Have you ever read that book by Arthur C Clarke, ‘The Lost Worlds of 2001′? It’s a great book and from a writers point of view a great idea. What Clarke does is take all the unused and discarded material from his book 2001 A Space Odyssey and put it into this book. It shows you the development of the story, how it evolved, the input from Stanley Kubrick, the director of the movie version, and he shows us the different directions the book could have taken and all the avenues that were removed from the finished book. It’s a great idea for a writer because all that work on all those unused pages can now be used. On top of that it shows others how a story evolves, especially when working with someone like Kubrick who had ideas he wanted to incorporate into his film.
In writing Floating In Space I also had a considerable stack of pages I didn’t use. Here’s something that took the main character, Stuart, away from life as a bus driver and went on to see him as a cigarette vending machine man.
I have never understood what people see in cigarettes or what people want from them. Imagine it’s hot, and you’ve been on a long walk or stuck in an over heated car and you’re dying, yes literally dying for a drink and as the cool, cold, liquid; water, beer, or fizzy pop or whatever pours into your mouth the relief flows over you like, well like water. Yes, I get that. I understand it I, but people who tell me they are dying for a ciggy, well, I just don’t get that at all. Those who suck on the noxious fumes of a cigarette and draw them in deeply, well, I suppose it must give them some sort of relief or comfort but am I missing something? Especially when those same fumes can actually kill you? I mean have you ever looked at a packet of cigarettes? I mean really looked? Tobacco contains diesel fumes and other chemicals. Your sperm count may be affected? Incredible that these white sticks of death are so sought after in this society, and also that of course, I sell them.
My phone is ringing for the second time today. It’s the girl from the Bulls Head, a pub set in the country, not that far in the country but far enough for the landlady, a heavy smoker who relentlessly uses the ciggy machine despite the incredible prices it demands, to go into a near fit when the machine conks out.
Betty has left two messages already about her machine not working and she knows I get the messages but she needs reassurance that help, and nicotine is on the way.
“Betty, Stuart here, the ciggy man-”
“Stuart, where are you? The machine conked out last night and I need it fixing. You know there’s no shops around here and now the garage has shut down we can’t get any ciggys!”
“Relax Betty, I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow! Tomorrow! Stuart we can’t wait that long. You know what the customers are like. Stuart you have got to be here today. You’ve got to!”
“All right Betty, relax, relax, I’ll be there later don’t worry.”
“Well, what time? What time Stuart?”
“Betty, I’ve got to go, I’ve got another call coming in. See you later!”
And I’m gone. I have to give her the chop because otherwise I’d be there all day. And I’ve got more machines to fill, more sticks of death to give out because that’s me, that’s what I do –I’m the ciggy man.
They recently changed my van, a Ford Transit to a Mercedes Sprinter. It’s not great but it’s fast and comfy and I like the air conditioning that keeps me cool. I’ve just done three calls fast and furious. Shoot in, count the machine, shove in a load of ciggys, take out the cash and I’m gone but now I’m ready for a break. I know I’m on for a brew at the Stanley but I’ll just stop in here in the Lodge and hope the manageress is in instead of her miserable husband the manager and no I won’t get a brew but the manageress is so gorgeous that I like to make time to talk to her.
Inside through the main entrance, a quick hello to the girl on reception “Hi” I say easily.
“Any freebies?” Asks the young girl with a friendly smile.
“Next week,” I say and she laughs and says I always say that -because I do and I never give her any but then I’ve no intentions of doing that, not when every loss, even one packet goes out of my wages.
I go through into the pub and it’s just the bar maid who’s a bit of a misery and never has much to say but after a moment when I’m engrossed in counting the machine and entering the figures on to the hand held computer I carry, I suddenly smell that lovely perfume of Jan the manageress and here she is coming over to see me.
“Hi, not seen you for ages how are you?”
“All the better for seeing you. Nine thirty in the morning and you look so gorgeous. I can’t believe it.”
“Gorgeous? I’m a wreck. Look at the bags under my eyes!”
Now she’s mentioned the bags under her eyes to me a hundred times before and it’s obviously some sort of an issue with her. Perhaps that misery of a husband has mentioned it to her and now she’s getting paranoid about it because that’s what women do. They focus on some small insignificant thing and let it ruin their lives. I went out with one girl years ago and she was obsessed with her bum. Always checking it in the mirror, always worrying about it and yet, her behind was a lovely curved behind that worked well with her legs and all her other bits and pieces.
Jan is tall, about thirty-five, fortyish: Lovely thick brown hair all flowing and slightly curly. The sort of hair that you’d love to put your hands through. She’s always well dressed, today wearing a loose shirt with a sort of floral design and a matching knee length skirt, not flowery but with the same sort of purply colours.
“Bags? What bags? What bags are you on about? You’d have bags if you had a job like this, running around with a shed load of cash and cigarettes worrying about all the villains in Liverpool who are probably lying in wait for me somewhere.”
She laughs and it’s a nice warm laugh and I think she was going to run off after a quick word but I’ve got her now. She’s got lovely eyes and I wonder what she’s doing with that misery of a husband she’s got. Have I mentioned him? A right misery.
“Where’s your husband?” I ask. “I haven’t seen him for a while.”
She smiles and says “Tony? He’s my partner not my husband.”
“Your partner? You’re not married?” Well, this is news to me, in fact the best news I’ve had this week. My mobile phone is ringing and I take a quick glance and see it’s the Bulls Head again and I just reject the call quickly and Jan says “you should have taken that, don’t mind me,” but I do mind her and the news about Tony is good news.
I hang on to her for a while but then she’s off and I fill up the machine, take out the cash, and I’m ready to go. “Put plenty of Marlboro lights in,” she had said because that’s what she smokes which is a shame because I hate women who smoke but as it’s her I’m going to make an exception and yes, I did put in more Marlboro Lights, the sticks of death she prefers.
As I drove away I caught her eye as she signed for some delivery on the steps of reception and she smiled and I thought about how much I liked her and desired her and yet I’d just delivered her drugs of choice.
Round the corner at the Stanley it was time for a brew. The landlady was a young girl called Julie and she was nice, in fact she was very fit indeed. She did a lot of jogging and it was nice to watch her when she filled in for the cleaners on their holidays and she did the hoovering wearing a tee shirt and no bra and it was lovely to watch but she didn’t have the ‘oomph’ factor if you know what I mean.
On the other hand there’s this cleaner there, Marge, who’s in her mid to late fifties and she is so gorgeous it’s not true. Did I say fifties? Me, fancying a woman in her fifties? I can’t believe it myself sometimes but all I do in here is chat and sup tea and eventually Julie who must be watching on cameras or something will come down and we’ll have to get a move on and break up the party. I’m always sorry to say good-bye to Marge. She has the trim figure of a girl in her teens, a lovely warm inviting smile and all she really needs to look a million dollars is for someone to sort out her mop of untidy hair and give her some exciting clothes. Still, she’s a cleaner and she not likely to wear her best outfit for cleaning is she? When I’m ready to leave we stand at the door for a couple of minutes of last minute chit chat and when she’s in close it’s all I can do to stop putting my arms around her and holding her. She’s always on about her partner so I don’t think for a minute she’d be interested in me but the thought is always there and it’s a nice thought. A nice thought to hold on to when you’re feeling lonely and unloved as I sometimes do.
Anyway I go on and on, filling the ciggy machines, having a chat here and there and having a brew here and there. Some pubs you can’t wait to get out of and others I could stay all day.
I pulled the van out of Prescot and cantered up the short stretch of motorway to the Bulls Head. The Bulls Head is in the country; well, in a way but it’s in the start of the country, ten minutes from the M62 motorway, ten minutes’ walk from a small row of shops where you can buy cigarettes; full packets of cigarettes not vending machine packs with sixteen or eighteen cigarettes but no, this customer wanted my cigarettes, my overpriced and under packed cigarettes.
I was listening to Perry Como on my van’s tape deck. Perry Como? I can hear you say, well, I like everything musical except for rap and opera. Sometimes I play rock, hard or soft, sometimes soul, sometimes dance. Sometimes I even play classical stuff like Handel and Strauss.
Just as I pulled up to the Bulls Head I could see Betty waiting. She opened up the emergency exit meaning I wouldn’t have to go all the way round and as I stepped in with my keys and tool box she had the £5.20 in her hands for a packet of Lambert and Butler.
“I though you’d be here ages ago,” She said, anxiously.
“Wasn’t in the area Betty. I had to finish me work in Prescot then drive over.”
“I’ve been in all day. You could’ve come any time.”
“Don’t worry. I’m here now.”
You’d think it was the doctor, coming to see a sick child or something. Instead it’s me. Here to fix the ciggy machine.
The minute I had the locks off and the door of the machine open she was over with her money.
“Here. Twenty Lambert.”
I took the money and slipped her a packet of the life givers.
“Eighteen Lambert,” I corrected her.
“Eighteen,” she muttered as she slit the cellophane with her fingernail and took out a cigarette. “Robbin’ bastards. At least its eighteen. Most packets in that machine you only get sixteen! Why don’t you get twenty? Why can’t they put twenty in? I wouldn’t mind paying five pound twenty for twenty but eighteen! -Robbin’ gets!”
She stuck the cigarette between her lips and lit it quickly in one smooth action slipping the lighter from her hand and back and into her jeans pocket while she breathed in the life giving aroma. The white stick nestled in between her fingers and made the natural trip to her lips frequently. She cradled the white stick feeling it’s warmth, watching it settle in her fingers and develop its comforting grey ash.
It seemed to me that many smokers take on the pallor of ash. Their skin becoming grey, ashen and wasted and people like me could spot them a mile away.
Betty had a nice figure and wore a denim shirt and denim pants. She had big round eyes and with a bit of effort she could be nice. I often wondered what he would be like dressed up for a night out. Not that I could really stand to be near her as she smoked ciggy after ciggy.
“We need a new machine in here you know. If that one’s gonna start packing in like this every five minutes. We’re out in the middle of nowhere here you know. No shops. No nothing.”
What she would have done if she were living in the real middle of nowhere, somewhere like the highlands of Scotland I do not know but already the tobacco was doing it’s work calming her, easing her. She came and leant on the bar folding her arms and watching the workings of the machine with her warm round eyes.
“Look,” I said. “Torn up beer mat. Some plonker’s torn up a beer mat and stuffed it down the coin chute. Probably kids. Do you let kids in here at the weekends?”
“Little bastard! I know who it was. I’ll kill the little toe rag and his Mum when they come in tonight! No ciggys since Sunday afternoon!”
“It’ll be good for you. A break from the ciggys for a while. Do a bit of joggin’, get some nice clean air in your lungs. Come back here for a few carrot sticks and a low fat dip. You should think about you health more.”
Betty laughed and told me the story she had told me a hundred times before about all the people who smoked in her family, like her grandad who lived to be 86 and her dad who’s as fit as a fiddle and how they all smoke non stop.
“Are you rushing off or do you want a brew?”
Now take tea, there’s something that’s good for you, something worth waiting for. I never say no to a brew.
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