it's ~dreich

Hi, I'm dreich. I just signed up (2020-09-17) and there's going to be more here soon.

Right now I'm working out whether to link this identity up with my real identity. My normal website is very me, as I am in life and work so maybe this could be a refreshing alternative to that. I'm young enough (or got involved in these things late enough) that I'm not really that used to having monikers online that aren't just myactualname. We'll see how I feel about it. In the meantime, I'll be exploring and shamelessly stealing ideas. Our personalities are just thin layers over our experiences of others'.


King's Head

The protagonist begins the story by awakening from a dream, sitting on a bench near the docks on the West Coast. His strange interactions with the locals and his fearful dreams reveal how he got this place: a failing Scottish coastal town, after fleeing the consequences of his fiancé’s fatal drug overdose.

Two little girls play after school every day in a grapefruit plantation. They talk about the strange history of grapefruits and the birds and the bees.

In the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, a minister is trying to save his church as his congregation dwindles. At night he sleeps in the building and is tortured by biblical visions. His sister tries to check in on him and help but he pushes her away until he totally loses his grip on reality.

Fish in bucket hats swarmed the bar and tried to put in their orders for vodka and whatever. The deck and dance floor shuddered upwards for a few seconds, hung for a moment, and then smashed down. The crowd danced on regardless, strobe lights quickly sketched their general shape and position for split seconds at a time. There was sea salt in the air, scum and motor oil. There was the Halloweenish smell of rubber and fake smoke. There was sweat. Fish sweating, people sweating.

There was a roiling ocean out there. On the deck things continued. Os couldn’t remember if he was a fish. Os thought maybe he hadn’t been a fish to begin with but now he was one. It never occurred to him to settle the question and look down to see either a hand he remembered (dirty festival wristbands, a silver ring around the little finger) or a moist fin like the ones he could see all around him. He didn’t feel afraid of the ocean because nobody else looked afraid. Sometimes the view looking up from the deck was so terrible that it could only register as fake, a trippy visual for the ravers. Now for example, look up above the rusty bridge, over the spinning radar dish and aerials. There is the face of the sea, black and white in low light. Hundreds of waves crossing and smashing over one another from above, high above. If that were really there, that would mean we must be surfing down an enormous wave and pitching almost straight down. If that were true, if things were that bad, people would be panicking. Os would never be the first to panic.

Os pushed to the front of the crowd. The lights sketched big, empty eyes inches away from his face and then snatched them away. The lights showed him a set of three gills opening, then nothing. Things were tighter up here. She was lagging; he could feel it by her fingers clutching round his, bonier. There’ll be energy at the front. I can’t see. You don’t need to see just feel the energy, look at the lights. I can’t see. Baby, I’m bleeding.

Rat-tat-tat-tat. Four men in fluorescent suits rolled a metal cage full of ropey objects across the concrete. Os snapped to quick. He was freezing cold, it was twilight and these four guys were banging this rolling cage of fishing tackle or something past him. They had thick gloves gripping the four corners of the cage and head torches all lit. Os followed the light from the torches and watched it dancing around on the wall of a small tin warehouse.

He’d fallen asleep on a bench where a sort of promenade smashed into the harbour buildings. He pulled his phone out of his jeans pocket and it was dead. It was so cold in his hand it was almost slick. He check his watch. It was almost five in the morning. The four guys were rounding the corner of the building now and making a new racket slamming some unseen door open. Os didn’t know whether to feel vaguely hurt that they hadn’t reacted to his presence out here at all. Perhaps it wasn’t rare. It was a first for him, spending a night on a bench. Os did think, well it wasn’t a “night on the streets”, really. He couldn’t sleep and rather than sit and stew in his thoughts he’d decided to put on his coat and walk around a bit, clear his head. He’d left the flat around three.

The flat was the top floor of a little terraced house. Fisherman’s cottage, he’d supposed based on nothing but the fact it was near the sea, old, and not that big. Fisherman’s cottages was something he’d heard of on daytime property development TV. He walked down towards the sea, through a small high street. Nothing was shuttered at night here. You could peer right through the window in the dead of night and just about see the countertops and chairs in darkness. The shops ended suddenly and Os had looked at the two roads branching away from him. One pitched up and out of town, over the next headland and to the next town. The other fell away and curved to the right, to the seafront. Os fancied the sea and didn’t fancy the hill. He looked up to the sky expecting a shotgun blast of stars but floodlights from the harbour had wiped it out.

It only took him a few minutes to walk from one end of the harbour wall to the other. He kicked a rusty length of chain along for a while before the end skidded off the edge. It loudly dragged the rest of the chain over the edge and splashed into the water. Os looked up half-expecting to see lights flicking on in the windows of the town, people cartoonishly shaking their fists at him in silhouette.

When he’d worn out the irritable feeling in his legs, he sat down on the bench. The jumbled thoughts he’d been crowding out with late night talk radio and cigarettes in the flat didn’t immediately pounce again when he sat still. He felt relieved. He listened to the silence of his mind for a minute. He listened to the the gurgle of the water swirling around the bottom of the harbour wall. He slumped sideways, stretched himself out on the bench and fell quickly asleep.

The harbour woke up before the town. Two trawlers came in, one right after the other. Os didn’t notice them until they were right in front of him. More men in reflective clothing threw coils of rope handily around huge metal studs and tugged themselves snug with the wall. More wheels rattled over the concrete. Nobody took any notice of Os, and it took longer than he expected for the catch to appear. He couldn’t see any crabs in vats or big nets of fish, just lots of equipment being moved around. He got up and stretched. His bones creaked and popped. He started back into town around half past six.

One of the men from the trawlers was hanging around at the door of the chandlery. He’d taken his big reflective jacket off and the straps that help up his trousers ran over a black thermal top that clung to him. He looked bottom-heavy. He smoked a cigarette and looked at his phone. Soon the light inside the chandlery flicked on and the door unlocked and swung open. A sturdy old woman of about seventy nodded him in. The man eyed Os for a moment as he ground out his cigarette and then went inside.

She never liked a pub without a painting on the sign. The King’s Head was depicted on a pike. You wouldn’t know at first. His tongue wasn’t sticking out theatrically nor were his eyes bleeding around the edges. Look a little closer though and his neck stops short and a dark wooden pole comes from the bottom of the frame and up into the bottom. He looks pale. The side of his mouth droops. Os had to find work. He’d arrived five days ago and holed up for the first four after getting the necessary consumable supplies for survival (instant noodles, cigarettes). He’d paid rent up front for the first two months, which left him with a couple of hundred pounds and nothing coming in.

Os wanted to be as small as possible. He wanted to be the smallest piece of the smallest thing in the smallest place. If his job could be the same as stone in the corner of a distant field, to exist and be unknown and ignored, he’d take that. For now he’d put himself forward at the King’s Head and at some of the shops down the road. He worked at the student union bar when he was younger. He hadn’t worked anywhere but at a desk in years but he worked at the student union bar when he was younger. He pictured the sticky cider taps and glittery ceiling as he looked through the wood of the locked front door of the pub. A click of the carousel and he pictured the inside of the King’s Head. Old carpet, wooden bar, one beer available. The idea of becoming known put him off slightly. He succumbed to a nasty little fantasy of himself as the mysterious outsider who slowly wins over the rough types who frequent the pub with his pump-side manner and becomes a beloved mascot before long. He recoiled at himself and turned heel toward the flat.

“It’s a little early.” A girl carrying a cardboard box down the road. She hugged the large box up at chest height with both arms and he could only just see her eyes over the top. She bobbed down to the front door of the pub and let the box fall to hip height, wedging it against the doorframe as she pulled the keys out of her back pocket. Her oversized orange jumper was full of holes. Something about a jack-o-lantern wafted through Os’s mind. Remembering how he’d slept and how he looked, Os offered a self-effacing smile and laugh and prepared to get out of there.

“I was wondering actually if you had any work.”

She looked him up and down for the first time. He suddenly felt very exposed as her little brown eyes presumably made their minds up in a split second.

“You’re not just on a very shite holiday?”

“No. I’m living on Coglan Road. I live here.”

A pause while she waited for him to give some better account of himself. He didn’t look standoffish like a person who was giving this little away, but he did have a real help me look.

“Well I’ll ask the proprietress if there’s room for a spare Englishman. I assume you mean bar not kitchen?”

“Yeah, bar. Sorry I didn’t realise there would be a kitchen.”

The look on her face said, “I bet you didn’t”. It was followed by one that said, “Bye then”.

Florence was spread out beneath them. It had been his idea to hike up to see David at dusk. He’d hoped they’d reach the spot he had hid in mind before the sun set but she’d wanted to stop and watch a busker on the way up. Now they were at the viewpoint there was only the memory of a sunset, banding the horizon with soft orange. Instead the show would have to be Florence, the duomo lit up and surging up out of the rest of it. He told her to pose, looking at the skyline away from him. He got on one knee, put down his camera quietly, and pulled the ring box from his coat pocket.

“Marry me Becky”, said the large man as he tried to catch her hand. Becky put his emptied pint glass in the rack below the bar and told him where to go. The man, who’d been resurfacing a road in the early morning before coming to the King’s Head for a sustained day of drinking, smelled of all of it. There were four others scattered around the bar: Shelly and Craig with their pit bull snoring under the table, Sharpe the postmaster extraordinaire drinking with a young woman Os had never seen before, a young woman who was not Mrs. Sharpe. This was common and unremarkable, it seemed.

Os preferred to be rushed off his feet. That only really happened about twice a week. Given the size of the town it’s amazing it happened at all, but if you accounted for the people in the villages around, and Os supposed if you imagined one man coming out of each of the houses in the town and walking into this room that’s not nothing. People agree to come together and to squeeze all into one place. They come and pile themselves into one space so they have to squeeze past one another’s bodies to drink and piss, and they have to shout over everybody shouting over everyone to talk to someone they know. It makes no sense. Os caught himself, of course it made sense. In another life the heat of too many people in a warehouse felt like potential to him.

For now though, it was Tuesday evening and they could only reasonably expect one or two more drinkers from now until closing, in addition to the regulars who seemed well bedded in. Even Ken, the big man who smelled of tar, who must have been on his eighth, had room for plenty more.

The door swung open and a boat crew of five washed through it. They were soaked and looked like they’d just climbed out of the harbour’s water. There was a quick salutation to the bar then they encircled a table, dragging a fifth chair from the next one along. One, with long curly hair that sprung outwards in spite of the water trying to it down, slapped his neighbour on the back and declared his round. “For the fucking stupid idea of going out there in that storm.” Quickly, he was at the bar. Becky had made some sort of calculation and was in the cellar getting another barrel on. “Good evening, son. Five bitters, five whiskies, doubles, Juras.” He got on with the order with as little speech as necessary but as usual he was given away. Os saw it in the cock of the man’s eyebrow as he put the first two pints on the bar in front of him. Most people simply let him know that they’d registered he was English in some non-verbal way, then said no more leaving that assessment in the air between them.

“I had a friend from England. We were doing a mariner’s course in Liverpool and I’d go go an see him whenever we crossed over like. He was obsessed with the army, he said he wanted to be allowed to fire a gun. He kept talking aboot when he’d shot a rifle on his uncle’s farm. His uncle gave him the chance to kill a fox that they’d cornered. He says he missed, and the uncle took the gun back. He pulled the trigger and my friend watched the fox burst. He was obsessed with the squeeze of his uncle’s finger on the trigger, and the pop of the fox. He joined the army eventually, mad bastards let him in. I reckon he’s probably oot in Afghan squeezing and making some young men pop.”

“Os hasn’t asked about shooting a gun yet but I’ll let ye know.” Becky was back up the from cellar and pulling the new barrel through. Os turned to the ring up the order but heard the man say, “we’ll open a tab” as he carried the drinks to the table. From the bar he watched them drink off the cold and damp, a pint and a whisky each time. They were so indistinguishable from one another. Their shapes were re-used: big hands, beards dissolving down the neck, guts swelling in white undershirts. The spoke, then shouted. Their outlines began to smudge; they were large enough that they enclosed the table and at times they seemed like a single organism. They pissed one at a time but in a streak. One would crack and head to the toilet and as he slammed back down at the table, the next would skid back their chair and take their turn. Each after the other until they could all be a single organism again, for another half an hour when the cycle would kick off again.

Os watched them with unfocused eyes, picking one of them out and tracking them every now and again, like you’d look on a crowd. He always liked looking at the throb of a crowd, the fish on the deck. When had that been? The bundled up couples on the riverbank waiting for the fireworks. The ravers in the warehouses. The police outside the warehouses. When they switched the lights on everybody looked like corpses, her most of all. Funny how the skull is always there, just under the softness of their skin. Suck in your cheeks or roll back your eyes and there you are, how you’ll be afterwards. The floodlights and the strobes of the police dimmed and Os was back in the bar. He felt a strap tightening over his chest. The fishermen were draining the foam at the ends of their pint glasses. They staggered out, five puppets on strings all in a line.

In an hour it was time to close. Afterwards Becky would either turn right with him up the Coglan Road, or carry straight on to her place in a small seventies estate on the edge of town. There seemed to be no pattern behind it, and she’d never given him any reasons. The first time she’d come up the road with him he’d looked at her with a look that said “you missed your turn” and she replied: “your place is up here, right?” and that had clinched it. She let herself out in the mornings and they never spoke about it.

That night she carried straight on to her place, where she’d be met by a mutt called Flora who would probably make a racket and wake up Becky’s older sister Lara, who would float down the stairs in a Mickey Mouse dressing gown and grumpily report the time. Os went home to his dreams.

There were three missed calls from an unknown number on his phone the next day. They all came in around nine. He woke up at eleven. He felt his heart drop and didn’t dare work out why that might be. He turned it over on the bedside table.

He lay back against the headboard and stared at the wall calendar on the opposite wall. The thoughts came whether he wanted them or not. If it was the police, it would have been a landline. The missed calls were from an 0-7 number. Was it a crime to ignore the police's phone calls? Anybody he could think of who'd be looking for him would be in his phonebook. Unless it was somebody from the family. There was the gut drop, unless it was somebody from the family. He should have bought a new SIM card when he left. That would have been the cleanest cut, but he'd held on to something, explained it away with something about it being easier to get set up somewhere new if he had his phone number. He closed his eyes.

He was on the train platform in Kings Cross with a backpacking rucksack and a duffel bag. "Am I free to go?", he'd asked the detectives on the way out of the station. They'd said yes. Misadventure. They'd used the word misadventure, like Os and Priya hadn't managed to slay the dragon together or something. Her skin burning, the shaking that wouldn't stop. Misadventure. On the way back to the flat he walked over Blackfriars Bridge and looked down at the water. The water was ink. It'd be cold but he couldn't see how it could carry him away. When he got back to the flat he'd sat in the bath for a few minutes waiting for the the courage to do something reckless but it never came. He stuffed clothes into his bags. He left voicemails with his landlord and his boss. He pictured the items left on his desk in Cannon Street: a dead plant, a bottle of prosecco, a polaroid of Priya sitting in a gondola propped up in the back row of his keyboard. In the desk drawer a stack of corporate law textbooks, a bit of coke hidden in the back of one. He'd forgotten to empty his suit jacket pockets after the Christmas party and stashed it in there and kept forgetting to sneak it out.

The first night he stayed in a business motel in Preston. He spent another few minutes on the precipice, sitting in the bath. Then he sat on the hotel bed and watched six hours of international news channels. The next morning he got back on the train and found a hotel outside of the city. Looking out his second hotel window in two days, Os watched heavy equipment move around the beginnings of a business park in the twilight. He plugged his phone in, felt it buzz to life in his hand. It all came pouring in. He pictured the window bursting in front of him and freezing seawater blasting him into the back of the room. Missed calls from his friends in the city, David from work was there on the night. They'd lost eachother early on. Os wondered when he'd realised the ambulance was for Priya. Texts from Eva, with surprisingly little anger. Eva was kind, he'd loved her first. He saw the night she'd introduced him to her little sister. After a law society dinner, they got a taxi into town to meet their friends at a bar. Eva squeezed up next to Os and a girl in a bright yellow dress followed her through the taxi door. This is my sister Priya. Priya offered a handshake across her sister's lap and Os had laughed.

"My da's got a boat. He used to fish." Os wasn't sure if he wanted to be on a boat commanded by this man. But he hadn't been on the water the whole time he'd been here. He could have taken the ferry but he didn't know where he wanted to go. He used the last of his will getting to this place, he couldn't decide anything else. He would go where the tide took him. If the tide carried him onto Mad Derrick's dad's boat puttering around the small isles, so be it.

The salt was carried in the wind and stuck to his face. Derrick sat at the back of the tiny boat with his hand on the tiller of the outboard motor. With the wind and noise of the engine there wasn't much space for conversation; Os was grateful. He watched a sea bird dive into the water at a near vertical. It came out with nothing. Os wondered how it could take off with all the water bogging it down. He turned around so he had his back to the bow and hunched into a ball, creating a windless pocket big enough to light a cigarette. He watched the town shrink over Derrick's shoulder, then disappear behind a headland. The pilot was gazing vacantly over Os's shoulder in return. Before long he steered the boat gently to the left and Os turned around to see the island rising up in front of him. It was plain and barren. He didn't know what to look for in the landscape up here. Derrick rounded a spit of rocks and turned into a small cove. Os could see the rocky beach up ahead. The engine cut and there was only the wind for a few second while they washed onto the wet, black stones.

Os was grateful for the boots Becky had told him to pick up before he got on the boat. His beaten up Adidas trainers wouldn't have had any purchase on these rocks as he stumbled over them diagonally, dragging the boat clear of the tide. His jeans were damp from the spray. "Here's fine."

They clambered up chute of loose rocks that finally put them on solid ground. The ground wasn't just green turf, Os noticed, it was full of purples and golds and strange shapes like a miniature sea bed. They climbed for ten minutes up the slope until they reached a rocky mound that provided a viewpoint. There was nobody on any of these islands, Derrick said, not for decades. The odd twitcher boat trip would drop off a dozen people and pick them up a couple of hours later. He pulled a small bottle of Glenlivet from inside his coat and took a swig. Os accepted a swig too. He felt the heat trickle down his insides. They looked at the grey outline of the land next to the darker grey of the sea and the lighter grey of the sky. A sudden buzz and movement from Derrick.

"Yeah we're on the rock, all good?" A pause, a frown, he looked up at Os for a moment. "For Os?"

There was a familiar sink.

"Listen, I can't really hear everything you're sayin'. We'll be back in a half hour."

He rang off and put his phone back, breathed into his hands and clapped them together.

"There's somebody waiting for you at the King's Head. I think Becky said Eva."

Os tried to let the rattle of the engine fill every space in head as they crossed back over the water. His face twisted down like somebody trying to stave off vomiting. Priya danced on a makeshift stage with a dozen other people, flaoting above the sea. Derrick opened his mouth and out came the voice of an officer of the Bedfordshire Police. "Did you supply them?"

In a hotel room near the Uffizi gallery, they lay and waited for room service to bring up dinner. She kissed the middle of his chest, looked up and said "forever". The ring still looked odd on her finger. In the minivan bouncing down a country lane she checked herself in a compact mirror and dabbed some more glitter beside her eyes. She sat over the dinner table from him, her parents at either endmade friendly conversation. Her father, bald with a small moustache and penetrating eyes, asked him how he enjoyed commercial law as he handed him a napkin. Os felt the heat of his analysis while he replied. He felt Priya's reassuring foot lay itself on his.

Derrick brought the boat around and threw a line out. Os started to climb onto the jetty and lost his balance as the boat rocked. He caught himself on both hands, and wandered away dumb. It was almost evening again, days seemed like a brief blip of light here sometimes. The King's Head seemed quiet from the outside. He lingered there for a moment before he pushed through the door. There were a dozen regulars inside. Becky looked up from the till and met his eye, confused and feeling betrayed without knowing why. She looked at the back corner of the room, next to the fire. Holding a notebook with both hands resting on the table in front of her, Eva.

The minibus pulled up to the warehouse and Priya could feel the music before she opened the door. It rattled everything around her and throbbed in her chest. The top end of the wall of sound whooshed in when the door slid back. Columns of ravers were heading into the barn. The others piled out of the van after her and she felt Os's arms around her. She was excited, it'd been months since they last did something like this. She wanted to feel perfect in the moment, happy enough that she could stretch out a second in time forever and live in it. She heard the MC calling people inside to join together. Os's open right palm appeared in front of her: a little green diamond and a blue lightning bolt. She plucked the green from his hand and he took the other. She turned and whispered "forever" into his ear.