Whistlejacket – Part of the Little Blue Marbles Series

Rupert got in to work at 6.30 am, just like he always did. He was the first one of the day, before even the security staff had a chance to unlock all the doors and gates. His unusual habit of arriving so early was tolerated only because of how long he had been working for the recycling centre. Three years working there were an eternity by the average worker’s standard of six months or less. Those years felt like an eternity for Rupert. Nonetheless, he was always hardworking and serious, never having fun with the others, skipping tea breaks (all four of them everyday), all of which added up to him just not being liked by anyone. Just respected.

One person made for an exception. Dylan. He had been working there for six months, and during that time he became Rupert’s one and only friend, at work and outside. He didn’t raise an eyebrow when he heard about weird Rupert and his commitment, and that earned him the chance for Rupert to talk to him. Rupert was acutely aware of his surroundings, even though he never interacted.

There was only so much statistics could be cheated however, and now it was Dylan’s time to leave. He hadn’t told anyone besides management, not even Rupert, who while getting changed this morning, noticed that Dylan had cleared out his locker and turned in the overalls. Sadness flowed over Rupert’s face, and after the flash flood passed, bitterness remained in the gullies carved by the rapid waters, reminding him that, contrary to his strongest held beliefs, he did need people in his life, he wasn’t numb, but also feeding his ego with the thought that he had been right: people don’t care about him. He hoped for a fleeting moment that Dylan would at least say goodbye.

He ate lunch by himself, sat at the corner table, hoping someone would want to sit next to him, but not anyone who was there, not even Dylan if he turned up, and fearing that one of these people deemed inappropriate would actually want to sit at his table and ruin his comfort of finding solitude in a busy room. He checked his phone. Dylan had messaged him four hours before: ‘Should we get a pint after you finish work today?’ All his despair at having been abandoned by his only friend was for nothing. If only he learnt to trust his reasonable curiosity to check his phone every now and then, rather than submit to his phobia telling him to do the opposite of what he wanted out of fear of ‘giving in’. That was Rupert, a stoic without a purpose.

‘Whistlejacket’

read the sign hanging over the entrance to the pub, below the lettering a rather well-made reproduction of George Stubbs’ masterpiece. Drawn by the warm glow flowing out the windows, Rupert overcame his hesitation and turned left, walking into the narrow courtyard separated from the street by a mostly dried out boxwood hedge, and then gathering his strength once more, into the loud but surprisingly welcoming pub. He stood frozen scanning the premises for any sign of Dylan, and having found none, decided to venture to buy himself a drink from the bar.

Sat down at the table he was surprised to find the famed painting reproduced on the cork coasters, frayed and slightly falling apart from the chronic booze soaking. He swore he would one day go to see the real thing. He didn’t however feel out of place in the pub, which, beside the name and elevated choice of signage, was as regular as they got. He noticed for the first time how people don’t call the name of the place they are in. ‘Yeah mate, I’m here.. at the pub.. The pub, you know.. the one with the horse..’ Probably no one in the establishment had ever seen the painting. Or would be inclined to do so, if told where to find it. He fell into thought, squinting to study the colours of the hair, the eyes, the subtle gradation in the background, things he could see on the coaster reproduction mostly due to the creativity-inducing properties of alcohol. He finished his first pint of IPA in less than 5 minutes. He was in line for the second one when Dylan arrived.

An hour later, many, many pints of increasingly cheaper drinks, and a belated awkward conversation, Rupert and Dylan knew everything there was to know about each other. Rupert had been averse to the custon and process of formal education his entire life, and after breaking his right arm shortly after starting his A-levels, he decided to quit. He felt as the injury, which he never ascribed a cause to, entitled him to take the decision. He hated sports, both taking part in and watching them. His dislike of people severely reduced his job options, and after his arm healed and he got sick of being rejected from supermarket staff jobs, he applied for the recycling centre. His attention to detail got him the coveted job of sorting supervisor. In the past three years he had become quite fond of environment protection, and took with great pride to call the place ‘recycling factory’, because they were part of making new things just like other industries. Dylan had been much more academically successful, having made it all the way to first year in uni. At this point he got sent down after peddling marijuana, an enjoyable and profitable activity he had been engaging in since he was 15. Because the university didn’t want negative publicity he was not reported to the police. He saw the ad for sorting positions at the recycling centre and he ended up under Rupert’s supervision. Rupert’s dedicated nature earned him not only Dylan’s respect, but also occasional lessons in chemistry, subject Dylan had been quite fond of.

‘So how did you end up selling pot?’

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