David was the seventh reader at Story Shop 2015, the daily Edinburgh International Book Festival showcase of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.

His appearance was on Fri 21st August 2015 at 4 pm in the Spiegeltent. Story Shop performances take roughly ten minutes and are free and unticketed.

David Macpherson’s short stories can be found in Chase the Moon, The Eildon Tree, and The Inkwell, while his first novel, Here Be Dragons, continues to attract rejection slips from leading agents. You can follow him on Twitter @David_Mac13.

You can hear the author read an extract of the story by clicking the play button on the photo above.
 

 

Brass River Sunrise
a short story by David Macpherson

    Sunrise flows across the Delta in a cast of colours innumerable. A mix, a swill, a wound gushing. I watch from the cab of my crane as our solar system’s powerplant, our nuclear, chugging generator, heaves itself from the jungle. The first flare spreads pink fire across two hundred miles of green canopy, drawing light in a wave, soon to be released across the most polluted patch of ocean on the planet. The oil coating the turquoise water blazes for an instant, a flash frame to blind even Turner. Then that first light is gone, passed over our rig with nothing of man to meet it until it reaches the Amazon and shines on the scars we made there.

    Christmas walks along the boom. His silhouette is snatched by the lifting sun and blasted across the sea, seventy feet below. He is doing the pre-lift checks. A clipboard in hand, red hardhat on head, he skips along the length of the crane, checking it is safe. One slip would kill him, but he does not wear a harness. Were we in the North Sea, my long home amongst the waves, it is an infraction that would see him on the next chopper home. Here it is simply the way things are done. It is faster he says, and part of me agrees.

    I removed the windows in the crane’s cab the third day I was here. The seals were rotten and to wash the glass everyday is a chore I am glad to be rid off. Plus, old dogs die in hot cars and this close to the equator Mercury is forever middle-aged. Ahead, our supply ship follows a slick path from the sun. Its low drone adds another layer to the rig’s soundscape.

    It is by sound that you come to know your rig. It assaults you when you first arrive, broadside, steel and musket. Already your ears have retreated from two hours under deafening rotor blades. The door slams back. Your feet thud on the pad and then clank on grated steel. Shouts and heavy bags are thrown. The rig is live around you, not pausing or turning its head. You are pressed into induction, the fire alarm, the evacuation siren, the pirate drill, the lunch bell. The accents too. Before it was Doric, Geordie, Glaswegian, Norwegian. Here it is Dutch, Nigerian, Texan and home. Hunting the black kraken has always been an international venture.

    It is a mess, a tangle. In those first hours you cannot separate the sounds. Noise is what you have. Inside or out, it doesn’t matter, both are bathed in lakes of noise. When you open a door between cabin and deck the sounds rush together and for a moment you are lost in the currents, drowning, suffocating, unsure which threads of the shroud belong in which parlour. The shouts of the drill deck clash with the shouts of the rec-room, the grinding of workshop saws lock teeth with the spinning gears on pipe belts, and the deep rumble of industrial washing machines compete with machines of dirt.

    The young lean too heavily on their eyes and so see too little. That’s what my dad used to say. Looking at a picture of an orchestra will not tell you how it sounds or how it works or how to play a single instrument. But listen to a drum, a flute, the sweeping arcs of the strings and you will be able to pick them from the picture, lift them up with your hands and know, in theory at least, how to make them sing. As with the music of the orchestra so with the music of industry.

    The first night is spent with that music, surrounded by it, enveloped, lying on a hard bunk in the midst of the machine, separating men’s footsteps from the beats of the rig’s pig-iron heart. Each platform is unique and familiar in equal measure. Like other ocean giants these leviathans fall into families. They are born more than built, gestating for years in dry-dock wombs. Each individual is different, distinct, but see enough of them and you recognise their parentage: ancestral traits passed on, genetic faults and favours. When their feet first feel the wash of the sea it will be with halting, tender steps, steadying themselves on unfamiliar legs. They will walk hand-in-hand with the wise, grizzled barge that guided their brothers until they reach their hunting grounds, far and deep. Some will return home, from time-to-time, a nice warm overhaul their reward. Others will be so taken with the sea they will never leave it. Their heels will grind into bedrock and sand until every limb is swollen with weeds and barnacles and whelks and life. They will breathe a slow-burning poison, a mix of their own fumes and salt sea air, until their bodies, riven with rust, collapse, heaving and coughing, slipping under stained waves.

    This rig has traits. I’ve not been on it before but I know where it was born by the tables in the mess and by the grip pattern on the ladder rungs. I know that if I went down to the drying room and leaned against the far wall I would feel the churn of the water purification tank, its centrifugal sweep, and I know that to carry a man from the drilling deck to the medical room requires climbing too many stairs.

    I know its history, some of it at least, part of its part life. It didn’t start life in the Delta. Few rigs do. Those that end up here are one of two things: survivors or cast-offs. This one is the former. Its mother was Scottish, Nigg or Ardersier, those harsh Highland sisters. I worked in both those yards, while they were still open. Not on this rig. It’s too old even for me, but I probably knew the lads that put it together. I recognise their welding, good and bad, for better and for worse. There’s sand in the grease on the oldest machines and in the back of the tea hut’s cupboards. First posting North Africa. The chipped paint on the derrick has three layers above the base, all different colours: red to green to yellow. The name painted on the side has two underneath it: three different owners. It’s had money spent on it, evidence of upgrades and careful repairs, so it must have done well for them in the past. But now the money has stopped. Broken machines are kept running with botch jobs and battlefield surgery. The crew comforts are being slowly sucked dry: the pool table is down three balls, colours are draining from the television and the sound is all wrong.

    A giant is dying, hour by hour, rust by rust, but this old beast will keep going, right until the end. And I’ll see it through. They sent me here because of my age: an old crane needs an old driver, and I’m that if nothing else. So we’ll see it through together. Like Bob says, it’s not dark yet.

    In fact, there is a peace to this twilight furnace. They sing gospel here. Every night, after dinner, the halls ring. Stand out on deck and watch the stars and the flares and hear the calls from the jungle and the slap of the waves, church songs echo from other rigs and halogen lamps blaze. Ships snore in the twofold black and satellites pass silent overhead. In the morning the crew fish off the side. The prize catch, when there is one, is carried above jubilant heads. A royal procession brings the king to the kitchen, scales sparkling and Delta water dripping from the tail. We had one last night: a great orange beast, gaping mouth and bulging eye. It took four men to haul it up and I’m told there is some left for lunch.

    Christmas has finished the checks. He stamps a heavy boot on the gang plank, gives me a thumbs-up and smiles a bright white wall. His clipboard is on a thick twine loop. He pushes his shoulder through this sling and begins to descend the ladder. He drops from my view and soon after the clanging of his boots on the rungs stops. He comes back into sight crossing the loading deck – red hardhat, clipboard and sling – before disappearing into heat haze. He’s off to tell the quartermaster we’ll be getting last week’s papers today.

    Out at sea the supply ship drags the sun behind it. Rust and chipped paint and diesel fumes, it is a fitting chariot for the Delta. The drone becomes a hum. The throttle is being eased back: the captain correcting his approach, preparing to draw cart up to castle.

    This sound means twenty minutes until the lift. Twenty minutes at least. In the North it would be ten. Time is money up there. It is here too of course, only there is less money, so there is more time. Both approaches have their merits, but I prefer it here. The ebb and flow, rest and race. It has a rhythm, a symphony of moments far more textured than the mad rush, forward, faster, forward.

    I will fill my twenty minutes listening, eyes closed, sun touched, oil drenched and jungle saved.

(c) David Macpherson, 2015