Sentient vigour passes in fits and starts, jerking along self-consciously until it stops, shaking itself apart or receding piecemeal, rubbed by the warm embrace of time. An irresistible inertia marshals the wheels forward, onward and onward. Trying to slow or stop this march only jars, the ground moving beneath our feet. Lurching nausea…
Tossing aside the notepad and picking up the battered acoustic, Dunn notes the time. He clatters out a few loose chords, crooning…
“Forty-five minutes is all I wasted! Whilst her warm brown skin I barely tasted!”
The phone rings as it does roughly every twenty minutes on a Sunday.
“Pastry kitchen, Herschel speaking! How may I direct your call?”
Crunch, dialling tone. Rude bastards. Dunn shifts his weight, feeling a sprinkle of needles down his left leg as he steadies himself, stretching arms up and laying his head back. He feels flush, sedate and yawns loud, the electricity darting behind his eyes.
“Ennui! Ohhh sweet, sweet malady”
Passing down the empty unloved corridor the pastissier nips into the store cupboard to half-inch a bottle of Fanta, fancying it might go well with the Cointreau he liberated earlier. On bumping through the swinging doors he breaks into Release Me (Let Me Go) as Martin George barks,
“I wanna see a receipt for that drink, Trouble!”
“Sure thing, Chef!”
Hersch allows the fans to drown him out as he salutes the boss, plucks his ticket from the printer and drifts round back to his section, an icy little burg safe from prying eyes. The ticket’s an easy one (they all are), Dunn balls it up and hooks it into a sink full of spinach where it promptly sinks, unmourned. After splashing around a touch of syrupy sauce and an assange of garnish Dunn calls service and retires back to the pastry. A salvo of catcalls from his colleagues escort him out. By the doors, he turns, bows and waves.
“Fuck you Hersch!”
“Yezz, Yezz, Yezz. You Sweet Princes… Kings of Maine!”
In the pastry Dunn helps himself to a little can of strong lager left over from the Christmas Pudding mix, cops a squat on an up turned stock pot and regards the ceiling. It’s a harsh white plastic, pocked with tar coloured marks, a pattern which lends itself well to the lager, a bouquet of wet brown leaf.
The clock strikes four, half way home and lunch time. Dunn defrosts a spiced brioche bun, brushes with pesto oil and blasts in the combi (200 degrees, 2 minutes) before layering it up with grilled chicken, romaine and tomato. It hits the spot dead centre, winding the poor chef and making a nap all but inevitable. A few sturdy cardboard boxes make for a fine cot under the work top, the phone is disconnected and away he goes.
Joe comes in, kicks the bench and drawls, “you’ve got some checks on, I’ve already done two so plug the fucking phone back in.” Awaking to such chilly disdain is unpleasant but hardly bothersome and Hersch rolls out of his fort and follows his former pal down the corridor musing that every rat has it’s race and we only really knock heads when our tracks cross.
The checks are nothing to lose friends over and they’re plated and sent before Dunn’s vision has even cleared. Some waitresses are gathered by the doors as he leaves.
“What’s in the box?”
“Party supplies, the clown’s upstairs in the Gun Club doing a kids party”
“That fucking clown’s here tonight?”
“Yeah, you made doughnuts for it yesterday, remember?”
“Oh right, I’ll just grab one of these and be on my way”
“You’re allowed that!”
“Always a pleasure girls… you ain’t seen me, right?”
Dunn carries on through the pastry and out into the street. He blows on the party whistle as he goes, trying to recall the moment the clown had first crossed him. A soft loneliness goes with him. It’s the sense of a battle not losing but lost.
On the corner by the service entrance sits a van marked Razz Entertainment, the back doors hang open. Inside there’s a bunch of twenty or thirty helium balloons, Dunn separates a few and lets the rest free. His eyes moisten slightly as watches them float bravely into the dark blue abyss. Have that on me Auntie Pearl, you floppy fuck you.
Cocktail hour in the pastry is seven to eight and with a bitter-sweet orange, Hersch toasts the dying of the light and picks a few melancholy bars on the guitar, stopping only when the phone rings. Such a tragic waste it is to serve the alien needs of others, so bloody grating! Still, not long now. This too shall pass.
Martin George is unusually animated when Dunn comes in.
“Oh for fuck sakes Herschel!! Why are you fucking with the clown? She’s furious!”
Taking the whistle out of his mouth Dunn protests, “I found this in the store Chef, it’s only a bit of tat!”
“The fucking balloons Hersch! You idiot!”
Dunn remembers that he has two pink balloons tied the back of his apron, they’re gently bobbing against the ceiling as he speaks.
“Oh right, these. I found these outside by the bins.”
“Just get out of my sight, fucking disgrace!”
The shift ends without further incident, Dunn gets a couple of hard slaps on the back as the kitchen staff leave. Martin George claims he’ll be having words tomorrow but he’s smiling so it seems unlikely. Finishing up Hersch feels tired and a touch deflated. He gives his remaining balloons to the Iraqi kitchen porter who seems puzzled.
“Set them free my friend. Pin all you’re hopes and dreams to them and set them free!”
In the bar, Hersch sinks a pint or two and invites himself over to one of the girls flats. She has almond eyes that he mistakes for salvation. However, he’s shortly asked to leave, party whistle still in mouth, wheezing in and out with each breath. He’s drunk and she needs to get up early.
Twenty minutes later Dunn is arrested for driving under the influence whilst wearing a bear-skin cap and playing heavy metal whilst blowing a party whistle. Both charges stick.
Once the heavy cell door has clapped shut behind him, Dunn takes a long steaming piss and flops onto his rubber mattress grateful that he doesn’t start until four tomorrow, though he does wish they would turn the fucking lights out.