(In homage to Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.)
Sadly Broke is never silent. As the moon steals behind the Bus Station, not all who populate the new town are asleep. Manky foxes trot their hungry way down ill-lit, bin lined, yellow-lined, white hatched streets eyeing tasty cats slinking homeward from their nocturnal lawn scratching, back rubbing road signs instructing: Turn left; Turn right; Turn it in; whilst a weary goods train grumbles its way over the rails to the oil depot.
Sadly Broke rests cradled in the gentle bends of the M7 Motorway whilst early day Seagulls prepare to wheel and screech, chip searching around Miss Tilly's Battered Chicken Emporium as a cloud looks down on the small, soulless, graffiti coated town and searches for refreshing darkness, but finds gloom; seeks the perfume of spring, but smells fumes; hunts for reviving streams but only finds fly-tipped trash, and it weeps.
As yesterday dies and St Mary's clock tolls the last stroke of midnight, babies snuggle, young girls dream of boys and wedding cars; young boys dream of girls and fast cars, and Gerry Atric, manager of Dun Carin, the old people's home, lies the whole night long, tormented, guilt racked and sleepless, wishing the dreadful incident had never happened.
Alarms ring, kettles boil, cereals soak, pans fry full English cholesterol; one leg in, tea slurping, toast burning, second leg in, sock seeking, desperate children memorising undone homework; 'The world is a sphere – s-p-h-e-r-e.' Mothers, one hand on wheel, other tablet holding, another ear-clipping their unruly broods as they drive the full half-mile from home to school whilst Garry Baldi opens the shutters of his Gent's Hairdressing Salon. His first customer awaits.
'Good morning. My Lord.' The Hon Longstretch-Jones, High Court Judge, pushed his way past.
'Would be if you opened on time for once.'
'Soon have you on your way – usual Sir?' The judge grunted.
'Have you heard about the dreadful business at Dun Carin? Would never have thought it could happen here.' The judge grunted again.
'Nothing surprises me – so what did happen?' Scissors snipping, razor stropping.
'Oh, don't ask me,'
'Well… I don't actually know the details yet, but I will before the day's through.' Talc puffing, mirror waiving, coat brushing; the judge paid and left; his hair looking exactly as it did when he arrived.
'Next please?' Count Fornothing took the chair.
'You'd better not have put your prices up again, Not paying a penny more than last time - times are hard, damned hard. So, what were you saying about Gerry Atric at The Care Home, not that I approve of gossip you understand?' Hair spraying, combe flying.
'Dreadful business, it's all over town – such a scandal, Police will be involved for certain; that sort of thing's got to be stopped.' Humming clippers – falling hair.
'What sort of thing?' Question dead batted.
'Would you care for conditioner on that?' A much practised 'gimmi a tip' smile to the mirror, cape flicking away, seat descending, side turning. None forthcoming.
As the day progressed in morning cake shops, lunchtime restaurants, bus stops, check-out queues, afternoon cafes; reports of the incident grew with every telling until by evening; it had grown to such magnitude that questions in Parliament were inevitable. The population of Sadly Broke was incensed and those demanding action gravitated to the pub.
Mo the Grass, the Police informer, and his friend, Di Nasty the assassin, were the first to arrive at The Dog & Toothbrush. The landlord, Nosmo King, polishing glasses with a 'huff,' greeted his regulars. Bar wiped; pints poured.
'I can't abide abuse of old folks, makes my blood boil. That's £7 to you,' hand waiting. Mo, note offering, pint slurped. Change giving, Nosmo asked:
'Will the law do anything? No. Will the police take action? No chance. That devil Gerry Atric should be strung from a lamp post. The pub filled with others of a similar opinion. Di, cap over eyes, pushed a reluctant Mo onto a chair.
'So, mates, is anyone with me?' General Lea Wrong, pushed to the front.
'This needs Military planning – gentlemen, arm yourselves.' Billiard cues distributed. 'We'll march on Dun Carin in two columns, one up Elm Street, the other down Lime Street, catch him in a pincer action. Come along you men, England expects and all that, we'll teach the blighter a lesson, then drive him out of town. Detailed planning's the thing.' He hesitated, then whispered to Nosmo King, 'What's his name?'
'Gerry Atric, sir.'
'That's the fella. We'll drink a toast to the success of the operation.'
'You buying?' General's hearing aid developed a fault. The eight vigilantes readied themselves, white feathers from the bar cushion were handed to all including Mr. Watkins in his wheelchair and as the General was about to raise a toast, the bar door swung open and a beleaguered Gerry Atric staggered into the pub.
'Shush! Here he comes.'.
'Gimmi a large scotch – quick.' Nosmo King raised eyebrows.
'But you don't drink.'
'I do now. Worst days of my life.' Large gulp. 'Gave the residents roast turkey for a treat; all the trimmings. As soon as it was served, Mr. Smith thought it was Christmas and shouted:
'Stuff the turkey, where's the mistletoe' and tried to kiss Mrs. Wigmore-Hall. She screamed, swiped at him with her walking stick; missed and laid out Mr. Stone. In no time, there was a riot; Complan in all directions, gravy dripping from the ceiling. Major de Feet grabbed the breadbasket, took cover behind the drugs trolley, and shouted 'send for back-up and get more rolls and make 'em stale ones,' then started to take a bite from each and lobbed them all over the place, grenade style. Gerry shuddered. 'Noise was horrendous. Matron banged the table with a ladle for order with such force, a turkey leg flew through the air and cracked the Queens' photo. Mrs. Wigmore-Hall shouted at Matron: 'Right, you old crow, that's it, this is where you get yours' and beat her over the head with a French Stick. Matron's been hospitalised with a concussion since.' Someone from the crowd asked:
'So, who's in charge now?'
'No idea; when I left, Mrs. Leftwing had tied her red knickers to a broom handle and was marching up and down the corridor chanting 'Unite comrades, time for a worker's collective.' She can run it. I can't take anymore, I'm a broken man.' There was a stunned silence as the scene sunk in.
Di Nasty was in a daze; he took a swig of his pint. 'But Mrs. Leftwing's 19 stone!'
'I know, it was a large flag.' Mo the Grass put his pint down with a thump, unable to drink more as the dreadful scene replayed in his mind like an endless loop. In case he hadn't pleaded a strong enough defence, Gerry Atric turned to the stunned crowd, raised his hands in exasperation, and added:
'And to cap it all, so much food had been thrown into the piano, the piano tuner said he didn't know whether to use a tuning fork or a knife and fork. I'm finished. I'm going for another job; think I'll go back to the building game.'
Evans pushed through the stunned crowd with a copy of The Gazette in his hand, placed it in front of Gerry, and pointed to an advert.
'You're in luck, you are.' Gerry read.
'Bodgit & Scarper - we build, you regret, have a vacancy for a bricklayer, no experience necessary.'
'That's for me!' Nosmo leant over the bar and patted Gerry on the arm.
'We were just saying what a wonderful job you all do at Dun Carin, weren't we boys?' There was hiding of cues, nodding of heads, and mutterings of 'absolutely' and 'yes we were.' Nosmo beckoned Gerry nearer and so no one else could hear, mouthed 'have that on the house, you deserve it.' Miraculously, everyone instantly acquired the ability to lip read and the whole bar emptied their glasses in anticipation. Nosmo seized the opportunity, called time, and closed the pub before he could be charged with Riotous Assembly.
The moon rose over Cheese Hill, the town settled, boy racers raced, ambulances left; fire engines returned; girls dreamed of popstars; boys dreamed of fame, foxes left lairs to go late night shopping in the waste bins of Rookums Supermarket and Gerry Atric started another nightmare featuring gigantic red knickers and flying bread sauce and as St Mary's clock tolled the last stroke of midnight, a goods train rumbled over the tracks to the oil depot.