From Club International Vol.4, no.10, October 1975
THURSDAY AFTERNOON EARLY CLOSING
Fiction by Jack Trevor Story with illustration by Fred
Once upon a long past Thursday afternoon early closing, Mr Cavendish did something nasty to Sadie Brown in the brine cellar ...
The best thing on Thursday afternoon early closing is Vera de Groot who I am deeply in love with but whom I have offended by springing out on one night down by the river. Vera is in love with the boys with the money and the motor cars, some of them titled, some land owners. The worst thing on Thursday afternoon early closing is Mr Cavendish who is two kinds of a shit. The first kind is the kind who smiles and kowtows to the customers and insists on learning the smallest requirement in the back of their feudal heads, then when they've gone turns to me and says, "Attend to it, fuck-pig!" The second kind of a shit he is, is the kind who murders and cuts up this prostitute called Sadie and puts her in brine, selling her as salt pork.
Apart from this, however, there is something poetic about Thursday afternoon early closing which I would like to dwell on for a short spell. You may have gathered that we are the only shop in town who do not close on Thursday afternoon early closing. This is traditional in the cooked meats trade. It makes sense because from our one shop you can buy your meat, sausages, three kinds of cooked ham, jellied hazlit, veal, tongue and pressed beef, corned beef, tripe, chitterlings, faggots with their wedding lace of pig's fat across the top and dear little green sprigs of real parsley everywhere. Then of course there's all the tins and packets and the cartons of pftt6, the butter and margarine and lard and cheese in twenty different varieties. And then there's the salt pork.
Poetically I am speaking of the appearance of the town with everywhere else closed, the shops and the pavements and even the gutters cool and clean and still wet .from the buckets. All the other shops with their blue blinds in the windows with the names on. Next door the men's outfitters, then the tobacconists, then a dress shop and next to that a real butchers and then a side street and then the Playhouse with always a new film starting Thursday and then The Locomotive public house and then the big greengrocers with its open front now shut with a roller blind. Across the street in the infirmary gardens the great town plane tree with its huge arms and elbows up above the grey slates and turrets and the seed bobbles hanging. And in front of the railings on the horse trough seat sit Weary Willie and Tired Tim telling Blind Dunn what's passing now. Clip, clop, clip, clop, here comes Sadie Brown. They say that Blind Dunn is her father.
Thursday afternoon early closing I am no longer fuck‑pig (errand boy) I am first assistant. When Vera de Groot props her bicycle against the kerb and comes in with her Gladstone bag to collect the takings I am in charge. I am dressed in my whites, my Lybros, an apron and long coat as white as blue and held together by the starch. She says, "Wotcher!" and I say, "Wotcher!" both working class pretending to be working class. She has a round, boyish face and wavy black hair in a pony tail and bright blue eyes that crinkle with laughter − at everybody, unfortunately. Her breasts are so delicately small you have to look for them; but there they always are like pingpong balls with the shiny white blouse stretched over them and into her skirt waistband. Once found with the eye Vera de Groot's breasts are riveting. I try to stand so that they are hidden by the bacon machine.
"I saw you yesterday," I tell her.
"Did you?" she says.
"Yes," say I.
Once I have given her the takings for head office, already counted and invoiced and hidden in a roll of dirty mutton cloth, our conversation is brief and formal. Sometimes it is interrupted by the voice from the cellar. Although Sadie Brown is painted like a prostitute she sounds like an over-religious spinster school m'arm. Neither she nor Mr Cavendish, who has taken her down on the sawdust sacks with a bag of cream splits − yes, there is one pastry shop open − realise that their voices funnel up the cellar grating when the back door of the shop is open for fresh air. There is a sharp note of alarm in the following and it never varies.
"Edward, what are you doing? Edward! What are you doing! What are you doing! What are you doing! Are you doing! Are you doing! You doing! You doing! Doing! Doing! Oh God! Oh Christ! Fuck! Shit! Aaaaaaaaah! Oh my God! Oh, darling! What are you doing! Edward, what are you doing?"
"Who's that?" asks Vera de Groot, the first time.
"That's Mr Cavendish and Sadie. That's his young lady. They're having tea," I explain.
Soon it will be time for me to get behind the bacon machine with a bit of Brasso. They will come up from the brine cellar as though they have been playing chess. Sadie will smile at me and offer me the last cream split and Mr Cavendish will stoop around her skirt brushing off any last traces of sawdust. He gives her no money and she takes nothing away from the shop for watching eyes to interpret, but later on I will cycle across town to Mowbray Street with a basket full of luxuries, whistling through the early closing Sunday quiet of Thursday afternoon.
I now have a number of essential things to impart about the firm itself, F Wendel Smithton Pork Pies Ltd − or Vandal Schmidtstein, as Mr Cavendish will have it, calling the father Herr Frederick and the son Herr Dumkopf (Duncan). The firm comprises seven shops, a factory, a slaughterhouse and a fleet of green and gold Commer vans. Personnel: fifteen butchers, four slaughtermen, one hundred and thirty‑eight factory workers including skilled bakers, sausage makers, chefs, cooks, cleaners and various unskilled packers, a small number of engineers for the automatic machines, eight or nine van drivers and the same number of van boys, a dozen shop managers and relief managers, twenty or so first and second assistants and seven fuck‑pigs (errand boys) like me. Every crumb and every mouldy piece of fat at Vandal Schmidtstein is watched for profit potential.
"Wrap up those pieces, fuck‑pig. Here comes Blind Dunn."
This is not Mr Cavendish speaking, this is Mr Harston the district manager, who is also my manager and Mr Cavendish's boss, though we see very little of him since he is cycling around the other branches trying to catch somebody eating a pie.
"No, not those pieces, those are good pieces, the mouldy pieces with the maggots in them." The good mouldy pieces are kept for sighted tramps like Weary Willie. Tuppenny lucky dips, we call them. This is the scrap trade in the cooked meats business and occurs, not on Thursday afternoon early closing, but Monday mornings after a long, hot weekend without a refrigerator. Only the good stuff goes down to the factory refrigerator on a Saturday night, the scraps going under a bit of mutton cloth with the flies and the odourful meat into brine for pickling.
Two branch managers have committed suicide while I am here; young Mr Broome at the Sussex Street branch who tries to balance his books with a stolen hind quarter of beef − he hangs himself from the meat rail once he knows Percy Cudness the van driver has confessed. And Mr Latimer who tries to abort his wife's baby with a boning knife rather than let Mr Harston know that she was pregnant before they got married. She dies in his arms on the rubber sheet, he gasses himself. Five other people have gone to prison for stealing food or small amounts of money. One fuck‑pig has been birched in open court for trying to sell one of the firm's old trade cycles that has been scrapped. I get to work early in the morning, I steal nothing − except to swallow the occasional raw egg which cannot easily be checked − and I am always respectful.
"Good morning, madam," say I.
"Good morning, sonny," says she. "Forward Mr Cavendish!" cries Mr Harston if she is a second rate customer, or if it is Mrs Kinnear: "With you directly, madam!" And he will dip his comb into the tripe and smooth his hair and whiskers and come hurrying up behind the counter smiling his Chinese smile. "Good morning, Mrs Kinnear, and how are you?" “Very well, thank you, Mr Harston. And you?" "Not too bad for an old gentleman... "
Mr Harston is Gestapo and Gauleiter and when he looks at fuck‑pigs he can see raw eggs in your stomach.
We now turn to the lovely Vera de Groot. Or as much of her as I am able to turn to. There are two more or less intimate episodes between us, one that throws us together and another that pisses it up. Saturday nights are the other side of the coin to Thursday afternoon early closing. Saturday nights we are open late and busy as a fairground. Street stalls with their gas flares are crammed together in the gutters and the Saturday night shoppers, paraders, sightseers and all the excited kids funnel past knocking the chickens off the hooks. At half‑past eight we begin to clear the marble window floor, take down the hooked joints, bring the poultry in, push up the sunblind, sweep off the pavement, gather the perishables in the trade bike basket for me to take down to the factory refrigerators. It is a heavy, wobbling, dangerous task for a boy, but I get it down there and struggle past the check office window and Vera de Groot follows me down into the deserted factory and into the huge cold cabinets where she lists the items as I hang them up or place them conveniently in the cold. Bits of lamb and beef and pork and veal, chitterlings, lambs livers in their little tin buckets. One night there is the sound of somebody moving outside in the factory and whistling. As they come near we look at each other and then all at once whoever it is sees the great thick wedge door of the refrigerator open and slams it. The light goes out even before we hear this tidy person forcing the lever bolts into position to hold it fast. Coldproof and soundproof for the whole weekend. They will find two frozen bodies lying on the sawdust amid the black puddles where the blood has dripped from the carcases. Vera de Groot and the Infirmary Road fuck‑pig. Babes in the food.
I scream: "Come back! Help! We're here!" I am attacking the impossible hulk of door with my fists, having walked my face into several bits of frozen meat to reach it. "Let me out!"
"Stop it, Jack! It's no good!" she is shaking my shoulder. "They can't hear you. Wait till I take my shoe off." Vera de Groot is not just a lovely girl, she has it all worked out. With the heel of her shoe she bangs on the cold pipes and you know the sound is travelling out. Then she stops. "What are you going to be?" she says. "What?” "What do you want to do for a career? You're not cut out for this work. They hate you. All the managers and assistants and other boys. It's because you're different. They think you're watching them. Forming opinions. We were talking about it in the office. But I like you. I'm going to be rich."
I don't remember getting out. I just remember that conversation in the dark. For the first time I discover I am the only one they call fuck‑pig. Then I have to spoil it all by jumping out of her garden doorway late one dark night down by the river. I just want to talk again about her being rich and me being special but it doesn't work. She runs away screaming for help and soon the whole of Vandal Schmidtstein knows about it. You cannot approach a girl with love in your heart in an open situation the same way as you can in a closed situation. Or soon they are saying, "I knew there was something funny about that fuck‑pig."
My days at the cooked meats shop are numbered.
Thursday afternoon early closing and no clip, clop, clip, clop, clip, clop; no Sadie Brown. Instead Mr Cavendish is washing out his underclothes under a running tap in the outhouse sink. My job today in the absence of customers is to render beef dripping out of scraps of mouldy fat, heating it up in the floor‑scrubbing bucket over the gas ring. He is rubbing the crutch of his pants with soap powder and he sees me watching him. "You can do this, fuck‑pig." I ask him why his landlady doesn't do it. "My mum does the lodger's washing." He stops rubbing the pants and looks at me: "Does your mother want another lodger?" We haven't got room for another lodger. We haven't got room for Mr Beale, the Post Office engineer, who stands at his bedroom window and pisses noisily on the corrugated iron roof of the shed every night. Gradually I discover why Mr Cavendish is angry, why he is washing his pants at the shop. Sadie Brown has given him a disease.
"You get your mother to give me a room or I'll give you gonorrhoea," says Mr Cavendish, setting his teeth as he scrapes off bits of hard stuff with his fingernail. His landlady has discovered why he has started doing his own washing and he has got a week's notice. She has threatened to inform Vandal Schmidtstein if he doesn't leave. He detects that I know nothing about this disease and even this seems to anger him. He gives me some ghastly details which I prefer not to repeat. Three times a week he goes to a clinic and they inject hot mercury down his cock with no anaesthetic. In the middle of scraping off the dried discharge he goes forward and carefully carves six ounces of York ham for somebody; I forget who it is. I should think they die.
"I shall murder her," he tells me. "I shall cut her up in the cellar and put the pieces in brine with fresh salt and saltpetre and brown sugar. We have already sold a number of unwanted persons from that brine. You look at the pieces sometimes, fuck‑pig. When I put the knife in her cunt she will pipe 'What are you doing? Edward! What are you doing? Doing! Doing! Doing! ..."
One night I dream it, the whole thing. I have nothing to do with the skilled part of the operation naturally, but I am left with the job of taking the body down to the factory fridge, naked, soaked and brined white, the head missing, the torso split down the middle with the intestines and bladder just squeezing through the slit. Every bump I go over, every turn I take to avoid the crowds, the castor wheels on the trolley sometimes taking their own direction, Sadie Brown's insides come farther out. I know they are going to spill all over the ground at any moment. And I know that they are going to be green and mouldy. Contact with them will start me rotting. I am wakened by the sound of Mr Beale the Post Office engineer pissing on the corrugated iron roof and my mother calls:
"Is that you, Jack?” Knowing it is not me but wanting to air her disapproval. When I get back to sleep the trolley has become a platform, still difficult to steer against its own bogies, and round about various people from the factory − all mobile now on my trolley − are doing their jobs; Millie Akern varnishing the tops of pork pies, Hillingdon dyeing the breakfast sausages red, fifty more busy with all the succulent foods while Sadie Brown's insides suddenly drop out of her white belly. We all rush to stop the rot, getting our hands to the green and mouldy and slimy intestines and the bladder and trying to make them look appetising. It was a mistake to recount this dream to Mr Cavendish.
"That's not the way to do it." It is another Thursday afternoon early closing and Mr Cavendish has listened to my dream, critically. "The way to do it is to disembowel her first. Wipe out the stomach cavity with formalin − ah, but why tell you, fuck‑pig? Let's do it. Take her this note." He writes a nasty letter on a piece of toilet paper. I don't read it but I know it is nasty. The paper is stained.
"Is there any reply, Mr Cavendish?" say I.
He laughs. "I wouldn't be at all surprised. Oh, and tell her to bring my fucking watch back." I tell him that I'd rather not go and suggest that I post it for him. He gets hold of my collar and Adam's apple and screws my head back against a side of bacon. "You take it or I'll tell Harston I caught you eating raw eggs. They'll X‑ray you, fuck‑pig." He says I will go to prison or get birched. All the back of my shoulders on the white starched coat is brown from the bacon smoke.
Mowbray Street is a slum. Terraced brick cottages with passages through to the back doors. Sadie Brown's back door stands open but nobody comes when I knock. I feel self‑conscious looking into her kitchen. It's in a filthy state with holes in the oil cloth and dirty washing‑up on dirty draining boards. Then something keeps catching my eye and it is mice running backwards and forwards along some pipes above the crockery. One will crane its neck down and nibble old food from a plate. I am just going to go when I hear somebody coming through the passage. It is Sadie Brown without her clip clops and with her hair in curly rags. "I've got to give this to you. It's from Mr Cavendish. I don't think there's any answer."
I am trying to get away before she's read it but she won't let me get past. She smells the paper. "Dirty filthy swine. Have you read this? You tell him if anybody got the pox from anybody I got it from him. Take his fucking watch and stick it up his filthy arsehole. Never mind. I'll bring it. We'll see what Harry Harston's got to say. I'll report F Wendel Smithton's to the Public Health. I'll put this bit of paper in an envelope and take it to the police. He's wiped his arse on it, hasn't he?"
"I don't know, madam," say I.
I cycle around for a while before going back to Infirmary Road and the quiet of Thursday afternoon early closing. There is a customer in the shop, Mrs Hall from Long Road, not getting served. "Is there anybody here?" she says. Then she says: "Do you know if the scavengers came today?" "I beg your pardon, madam?" say I. "Do you know if the scavengers came today? The dustmen?" "Oh, 1 don't know, madam," say I. By then I am near the door to the brine cellar and I call: "Mr Cavendish! Forward!" He comes up the stairs with his face covered in blood and scratches which he is mopping with a damp mutton cloth. He says: "I want that brine cleaned out before you go." I go down the cellar.
I am about to discover the chopped‑up body of Sadie Brown.
Now I don't know whether you are familiar with the salt meat trade. If you've got any old bits of beef or pork you want to get rid of, dried up or smelly, pop them in the brine. My job is to keep the brine more or less fresh; it's very hard work, like constantly baling out a sinking boat. It takes the form of a raised concrete box on one side of the cellar, divided in the middle for different strengths of brine. There are no plug holes to drain it, you just slosh buckets of water in and scrape buckets of water out. The bottom is a sludge of decomposing tissue, bits of fat, stringy bits, old bones. Sadie Brown's watch is on a little wristy bit of meat about six inches long, the skin already white with brine, the hand neatly severed with a boning knife at the joint. On the yellow pine sawdust by the piled up sacks where Sadie wants to know what Mr Cavendish is doing is a lot of her blood and in the incinerator stove where we burn anything that it is quite impossible to find a sale for, her clothes are still burning with the smell of hair. What I do is creep back up the stairs where I can still hear Mr Cavendish talking to Mrs Hall of Long Road about the weather. The telephone is in Mr Harston's little cash office at this end of the counter and I get to it without being seen. "Can you give me the police station, please?" I say, very quietly. Outside the office and quite near I can hear Mr Cavendish saying: "As long as it clears up for the weekend, madam. They say we're in for a long dry spell − put that fucking phone down, fuck‑pig." Mrs Hall of Long Road has gone and he has been talking to himself and waiting for me. There is something very sinister and sadistic about Mr Cavendish. Some butchers see meat as dead bodies and they have lost their humanity. I put the phone down and look at him. He is blocking the door. He says: "If you tell anybody about that whore I'll tell about your raw eggs." Another errand boy might go along with this (Neville Hempstead, for instance) but it strikes me as being immoral. My raw eggs which nobody misses and Sadie Brown. This is why they call me fuck‑pig. There is something poetic in me that makes non‑poets angry. What I do is grab up Mr Harston's deadly meat cutting knife which he will not let anybody else use and keeps in his office, and I brandish it at Mr Cavendish. He jumps back in fright. I follow him with the intention of killing him if he doesn't run away. It is his life or mine. Mr Cavendish is saying: "Put that down! I was kidding! She's not dead! That watch is on a bit of pork, you stupid fuck‑pig!" What I see at this moment is that Mr Cavendish is not going to bully me any more. To make sure of it I plunge the knife at his heart but it goes between his chest and his back‑flung arm and deep into the hanging side of bacon. His armpit comes down on the handle. "You crazy fuck‑pig!" he says.
"What's going on here?" asks a voice behind me and it is none other than Herr Dumkopf, Vandal Schmidtstein the younger. Duncan Wendel Smithton, that is, recently out of university and learning his father's business. He is handsome, ginger, freckled wears blazers and silk scarves and drives a lovely white convertible Ford V‑8. "We are just fooling about," says Mr Cavendish. Says Herr Dumkopf: "It didn't look like fooling about to me. What is your name, boy?" I tell him Jack Story. "Any other name?" he asks. "Trevor is my middle name," says I. Then he says: "Where were you on the night of Thursday the 14th of June?" I tell him I don't know. Herr Dumkopf says: "We are looking for the boy who sprang out on Miss de Groot." I say: "That was me, sir. I love her." Herr Dumkopf Vandal Schmidtstein makes a careful note in a little pocket book and asks me and Mr Cavendish to sign it. Then he puts the book in his pocket and looks round the shop. "Have you got any spare saveloys ? Bewley Street is short of saveloys… I watch him and Mr Cavendish carry on the business of the day and I go and finish the brine.
I am not sacked for these incidents, nor for swallowing raw eggs. I am sacked for becoming an encumbrance and a responsibility and for needing more money and growing older. It is triggered by an accident late Saturday night when I am trundling an unusually heavy bike full of meat back to the factory and get run into by a fast motor bike. I hit my head on a motor car and I am unconscious on a seat on Donkey Common for about fifteen minutes. When I become conscious a policeman is sitting at my side. "Are you all right, sonny?" Yes, I am all right. He walks me back to the shop. There is no mention of an ambulance or a doctor or hospital. Mr Harston gives the policeman the remains of a York ham and tells me to go home. I don't know where my bike is or the meat and I feel dizzy. I walk three miles home and I am sick on the doorstep of our council house. I obviously have a fractured skull because every time I put my head down I fall over. All day Sunday I am sick and on Monday morning I report the trouble to Mr Harston. I don't want to have an X‑ray in case they find out about the raw eggs. "How are you on a cycle?" asks the district manager. He and Mr Cavendish watch me ride round and round in the road. On the horse trough seat Weary Willie and Tired Tim are reporting to Blind Dunn. Suddenly I get dizzy and fall off. "I'm afraid you'll have to go, Story,' says Mr Harston. I notice they have stopped calling me fuck‑pig. I no longer belong, is why. "Tomorrow I shall be okay," I say. "Tomorrow," says Mr Harston, "there are five score eggs to fetch from King Street egg mart. Suppose you fall off in front of a bus − all those eggs will be smashed."
Finally, it seems to me, it is the raw eggs that finish my career in the cooked meats business. But for fifteen years afterwards my cracked head gives me days of sickness. Until recent years Thursday afternoon early closing is a memory lost behind the fogs of brain damage, and then it clears.
The blind who see again make news, but it is a wise man who recognises his own brain damage.