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A Short Tale of Woe

THE HEAT WAS BECOMING unbearable when we walked single file towards the Jobs Allocation window. The furnaces were running full blast, giving off the only light in that dark, oppressive place. Up ahead, as each poor soul approached, the iron window opened; items were handed out, then it closed again. All the while could be heard the overseer's monotonous: "move along there, no holding up the queue."
When I reached it, the window scraped back. A hand reached out and gave me a bucket: "the Clyde," said a rattling voice, "empty it." the window screeched shut.

The bucket was old, the handle was broken and the bottom had rusted through.
"But … there's a hole in it," I said, "the job will be impossible."
"Move along there, no holding up the queue," said the overseer.
I held up the bucket for him to see, "but this is impossible."
"Move along there, no holding up the queue," said the overseer.
The window eeyawrr'd open, "problem?" asked the voice.
"There's a hole in the bucket," I said meekly. I held it up again, "the job will be impossible."
"Hmm," claw-like nails rattled a tattoo on the sill for a moment, then the hand reached out and grabbed the bucket, dragging it back with a goatish laugh. "Okay, here, do this instead."
A large pile of papers was pushed out at me as the voice shouted: "right, big fella, you're on."
The window closed with a clang that rang of finality.

An iron door at the side of the window opened. A big chap walked through and had the first friendly smile I had seen since coming to this place. I recognised him immediately. I looked down at the pile of papers; the top sheet read: The Book of Prefaces by Alasdair Gray: for typesetting by the end of the new millennium.
I banged on the window and cried: "give me back my bucket! Please, please, give me back my fucking bucket!"
"Move along there, no holding up the queue," said the overseer.

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© Joe Murray (2015)
First published as a coda in Alasdair Gray: critical appreciations and a bibliography, by the National Library (2002)