Cheese – A Job

A lot of the time I was at the cheese factory, I was quite stoned. I moved to Wales without telling anyone so I had to build up my dossier of local shady characters from scratch all over again. The blim-burned fleece, which predated my previous and still quite recent marriage and divorce, was like raising a flag – within a couple of hours of my first shift I’d got an introduction to a convenient local dealer who had something to do with deep frying mozarella. I’d been quietly shitting myself, in what I thought was a quietly English fashion, about the idea of having to go work alongside a bunch of Welsh people in a cheese factory. I thought there were probably lots of reasons why the Welsh people might not like me. Not too long ago, someone had rudely elbowed their way off the train at Cwmbran and when the doors had closed a large Welshman had said ‘Typical fucking English, no please nor thank you nor kiss my arse.’ and I’d stopped breathing for a little while like my rude English breath might give me away. On my first day I’d loitered in the bushes on the other side of the road and watched the awful procession of rough arsed Welsh people traipsing through the gates before crushing out my cigarette and tagging on behind them. They turned out to be amongst the nicest people I ever did factory time with. The bosses knew the work was dull – there are few ways to make cheese manufacturing on an industrial scale palatable to the human mind over eight to sixteen hour shifts, but there was a tacit understanding that allowing your staff to listen to Slipknot while waxing cheddar and get stoned in the carpark at break times would help, and it did.  We pulled a double shift and about two in the morning Justin waltzed in playing the bagpipes and I walked home along The Crescent as the sun was coming up and thought about how the local paper had printed tales of a ‘big cat’ seen along here and how Kate and I had watched a chicken jump into the back of a delivery van and the driver had come out of the shop and driven off with the chicken in the back before we could say anything. There was always some kind of madness going on with Kate, madness past, madness occurring, madness speculated upon. Shortly after the sixteen hour shift with the bagpipes we had Christmas and then, not long after that, in human terms, she killed herself. I’ve written a lot about Kate’s death. Some themes in your life, it would seem, are never done with. The focus on the lens through which you view them may change, but the subject remains. I worked at the cheese factory because it was all that was going, and I needed to pay the rent and pay the bills and buy Kate anything that might make her smile. But it all, inevitably, went wrong. She got a puppy then couldn’t cope with the puppy, started drugging the puppy when I went to work so it’d be quiet. I was standing on a conveyor belt, stoned, turning packets of goats’ cheese the right way up while she was at home shrieking at phantoms and drugging the dog. I took the dog to the vets and just dumped it on the poor girls at reception. They asked me what was wrong with her and I said she was mentally ill but they said no, the dog, and I said, oh, I thought you meant my girlfriend. They took the dog and Kate’s CPN made enquiries and it turned out he’d been adopted by one of the staff and was doing well, so Finn had a happy ending, but Kate didn’t. I carried on working at the cheese factory. I didn’t know whether she was relieved to have me out of the house or whether she wanted me to stay home. She thought there were panthers out there one night, come down from the Derry, sleek and evil and purposeful. She wanted me to steal her a car. She started sleep walking. She took an overdose. I think that was on the Friday, and I’d been packing cheese earlier in the day. She’d gone out for a walk and I’d stayed in, getting stoned and listening to Current 93 and thinking very slowly and carefully about the best way to proceed. She came in wobbling and veering into the furniture and I called an ambulance. They let her out the next day. We sat and talked into the early hours, slept fitfully, woke to find nothing had changed. A couple of hours later, she was dead. I felt horribly like a bit part actor in The Bill. A couple of coppers came round and asked me questions and they were evasive and I was shrill and persistent but eventually we established that Kate had been found dead. We went to the police station then drove around looking for her parents. They met us in the car park at Neville Hall hospital. I hugged her mum and cried for the first time, then I followed her in to the mortuary and heard the sound a mother makes when she sees her only child lying dead. Until that point I’d thought – just like a bit part actor in Tbe Bill – that some intricate and unlikely mistake might have been made. I went in after her. Kate’s eyes were open and there was a fresh graze on her cheek, but no obvious sign of the injury that killed her. If there was, my mind wasn’t having it then and is no more inclined to have it now. I said goodbye and kissed her forehead and left. My sister drove down from Yorkshire that evening. Hot on the heels of Finn, the drugged puppy, Kate had adopted a greyhound, a great, beautiful beige spindly thing with dead eyes, and I slept on the floor with Daisy, who I’d only known for a few days, with the light on. In the morning, my phone buzzed and it was my alarm, waking me up for another day fiddling with cheese. My sister rang work and explained what had happened and that I wouldn’t be in that day. They said they understood.

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