Busie Warboys versus Eddy Stone
The publican rarely slept well. Maybe he was tied to his life running the pub. He had no family, no wife or relatives to call on. Just him and the pub. Himself and the Jolly Puritan.
The closest he had was the vicar, his padre from the old ‘warrior’ days like Arnhem. Vicars wife Maureen, less so but still a friend. But then she was everyone’s friend, always smiling and willing to chat but not one for him to confide in. Angel, their daughter was like family. He would do anything for her, did, as good as.
The clock downstairs struck a stifled twice. 2a.m. Busie lay on his bed, thick arms hoisted up and clasped under his head. The slightly raised angle pressed his chins down upon each other but his breathing was clean and deep down into his barrel chest. His stomach muscles were still firm and serviceable despite the flab depositing all over the lower surface of his body. Too much beer, too much food, too much hospitality and to be honest, not enough exercise. Despite running around checking everything he was more ‘ mein host’ than active. There was the cellar-man who also worked the bar all week, Deena who worked the bar weekends and Angel through the weekdays and a couple who took turns to help whenever they were needed.
His legs were short despite his large body. He had thrown the sheet off his body in the heat of the night so his feet caught the drift of breeze whenever it managed to sidle across the room from the open window. He breathed fully in, his lungs enlarged like organ bellows, ribs widening, chest rising. Pushing the air out through his mouth, allowing his vocal chords and throat to produce a deep, noisy sigh like a last gasp, he encouraged his whole body to relax. Put his hands down to his hips and hoisted his stomach and body onto his side. Settling to relax in that position.
The tinnitus shifted notes in his head as he moved. The ear muffled by the pillow helped to re-echo the pitched signal and create the short bursts of internal lightning he could somehow feel as well as see. He moved his hand from his settling gut and tucked it under the pillow. Positioned for relaxing if not sleep, Busie Warboys was not the man he used to be.
He was woken by the broken chime of the clock, his first reaction was to look at the luminous dial of his watch. It was the third chime that had woken him. 3a.m.
He must have been asleep but now he was wide awake, head clear and ears as silent as the night. Lifting himself upright by swinging his legs over the edge of the bed he slowly rose up and moved to the side of the window. He didn’t touch the curtains but peered through the gap between edge and wall.
Looking down from his position he could see along the street. Just see the footpath below his window and as he moved the inch or so needed he could check for movements from his side of the street and across the other side. His view was clear down the main street and by switching sides of the window he could repeat the view in the opposite direction.
He could see the shadows moving. The people moving about. Ghosts lifting themselves out of the ground, out of the rubble. Civilians who cried as they walked from shattered house to broken house in search of something, not sure what, no longer aware if they were alive or dead. Keeping close to the wall, Eddy peered through the broken slats, like bars, of dissembled cellar doors. His view level with and along the rubble strewn road, inches from his face.
The horizon was close. Fractured walls on each side of the street with rubble collapsing down into the street where footpaths used to be. The church sitting at the junction of the streets fifty yards ahead had a stern facade which arched up into a neat bell tower with a small square open niche for the sound of the bells to flow round the town. Where the roof once was he could see sharp ribs, broken spars, jarring into the sky.
He watched, fascinated as the great machine, dust ridden and pock-marked leered round the corner. Huge, remorseless, a sloping slab of armoured metal. His eyes seemed to be filled with the dark grey protuberance at the end of the muzzle. The black centre was fused into his brain as flame and smoke belched out of its mouth and vents, simultaneously the wall above his window disintegrated and he fell unconscious, pressed into cracked floorboards by ceiling, joists and brickwork from the room above as well as scraps of broken furniture and uniform of one of his platoon.
When he woke the mess and smell had disappeared but the tinnitus had returned and every muscle seemed to be quivering. He pulled himself upright using the sill for leverage and stood at the window. A short fat man who shivered with the cold, sweated with the cold and whose beating heart crashed in his chest as he looked out on the tidy, empty village street and it’s orange dotted lamplights displaying pools of rural midnight blandness.
“Okay Eddy, it’s only the ‘Market Garden’, it could be worse.,” he spoke out loud.
He answered, “Yes and Busie is here to keep, you sane. The old soldier in his mind respected help when it was offered and accepted. Calmer now, heart still fast and fluttering, he went back to his bed, laid himself down and contemplated the ceiling until the brief hour of sleep found him.
Busie awoke in time to hit the bell on the alarm clock. “Rise and shine, it’s half past five,” he recited to himself as he rolled himself off the bed and onto his feet with the aid of the brass bed-head. He dressed and clambered down the stairs to the big kitchen. Put the kettle on to boil and used the time to use the toilet and wash hands and face in cold water. Timing was perfect as he ran fingers through his sparse hair to tidy it then tossed the spoonful of tea leaves into his mug as the kettle steamed. He poured the water into the mug watching as the small leaves turmoiled and stained the water. Kettle put on the side of the cooker after pouring water into a saucepan to be ready for a couple of eggs to be broken into and poached. A big pinch of salt and he moved saucepan onto the gas flame after a little topping up of water from the the old brass tap.
Back to his tea, a big dash of milk, no whisky this morning and a stir to the mixture, raising a storm with the tea leaves again. And on with the eggs, on with the toast in the grill. The routine following minute by minute while he settled his brain for the day ahead. Busie was in control, Eddie was resting at the back of his brain after the strain of reliving a hopeless battle he helplessly survived.
His day would start properly with the unbolting and unbarring of the cellar doors for the draymen;
with the ritual of them hauling out the empty barrels and kegs via the parallel ropes that were clipped to the outer edges for the door frame. Outside, when the cellar doors were raised they hid the opening into the beer-cellar from the casual observer. You could not see the well-preserved slope down to the stone floor some eight feet below, up which the empty barrels were easily drawn. When the replacements were lowered it was less easy. The large sawdust filled hessian cushion lay at the base to soften the landing of the filled wooden casks. Once in the cellar they had to be rolled carefully up the small sloping bridge onto their blocks and wedged firmly, ensuring the bungs were down and central. Strapping was available to manouvre them if need be but years of practice had the job done in minutes. There was always plenty of time to slake any thirst the draymen may have built up. The fresh barrels, be they mild, bitter or local brews had to sit while the dregs settled. It took a day or two before they could be used, for the finings to work, so they would usually test the previous delivery, freshly tapped the previous night for their visit.
“How are you today, Eddy?” Asked the vicar, the ex-soldiers ex-padre as he joined the publican on the path outside the Jolly Puritan to watch the draymen load the empty casks and barrels onto the dray.
“Busie, sir.” Always Busie when I am working. It’s only Eddy when I can’t sleep, or when I do!” He said wryly.
“Yes, sorry. Busie, though I still can’t get out of the ‘Eddy’ habit. Remember I am only up the road if you need to talk about old times, good or bad. I am lucky, I guess; don’t seem to have your troubles. Arnhem was the worst of it for me but you went back for more.
“Maybe I should ‘ave kept me original name but I was invalided out after ’47 so I had to change it to get back in. Seemed a good idea at the time. Still, had me a couple of years back in the ranks, got me three stripes again and then they kindly blew me up. As good as. All I came out with was a medical pension and a big hole in me ‘ed, out of which me mind escaped.”
They watched the last empty kegs flung by the driver and caught by his mate then piled and roped on the flat-back lorry. “Still, always time for a beer when the brewery’s here. Come on lads, let’s test last delivery!” He shook his head a little as another rhyme had escaped.
‘A quirk!’ The doctor had said as he smiled at him. He had come home from Korea and the doctor at the board had signed him off with another pension, a plate in his head, tinnitus, a lost memory gap of some four years and a quirk that seemed to ensure he spoke in rhyme whenever he uttered a short sentence. Not to mention his unwished-for reversion to his earlier persona of Eddy Stone and the rubble of Arnham. The dreams were real whenever they caught him, he could never just turn them off just survive them. Daylight and the Jolly Puritan, that was what kept him almost sane.
“Just a quirk!” And he followed the men inside while the vicar walked away. Inside the doorstep he picked up the Bible, yet again, and stuffed it onto the shelf.
another excerpt from ‘Burnthorpe’