Abyss & Apex : Fourth Quarter 2011: The Old Factory Award

 The Old Factory Award

by Grey Freeman

 

The Old Factory stands forgotten upon a small and narrow road folded between a street filled with shops, cafes and bakeries and another beaded with pubs, clubs and wine bars.

Its flaking red walls are tinted with black, a fading hint that it had once been used, and used well:  a place of products made and friendships forged.

It has few windows left.  Those lower down have scabbed over in rough rectangles of vibrant red brick,  newer than their neighbours.  Those that remain are high beyond reach,  their panes empty or filled with crooked holes.

The boarded-up doors sit back from the narrow pavement,  their secrets hidden beyond a small courtyard and a high wall before that:  an entry scarred with graffiti and crowned with unforgiving glass shards.

Those outer,  large,  weather-beaten portals are studded with iron,  their handles wrapped with a thick and heavy chain,  a sturdy,  rusting padlock at their centre.

In a few hours,  the shopping street will fill to bursting with people,  faces taut with concentration,  logo’d bags clutched tight.  They will shop until the light fails them and,  for an hour or so,  some will flit quietly down this seldom-used road,  staring up at the old derelict building and wonder about it for only as long as it remains in sight.

From there,  they will join the opposite street,  a thoroughfare only just waking as the other falls asleep:  chains of revelers festooning the restaurants,  pubs and clubs,  faces slack and sweating with the strain of finding a good time.

And the little street will be forgotten again,  trapped as twilight is between day and night,  infirm of modern purpose.

Except for today.

The shopping street is empty at so early an hour,  deserted but for a solitary,  dew-speckled but empty snack packet.  It skitters in the wind past the boutiques,  gambols out across the entrance to Old Factory Street and comes to a crunching stop,  pinned for a moment beneath a black tyre.

The van slows and then turns,  rolling leisurely,  tipping a little as it crests one then both pavements.

Another van follows and then another,  traveling in quiet procession.  By the time the leader has come to a stop by the factory’s doors,  the line stretches all the way back out onto the thoroughfare.

The engines cut off one by one in chain reaction and,  without pause,  each bursts into life,  doors clunking,  disgorging a host of smartly dressed men and women,  lifting out large and heavy cases between them.

The doors of the lead car are the last to open.

The man stepping out from the passenger seat,  right by the studded double doors,  is tall and thin.  His hair is styled in smooth peacock quills,  a cacophony of bright colours that stand out all the more against his perfectly-tailored charcoal grey suit.  With calm, precise movements,  he steps smartly forward,  slips a perfectly manicured hand into his jacket and pulls out a slim leather case.  He unzips it all the way around and flips it open,  revealing a fine,  polished silver key which he plucks out with delicate fingers and slips neatly into the rusting padlock.  The lock snaps open and the two large men behind him step forward,  with almost rehearsed timing,  to uncoil the thick chain:  one whisking it away back to the vans while the other strains to push the doors open wide.

The key already back in his pocket,  the Manager steps through into the small courtyard,  looking up at the broken,  desolate windows with an almost imperceptible frown,  heading toward the boarded up front doors.

Two more men have already rushed on ahead and are prying with thick,  sturdy crowbars by the time he arrives.

The inside is cavernous:  a large, empty grey space of concrete bordered in red,  red brick.  Black iron-work stairs lead up to a gantry at the far end,  upon which sits an ordinary,  mouldering wooden door.  A dusty,  frosted window is set in the top half,  its flaking gold lettering declaring ‘Manager’s Office.’

For the first time in almost a year,  the walls ring with footsteps as the Manager marches,  smart shoes clicking,  to the centre of the floor.

He straightens his cravat,  picks at his shirt sleeves,  checking his expensive cufflinks,  and begins to issue orders,  pointing to the floor,  the office,  the broken windows.

Behind him,  a line of men and women have already begun to sweep.

The stairs clatter as staff scurry upward,  laptops clutched to their sides.  They dart in single-file across the gantry and through the door into the spacious office, where they clear dusty tables, set up and log on

His phone chirrups only once before he answers it with a quick touch to his earpiece.  “Speak.”

As he listens,  his composed features harden,  draining of all animation.  The small and tinny voice on the other end has an apologetic tone and when it finishes with a rather desultory “sorry” he replies with a curt “thanks” and cuts the connection.

He pinches at his eyes and sighs deep and hard,  then peers past his fingertips to see who is watching.

No one is:  the staff is frowning with the effort of not paying him any attention.

He takes a moment to compose himself again,  straightening his cuffs and flicking a speck of dust from his sleeve.  He gives another sigh,  a readying one this time,  and dials another number as he heads towards the stairs.

By the time he reaches the top the situation is dealt with.

An hour later and the floors have been swept spotless.  Men climb down from ladders,  the windows’ mercurial surfaces no longer marred with cracks and holes.

The courtyard is now lined with a potted variety of trees,  both exotic and local,  workers on stepladders garlanding them with silver electric lights.

The Manager walks to and fro up in the Manager’s Office–now his headquarters–headset firmly in place,  holding a dozen conversations at a time,  peering over the shoulders of staff tapping away at keyboards.

Up in the troughs of the sloping roof,  men and women dressed in varying degrees of shabbiness and respectability paint hexes and arcane symbols with great precision using the most expensive waterproof paints.

They barely speak to one another,  freelancers,  delicately drawing over last year’s symbols,  taking in the variables of the day through their earpieces;  air pressure,  wind speeds,  stock market share prices,  the average strength of a newborn’s grip on its parents finger,  the number of people who had woken bereaved that morning,  to name but a few.

Downstairs,  carpets unroll with a series of flumps,  tables are laid out,  cloths smoothed with a swish.  Chairs of all shapes and sizes are being set in small cabals,  each centred around small,  tasteful coffee tables.  On the walls,  LED flatscreens are being hung on shiny new hooks.

The main screen and projector are being fitted up over the gantry,  fixed to the rafters and joined to the railing at a downward angle,  hiding the office from view.

Staff are beginning to climb back into the vans,  driving off onto the nightclub street. But as one van leaves from the front another has joined at the back,  filled with more staff,  starting new jobs as old ones end in perfect orchestration.

The Manager pinches at his eyes again,  blinking himself awake,  his foot tapping as he glances up at the digital clock on the wall.  He stares hard into the middle distance,  his lips slowly pursing.  Snapping his fingers,  he brings up a staff roster on one of the laptops,  quickly cycling through the files,  a succession of photos flickering before his eyes.  He stops at one he likes and smiles.

The light shining from the newly-polished windows is beginning to die,  the sun sinking towards the horizon,  and the staff works itself into greater and greater frenzies of activity.

A new fleet of vans arrive,  having to move slowly through the shopping crowds.  The food is brought in and set upon the buffet tables,  delicacies from all over the world,  the most simple breads set next to the most elaborately prepared sweets;  fruits and meats and pastries and curries and stews and roasts,  quails eggs next to pork scratchings,  not one taste left uncatered to.

Pillows and delicate throws are laid out upon the lavish,  comfortable seats.  Gauzes and silks hang from the walls,  hiding the bare brick and crowd-sized flood lamps.

The marquee is unfurled over the courtyard.

From the entrance,  the Manager nods as he stares back across the floor space,  which now looks like a large,  sumptuous drawing room of eclectic and foreign tastes;  a riot of culture.

The shamans and thaumaturgists climb down from the roofs,  the LED screens down on the floor flickering for a moment as the last of the hexes are completed.  They collect their pay from the back of one of the vans;  briefcases of money,  strange creatures hidden in cages and unusual objects covered from view under fine cloths.

A young man is passing down the line of vans,  bag slung over his shoulder,  looking this way and that,  overawed by the activity that swirls around him.  He stops at the entrance and checks the four-times folded piece of paper in his hand,  squinting inside and all around for a sign.

The Manager spots him and strides over,  calling out a greeting.  They shake hands.  He accepts the man’s business card,  apologises for the urgency and waves away the man’s confusion as to why he is here.

Reaching into his inside pocket he shows the man a thin,  unsealed envelope and reveals to him the contents.  The man licks his lips and nods.  He allows himself to be escorted across the eccentrically decorated floor and up into the office.

The last of the preparatory staff hurry away into their vans,  leaving just as the night staff arrive;  waiters and waitresses,  hosts,  bartenders and security.

The crowds in the streets are shifting now,  the throng on the shopping street thinning while the crowd on the street opposite thickens.  Only a few walk down Old Factory Street peering inside through the doors,  attracted by the sense of occasion.

A taxi arrives soon after.  Unable to turn onto the van-clogged street,  it stops at the corner and the passenger is forced to walk,  attracting stares and gasps.  Those who spot him begin whispering behind hands,  pulling phones from bags and pockets,  texting urgently.

The Announcer has arrived:  a tall, handsome man,  greying at the temples,  whom many recognise from off the television.

He walks down the street with his gaze fixed,  pretending not to notice the stir he is causing amongst the passers-by.  His left arm swings at his side while his right holds his jacket closed across his belly.  There is a certain stiffness to his walk tonight.  He constantly blinks to clear his vision and though he has only walked a few dozen steps,  he is ever so slightly out of breath,  his wheeze punctuated with hard swallows.

The Manager comes out to greet him and the pair shake hands,  agreeing that a year has been far too long.

The Announcer forces a tight smile and a ‘thank you’ from his lips.

As soon as his hand is free he shakes a handkerchief from his sleeve and dabs at the sweat on his brow.  His makeup smudges revealing his tan to be fake.  The skin beneath is parchment pale.

As he tucks the handkerchief back again,  he catches the Manager’s calculating look.

The forced grin grows wider and he casually mentions how much he’s been looking forward to the show and how his charity could do with the money.

There is a strained air of pretense between them now.  They both know what the papers have been saying.

The Manager’s eyes flick down to the crease in the Announcer’s jacket,  the unmistakable bulge of a hip flask.

The Announcer’s grin grows desperate,  his upper lip beaded with perspiration,  and he near sags with relief when the Manager points him toward the office.  He hurries away to prepare with almost pathetic gratitude,  grimacing and rubbing vaguely at his chest as he takes the stairs.

A makeup artist is already up there waiting for him and he collapses into his seat with an ‘oosh’,  pulling out his flask and choking a little on the contents.

As he covers his mouth with the back of his hand,  he sees a youngish looking man sat in the corner opposite,  bag by his feet,  staring at him with an open-mouthed,  star-struck gaze.

The Announcer offers him a tight little smile,  salutes him with the flask and takes another hit before turning to face the front again,  leaning back with another grimace and submitting to the makeup girl.

The night staff gather in the courtyard under the marquee just as it begins to rain,  drops tapping at the material above their heads.

Standing in rows,  at attention–tall,  burly security men at the back, petite, well-groomed waitresses at the front–they listen as the Manager makes his speech.  Relaxed faces turn to frowns as he talks. Hearts speed up. Hands straighten uniforms.  The Old Factory Award is about to begin,  he says.  They had best be ready.

With a clap of his hands,  they disperse,  heading toward their stations.

The Manager stops one of the waitresses as she passes,  a petite girl with dark eyes,  dark hair and a cute button nose.  He whispers something in her ear,  a light hand on her upper arm,  and with a flourish he produces a business card out of thin air.  This he slips into the pocket at her breast,  squeezing her arm a little tighter before he lets her go.

With a small smile and slight flush to her cheeks she nods and hurries on to her position by the drinks table.

The Manager remains in the doorway, hands clasped in front of him, facing out across the dripping marquee out onto the street. Warm light spills around him.

The small orchestra,  hidden in the corner beneath the gantry,  begins to play a light symphony.

They are ready.

The rain continues to patter.  The wind blows newspaper pages and rattling cans in the gutter.

He checks his watch.

They haven’t always been called the Old Factory Awards;  only since the venue was chosen a hundred and fifty years ago.  Before this, the awards had been held, under other names, at a large manor house in the Tennessee countryside and at a temple in Nanjing before that.

None remember the first.  Some talk of stone circles at dawn,  others of clearings in forests lit by torches,  celebrated in blood and sweat and sex but the truth is that it was far too long ago for any involved,  even the very oldest of the nominees,  to recall.

It has begun to rain even harder,  gurgling down gutter pipes,  drops glancing unnoticed off the shaven heads of the security guards framing the front gates.

The shopping street is empty now while the other is alive with people,  hurrying back and forth in a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of umbrellas.  The air is filled with talk and shrieks of laughter,  heels clacking,  trainers squeaking,  feet splashing through puddles.

Few bother to even glance down the empty,  dark street.

The manager checks his watch again.

A pair of feet,  in boots brown and grubby and cheap,  separate themselves from the crowd and begin to shuffle.  The rubber soles are coming away from the leather, letting in the rain. Holey socks squelch and ooze dirty water with every step. The trousers,  frayed and ripped,  are worn too short to reach the ankle.  The crotch is stained.  The long jacket that hangs down to the knee flaps in the wind,  the back shining in the water like wet hide.

The rain serves only to accentuate the man’s stench,  the wind heralding his approach making the security men’s’ noses crinkle,  the only cracks that appear in their professional veneer.

The man weaves slightly,  like a drunk,  as he traverses the stretch between the street entrance and the large,  double doors.  As he nears he makes an effort to straighten his tie with a clumsy,  yellow-nailed hand,  patterning the black material with greasy fingerprints.  His shirt collar is grubby and crooked,  one side crumpled down the other standing straight up.  He sucks noisily at his yellow teeth,  mossed with brown.  A horrible sound gurgles in his throat and he spits hard into the running gutter;  the green sputum hurrying away into a drain.

He looks the security men up and down as he passes,  winking and flicking his forefinger at each of them like a gun,  walking,  unchallenged,  into the dry courtyard.  He leaves a muddy trail of bootprints behind him on the thick,  red carpet.

The Manager comes forward,  ignoring the stench,  smiling and welcoming.  The man grudgingly allows his hand to be shaken,  not breaking his stride towards the buffet,  the Manager hurrying along beside him.

The Manager gives up a few steps in,  makes sure the first guest is being served,  and nods to the woman tucked discreetly out of sight behind a tall blind.  She checks her electronic guest list and gives it a tick.  Piss.

A few minutes later,  two more guests have arrived.  A very tall couple duck beneath the roof of the marquee,  talking animatedly like old friends;  a woman in a fine emerald dress and a man in a simple grey silk robe,  his features soft like a boy’s.  The Manager greets them just the same as the first and they too are ticked off the list.  Wet Leaves and Incense.

The Manager’s excitement builds.  The Scents have begun to arrive,  The Old Factory Award is soon to begin.

Slowly but surely,  the streets either side disgorge the nominees and the factory begins to fill with a cornucopia of characters,  calling out greetings to one another,  shaking hands,  kissing cheeks,  slapping backs,  wishing one another luck.

They look to be from all over the world, from every walk of life.  A beggar child dressed in rags chinks glasses with a man at the very height of fashion.  A paint-stained artist hugs with a prim and proper looking matron.

One couple arrive already arguing,  hissing beneath their breath,  holding hands for the look of the thing.  They pick themselves a spot at the far wall and those nearby slowly give them a wider and wider berth.

In the bubbling streets outside,  passers-by look up from their nights out as the nominees pass,  the dissonant miasma of scents affecting them in strange and unpredictable ways.

Arguments start and breaths come out in sighs.  Childhood memories both bitter and sweet are invoked.  Lovers kiss all the harder,  bellies rumble,  cocks stiffen,  mouths dry,  fists clench.  People yawn,  flush,  pale,  gag and gasp.

And the Scents march on,  most looking no different to those they pass between.  They come from a thousand different directions,  by a thousand different means,  calling to one another as they converge.  For many,  the gathering isn’t just an award ceremony but a reunion as well.

One by one,  each of them is welcomed inside.

They fill the sofas and stand in circles, exchanging pleasantries and stories of the year gone by. Drinks are served by the discreet staff, fueling gossip and conversation, excitement and anxiety.

The Announcer dabs at his sweating face one last time before stepping out and taking his place at the top of the stairs,  a single spotlight focusing upon him. The chatter dies away as all eyes fix upon his famous golden smile.

He grins all the wider through his discomfort,  relishing the attention.  He loves this part,  lives for it.  His heart hammering uncomfortably in his chest,  he starts by telling a few jokes,  mugging to the audience in that way he is famous for as they respond with a ripple of laughter.  There isn’t as much as there used to be;  most have heard his jokes before.

But his patter is flawless,  professional and as he talks and entertains he keeps one eye on the Manager,  standing out of sight in the office doorway.  He is listening hard to the voices coming in over his headset and when he gets the all clear he gives the Announcer a nod and the celebrity’s tone becomes a little more serious as he gets to the reason why they are all here.

With a sweep of his hand,  he announces this year’s Old Factory Award commenced.

On cue,  the large screen and the televisions along the walls flare to life displaying row upon row of names,  each with a zero beside it.

The crowd cheers as the first vote comes in,  one of the zeroes becoming a one.

As soon as the office door is closed behind him,  the Announcer sags visibly and stumbles to his chair.  As he pulls the hip flask from his pocket with his right hand he is flexing and stretching the fingers on his left.

The young man in the corner frowns.

As the numbers begin to climb,  the Scents turn to one another once again,  waiting to find which amongst them will be declared the most popular.

Up on the roofs, the hexes reflect the city light in odd ways,  glowing and fading from light sources that could not possibly shine on them in the first place,  flickering neon signs and buses passing below.  They work,  absorbing six billion votes unconsciously cast by six billion people in perfect,  unwitting democracy.

The waiting staff move unseen amongst their guests,  their trays an eclectic assortment of beverages.  Unlike those people walking the streets outside,  none of them are affected by the overwhelming variety of smells that shift and change as the guests mingle,  specially selected as they are for their anosmia.

The most petite of the waitresses,  card tucked neatly in her pocket,  looks down at her feet and blushes.  She looks up coyly towards the stairs beneath her lashes and the Manager raises his hand a little in greeting.  He whispers more into his mouthpiece,  his words relayed to the device in her ear,  and smiles when she bring a hand to her mouth as she fails to stifle a laugh.

She corrects herself as a grim looking bartender appears at her side,  scowling at her frivolity,  thrusting a tray of drinks under her nose with hissed instructions.

She takes it,  balancing it perfectly on her hand,  blushing furiously.  When she looks up again the Manager is gone and so she gets back to work,  slipping effortlessly back into the crowd.

The two tall glasses, one orange juice, the other lemon, each served with a corkscrew peel of the other’s skin, are for the handsome, tanned couple, out on the floor.

Orange accepts them with a wink,  sipping his own while Lemon finishes her story.

“I swear,  even after all this time,  after all the things they’ve done,  walking on the moon,  discovering the electron,  humans never really change.  Show them a lemon tree and they’ll do one of two things under it.”

Her small audience laugh appreciatively.

She accepts her drink and gives her partner a peck on the cheek while a large man in a purple waistcoat guffaws loudly,  his bright orange buttons straining to contain his girth.  Lavender wipes a tear from his eye.  “Excellent!”  he roars,  placing his empty glass on the tray.  “Excellent.  You know,  that reminds me of the time . . . ” and the waitress moves smoothly away.

The crystal tumbler she takes to the quietest corner of the room,  a small semicircle of leather armchairs.  The men and women there are playing cards on the low round table between them,  heads together,  never looking away from their hands except to peer up at the screen beside them.

Only one amongst them is sitting back,  listening to his colleagues’ talk with an almost paternal contentment,  cards clasped in his tweed lap.

As the waitress appears at his side,  he gives her a small fatherly smile over his glasses.  He carefully balances his cards one by one on the armrest and takes his snifter of malt whiskey with a nod.  New Book sighs with pleasure at the first sip and holds the glass up to the light.  He nods to her again and she moves away.

The votes on-screen are changing every half-second now,  too quickly for her to follow – though from the cheers and groans from the crowds around her the nominees are having no trouble keeping up.

The first three billion votes have been cast,  the Announcer declares,  and they are well on schedule to receive the final results at midnight.

The crowds raise their mismatched glasses in a mass salute and the orchestra under the stairs launches into a new song,  a popular dance number many remember from eighty or ninety years ago.

With an expert duck and dip,  the waitress manages to protect her tray as Cut Grass twirls past,  locked in a fast waltz with Sex.

The two beers on her tray go to the men watching from the side,  one a smooth Italian looking gentleman in a fine pin-stripe suit,  blacker than black hair slicked back,  the other a ruddy faced,  slightly overweight man.  The second’s hair,  in almost direct antithesis to his friend’s,  stands out at all angles and is shaded a violent red.  He wipes his hands on his stained apron before accepting his drink with a sly wink and a burn callused palm.  The waitress smiles politely and moves on,  thinking for a moment that Oil and Frying Onions make a strange couple.

The Abstracts,  by far the strangest group in the building,  have congregated near the band.

The waitress stops a moment to blink hard,  clearing her suddenly watering eyes as their appearances swim in her vision.

It will only be later,  as she rebuttons her blouse, the Manager sleeping contentedly behind her,  that she will remember any details of what her final customer looks like.

First,  she sees a small man in spectacles,  a toymaker,  leather apron strings strung with delicate tools,  then an elegant young woman wrapped in a thick fur coat,  then a large man with a white beard.  Its appearance shifts from one to the other before her eyes and in her memory,  never truly losing the image of the form before it.

The one it is holding hands with,  caught in a hissing argument,  is no better: its appearance,  if anything,  is even more elusive.

She remembers this however;  Christmas is howling drunk and so is its partner,  Money,  just like last year.

With her last drink served,  she makes her way back to the bar with a sigh of relief.

The Manager stands before the monitors,  watching the guests,  whispering precise instructions into the earpieces of selected staff members.  Midnight is approaching in a tidal wave of relief and he seeks out the waitress on the colour screen, admiring her pert backside.

The Announcer sits hunched,  a cigar clamped to the point of bending between his fingers.  There’s no missing his pale complexion now,  the bags beneath his eyes,  the trembling of his limbs.  Looking up, he catches the Manager watching him with folded arms and straightens, his casual smile quickly returning as if all was fine.

The Manager makes no mention of it,  leans over to check the laptops one last time and gives him the nod.

The Announcer climbs stiffly from his chair and steps out to announce that the vote is coming to an end.

As soon as the door closes behind him,  the young man is out of his seat,  voice raised in protest.  The Manager listens to him a moment and then tells him to sit back down,  he will know when he is needed.

Despite their drink,  despite their energy,  the crowds make an orderly surge towards the screens,  conversation dying as they begin to approach the final tallies.

The numbers continue to climb,  the front-runners at a phenomenal rate,  the less popular in random fits and starts.

To an accompaniment of groans,  names begin to grey out as those with too few votes to win are cut from the competition,  first in ones then twos and finally in tens.

There are those who simply shrug.  Other People’s Shit makes a self-depreciating remark as his name disappears and his sister,  Your Own,  gives him a hug as she is cut soon after.

New Born Baby stamps its feet and leaves,  ramming its arms hard into the sleeves of its raincoat before heading out into the night.

Saffron cries and Pine mutters beneath his breath.

As more are struck from the list,  the chatter begins to rise again,  nominees congratulating one another on their scores,  remarking on how their popularity has grown or shrunk since last year.

Money,  leaning its head on Christmas’ shoulder,  laments drunkenly that it just isn’t the 1980s anymore.

But around the few contestants that remain the silence has deepened.  Feet tap at an increasing tempo.  Hands clap together in silent prayer.

Ocean wails as she loses.

Campfire throws back her golden orange hair and leaves with a snort of disgust.

The winner emerges before the last vote is tallied.

The crowd lets forth a large caw of acceptance and begin to offer her their congratulations,  shaking her hand and muttering their ‘well-done’s.

The projector screen rolls away to reveal the Announcer at his podium,  smiling and calling her up.

Coffee moves through the crowd with graceful steps,  her dress shimmering serenely,  flashing a tasteful amount of leg with every other step.  She smiles and thanks people for their kindness,  hugging and kissing the cheeks of her competitors,  wincing a little as she is embraced roughly by Wine.

The Announcer shakes her hand and whispers something that makes her laugh as she accepts her trophy and takes the podium.

With a smile and to a scattering of sniggers,  she picks out her speech from her caramel-coloured bosom.

Christmas and Money are already leaving,  hand in hand,  their cheeks flushed and gazes unbreakable from one another.

The Announcer barely makes it inside the office.

His hand leans briefly on the corner of a table but it does little to take his weight and he tumbles in a scatter of papers to the floor.

Rolling onto his back,  his hand clutches over his heart,  face grey and contorted with pain.

The young man is on his feet in an instant,  demanding room,  declaring himself a doctor.

The Manager watches impassively as the young doctor works,  doing everything right,  just as he was trained to do.  Just as he was hired to do.

But there is nothing to be done and the young man’s last act is to close the Announcer’s eyes once he is still.

The Manager sighs and hangs his head.

Outside,  Coffee is still making her speech.

He thanks the man for his time and asks if he will sit with the body until the party ends.

The young doctor agrees,  biting at his lip,  and the Manager thanks him for his time.

The laptop screens wobble as the Manager kicks at the corner of the table.

The party ends at two and slowly,  in little groups,  the Scents begin to leave,  collecting coats and exchanging hugs,  gently corralled towards the doors by the staff.  They head out once again and join the stream of people,  confusing them in small flotillas of fragrance in unlikely combinations,  as they make for their homes.

At the ends of the roads,  these small groups wish each other well and go their separate ways,  already looking forward to next year.

Coffee is the last to leave.  She stays a few minutes more,  her Old Factory Award tucked neatly under her arm,  positively glowing with success and pride.

She thanks the Manager and kisses him on both cheeks.  Then,  with a yawn and a stretch,  declares that if she doesn’t get to bed soon she will miss her morning shift at the café.

With a tiny wave of her hand,  she wraps her pashmina tighter around her shoulders and sashays out into the night air.

The large double-doors are closed after her,  stemming the warm light spilling onto the rain-slicked street.

The young doctor comes down the stairs.

The Manager shakes his hand and assures him that there was nothing that could have been done.  He says it with such certainty that the young doctor believes him.

He grimly accepts the thin envelope that is his payment and heads out into the rain,  stepping out onto the nightclub street just as the silent flashing blue lights of the ambulance touch the other side.

When he gets home and unseals the envelope he will not find the money he expected but a single ticket to a music concert.  When he goes,  he will meet a young cellist and five years after that,  to the day, he will ask that she become his wife.

The paramedics breathe out as they recognize the Announcer’s body,  and lift him up carefully onto the gurney.

The news will go out tomorrow and everyone will hear of how he died doing what he loved in order to raise money for his charity.  By the end of the week the donations will be in the millions.

The vans arrive again to collect the tables and chairs and furniture and by dawn the Old Factory is empty again.

The doors are closed and boarded up,  the padlock snaps once more in place.

The Manager climbs back into the lead van’s passenger seat.  He smiles and pats the waitresses’ leg,  resting his hand there.

And the vans roll away,  leaving the Old Factory alone once more,  infirm of modern purpose.

Until next year.

_______________

Grey Freeman studied Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He currently lives and writes in East London and is working hard on his first novel. He has also been published in Twisted Tongue Magazine, RevolutionSF and Electric Spec with a further story to appear in Something Wicked. You can read his blog at greyfreeman.blogspot.com as well as follow him on Facebook.

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