Other sections from Pignon have been published in fiction anthologies. You can find me at:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ats-query/6392-3715780-133338 Or search under author: Tindall, Kenneth
They had breakfast on the ferry, which was crowded with Whitsun travelers. She and her mother were ravenous. In the restaurant there were bouquets of white narcissus on the white tablecloths. They had an outside table beneath old Danish marine prints and beyond the window the mist was rising from a sparkling Kattegat. The waiter appeared with a fresh pot of coffee. For the first time she saw her mother smiling to her.
Afterwards they went up to the lounge, where she left Barbara - she had begun using her mother's given name though not yet when addressing her - sitting in one of the reclining chairs while she went on a tour of the ship. With some change she had in the pocket of her jeans she played the slot machines and won, used the coins in continued play and won again and played them up. She didn't know what to do with the coins because she did not own a handbag and Barbara was minding her school knapsack. Sharkey had objected to the knapsack, though hardly because her mother was obliged to take her out of school and say they were moving to America. She was sitting on one of the benches on the sun deck looking at the ship's wake when a man sat down beside her and asked if she minded if he smoked. She said she didn't. When she had said she didn't mind he winked at her and said something in English. He said You've got the only Daddy who can walk a line. She felt attracted to him in a positive way, and when he said that she automatically blushed. But then she felt herself turning pale and got up and went to the rail and stood looking at the sea. When she turned he was still sitting there smoking his cigarette and she remembered seeing him sitting eating breakfast with the truckers in the cafeteria. The crossing took three hours. The loudspeakers announced their arrival on the Jutland side.
Already coming down the roller coasterlike ramp they could see Shangri La's Land Rover waiting on the asphalt. A man was standing beside it and he waved when they approached, obviously expecting them to pull up for a con fab. But the royal blue Volvo station car drove on by, yeah drove on by. Maybe it was the wrong Volvo. She caught a glimpse of his astonishment.
- There's Steve...
- Mummy, they don't drive the hostesses around in a Land Rover...
- They have two Land Rovers, dear.
The town's main street was thronged with vehicles the ferry had just discharged. They were waiting at a stop light when the Land Rover pulled up in a right turn lane and Steve leaned out. He yelled.
- Where's Sharkey and Bob?
The two women in the Volvo stared at him. The light changed and the Volvo leapt forward as the other car immediately tried to crowd into their lane. The sky blue Land Rover with its Chinese gewgaw gilt lettering was drawing considerable attention.
- Better roll up your window, dear. Steve Miggs is a switchblade man and likes to put the point in your face.
- Who's the other man, Mummy?
- From his look of oafish expectancy he must be a lieutenant.
She scrutinized her mother's face. Barbara was a skillful driver, and an imaginative individual with enough impulsiveness to make her formidable in the evolution of her personal relations. All of this Sharkey had nearly extinguished and the girl now searched for a glimmering of its return.
- You aren't woozy, are you Mummy? she asked, and in a little while said, I had hoped for their sakes that those people would be resourceful enough to admit their shortcomings.
On a country road the two men tried to box them in, passed at high speed and then braked in front of them. Barbara had anticipated this and was already in reverse by the time the other car stopped. The Volvo backed a hundred meters to a farmer's driveway, turned and roared off while the other car struggled in fourwheel drive out of the ditch it had backed into turning on the narrow road. The two women drove sedately through a small town full of people shopping for the Whitsun holidays. A police car turned in and came toward them from a side street. Barbara drove on, letting the Land Rover get within sight of them.
- Do you suppose they saw the patrol car? she said.
They slowed on an open stretch outside the town and with signals blinking made a U turn in a single easy figure. The Land Rover had stopped and was already starting a turn and Christance saw her mother look the passenger in the eyes with a look that said Suivez moi, jeune homme. Now she made up time on the secondary roads, driving with assurance and observing the speed limit.
- When we were living in Paris, she said to the girl, my brother was living in the apartment with us . . . Rollie and he didn't get on. He thought Rollie was uncivilized . . . You don't remember your uncle Dagstjerne. You were too tiny...
- Isn't he the one who lives in South America?
- Yes . . . He got involved in something and had to leave and live in South America. He's in Argentina . . . Maybe it's a good thing.
- What do you mean?
- Dag used to be crazy about auto racing. He had a Lotus. Do you know what a Lotus is? . . . He used to take the engine apart and have it in pieces on his bed . . . but he never crashed . . . You know, the Argentinians have one national hero over all other national heroes. I mean the country could go to pieces and the world with it but he is still the hero.
- Who is he?
- Juan Fangio. He was a racing driver in the nineteen fifties. Formula One. He drove the big cars and won all the big races, Le Mans, Monza, Monaco . . . He won at the Nurburgring in nineteen fifty four, nineteen fifty six and nineteen fifty seven. He won the World Championship five times and then he retired. When all is said and done maybe Juan Fangio was the greatest. Anyway the Argentinians think he was the greatest . . . That's where Dag is.
- Does he still drive a Lotus?
- No. He just lives in Argentina. Would you light me a cigarette, dear?... Actually Rollie is one of the purest and noblest men I've ever known.
Their pursuers stayed with them like a horsefly. Once the Land Rover passed them only to find itself behind a tractor towing a manuer spreader with a brimming load, which it eventually overtook in a hazardous maneuver. No more did the mother and daughter suppose they had shaken off the two dudes than they expected the two stiffs in the back of the car to have dissubstantiated. They had passed through the village of Marie Magdalene and were traveling beside the Fjeld Woods when the other car appeared alongside as if out of nowhere. Now the passenger was driving and Steve leered out at them, gesturing suggestively with an eight inch pearl handled switchblade whose tip glinted. Then it dropped back when another car approached in the opposite direction. On the other side of the woods the road joined the highway and the Land Rover followed them circumspectly for a while. They passed a police car. No sooner was it out of sight than the Land Rover drew beside and a little behind them. The girl screamed and there was a loud noise of something striking the car.
- Mummy he's throwing knives at the tire!
The woman floorboarded the accelerator and the Volvo jackrabbited.
- I thought as much. They're some he ordered from the back of one of their comic books.
Abruptly she made a hard left, rubber squealing, off the highway and dove into the network of side roads which crisscrossed the hinterland. All at once they were off the macadam. Behind them the Land Rover emerged out of the straggle of farms outside a hamlet. The girl watched its wheels bounce when it hit the bumpy gravel track. Barbara handed her the map.
- You've got to navigate, Christance. We need an opening into a woods... So we can get them in there and settle the matter.
- Do you think they're carrying firearms, Mummy?
- No . . . only Sharkey and Bob . . . Sharkey was careful not to compromise his operation.
The steering wheel throbbed in Barbara's hands. The girl looked back again at the sky blue paramilitary vehicle. For an instant, through the rear window of the station car, she thought it looked like a Matchbox Series toy.
They were raising a twin cloud of dust on the dirt roads. Once the Land Rover tried to overtake them by accelerating out on the shoulder. Just in time the driver saw a drainage ditch and got on the road again and the two cars traversed the box culvert with bumpers scraping. She goosed the Volvo, then had to slow again when they approached a collection of thatched houses. They were moving too fast. She hit the horn and held it down as an old man on a bicycle wobbled and dismounted for his life and hens cometed squawking. The road branched on the other side.
- That way Mummy!
The country was rolling and they sped up a grade with curves, open grazing land on either side. The Land Rover was right behind them. The girl heard the staccato whumping of its Dunlops and looked back at the two men bouncing around inside it. She turned around and rolled her window up and looked at Barbara.
- Just ahead, Mummy.
The road levelled out at the top of a rise. The view was magnificent. Ahead of them was a stand of pines which appeared as they swung into a straightway and the Volvo sprinted ahead, the Land Rover copycatting.
- There! the girl yelled.
The woman wrenched the wheel and the station car swerved into an overgrown trail through the trees. She cut the engine. The Land Rover didn't make the turn and collided point blank with the trunk of a mature pine. They heard the crash and all was silence and darkness.
There was only the hiss of pine boughs brushing the car as it rolled in neutral along a rutted path farmers used to take logs out. At length it stopped in a place where the sun never shone. Sharkey had always been vain about the Volvo station car, but in the peculiar way that he kept it fine tuned, gassed up and in the garage. Once she helped him wash it, vacuumed it for him - he liked to wash it after dark - and asked him why he always kept it in the garage and he said it was a night car. Now she began giggling. She couldn't stop, a purling, tinkling, soaring fountain of giggles...
- You needn't be hysterical, Christance. Instead you can tell me how we're going to get out of here.
What brought her to composure was the ticking of the overheated engine. She rolled her window down.
- I'm sorry, Mummy. I think if we drive right through we'll get to the road again.
She started the engine and let it idle. When she turned on the headlights she shuddered. They were in a brown world of spiky dead twigs and scaly trunks and a huge spiderweb where brown needles spun. She put the car in low and drove, the tires crunching over a deep cushion of pine needles. In a while the path curved and they were in daylight, and it was green like a dam bursting.
- Thank God!
- Mummy I smell smoke!
- So do I.
The girl said these trails were nearly always open ended, it being impractical to turn in the woods with a load of logs, and sure enough they came out onto the gravel road. She awkwardly shifted into second gear and they marched up a winding grade to the top of a hill and rolled backfiring down the other side. Before long the tires were on asphalt again.
- I hope you know where we are, dear. Do you know what time it is?
The girl held the Geodetic Institute map. She pointed to a place.
- We're right here. And we're going in the right direction.
- Can you find the way to Mid Jut?
She unfolded a Shell road map.
- It's here, Mummy. We should be there in an hour.
- I do hope so, Christance. I am so tired. I haven't had a proper night's sleep in weeks. Sometimes it's almost more than I can do to keep from driving off the road.
- I know, Mummy, but you're doing just marvellously, and soon we'll be there. I'll sing you a song to help keep you alert. It's one Daddy taught me. Listen... Look! Oh Mummy!
It was like the sun reflected off a windshield far away. White smoke roped upwards into a lazy easterly breeze. She stopped the car and they got out. The girl took her hand. The pine wood was burning, far off in a corner of the green rolling countryside. So brightly.
- Think of the poor animals.
The woman hugged the girl and stroked her hair out of her moist eyes.
- Let's hope Bambi skedaddled.
They got back in the car and peeled out.
When they could no longer see the water of the bay the country began to change. It was after they had crossed Long Stream it seemed wilder the deeper into the Cimbrian heartland they came. Such an impatient drive, through forested areas, over watercourses and by unkempt manorhouses, horses how it took longer than an hour. But at one point it started becoming further between the tight little villages and then there weren't any villages, the cumulus shadows somber on the dark landscape. They were on the moors of Jutland.
- Follow that truck, Mummy. It's going to Mid Jut.
- How can you be sure, darling?
- Because. It looks like it must be full of dead livestock.
All roads led to Mid Jut. They could already see the tall smokestack of the rendering plant. They were upwind of it.
The Volvo swung off onto a bog road. Over a heather covered hillock it stopped and the woman and girl got out and hurriedly took the baggage out of the car and flung it on the ground. They got in again and started up. Just ahead of them was a place where they could turn around. There was a heap of broken turfs partly overgrown with moss and green plants. Maybe the road had been used during the war, when peat was taken out of the bogs for fuel. The back hatch was open and it flapped gently as they jounced back to the main road.
They met the dump truck they had seen a short while earlier and Barbara asked her if she thought it looked like it was full of redeyed cows. It was high sided and rusty and seemed to sway along as it passed them. There was something familiar and not unpleasant about it. Something jaunty, perhaps. Christance imagined the owner/driver going to farms and picking up carcasses and using the telescoping hydraulic boom to hoist them into the truck. She imagined him doing this, getting his sling around a dead cow, for example, and lifting it up in the air.
- There's the sign, Mummy.
Mid Jut was a modern fully sanitary rendering plant operating according to the continuous closed process principle. The stainless steel cookers, pressure vats and settling tanks were electronically monitored and controlled from a computerized nerve center. Besides bone meal, mucilage, fats and oils, the plant's products included gelatine, sterile felts, flocks, industrial enzymes, and enriched protein feed supplements for livestock. All odors were ducted up through the towering smokestack and dispered into the atmosphere where only an infinitesimal fraction of the animal remained.
They came to the steel mesh fence and drove through the gate. Christance scanned the parking lot. The office personnel and most of the plant crew had gone home. They approached another gate with a guard's office. They stopped. The guard leaned out his little window and eyed the automobile.
- What you got?
He nodded toward the back of the car.
- A shetland pony.
- All right, drive onto the scales.
She drove onto the concrete rectangle and waited until the green light came on, then shifted into gear and rolled into the offloading area. Christance got out and shut the door, walked to the edge of the receiving pit and guided Barbara as she backed the station car in until the bumper was directly over a receptacle full of dead farm animals. Calves which had died of diarrhea, diverse hogs and an enormous blotched sow smiling with bloated dugs and coy trotters. Aujesky's disease? At the other end of the receiving pier a workman was busy steam cleaning the area for the weekend holiday. He was wearing a filter mask and rubber boots and swung a long metal tube with a jet of steam coming out the end. It made a terrible noise and as the girl stood watching he came and played the steam down into the receptacle, apparently to stun the flies. Then he turned and went on. She got in the car, shut the door and threw back the sheet of garden plastic. The two stiffs were lying on their backs, completely naked but by this time so discolored that there was no use trying to tell them apart, not that it mattered. Her mother was gripping the wheel looking straight ahead through the windshield. The girl took a piece of lumber and put it between the legs of one of the stiffs and leaned on it with all her weight. Nothing happened. For an instant she panicked, she didn't want to have to ask her mother. Then she thought of something with a man's way of conceptualizing to solve a problem. It must be an airlock or some kind of vacuum established during the trip, jiggling inert on the garden plastic. So she took the stick and levered it in between them. As soon as she had budged them a little she could feel them slide as if they were floating on the sheet of plastic. Like kidneys and purple. It was her mother's idea, to lubricate their backs with suntan oil and vaseline. Again she put the stick between the legs of one of them. It was Sharkey. She could tell by the corn plaster on his temple. They had shit some more during the trip, but it couldn't be much more than the trace of fecal material newborn infants... Quick! The steampipe was getting closer again. She leaned on the stick and Sharkey shot out the back of the Volvo slick as a whistle, and then in quick succession and wild as a oneeyed jack the man with the bunion plaster. With the stick she wadded the meters of black vinyl up and impelled it all out.
Barbara shifted into gear, released the emergency brake and rode the clutch away from the pit, steam swirling in the car. She slowly drove onto the scales. They got the green light and drove up to the guard's booth, where the man politely came out and handed her the weigh ticket through the window of the car. Smiling closely he explained the figures, and while he was doing so she took off her Bosch & Lombs so he could look at the shiners she had gotten the night before. He backed away from the door.
She got out of the car with the road map in her hand. Her daughter got out, too, and came around the front of the car and stood with them. Another man, in rubber boots and carrying a clipboard - some kind of superintendent - came out of the guard's office and the four of them stood there looking at the map. It was hot and she peeled off her driving gloves.
- Maybe you can tell me where to find a gas station, she said. This heap can't keep running on just my bad breath.
back to the Short Story Page.The Dump, 11 June 1997