Work In Progress: Bangers

Below is an extract, the opening in fact, of a novel I’ve been sat on for a while. It’s called Bangers and is loosely, very loosely, about stealing cars. I have no idea of the wisdom of publishing a little bit of it, I’m not even sure it’s any good, or even what to do with it from here. Like they say, everyone has a book in the book them, don’t they?

Everyone tells you it’s tough when the time comes to bury your dad. It’s not so much the burying him, it’s the digging the hole. Six feet deep. With all the trees and roots and a blanket of pine needles, it’s not like digging in sand, building sandcastles, or turning the soil in the garden.

It’s not exactly something you practice either, but when you’re in my position it is something you think about a lot. Knowing what I know now, practice would have been sensible.

I’m sure there are people who are quite used to digging big holes in remote places to dispose of the bodies they’ve carelessly offed. I’m sure there are people who can dig a hole almost anywhere without giving it a second thought. I’ve seen it in films, I’ve seen people sweating and swearing and huffing and puffing as their spades crackle through the earth. But that’s films.

With all the thinking, you do come to the conclusion that you can’t just turn up in a forest with a garden spade and dig a hole six feet deep. You need the correct tools – you need a really good spade, preferably one with a blade that could slice cucumbers. One that glints in the light, and feels good in your hands, lightweight, like something a surgeon would use. Clean, bright, sharp, precise. You need a shovel too. Spades are all well and good when it comes to slicing the dirt, but getting it out of the hole is a job for a good, wide shovel. To be honest, I never knew the difference between a spade and shovel until I thought about it.

And like I said, I have had time to think about it.

Dad chose the spot, which was one of our more surreal days out. He knew the day would come and wanted to be prepared. It’s hard to imagine how you tackle that subject with your only son. How do you explain what needs to be done gets done. And why it needs to be done. And by who. It’s all planned and prepared. Has to be. It can’t go wrong. There’s no room for error, which is why I’m here, doing what has to be done. I can’t let him down. Or them for that matter. They’ll be here soon.

So, the tools. You also need some shears. They’re not actually called shears I discovered. They’re loppers, big, study beasts with nasty looking blades and long handles for some decent leverage. Forests come fully fitted with a network of roots. Trees everywhere, see. You’d be surprised at the underground networks trees can build with their roots as they tentacle out in search of moisture. You kind of know trees have roots, but when you get down there it’s like a whole other world. The huge, beautiful boughs reaching for skies, their leaves like delicate fingertips dabbing at the clouds and underneath it’s all industrial. The bark, all gnarled like arthritic hands, the roots disappearing under the ground. The deeper you get, the further down you dig, the more gnarly the roots become. And roots like that you can’t hack through with the spade. Shears, see. Sorry, loppers.

Of course, you don’t do something like this without taking a bit of advice. It’s not the first time a novice has had to do this. Won’t be the last. Apparently, it’s also good to have a supply of boards to shore up the sides of the hole, trench, grave. Scaffolding boards are best. But old floor boards will do. They need to be a good length. Last thing you need is the sides caving while you’re down the hole. That happens and you’re leaving the old man’s dead body up top and you are buried under six feet of earth. You can see how that one would be a hard one to explain.

You read stories in the summer of kids who dig huge holes at the beach. Tragic stuff. They’ve not thought it through, they just dig and dig. Plastic spades and all. It’s the tunnels they dig that causes the bother. With nothing but the weight of the sand you can see how it all goes wrong. And when it collapses, that’s that. If it took them a couple of hours to dig the hole, that’s how long it’s going to take to dig a lifeless body out.

They’ll be here in a hour. I’ve already been here two. The hole itself doesn’t look like the graves you see on TV. It’s not exactly the neatest hole in the world. Despite the boards, I’ve had a few minor collapses. Things do seem to be getting there though. It has to be ready when they get here.

What surprises me is how prepared I am for this. I’m in the depths of Epping Forest, it’s 3am, My dad is in the boot of my car and I’m digging a hole to bury him. It’s a frame of mind thing I think. His life wasn’t ordinary, although he did his utmost to keep it that way. We did father and son things, West Ham on a good day, Orient on a bad one. The occasional pint. The chats.

When dad went, it was appalling. You’re never ready for it even if you know it’s on its way. Which we didn’t. We’d been prepared for years. Fifteen or so I think, so they’d been plenty of time to get ready. Get my head straight. I wish I could say it was a family tradition. I guess it is, but not in he buried his father, and his father buried his father kind of way. Makes you think. Who buries the undertaker when he goes? They’re family run businesses. Do you call another undertaker? Or do you just do the job yourself, like you’ve done day in, day out? Do they manage to switch off, just another body, or…

Dad went in his sleep. We’d been for a pint, two actually, would have been more, but he was tired. We weren’t big drinkers, but there’s something proper about going to the pub with your dad. It wasn’t late, 9.30pm or so. He went his way, I went mine. And that was the last time I saw him alive. Can’t even recall what we talked about in the pub. This and that. It wasn’t one of those moments where you think he’s saying his goodbyes. Mid-seventies, he wasn’t old either. He didn’t talk about mum, or regrets. He imparted no wise words. Can’t even remember what the last words he said were. “Night son,” probably. We weren’t overly touchy feely, but I did give him a hug before we went on our way.

I popped round in the morning as I often did. Let myself in and found him, sat in his chair. He looked like he was sleeping. He wasn’t. So it wasn’t sat, it was slumped. And that’s when it hits you. Your head fills. The grief first, for a moment, then The Plan. The grief has to wait. I didn’t call an undertaker, but I did have a number to ring. It rang four or five times. There was a code word, which all sounds more cloak and dagger than it is.

“Smith and son,” came the voice.
“Co-operative,” I said, feeling just a bit daft, like something all La Carre.
“I see,” said the voice. “Just a moment.”
The line went quiet, I could hear the faintest shuffle of papers.
“We’ll be with you in 20 minutes.”

And they were. Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of you father being lifted into the back of ambulance, crash team, bags and drips attached. Especially when you know he’s dead. The grief is going to hit you at some point, but for now there’s a job to be done. Ambulance is the fastest way out.


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