Feedback Time

Set in 2020 facing police violence and climate change a cast of young characters find they need to change themselves before they can change the world.

I am revising this novel and would love to hear what you think of this opening- You can comment here or email. If you are interested in reading more email me at Jack.byrne.writer@gmail.com

Chapter 1

January 7th, 2020

Matthew packed his bag to protest the death of the planet unaware that his own death would come that day. He pressed the button on the megaphone and a shrill feedback screech cut through the air.

“Mathew, what the hell are you doing?”

“Sorry mum,” he shouted at the wall. His mum was a heavy smoker but a light sleeper, he should have guessed she was awake by the tobacco smell that had crept in under his door. He checked his watch, Julia would be here any minute, she had assumed an unrequested but not unappreciated maternal role in his political life.

The dichotomy between his actual and political life was as real as the cancer that ate away at his biological mother’s lungs, she had given up, and was prepared to cough her way into an early grave. Matthew was beyond the point of anger, a grim fatalism pervaded the household as they prepared for the known death of a mother, the unknown death of her child and the almost certain death of the planet.

Bag packed, he placed it by the door. He checked his watch, he had time. He went into the kitchen, weighed the kettle, it was empty, he filled a mug from the tap and transferred it before flicking on the switch. The blue light of the kettle was all he needed, to put an egg on to boil. Never a big eater his mum would waste away if he didn’t make sure she had the barest of sustenance. A boiled egg for breakfast, soup for lunch, tomato or cream of chicken, he alternated to keep it interesting, and boiled potatoes with a slice of ham or a couple of fish fingers for tea. He put a slice of bread in the toaster, she never took more than a bite, on most days not even that, but he prepared it anyway.

He gazed out of the kitchen window, a few sparrows pecked at the ground hopping from one spot to another, until a blackbird swooped down scaring them off, the blackbird was more methodical and it’s search rewarded, it took off with a struggling worm in its beak. Matt watched it take flight into grey mist aware of the cruelty and inevitability of nature. He was no romantic, death was part of life, but life was the force that gave meaning to everything, we had to nurture and protect it while we had it.

The toast popped up and Matthew moved into action, pouring the tea, spreading the margarine, he scooped the egg out of the boiling water and placed it in an egg cup then lopped off the top with a small spoon. He sprinkled a little salt over the runny yolk and carried the whole lot on a tray up the stairs. He popped his head round the door. “Breakfast.”

His mother shifted in bed, pulling herself up. She moved the ashtray aside on the bedside table, “Put it here.”

“No,” He placed the tray in front of her and she shifted again to accommodate it. He lifted the tea off and put it next to the ashtray. “Now, I want that egg gone by the time I get back.”

“Where are you off to at this time in the morning?”

“Never you mind, eat.” Matt turned and was on his way out.

“Off to save the world again are you?”

“Bye mum.” He shouted the words as he slung his bag over his shoulder and opened the door to damp morning.

A couple of miles to the south low cloud had merged with the river Mersey and the thick air wet everything it touched. He looked up to the light in his mum’s bedroom, it would go off very soon, he knew that.

For an environmentalist Julia drove a disaster of a car. He watched as the blue apparition chugged its way down the street.

“Morning.” he slid into the passenger seat. “You know, I could have got the bus.”

“Might as well carry two people as one.” Julia’s eyes were bright. “Anyway, I wanted to make sure you got there safe and sound.”

“I can get to town on my own.”

“You could catch your death, in this. Goes right through you that damp, ten minutes standing in that and your bones’d be rusty.”

“Ok well, thanks.”

Julia turned to smile at him, her silver grey pony tail swishing as she did so. She was alone, except for her dog, and climate activity was her attempt at making sure the grandchildren she rarely saw, had a planet to grow up on. She waited for a gap in the traffic and threw the car around in a U turn.

“New start today. You excited?” Julia looked across at Matt.

“More nervous, I hope they turn up.” Matt had been to speak to the Rail Maritime and Transport workers union the week before.

“They said they would?”

“Yeah, we had a good chat, they were a bit sus’ at first, but when I said it was a straight up protest, no direct action, they were fine.”

Julia gave him a quizzical look. “How many are you expecting?”

“Just a couple, I think they want to check us out.”

Julia joined the stream of commuter traffic and for a mile they crawled along Halewood Road, before turning off into Hunts Cross train station. Julia opened the hatchback and sorted among the paraphernalia of protest, she took out two big bags full of hand made signs, “Andy said he’d bring the banner.”

“OK, as long as we have enough flyers.”

“Yeah, here can you take these?”

Matt swung his rucksack free and balanced it on the car and packed a box of flyers into it.

“They made their way through the ticket office and down the ramps. Schoolkids and commuters clogged the open platform, coats and hoods pulled tight against the damp morning air. Somewhere the sun was getting out of bed and its bright rays were breaking through the mist. The train appeared down the track and the waiting passengers shuffled toward the edge of the platform.

Within ten minutes they were part of the stream of humanity flowing from the trains up escalators, funneled through the electronic barriers and onto the station concourse. The station had three exits a sharp right to a set of steps out onto a side road, the two busier exits were to the left a slight incline out onto Bold St and one straight ahead onto Street. Bold St was the best spot, with people leaving the station and the foot traffic on the street down toward the centre. Matt was surprised to see Andy and the others on the station concourse. Andy’s dreadlocks swung as he turned and twisted handing out flyers.

“Why are you here?” Matt was pissed. “We were supposed to be outside the station.”

Two people held the banner and half a dozen others were mingling with the commuters handing out flyers.

“Oh great you brought the megaphone.”

“Andy?”

“It’s fine don’t worry about it.”

Emma a key member of the team bounced over and gave Julia hug. Matt nodded.

They were stationary in a sea of movement, the flow streamed passed them.

“Fuck.” Matt grimaced. Two men in high-viz vests came in against the stream from the street and were approaching them.

“Do you know these?” Andy pointed.

“Yeah, they’re from the union.”

Matt stepped forward. “Morning. Stuart isn’t it?”

The taller of the two men spoke. “Yeah., alright lad.” he looked around. “What are you doing here?”

Matt turned round. “ I’m not sure to be honest… Andy?”

“There’s more people.”

“You’re on Station property, they’ll have you kicked off.” Stuart looked around again as if he expected to see the police.

“Transport Police have been over, told us to move.” Andy shrugged. “We said No. We’re staying, and they left.”

Matt swung his rucksack over his shoulder. “We should move outside on to the street.”

Stuart spoke to Matt. “Look we agreed, to support you, but we can’t do this on station property, we’d be risking our jobs, and you’re asking for trouble staying here.”

“I’m sorry mate. I didn’t realise they’d do this.”

“No problem. We’re going to get off though. This isn’t for us. It’s a shame lad, we want to start working together. It’s our future too.”

“I know. Leave it with me. Thanks for showing up. Sorry about this.”

Stuart led his mate away.

“What the fuck Andy? Come on, we agreed, no direct action, a bit of leafleting, petition, speaking.”

“What action?” Andy held up the flyers in his hand. “Leafleting,” He pointed to the megaphone in Matt’s hand. “Speaking. What are you waiting for?”

Matt dropped his rucksack, and slid it over behind the banner. He raised the megaphone and began to speak. “Every day, we see wild fires, in Australia, California, and now here in the UK. Climate change is happening all around us, we have to take action to stop fossil fuel, coal, oil, and energy companies from destroying our environment.” Matt let his arm and the megaphone drop.

Julia had moved across to stand beside him. “You were doing fine. Why stop?”

Matt shook his head, “ For the first time, we had the union guys with us, what the fuck is Andy is up to?”

“Ego, silly ego.”

“I hope that’s all it is.” As Matt raised his megaphone he saw a black shape slicing through the stream.


Published by jackbyrnewriter

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