This is a short story Jonathan shared with us in 2005. He said it was a work in progress, but I like it the way it is.
A portrait of the author, right side up.
Bill Rossington wiped his wellingtons, grunted and straightened up painfully. Thirty-four well-tended acres trailed away in an indistinct haze of wheat and barley.
"Aye, Mum." he mumbled. "Snatched ye from yer big city to the dales, now, didn' aye? Forty years be comin' to whet now belong to we alone. E'en tho ye not be seein' er now nor again eh, lovie?" The can cap screwed down with difficulty but was done. "Well then." He moved forward slowly, boots clomping. "Two down, seventeen to go, I'll warrant. God save the Queen, me arse."
"The same today as yesterday. And the day before and the day before that." Byron gave one last flick to his brows and marched to the tubes. God, he hated the Underground. Teeming masses, jumbling, skittering as one live organism going to make a "living" And he hated it. Same route day in, day out. All faces looked identical. Dulled. All on auto-pilot to slave away the day just to bring bread back home.
He jumped into the flow. The tunnel walls blurred by monotonously. He'd be at the job site all too soon, he knew. Then what? "Why, work the bloody day away as yesterday. All for country and Queen," he grimaced.
"So you think they'll be missing us for half a day then?" It was Harry, his coworker. They had taken this same route together all these days, weeks, years - who knew how long? Acknowledging one another, yet rarely speaking.
"I say, mate. Will they be missing us for a bit? I mean, what with all the other workers about the site, who would know?"
Ah, Harry. Always the free spirit. "But this leg takes us direct to the job," Byron said. "We'd be seen skipping."
"May'nt be the case, lad. Aways up and to the right is a new excavation for a tube spur to the downs. Not far now. Whadya say. Offboard and scamper out to God's green fields, a bit 'o sunshine and clean air - no crowds. Think fast!"
Byron saw a darker splotch on the tunnel walls ahead approaching quickly. Yes, he thought. Why not, indeed? Who would miss us? We're hard workers. They owe us.
"I'm in!" Byron said.
"We're out!" Harry yelled.
They swayed alone in the darkness as the masses faded into the blackness of the underground. Slowly, as Byron's eyes became accustomed to the darkness, a faint light was noticeable.
"This way, mate," Harry said, pushing him forward. "Next stop, freedom!"
They slowly picked their way towards a pinprick of light that grew with each passing step. "New earthworks for the Bywater Terminal juncture, this," Harry said.
On they went, never given notice by the teams of excavators, backs bent, asses busting to meet the deadlines for the new tube station opening.
Finally! They were above ground. Fresh air washed their faces and they laughed, scampering a distance to a patch of wonderful heather beneath skyscraper trees. They collapsed on the ground laughing. "Gawd almighty in the mornin'," Harry said. "#$@! the bosses and #$@! the job!" He took a bit of grass between his teeth and grew somber. "What ya suppose it's all about, friend?"
Harry and Byron spoke of many things yet nothing at all that afternoon. Byron dreamed of owning his own plot of land, away from the city crowds, working only for himself. Harry said his antennae were pricked for the first eligible damsel that would give him hearth, home and kiddos, be she ugly as the gawdawful Queen Mother herself.
"But who are we kidding, mate?" he asked Byron. "We're just working stiffs, born to our class and probably to die in it."
"No, Harry. I'm sure you're wrong," said Byron. "We work hard and keep our noses clean, get the attention of the bosses, show them what we can do. We climb the ladder. Fuck the Queen and those born to favor. We can make our lives count with hard work and succeed in the bargain. The royals will eat our dust!"
"Yes. Yes, I believe you. We must have a goal. We'll show the bosses. We can do 'er. But, er, first we must make sure we still have bosses. Off we go now to the underground. To the tubes and to work before we're missed and fired. . .or worse."
Sweaty but happy, Byron and Harry rejoined the throngs on the underground. Indiscriminate faces, dulled by the workaday world, all looking identical. Except two. Two who smiled with new purpose and a goal.
"Aye, we can do 'er Harry. We can. And we must." Off in the distance, a faint light grew at the tube terminus. Soon they would vomit out onto the work site with all the other dour faces - but now they didn't dread it. They would not be just any other workers. They were going for the prize.
But traffic slowed abruptly. The crowds ahead looked back, brows raised in question. Behind, workers strained to see what the slowup was about. "What's that?" said Harry.
There was a dull tremble. Soon it became distinct. Whump, whump, WHUMP - then fumes, noxious, choking! Panic - bodies flailing and banging. Harry was down and still. Byron choked, eyes streaming. He fell beside his friend. Sloshing darkness. His last thought was, "Why? Why me? Why now?"
Bill Rossington wiped his wellingtons, grunted and straightened up painfully. "Aye, my land now, free and clear. Ain't no swarmin' beggars to be gettin' naught off it but me."
He screwed the gas can cap down with difficulty, but it was done. Hand shading eyes, he spotted another brown mound by the fence on the hill.
"Well, then." He moved forward slowly, boots clomping. "Three down, sixteen to go, I'll warrant," he said. "And God save the Queen my arse."