. The unwashed waited stiffly and stoically together for the placcy-bag haul back home on the train, for a long weekend of proper food, for a mother’s indefatigable love and a twenty on the paternal bung.
Tonight, though, it was rumoured that Heaven 17 would be making a late, choreographed, tape machine backed appearance on The Warehouse’s postage stamp of a stage. Fascists and Groove Thangs. The stuff of boyish nights and childishly exaggerated Friday morning hangovers. The four of them had abandoned their varied attempts at academe for the week and had already spent an hour in Dick’s flat watching The Munsters, drinking Bulls Blood, smoking a spliff or three and had then livened themselves up with a line of something worryingly but whizzingly speckled blue. Dick swore that he knew the bloke who knew the bloke who had driven over to Chapeltown so that made everything just fine.
The chemical order of things dictated that they head now for the chippy opposite the old Uni clock tower steps, kill the munchies, find a pub, drink beer and then dance until they dropped or the lure of a fragrant smoko on the town hall steps called them out into the wee small hours. They might try to nick another digger from the building site down by the Engineering Department. They might just walk. Fergie was the king of the walk. Fergie was the king of the bridge. Secretly they were all slightly infatuated with Fergus Patrick McGoldrick.
In the beginning there was Fergus. Twenty-four. A mature student. The one who had remained in halls for two years and only moved into digs when the new crop of first year boys begged him to. Fergus was the one with the weird and unfathomable background. In Fergie’s case it was an Irish thing, northern, and never really explained or asked about. One mention of Troubles with a capital “T” gummed the English lads right up. Fergie was studying English Literature. Faerie Queens and peering ploughmen. Fergie laughed freely and tested the boys whenever he got bored. He introduced them to the craic. He drank too much but never got drunk. Same with the smokes. It never seemed to matter how much he took, he could always, always shoot straight on the black for winner-stays-on in the Skyrack.
Then there was Dick. Lovejoy duffled and scarved as often as not. Thick short browns and heavy boots. Public school. The actor. Feigned drawls, mock candours and fantastically flawed relations. Dick was the provider of Thursday evening dossery. Allegedly Dick had a girlfriend but as yet the boys had only caught glimpses of something feminine in the creases of his turn-ups. Unlike Fergie, Dick got royally drunk pretty much whenever he could. He was an anthropologist. He got drunk on the back of a ten hour working week.
Dick had it hard. Mick was the obligatory history wonk. Four hours of lectures and two in tutorial. The rest of the week was library time. Barring an occasional spin on the hockey pitch, library time was mostly spent reading the signs on hand-pumps in The Skyrack, The Original Oak, The Haddon, The Queen, The Eldon, The Hyde Park and the Union Bar. He could also read a snooker scoreboard, although a teenage onset myopia meant that he mostly recorded the results of his own foul shots. Once in a while he rushed madly to finish an essay. He was the grammar school rebel. Essentially off the rails except when the work ethic actually mattered. He claimed that his favourite historical character was Yosemite Sam.
And then there was Dave. The compo genius. The one who should have gone to Oxbridge. The one who really did have to deal with issues but mostly covered them up. Dave was a fosterling. Dave went home to people who were essentially friends of the family once removed. Dave deserved better. Dave worked bloody hard to compensate, and then somehow managed to screw it up on the point of each and every victory. Every time. Without fail. Dave was jeans and plaid. He owned and actually wore a grey check sports jacket. In public.
Four boys. Four young men. Russell Group red-bricks. Three of them not yet twenty and oblivious to their privilege. Four of them telling the world that they did not care. Three of them liars. Four of them out on the craic.
The wired little gang of four on the lash reached the university clock tower opposite the now closed Islamabad restaurant. The were culturally closer to Blyton than they were to Missus Mao’s revolutionary brotherhood so recently deposed in the far Orient. The boys had been genuinely shocked and then thoroughly delighted by the latest rumours. German Shepherd in the lamb Madras. Collie in the cauliflower bhaji. The Islamabad had been closed for nearly a week. It was, to the day, precisely one week since their last two-in-the-morning stopover for something brown and spicy on their trudge home from the previous week’s Indie night at The warehouse. A Doggie Dhansak?
Just as they passed in front of the last of the restaurant’s four plate glass windows, the one with the green and yellow palm trees painted on it, Fergus stopped in mid walk, leaned over the kerb and vomited. Bile. A trick he had for the boys. Faint disgust and fascination. Assumptions. An ironic commentary on the state of take-away culture? One too many Bulls? Fergus being Fergus? None of them yet suffered like he did from chronic reflux.
“Better out…” A clearly and flatly intoned brogue. That harsh drive through the vowels that marked the Ulsterman.
Being typically English the boys kept walking. They said nothing, as though it was all just a commonplace. It was just a commonplace. They exercised that age old English oxymoron that is hurried and consciously applied nonchalance. It was not until the Arndale swung into view and concrete shadows engulfed them that the boys’ shoulders visibly relaxed. They had been dismissed from their parade ground drill by the sight of The Haddon. The first pub of the night. The long walk done. Now they could relax into the drifting rounds that marked the hours between nine and eleven. Just enough time and booze to feign wasted but not enough to be denied entry by the bulldozers on The Warehouse door. Darts and Timmy Taylors and Tetley and thick tar stains on fingers and heavily paint crusted wallpaper.
And so to Heaven 17. Martyn, Ian and blonde shocked Glenn. Synchro-synthotechnics. Almost clockwork. Loud and bright and brown and black and bass lines driven on for stylised boys and girls on the beer soaked dance floor. Drifts of weed floating under a heavy Silk Cut pall. That strange angular, sideways jog that passed for new-wave-indie dancing in the early nineteen-eighties. Mullets and Mohicans. That slight tinge of tinnitus swelling as the evening wore on.
These were the days before craft beer and imported lagers. Tetleys and Harp and an exotic Fosters XXXX for the brave. Four songs, one of which was a popular reprise of Fascist and then the tape machine broke down. Boos and laughter and a rock star on the dance floor trying to find a groove to Typical Girls. These were the things that Fergus, Dick, Mick and Dave chattered and laughed about as they straggled along back-to-back lanes on the homeward Burley trek, up past Jimmy’s and all those resting patients on Victorian wards a-screaming where one James Saville esquire worked shell-suited devilry in the name of sweet charity.
They fetched up down by the Engineering department. Déjà vu. A rerun of a scene from The Great Digger Heist. Street lights burning sodium orange. Stopping to light up. Coughs and rollies and matches shielded in cupped hands against the night breezes. Footsteps dragging, the pace slow and meandering. Beer on breath. The way seemed dark and long when the walk was on the up. Collars pulled up. Heads were starting to ache and cheeks to burn.
And so to the bridge over the inner ring road. Woodhouse Lane. Two o’clock quiet. A thirty foot drop to the rumbling tarmacadam below. Busy down there. Clubbers in cabs. Mums and Dads grumbling about free bloody taxi services but nonetheless relieved that the kids were alright. A sudden burst of blues and twos. The siren wailings echoed off the ring road walls as they rose up towards the Woodhouse Lane bridge.
A siren call. Three of the boys began to chant. They egged each other on. Fascination and dread. An almost messianic admiration of the doomed saviour. That one might die to save all others…
“Bridge..! Bridge..! Bridge..!”
Fergus waited and watched. The boys baited and panted. They felt like lords of the night and as happy as flies on a dung hill. Fergus shut his eyes for a moment. He let the chants fade to laughter. He waited just long enough for the derision to start, for the nerves to jangle and for childish taunts to pitter-patter across the pavement.
“Really?” he asked archly.
And so to the walk. Fergus took off his pale green army surplus and rolled up the sleeves of his red cotton shirt. He took off his shoes and socks and handed the bundle to Dave, who almost bowed in supplication. Breathing quickened around him, but Fergus remained calm. He stood silently for a moment and then, at a point where the road bridge was still firmly tethered to the land he climbed slowly onto the top of the side wall so that he ended up in a crouched position, one foot behind the other, with his hands on each side of the top rail while he groped for and then sensed and finally felt his whole being slide into this new elevation.
A small part of the man wanted to be sick. Another chink, a sliver, wanted to cut and run. Around him he could sense that same mixture of revulsion and fascination and fear rise, but it was in the doing of this thing that Fergus gained true control and mastery. He stood and wobbled. He heard gasps and giggles. He heard the rise in pitch and tone as the boys shifted towards discomfort. It was time to up the stakes. Fergus slowly turned atop the rail so that he would have to walk backwards.
“No fucking way…” Dick.
“Jesus, Ferg. You sure, mate?” Mick
The sound of beer and bile on a paving slab. Dave.
Fergus moved both arms out to the horizontal. He closed his eyes. Left foot backwards. He held that moment. He measured the fabric of the universe. He could feel the cold metal on his heel and his ball and his toes. He could feel alcohol in his bloodstream. He could see a shining path behind him, as wide as a boulevard. Right foot backwards. He adjusted. He flexed and waved his right arm out towards the ring road thirty feet below. It was, he mused, calculated insanity.
“No, Ferg… Come on mate. No need. Just kidding.” Dick. Panic. Really bricking.
The sound of a grey check sports jacket sleeve being rubbed across slickly sickly stubble. Dave.
One foot after another. At his feet Fergus imagined the scene; a hesitant, fidgeting gaggle of three spooked kids waiting for the crack of a skull on concrete. Fergus reached the middle of the bridge. The point of no return. The boys hovered in some vague reverie, assuming that if Fergus fell then they would be able to defy the perceived slow motion reality of gravity and haul their Messiah back to safety. They knew in their hearts, of course, that they would grab at thin air. This was all about faith. That was the thrill of it. That and the cackle and the full on tongue-lashing that they got if they moved too close to the tightrope walker extraordinaire. This was full bore road-kill obsession.
Fergus had, however, no intention of ending his days with his head beneath the wheels of a thirty-two tonne pantechnicon. Fergus was in control. Each step was an act of defiance and an act of compliance. At times like this he felt at one with the world, with this starscape, with this wonderful chaos. For Fergus those long days and nights in between bridges was an endless falling. Up here on this railing was precisely where and when he truly fitted into an otherwise alien universe. He was half way across. He kept his eyes closed. He saw the hovering boys as deeper shades upon the grey tones of an otherwise bland night. The shades moved a little closer. Fergus took a long stride backwards and started to twist spirals on the night sky with his outstretched arms. He was finally going to fall. He whooped with delight and cracked a huge smile.
“F…” was all that he heard.
Fergus laughed out loud. He turned round to face the rest of the unconquered bridge, still laughing. “Fuck off,” he shouted out loud. “All you’s just fuck off. Did you think…?” Roaring laughter. Fergus ran along the second half of the bridge in a semi-controlled staggering, felt his foot slide at the last step and launched himself onto Woodhouse Lane, landing and rolling and ending back in the crouch position. He did not look back. He was, for a magical moment, king of the world. The boys tried to saunter. Their hearts hammered in their chests.
“Socks and shoes” Fergus demanded softly. Confused shufflings. The sound of Dave being sick again. A cigarette being lit. Fergie’s bundle of clothes was dropped to the floor at his feet. The cigarette appeared in Dick’s disembodied hand, the butt proffered first for Fergus to take. The disciples backed away and waited, giving the walker space and time to adjust to a life that was again merely mortal and temporal.
“Shit, Ferg”, whispered Dick when he could bear the silence no longer. “I mean… you don’t…”
“It’s just for the craic” grinned Fergus as he pulled on his socks and shoes. “Nothing else.” He paused as he tied a shoelace, blowing smoke streams through his nostrils. “When’s one of you’s gonna give it a go? Can you answer me that one?”
Nervous laughter. Hearts in mouths. Three year contracts signed on the mild side of wild was all that the English boys had ever committed to. Silence. A brisk and sober walk back to Burley digs. Admiration and fear. Fergus was a madman. He terrified them one and all. They loved him for it.
Fergus wondered whether these boys really understood what or who it was that they loved. The trick was being in control. The magic lay in balancing the weight of his possibilities against their lack of imagination. He did not want to explain that to them. He rather liked their fickle love and fascination. He knew as well that such things do not last. These boys would get their tickets of leave and return to a craicless world painted in dulls and duffs. He too would one day soon get bored. One day, one day soon enough, he would look for a much bigger bridge.
Also by Clive and available as eBooks and print books at Shakespir and Amazon:
Acts of Faith
Songs of Bliss
In for a Penny
In for a Pound
Into the Walled Garden
Out of the Walled Garden
Bogey Bear stars in…
Four students. Nineteen-eighties music. A Messiah and his disciples. A bridge. Beer. what more could anyone want? This is another new story by author Clive Gilson, available here for free until Clive's new collection is ready later this year, when all of Clive's new stories will be made available in print and eBook format here on Smashwords and on Amazon. Individually Clive's stories have been downloaded over fifty thousand times since the end of 2012. Clive's stories mix a love of traditional storytelling with magical realism. There's a lot of reality here, good and bad, but you're never going to be far away from the odd, the horrific and the mysterious...