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Rated: E · Short Story · Comedy · #2277074
Steve is desperate to drive his father's shiny new eighteen-ton dump truck.
          THE ARTICULATED DUMP TRUCK INCIDENT

It was beautiful. It must have been delivered early that morning, before Steve got to work: a brand new JCB model 722 articulated dump truck. He'd done his research and he knew all about it: six-wheel drive; six-cylinder direct injection diesel engine; six forward and three reverse gears. It weighed eighteen tons, unladen, and it could carry twenty more. Its tyres reached as high as Steve's shoulder. It made Dad's BMW, parked just behind it, look like a child's toy.

Steve heard a crunch of boots on the yard and found that Flower was beside him. Flower used to be called the Handyman, but now he was called the Site Maintenance Technician. He had a lined, weather-beaten face and wispy grey hair which reached down to the small of his back.

For a moment Flower gazed in wonder at the gleaning leviathan. Then he leaned towards Steve and whispered conspiratorially:

"Grit."

That was the only word which Steve had ever heard him say. People who knew Flower well said that he'd been to the Glastonbury festival in 1975 and had never been the same again.

"I'm going to ask Dad if I can drive it," Steve spluttered, and ran towards the low brick office building. Steve's dad was the managing director of National Grit Limited. Steve had worked with him at central depot for the last four months. It was here that supplies of grit and salt were accumulated in massive barns, from which it was transported to regional depots, and from there, when it snowed, to the car parks and industrial estates of the nation. Man's work, Steve said to himself; better then school.

Steve crashed through the office doors, sprinted past reception, and came to a door on which there was a name:

                              Mr D Kerridge
                             Managing Director

Steve burst into the office without knocking.

"Dad, can I drive the new dump truck?" he blurted.

Dad was in a meeting with two regional depot managers: fifty-something men, bitten hard by a life of grinding labour. All three looked up suddenly when Steve charged in.

"No," Dad said.

"Please?"

Dad shook his head. In spite of his middle-aged jowls, the same strong jaw-line which defined Steve's face was still just visible in Kerridge Senior's features.

"You're not qualified to drive a machine like that."

"Come on, Dad. I'm seventeen now. I've had eight driving lessons already."

"That's an eighteen-ton truck, Steve. It's not like that tin can your instructor drives."

"It's not that different."

"It's different. Believe me."

"I bet you'll let all those idiots out there drive it - "

"You stay away from that truck, Steve." Dad jabbed an index finger in Steve's direction, and the chunky gold bracelet on his wrist jangled. "Now go back to work. I'm in a meeting here."

Steve retreated. As he closed the door he couldn't help noticing the unfriendly stares of the two depot managers.

I wish they'd chill out, he thought as he headed towards the open plan part of the office where his desk was located. It's not my fault if Dad had to let that old codger go to make room for me. He'd have retired in a few years anyway.

He sat down at his desk, spun round in his swivel chair, and looked out of the window at the dump truck. It was gleaming in the morning sun. Steve sighed, spun back to his desk and switched his computer on.

Steve's job title was Stock Coordinator. His role was to analyse how much grit would be needed in each area of the country, and allocate resources accordingly. If the company won a contract from an industrial estate in Manchester, Steve sent a couple of truckloads of grit to the Manchester depot. If a call came in from a shopping centre in Tyneside, he despatched some trucks to Newcastle. And so on. Sometimes there wasn't very much for him to do so he spent a couple of hours reading football reports on the internet. When he was really bored he played the fan game, which involved firing rubber bands at the overhead cooling fan until one of them caught on its blades and stayed there. Izzy, the accounts manager, peered at him but said nothing. Steve didn't stress about his job; his Dad was the managing director, after all.

October became November. As winter approached, with the promise of snow, the pace of work intensified in central depot. Every day Steve looked out across the yard, at the broad grey expanse of concrete, and at the gigantic grit barns, almost full to capacity now. As dusk fell the powerful arc lights mounted on the barns and on the perimeter fence flooded the yard with white light. The machines worked all day: the trucks and scoops and dozers, endlessly shovelling tons of grit. In the dark November afternoons their lights shone brilliantly and they seemed more alive to Steve than the dim figures hunched in their cabs.

Sometimes Flower clattered in, rubbing his hands, and attacked the drinks dispenser.

"Alright, Flower?" Steve always called.

"Grit!" Flower shouted cheerily back, and went out again. Steve watched him walking away across the yard, blowing on his coffee, with white plumes of steam billowing out behind him.

Most of all Steve watched his new dump truck. He thought of it as his. Sometimes they loaded it up with grit in the morning and it rumbled out of the yard and was gone for the day. Steve pined for it like a lover until it returned, riding high and weightless, in the twilit afternoon.

One afternoon, at about half past four, Dad was in the conference room, at the back of the building, talking to the site manager. Steve slipped away from his desk, tiptoed across the hall, and knocked softly on the door of Dad's office. There was no answer. He tried the door; it was unlocked. He tiptoed round Dad's desk and opened the drawer where Dad kept the keys to the heavy machines. Straight away he spotted a new key with the letters 'JCB' embedded in the clear plastic fob. He slipped it into his pocket, slid the drawer gently shut, and crept out of the office. Outside in the car park the afternoon air was growing cold as Steve approached the hulking form of the truck.

"Just once around the yard," he whispered to himself. "Dad will never know."

Yet he hardly dared to breathe as he climbed the steps to the cab and swung himself into the driver's seat. The leather seat covers were smooth and cold and there was still a trace of that antiseptic new vehicle smell in the air. He was frighteningly high above the asphalt surface of the car park.

He slotted the key into the ignition and then went through the routine, step by step, as his instructor had taught him. He adjusted his seat until he could reach the pedals comfortably, checked his mirrors, and put his seat belt on.

Then he took a deep breath and turned the key in the ignition. Even as he did so he realised what he'd done wrong. What had his instructor told him? Always check it's in neutral before you start the engine. The yard was on a slight slope and the truck had been left in reverse so that it wouldn't roll forwards.

All of this flashed through Steve's mind in the instant that the starter motor began to turn over, but it was too late. The immense engine roared into life and the truck leaped backwards. Steve gripped the steering wheel. There was a heart-breaking crunch and the truck lurched, stalled, and came to rest.

Steve scrambled out of the cab, hoping desperately that what he knew to be true might somehow not be true after all.

Dad's BMW had been crushed beyond recognition. Eighteen tons of dump truck had rolled over it and pulverised it into a shapeless pile of jagged scrap metal. If it wasn't for the wheels, jutting at crazy angles from the wreckage, you would hardly have known that it used to be a car. Steve could do nothing but stand and gape in speechless horror.

Urgent voices came from the office and Dad came running out into the car park. When he saw what had happened he began to scream at Steve.

"What did I tell you?" he raged. Flecks of spittle burst from his lips with every word. "What did I tell you? You're fired! Get off the site! I never want to see you again!"

With that he slammed back into the office, still ranting. Steve remained motionless, staring at the remains of Dad's car. Hot, shameful tears rose in his eyes.

After a moment he became aware that Flower was standing near him. For a couple of minutes Flower stood looking at the wreckage of the BMW. Finally he threw back his head and laughed, his long silver hair rippling as he shook. Then he turned to face the yard. He looked out at the wide concrete spaces, and the tall barns, and the team of waiting vehicles: the grit spreaders, and the trucks, and the powerful four-wheel-drive tractors with snow ploughs front-mounted. His eyes narrowed and his shoulders hunched, like those of a man preparing to weather a violent storm.

"Grit," he declared.



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