After lunch, Alan shoved the yard brush into my hand and told me to take a bin and shovel out to the alley that ran along one side of the warehouse.

The bricks of the warehouse wall rose a thousand feet up to my right, and on my left in the shadow of the wall there was a smaller wall with shards of glass across the top. I swept up faded fag packets and coke cans, and bags of crisps that rain water fell out of, and looked down the length of the alley. Through the haze I saw what looked like a six-foot-tall pint of lager. Above me there was a narrow stretch of blue sky and on one side or the other, out of view, the summer sun that gave a bright light, which I was out of.

I leaned on the warehouse wall and picked idly at a length of moss that grew out from the brick like a green moustache. I held it between my fingers for a moment and tossed it into the bin. A thirst like I’d never known had me by the throat and bits of Supersonic re-entered my head.

After kicking the bin over I turned it upside down and jumped on top of it, and then, with my gloved hands carefully picking a space among the shards of glass, I pulled myself up and looked over the wall. Right below the wall, on the other side, a tree branch stuck out like a welcoming arm. I lowered myself back down on to the bin and started sweeping the tipped dust and rubbish back into it again, the song Everybody Hurts filling my head. My mouth was like the bottom of a budgie’s cage and my head was beginning to throb with the need for Alka-Seltzer. Supersonic came back. I looked down the alley and the pint seemed to be evaporating before my eyes. I put the yard brush against the wall, tipped the bin up again and jumped over the wall into the tree, before running past a bloke in a little hut in the car park who mouthed something through the glass. As I ran down Fairfield Street a train above me moved away from the platform. I passed the Star & Garter and kept running, and saw one of the company wagons on the road. The driver, Billy, gave me a wave and a smile as I looked back guiltily.

I was in the sun now and my thirst was still strangling me so I kept running down Ashton Old Road. A bus went by and on the back of it there was a picture of a palm tree and a pint of lager. I ran after it but it moved further away; the pint getting smaller in the distance. I realised I’d left my Tupperware box behind, but kept running to the sound of the music in my head until I reached the Pack Horse in Openshaw. Either side of the doorway, two topless men with beer bellies and tattoos stared into the sun drinking lager. I went in and got myself a pint and asked the barmaid if it was okay if I took a chair outside. She muttered something back. The two blokes smiled passively and each had another sip of lager. At intervals the 219 passed by on either side of the road and LAGER, in four-foot letters, flashed before our eyes.

I wasn’t used to the sun, and that and the lager and the smell of petrol was making me drowsy, so I gulped the pint and put my shirt back on and carried on down Ashton Old Road. The traffic got noisier and noisier the nearer I got to home. I went to a cashpoint in the shadow of a billboard and didn’t look up at the picture, and bought four cans from a shop in Fairfield. I kept on walking, the bag of cans banging on my leg.

Near where a new stretch of motorway made a noise that was never there in my childhood, I scrambled up a grassy bank to Audenshaw Reservoirs and looked at the sunlight on the water. I walked away from the motorway to the second of the reservoirs where school kids were arcing like thrown treasures into the water off a jetty, passed them and went around to the other side where I sat with a view across the railway line, in a sun trap, with just enough of a breeze to keep me cool. I cracked open a can and put the bag in the shade and drank while looking down at the tracks.

Neil Campbell used to work in a warehouse near the Star & Garter and for five years caught the bus up and down Ashton Old Road

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3 Responses to “Oasis”

  1. November 11, 2008 at 5:08 pm, nicholas royle said:

    That’s made me thirsty as hell, that has. Nice work.

  2. February 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm, laura said:

    dry and powerfull,really darc.

  3. August 21, 2009 at 9:20 pm, Mim said:

    Pure Campbell, at his thirstiest. Wonderful writing – spare, subtle, sensuous.


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