Thursday 17 December 2015

Day 17 : Eight Hours Going Nowhere by Sarah Evans

1. What gave you the idea for your Snowflakes story?
    An article in the Economist
2. How would you describe your normal style of writing?
    Think I’ll leave that for others to judge
3. Have you published other material?
    yes – I’ve had lots of short stories published
4. Do you have a writing routine?
    I try to write most days, and to make an early morning start
5. Do you have a favourite place for writing?
    At home, at my computer, in my ‘study’ (ie spare room)
6. Tell something quirky about you.
    Not sure how quirky this is, but I have a PhD in theoretical physics and the subject I hated above all others at school was creative writing.

An extract from Eight Hours Going Nowhere 

 our zero

Luka grits his teeth against the night air as he drops down from the cab of the lorry. Hitching was slow tonight and he needs to be brisk as he walks across the frosted tarmac towards the back-entrance doors marked staff. The doorway smells of piss, diesel and fag-ends. He types in the joke of a security code. 1234. The blast of heated air comes as a relief, but only temporarily. The place stinks of citrus floor cleaner and already he is starting to feel hot, his skin clammy, his face desiccated.
He opens his locker, drags out the plastic-feel tunic and peaked cap that form his uniform and shoves his jacket and rucksack in. He reports to the manager on duty, then makes his way towards the food court, taking his place behind the counter.
It is midnight, hour zero, the start of his eight hour shift. Alena, he thinks, I am doing this for you.

Hour one

He’s been here for nearly an hour now and the food in hot trays has been there much longer. Heat rises from the metal surfaces along with stench of burnt oil, stale fish and onion gravy. People come and go, in through the entrance doors, out the exits, transiting this nowhere place. Custom has been intermittent. Slow, slow; fast, fast; slow. Endless minutes tick by with nothing for him to do other than occasionally running through the chips or peas with a slotted spoon, redistributing moisture. Then all of a sudden there will be a rush, with half a dozen people expecting that he can grow octopus arms and serve them all simultaneously.
A couple of trucker types are approaching, guys with pregnant bellies and arms the girth of a thigh, the exposed skin covered in intricate tattoos.
He stirs the pot of gravy which has thickened to the consistency of snow-sludge.
‘This all there is?’ one of men asks, gesturing the spaces between the trays.
‘It is the night-time menu we are serving now.’ Luka has practised this sentence out loud, over and over in the tiny room he co-rents with someone who works day-light hours. It never sounds quite how he would like it to.
The two men exchange a glance, bristling at the sound of him. Bloody immigrants. He’d like to protest that he has entered the country legally, is here because of the bits of paper that the elected government of the United Kingdom has freely signed, and because no one born here wants to work in a place like this.
He knows as he dishes it up that the battered fish will be soggy and the chips will taste of cardboard. The overpriced, substandard food is not his fault. His place is simply to serve.
The man prods the fish with a stubby finger. ‘Bleeding cold,’ he says.
Luka looks back neutrally. He offers to put it in the microwave, aware that doing so will remove whatever remaining texture there might be.
The customer doesn’t want it f-ing microwaved; he wants it fresh. Luka holds himself tight, keeping his surface-self polite and calm as he says he is very sorry but this is all there is. The customer kicks the counter and he keeps cursing. Luka’s fingers inch towards the red panic button concealed beneath the work-top. For emergencies only. Eventually the truckers move onwards towards the tills. Luka remembers too late that he should have said have a nice day, or evening, or – in this case – night. He runs his slotted spoon through the boiled-to-oblivion peas. He thinks of Alena standing at the stove, raising a wooden spoon to her lips, conjuring a wholesome feast from leftovers. Once he has covered the basics of rent and food, he has nothing but scraps left. I’ll send money as soon as I can.
He is one hour down and an eternity to go.

Hour two

Trade has slowed even further. Staff have been reduced to a skeleton, none of them fully alive, all of them with hopes that got trampled on somewhere along the way.
A mobile rings. Not his. He should ring Alena. His phone is inside his uniform, pressed against his heart. He thinks how the sound of her voice would lift his day, or rather night. She’ll be asleep, of course, the difference in time-zone not long, the distance between them much further. He thinks of her hair spreading over the pillow, of the way one arm will be curled behind her head, of the peaceful rhythm to her breathing.
With no customers in view, he is free to dream. Being here, this job, it’s a gateway to somewhere better, the first step that will open the door to grander things. In his mind he is explaining that to Alena. If he didn’t believe this, he doesn’t know how he’d get himself up in the evening, how he’d make it through the night.

About the author

Sarah Evans has had over a hundred stories published in anthologies, magazines and online. Highlights include: appearing in the 2008 Bridport anthology; having several stories published in the acclaimed Unthology series (Unthank Books); recently winning the inaugural Winston Fletcher Prize with her story Acclimatising. She’s also had work published by Bloomsbury, Fiction Desk, Bridge House Publishing and Rubery Press, and performed live in London, Hong Kong and New York.




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