Drainmen Ch. 5

by RW Spryszak

I keep the drains clear.

By name and therefore by title, a Drainman. A job made necessary by the rains that have been with us ever since the fighting stopped and life returned to normal. No one has been able to explain the connection between the constant rain and the day the war ended, but it can't be denied. The war stopped and the rain started and that was that. There are those that say that when shells explode they emit strange gases into the air and that these explosives have permanently damaged the atmosphere here above our island. But others say this is a notion first thought of during the first world war, over a hundred years ago when crops failed behind the trenches and the winter was the worst known. That science has disapproved of this antiquated idea. To me, it hardly matters. All I know is that it rains.

When it doesn't come down in a constant fall it pours down in a deluge. there's no respite from it. The best days are just drizzles. Otherwise it is a never ending shower.

Because of this I have a job. There is a need for drainmen to keep the gutters clear so that the rain doesn't flood the street. Three years ago on another worksite drainmen were not in use when the water collected so fast and the drains were clogged with so much clutter and garbage, that a flood developed that raised the cranes up on a thin, slick coating of heavy water on the street. The cranes slid as if on oil. One even toppled over after hitting a building, and six men were killed because of it. Finally, the locomotive they were raising slid into the very tower they were trying to crown, and the whole thing came tumbling down. The bricks on these ancient towers are weak and old. Expert care is needed at all times to lift and balance the load. Ever since that incident the departments that oversee feasance mandated and ordered the hiring and use of drainmen. I got my job because the Engineers knew I will cause no trouble for them. What they don't know is that the reason I never interact with them is because I distrust them. I let them think what they want.

I alternately love and hate the smell of rain on concrete and brick. I stand at my drain with my stick, tipped with a poker, and remove the floating trash and junk into a tall wire bin behind me. The rain is both a blessing and a curse. I needed this job when the war ended, as there were precious few jobs at the time.

There's no reason for me to go through all this explanation to you again. You know all this full well and always hated what I do. I know it was because you wanted better for me than this. You saw me returning tired every day, seeming to be near useless over the mind killing repetition of the job. But a man must work to eat. It is a long-standing dictum.

And now that you are gone I look at what I do and I must admit the picture of myself that I see in my mind's eye, ankle deep in water, poking at garbage flowing down a gutter, rankles me more than it did. And that churning inside is never relieved by the safety valve of talking about it to another person. And I grow suspicious that this is exactly what you wanted to happen. A parting gift meant to either lead me to something else or to just kill me slowly by eating away at me from the inside.

I am a very small part of a much more glamorous occupation. Lifting heavy equipment onto the tops of our ancient buildings is seen as vital and exciting work. Four hundred and forty nine tons rising into the air a few inches every day, dangling on what look like delicate wires compared to its bulk. Swaying only as much as the Engineers will let it when the wind blows off the North Sea and burns cold across the face of the city. The men pointing, shouting, muscles flexing. The incongruous danger of a monster from the age of steam being lifted and married to the age of feudal chivalry. Steam engine black, severe. Tower grand and ancient. This is the pride of our nation.

But it's not all that glamorous when you stand at a drain at the end of a gutter in the street, poking paper and discarded waste of all kinds, only allowed to watch the qualified men working the lift. And on the day I discovered you'd vanished and no one could tell me where, I kind of vanished as well. Into the rain and the gray days one after the other. My hands calloused from the wooden shaft of my poker. Unwashed and unshaven. Blackened at the edges of my face with the soot of the hard forges. I stopped caring. I crawled in and out of the tunnel day after day like an electrocuted monster, bouncing between the rock walls.

You were gone. And I return to my rooms and watch the ants sculpt the old woodwork along the floor, making it into an edifice of their civilization. I no longer want to know who it is that is always sitting at my table in the kitchen. There in the morning when I wake up and there at night when I come home. Let him sit there in his darkness. Let him eat all my bread and steal all my air. Let him die there and rot, for all I care.

I talk to myself and the world sees me mumbling into dead space and I don't care. I work and I sleep. I crawl and I eat. After you left the days jerked like public hangings one week to the next. I have since returned to the station on those black days I am off work. The station we sat near and mocked the passengers and transients. There's nothing for me in my rooms and the dark man at the table never speaks. He's never said a word.

I note that the roof of the station has now developed a leak from all the rain, and somehow a tree has started to grow on it, its tangled roots like twisted and poisonous worms dangling over the heads of the frightened commuters, feeding on air alone but growing downward as they seek ground. There are now large smears of mold above the ticket windows, and the paint peels from the walls only to be eaten by dogs or used as trinkets by the homeless. More and more people ask who rules the country now that the civil strife is over, but nobody knows. No one can answer the question. Because you are gone it no longer matters to me.

Let the poor starve and the whole species go extinct. Let the Dogger Bank crumble below us and toss us into the sea, and lava eruptions take over the night. The bards have been projecting the end of the world since man first broke rocks. Sooner or later they have to be right.