Monday night. Red giant.

16 Jan

IT’S one of those crisp evenings when frost stings the back of your throat. It’s been a crisp day. But now the sun’s gone down, brick walls are beginning to glaze in the glare of the street lamps and the windscreens of parked cars are turning opaque. If this was New York, steam would rise from sidewalk grilles outside the newspaper office, adding atmosphere to the bleakness. But it’s Nitherley. And the only thing on the pavement is frozen chewing gum.

I hear a voice as I slide my electronic key in the slot at the staff entrance.

“Pssst. Pork Chop.”

I glance over my shoulder. Brian Lyon the former features editor walks towards me along the street, broad shoulders hunched, collar turned up and hands thrust deep in the pockets of his duffel coat.

“Hi Brian. How are you? How are things going?”

He stoops to thrust his face into mine. I can smell Polos on his breath.

“Can’t complain. Can’t complain.”

Then I make a big mistake. I ask a question to which I have already guessed the answer, but it’s a question that should be asked and one that seems natural. “Got a job yet?”

Brian smiles a sort of wide, leering smile and shakes his head, eyes glinting like stars. Glinting like the frost on the headlamps of parked cars.

“Nah,” he says, as pleasantly as possible. “There’s nothing out here. Absolutely nothing. All the papers are shedding staff like nobody’s business, as you well know. But even down at the lowest level, there is absolutely nothing. I mean, like, stacking shelves. I’d do that. I’d be quite happy stacking shelves. I’d find it therapeutic. But even jobs like that, there’s nothing.”

“Christ,” I say. “I know things are bleak but I didn’t realise they were that bleak.”

“Hey,” he says with sudden urgency. “Take some advice. When the shower of shite running this place (he nods towards the newspaper office) bring in the next wave of redundancies, whatever you do – don’t volunteer. Hang on for as long as you can, Pork Chop. There’s nothing out here. Stick in – right to the last. Do not volunteer.”

“The way things have been going lately,” I add reflectively, “I’m surprised there are still some of us left. I was expecting a purge just before Christmas. That’s how they do things. Merry Christmas, and here’s your festive P45. Another nail in the coffin of regional journalism.”

Brian drags his face away from mine, pulls his hands from his pockets and spreads his palms on the cold red bricks of the office wall. He places a cheek next to the bricks, as if listening for something.

“They can destroy us, Pork Chop,” he says in a whisper. “But they can’t destroy this place. The old Nitherley Observer and Bugle will live for ever. It’s part of history and part of the North. It has helped shape society and left its footprint on our culture. They can’t destroy that – because they can’t see that. Do you understand? They inhabit a lower level. They might have a financial advantage, but that’s as far as it goes. They do not comprehend, therefore they do not appreciate, therefore they cannot obliterate. They are fucking amoebas.”

A bus roars along the empty street. Stars flicker above the rooftops. I think I can see Betelgeuse, one of the upper stars in the constellation Orion. Brian pulls himself away from the wall.

“I’d better let you get to work,” he says, patting my shoulder. “Remember, stick in for as long as you can. Don’t volunteer. Now get in there and get that paper out.”

I watch Brian lope off down the street and into the shadows. He always was larger than life, and even now, in redundancy, he’s larger and shining like a star. Then I climb echoing stairs to the office, switch on my computer, and look up the constellation Orion on Wikipedia.

Apparently, Betelgeuse is a red giant nearing the end of its life. When it finally explodes it will be so bright it will be visible during the day.

That’s how I want to go – like a red giant, visible during the day, a permanent flash in the heavens. Like Brian Lyon. Something meaningful. Not a fucking amoeba.


2 Responses to “Monday night. Red giant.”

  1. Golfmadchick January 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    This should be a book. Terrifyingly true but outrageously funny!

    • theporkchop January 17, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Thanks Golfmadchick. There’s a blurred line between reality and fiction running through all this, and sometimes I find it hard to differentiate between the two. Mostly it’s reality.

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