The Sistine Chapel

This was back when a warehouse existed on Buxton Street in Manchester, before they knocked it down and built student accommodation overlooking platform 14 at Piccadilly Station. The room was on the first floor, just along from the bogs. Business was slow, so now was the time to get it painted. The foreman gave Harry and Charlie the job.

First, they had to scrub away all the pigeon shit. The flying rats had been in and out through the broken window for years. Once they’d scrubbed the walls and added that guano to the shit already in piles on the floor, Charlie got the wide sweeping brush and pushed it all into one big shit heap. Harry bent over with the shovel and tipped it all into the battered metal bins. Then they lifted the bins onto the flatbed truck and wheeled it down the corner past the bogs and into the lift. Once down to the ground floor, Harry picked up the handle of the flatbed truck, and with Charlie sat on the back, dragged the truck through the warehouse and out to the skip in the shadow of the MacDonald Hotel that had once been the BT building on London Road.

For two days, they went back to their normal warehouse tasks of picking and packing. Then the paint was finally delivered, along with rollers and brushes. The foreman said they had a maximum of two days to do it and that it wasn’t the ‘Sistine fucking Chapel’.

They put on their new overalls. Harry then used a screwdriver to flip back the lid of the first tin of paint, and as he did it flicked some onto Charlie.

‘You fucking bulb,’ said Charlie.

‘Sorry, mate. Look, get the fucking roller then.’

Harry poured the paint into the plastic frame and Charlie put the roller in and rolled it up and down, getting an even spread of paint on it.

‘Fucking hell you don’t have to fuck around, just get the fucking paint on the wall. They’ve only given us this ‘cos there’s fuck all else to do,’ said Harry.

‘Might as well do a proper job.’

‘Fuck that. You make a start with that. I’ll sort this fucking radio out.’

The reception was surprisingly good. It was the kind of radio station where the DJ talks bollocks and there are adverts for local businesses, and the music is usually a mixture of smooth classics and contemporary banality.

‘Hey, we could put the cricket on today. Test match,’ said Charlie, stretching up towards the ceiling with the roller.

‘Nah, fuck that,’ said Harry. ‘You’re dripping paint all over the place.’

‘That’s what we’ve got the overalls for.’

‘You need to get the fucking extension on that.’

When Harry went down the corridor to the toilets, Charlie took off his gloves and started searching through the stations on the radio. Finally, he heard a piano. A beautiful melody, then accompanied by a gravelly vocal. It was so melancholy, so stunningly beautiful. Charlie was hoping that the DJ hadn’t said the name of the song before it started. He hadn’t. He said it at the end. It was ‘Take it with Me’ by Tom Waits. With Harry still on the bog, Charlie sat down on one of the old office chairs in the room. He fished his phone out from under his overalls and googled Tom Waits. He read the Wikipedia page. Then he googled the song. He went online and ordered the album, Mule Variations.

Charlie was still sitting down when Harry came back in.

‘Break time, is it?’ said Harry.

‘Oh, you’ve had your shit now have you?’

‘Nah, just read the paper.’

‘Who the fuck put you in charge anyway?’

‘One of us has to be. We need to get this done in two days.’

‘You shouldn’t go for a shit every hour then, should you?’

‘We could drag this out, you know. Get a week out of it.’

‘We’d get bollocked for that.’

When they’d finally finished, they came back down to the ground floor with the empty paint pots on the back of the flatbed truck.

‘What do you want, a fucking round of applause? You could have had that done in a day if you ask me,’ said the foreman.

‘We just wanted to do a proper job,’ said Harry.

‘Proper job? There’s more paint on your fucking overalls than there is on them walls.’

It was an exaggeration, but their blue overalls had become covered in white.

‘Dump those paint pots in the skip and then get back here.’

Harry and Charlie did what they were told. It was warm outside, by the skip. But something in it stank so they came straight back.

‘Can I just ask,’ said Charlie to the foreman, who was sorting out deliveries for the following morning, ‘what are we going to use the storeroom for anyway?’

‘It is where we are going to keep the paint.’

‘For painting what?’

‘Well, storerooms, mainly.’

‘What’s the point of that?’

‘Look…what’s the point of anything? I’m busy. Just do what you’re fucking told. You’re getting paid, aren’t you? Have your fucking break and then get back on picking and packing. We’ve got behind since you two took so long painting that fucking room. I told you it wasn’t the Sistine fucking Chapel. Fuck me they could have painted the Forth Bridge quicker than it took you two to paint that room. Anyway, look I’ve got a fucking monster order coming through here from Trafford Park. I want you both on this after.’

‘Fucking great job this, isn’t it?’ said Charlie, looking at Harry.

‘What was that?’ asked the foreman. ‘Hey, you don’t want this job you can go down the fucking road, sunbeam. There’s thirty fuckers I can call up today. And they’re grafters. Not like you, fucking shower of shit.’

Neil Campbell

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