The balcony corridor ran above the mass of smooth wooden floor that made up the sports hall. I strolled slowly across the balcony as the sports hall lit up by my side, one by one as I passed underneath, each light being triggered by my presence. This was probably the highlight of the work day and the most exciting thing that happened. The run down old leisure centre was now hardly used, the new one down the street with is crystal swimming pool and talking gym had machines that shouted at you to work harder. It was always going to make this one incomparable. Who’d want to go to a school that doubled up as a leisure centre at night, when even the school was a shithole, filled with the children that they didn’t want their own to meet? The lights were the only new feature for around 25 years. They still had to close if there was a heavy downpour; the school had promised to fix the roof but never got around to it or never had the money… one of the two. They never told me too much.
I swept all of the halls and squash courts, hovered and mopped the stairs then trundled of to the claustrophobic reception to wait for the first squash booking in half an hour.
I worked alone, you couldn’t justify having more than one person being paid for this job. As a result there were no fag breaks, the one thing that really did my head in. If there was an accident I was the first aider on site. This was the result of a 2 hour course where you did some compressions on a doll and were given a small pack to carry around with you, leaving me in a really good position to be able to help those that need it.
The caretaker, Ian, came over to me later that evening when I was looking vacantly out of the window, whilst trying to roll a fag under the counter without being noticed by the cameras. He leaned over the counter and as he blocked the camera I licked the paper and stuck it together, nodding at him at the same time. He nodded back with a smile riding up on the one side of his mouth. He was a large man, tall with a huge round belly that looked to be of the hard fat variety. He wore a small hoped earring in one ear and always wore the collar of his polo shirt up with a small gold chain around his neck. I never found out what the pendant was but it looked to be a small rectangle with some sort of design on it.
Ian knew everything that happened in the place. He told me who the head teacher was fucking, I still can’t mention any names. There were days when he’d trundle around morose and those where he would bounce around with his cocky half smile. Everyone always knew that he was up to mischief, but no-one ever did anything about it. This always confused me.
They must have known something that I didn’t, but at this time of night, with only me and him in the building, we were best mates and I saw the real Ian.
‘Alrate youth?’ He asked in quite close proximity.
‘Not bad mate, you?’
‘I’ve got sumet to show ya kid.’
‘Come n ave a look’ He motioned with his head towards the door opposite my reception.
I looked around myself and saw the booking sheets. There was nobody due in for an hour and a half anyway. That meant that we were the only two people in the building again; no-one would know what was going on.
I stood up. ‘Why the fuck not, I ant got owt else to do ave I.’
I tucked the fag in behind my tab and slid the glass shut on the reception.
When I arrived around the front Ian was laughing.
‘You’ll love it mate.’
He held the door open with a more insane look in his eyes than usual. I knew that we were going to be doing something that we shouldn’t there and then, but I’m always one for a laugh so I didn’t think anything of it at this point.
He led me through the maze of corridors that made up the school side of the building.
I had never been through this side before and was completely lost; I started work when the children left and was happy about that.
As the corridors got dirtier I realised we had entered the heart of the school and leisure centre. This was behind the buildings half-arsed mask, the old, fading, wrinkled reality, without contamination.
Ian pulled the last heavy door open and we were in the boiler room. It was a dimly lit room with a red and brown glow from all of the copper, rust and half burnt metal. There were dials and meters everywhere that had numbers written on them that I couldn’t understand.
Stacks of oil sat to one side that I knew Ian and another caretaker had been pinching bit by bit.
As soon as we entered Ian lit a fag.
‘I dunno if you should be smoking in here Ian, to be honest mate.’ I tried to sound not too concerned about the matter.
‘It don’t matter kid,’ He said with the fag hanging out of his mouth and smoke exuding from either side of it. ‘This camera’s a dud anyway.’
He stuck two fingers up, one on each hand, both pointing at the camera whilst he squatted down, pursing his lips and making a farting noise.
I laughed and shook my head. ‘No, I mean cos of where we are. There’s loadsa oil n that.’
His head tilted back and he laughed loudly, making me uneasy. ‘We’ll be rate duck, don’t you worry.’
He scrubbed my head and spoke again. I kept my fag firmly behind my ear.
‘Look down here.’
He pulled an old metal box out from underneath some thick pipes that came straight up from the floor and then turned into one of the machines that could have been anything for what I knew. The box was quite large and I could tell that it was heavy from the way it slid, screeching across the floor when Ian was pulling it out.
When he opened the box it seemed to be filled with papers and old photographs that had faded over time.
‘What’re they?’ I asked.
‘This is all my old stuff from the union days.’
‘From the miners strike?’
‘Some of it. Some long before.’
As he flicked through the wad of paper in his hands he pulled out a photo and gave it me to hold.
‘Brian.’ He pointed to a man suited and booted, with scruffy, short brown hair and a goatie. ‘Was a brilliant man. He died with pride in his heart and an assured vision of the unions gaining power, not loosing it, through Thatcher. He was sure that it would anger everyone so much that they’d fight it.’
‘And is that you?’ I asked him, pointing to a man with the same earring and necklace, yet a lot slimmer and cleaner wearing a freshly pressed suit.
‘That was me in the glory days. Look at me now, stuck in this job that pays fuck all when I’m a highly qualified man!’
‘I’m sure you could get a right good job if you really tried.
Ian laughed and looked at me with raised eyebrows of disbelief. ‘Not after all that’s happened.’ He shook his head. ‘Anyway, this is what I’ve really come to show you.’
As he moved more of the papers there was a glint of metal. I saw wires and knew I was in for something peculiar. One of the other caretakers was into finding ghosts, having us record the white noise in the theatre one night and bringing a meter that somehow records their presence.
Yet as Ian pulled it out I could never be prepared for what I saw. I still didn’t know what it was when it was finally out; he appeared to be handling it very carefully. It did look delicate, the intricate ball of wires soldered together to connect fuck knows to god knows what.
‘Good one init kid. Should work like a treat.’ He smiled, holding it delicately in the palm of his hand.
I frowned and looked closely in the dim light. ‘What is it?’
I took three steps back until I was pressed against the door. My heart instantly jumped a thousand revs.
‘Fuck this, I’m off.’ I reached for the door handle.
‘Calm down, I ant even connected the batteries yet. Got a great fucking car battery ready.’
‘Your fucking nuts mate. What you doing with that in here?’
‘I’m gonna blow the fucker up. It’ll be mint.’
‘Nah, I want no part in this bud… Shit man!’
Ian just smiled for a while before placing the bomb back in the box.
I looked at him. ‘When?’
We walked back down the corridors to my reception counter without speaking. I lit my fag as we walked through the halls. It didn’t really matter anymore. Ian just walked with that insane smile still pressed across his face, scanning his card to get us through the maze of doors.
When we arrived back at the reception I opened slid the glass window open and sat down. Ian was looming over me again.
‘You sure you wanna do this?’ I asked him.
He nodded. ‘I’ve had enough kid. I can’t go on like this.’
‘Well how does it benefit you?’ I hadn’t thought about this until the words left my mouth.
‘It’ll just make me happy. There’s a certain beauty in unnecessary acts, not everything has to have a reason.’
This logic worked its way through my brain and I was easily convinced. It would get me out of my rut anyway.
I nodded to him, raising a foot onto the shelf below the counter. ‘Yeah… Why not?’
‘That’s the spirit lad!’
That night I could do what I wanted. But I didn’t know what that was.
I walked around the place smoking, expecting the customers to say something, yet the few that were in didn’t even seem to notice. Theoretically I loved the situation but I still didn’t know what to do.
I got some javelins out of the school sports cupboard and laid them out in the centre of the sports hall. I darted them more like a tribesman than an athlete, straight through the plasterboard until it looked like a trap in an ancient ruin.
I popped balls of many varieties, footballs, netballs, basket balls, balls of all shapes and sizes. Each time it became more satisfying to feel the Stanley knife pierce the tight skin.
It wasn’t until I slit my finger that I stopped and used my first aid skills for the first time.
The satisfaction of smashing urinals with shot-puts however was what took my enjoyment to the next level. The sound of the heavy metal balls shattering the porcelain,
immediately on impact, and the dull after-thud of the shot puts sinking in to the tiles cracks that it formed left you craving for more. Coke’s nothing.
Then after all of this I was bored again…
Destruction was the only thing that I could think to do, however the enjoyment didn’t last… If anything I felt a bit bad.
At the end of the day I cashed up, shoving all of the money in my pocket. I left the till open, the lights on, the doors unlocked and left. Me and Ian didn’t speak on the way out, he just winked at me and I whistled my way out of the building and home.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Different thoughts were running through my head about the devastation. Someone was still inside. Ian got caught up and blew himself up. I could picture the newspapers as they caught him and locked him up. In my head he told the judge that I was an accomplice and the shred of CCTV evidence that was left supported this. The poor kids whose school had blown up, the kids that really did need an education. It all span around my head until I was nauseous and felt like throwing up.
By eight o’clock in the morning I had had enough. I got on my push bike and rode down the street, to the site that would be cordoned off by police. Parents and children stood around amazed by the wreckage and devastation.
I should have expected it looking back. The school was still there, standing as slouched and unhealthy as yesterday but nevertheless still there. I cycled around the building to see if the bomb had just hit one part of the school, yet nowhere was touched.
Jeff, the leisure centre manager, was just walking from the building to his car as I was riding back to the entrance.
‘Oi! John!’ He shouted over to me but I pretended not to hear. ‘What the fuck’s this all about! You’ve wrecked the place! I’ll be checking the CCTV cos it stinks of fags and I want the money back now.’
He started running after me. ‘John you lousy prick! Get here now!’
I pedaled harder, knowing I was done for. ‘Fuck off!’ I snapped as I felt the situation aging me.
‘You’re fired and I’ll be taking this to court!’ He shouted as I left him in the distance.
I biked to Ian’s house, not far from school. I heard his gravelly cough as I threw my bike down on his overgrown small rectangle of plants that made up the front garden.
Knocking on the door I was filled with rage.
As soon as he opened the door I was in his face.
‘You didn’t fucking do it you lousy prick!’
‘Nah, I couldn’t. I love the place.’ He shrugged his shoulders.
He’s always been full of shit. Still is.
Jim Gibson is from Nottinghamshire in England. He writes stories about what he knows and co-runs Hand Job Zine.