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1989: She Bangs the Drums

As the lift was broken I walked upstairs, cursing. I’d gone

up four flights before realising the chip in my hands was for

the skip, and threw it behind some coils of wire. As I

approached the sixth I heard terrible screams and left the

stairwell, stepping carefully across the chess patchwork of

metal plates and holes full of wire, like snake nests, wherethe

floor would eventually go. Over the far side a group of men

gathered around the upturned mixer. Radio was rolling round

on the floor, whining, blood everywhere.

Behind the men, London soared: towers of light, spotlights

as if from a film. Because there were no walls on the site, just

layer upon layer of floor, when the men parted to let me

through Radio seemed to float on a cloud of lights.

Recognising one of the sparkies I tapped his shoulder.

“What happened?”

“Jesus Christ.” The bloke, a decent old cockney in his

fifties, shook his head. “Radio comes running across thefloor

with that thing on his head, trips over a brick and goes flying.

The mixer went down a hole and took his hand off.”

He nodded, and I looked again at what I’d thought was

someone’s glove on the floor next to Radio. He’d never work

again. Whipping out the camera I took some shots of his

bloody stump, the grey limp hand, the rock-faced men and

London as the backdrop, monstrous, growing, oblivious.

Already I was planning how I’d present this misery for the

delectation of others, a blow-up of his severed hand

superimposed over the main image so that it resembled some

sort of grey/white protest: stop. But there was no stopping,

the buildings just kept rising. I heard O’Neill behind me.

“What happened here? What’s with monkey boy?”

Someone explained and O’Neill frowned, looking at his

watch. After a moment’s thought he emptied his pocket, put

the contents into Radio’s and slapped his back.

“Here’s a few quid son, I’ll give you a lift to the hospital.

Someone grab the hand. Maybe they can do something.”

Nobody moved so O’Neill picked up the limp hand and put

it in his hat. I took another photo and seeing the flash O’Neill

glared at me.

“What the fuck you doing?”

“Just getting a few pics.”

“What are you, health and fucking safety? Give me the

fucking camera, son, or by Jesus I’ll throw you off the roof.”

I backed away until my back was against a pallet of

breezeblocks, O’Neill in my face, eyes wild and askew. Radio

was still howling; O’Neill was holding the hat in his left hand

and he grabbed the camera with his right. Taking off my cap

and liking the cold air on my scalp I nutted him spot on the

nose, which split, causing O’Neill to drop the hat and my

camera on the harsh floor. Radio’s hand spilled out onto the

floor; grabbing the camera, I ran.

Pulling the soggy woolly hat down over my head I stalked

through the rain, wondering if there was any way O’Neill

could find out where I lived. When I’d walked into the dodgy

agency I’d given Tony’s name as usual, so that would be

alright; the only thing that would be.

As I walked from the City towards Old Street, relishing the

freedom of a rainy dark afternoon, I saw a man trapped in a

phonebox, banging on the glass. I’ve never been one for

confined spaces; whenever I feel trapped, I lash out.

Once, Becky described her bouts of epilepsy as like being

pulled backwards down a very long tunnel, like Friern Barnet

corridor, with all the people at the other end seeming very far

away. When my anger comes on like that I know what she

means. For some immeasurable period of time I become quite

untouchable; then, whether I want to or not, I have to come


The humming in my head was fading; as I got near the flats

I stopped to examine a discarded kebab in the gutter,

congealed fat making pretty colours on the shiny street, quite

beautiful in its way. Time for a photo. I pulled out the camera

and cursed. It was smashed but luckily the film seemed intact.

Slipping the roll in my pocket I threw the camera into the

nearest skip.


*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here


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