Jack Barker-Clark ~ Wilter on the Rise

My name was Wilter. I worked in sales. Ceramics, earth­en­ware, minaret lanterns. We sold tiles in rusty ocean, sil­ver oat, under­sto­ry, these were our colours. There was no pres­sure, tar­gets, account­abil­i­ty, and every month-end I was up for pro­mo­tion. We had all attend­ed the sem­i­nar on deci­sion-mak­ing, but deci­sion-mak­ing still caused me dis­tress. One February morn­ing, begin­ning to creak under the weight of my own uncer­tain­ty, I final­ly sur­ren­dered and accept­ed my new posi­tion, with all its for­mi­da­ble respon­si­bil­i­ties. Company car, bonus scheme, juniors to ter­rorise – some­thing greedy had clam­bered up my throat.

My new boss was a great appeas­er as well as some­what an oppor­tunist. We bond­ed, a potent cock­tail, spent after­noons cook­ing the per­cent­ages and invent­ing dis­counts for all the prod­ucts we cov­et­ed. He was build­ing a swim­ming pool, a whole lagoon of rusty ocean, while I had amassed enough sil­ver oat to cov­er a bath­room wall – encaus­tic tiles, teardrop-shaped, auda­cious­ly glazed.

My wife was away, unreach­able. But before I could wor­ry about jus­ti­fy­ing to her my new­found hedo­nism, a tiler was here, con­fus­ing­ly rapid­ly, his gal­van­ic voice in our bath­room. I offered him tea, spent ten min­utes dis­tress­ing over which mug would best con­vey the invent­ed down-to-earth, no-non­sense per­son I was pre­tend­ing to be. bore­dom is the legit­i­mate king­dom of the phil­an­thropic, it read. I winced as I put it in his hand, but rebuked myself. Could he not be a sparkling littérateur?

Weeks pitched by in time­frames I wasn’t famil­iar with. My tiles appeared to be installed but didn’t resem­ble a fin­ished job. The boss sug­gest­ed I replace the toi­let, a slim­mer cis­tern. I wor­ried about this, the con­se­quences, and about my wife – all win­ter real­ly – not least because our baby was due very soon and I had still not heard Cee’s voice on the phone. My boss had start­ed squirm­ing every time it was men­tioned. We had our hap­py cus­tomers, our award-win­ning colours, what more could I want?

Once you’ve fin­ished this project, my boss took me aside once or twice to whis­per, oh, you’ll feel miles bet­ter. A weight off. And he would pat me on the back and tears would come to his eyes. Sometimes I felt that he had always been there, my boss, just as my com­plet­ed bath­room had, and like an archae­ol­o­gist I was mere­ly dig­ging both of them out.

I researched ther­mo­sta­t­ic show­ers but, in spring, plumbers informed me that I’d been com­mis­sion­ing jobs in the wrong order – how could they move the pipes? My wife was preg­nant, I said. They didn’t ask me where, when, and I shook my head, want­i­ng to con­vey my dis­ap­point­ment, but also not want­i­ng to appear too arro­gant. I was mak­ing efforts to come over more con­ven­tion­al­ly, sober. I craft­ed things to riff on which on the one hand seemed to make me sound quite inter­est­ing, but on the oth­er were the kind of things no human being would ever say.

Things had changed. Had I bro­ken into win­ter again, lapped myself? I con­sid­ered morn­ings a rag­ing suc­cess as long as I had suc­cess­ful­ly wok­en up into them. I con­duct­ed my oper­a­tion out of an A5 note­book, columns of fig­ures that no longer tied to any­thing tan­gi­ble. Keys were cut. I pressed them onto trades­peo­ple, sales vis­i­tors, in vain because nobody could under­stand the nature of my demands.

I missed my wife, her offi­ci­at­ing. I would send her pic­tures, show her the progress. And she was due very soon. After all, she had been car­ry­ing now for such a long time. How long was the term? It struck me that it had been years rather than months, and that actu­al­ly there was a chance Cee had been car­ry­ing our boy for too long, for years, for decades.

I was run­ning out of mon­ey. While a com­pa­ny hauled in a claw-foot­ed bath, anoth­er team arrived to take away our appli­ances. A hairy man, a bear of a man, a crea­ture, wheeled away my tele­vi­sion. I met strangers on the land­ing, hand­some peo­ple with long white pro­fes­so­r­i­al coats. At first they were jol­ly, con­vivial, but soon start­ed shak­ing their heads, refused to greet me. It was deep win­ter. All was snowy. Sirens droned in the street. But in the time it took me to cross the land­ing to see my white lawn, every­thing had melt­ed again. Birds were swoop­ing, apples strewn across our patio.

A young woman had start­ed vis­it­ing, always in blue. There were words writ­ten in my note­book beside the fig­ures, dyschronome­tria, antic­i­pa­to­ry grief, ear­ly onset, graphs and dia­grams. I dis­re­gard­ed them. At night peo­ple chant­ed in the pas­sage­way behind our house. I dreamt of phone calls from Cee, invi­ta­tions to her water birth: the riv­er or my boss’s swim­ming pool.

Rooms took on dif­fer­ent shapes now, unfa­mil­iar peo­ple had occu­pied them, but they were qui­et, respect­ful. Occasionally there was ten­nis. If no ten­nis, then wedges of light – map­ping the wall and ceil­ing, stretch­ing out their rhom­bus­es. A man was hired to observe me. My vis­i­tors found me bor­ing, repul­sive, hat­ed my com­pa­ny. They assumed I had a mania for dress­ing gowns and brought them, so many.

Breakfast was purees; lunch, strange exer­cise. The chant­i­ng came back, it was every­where, with­in. A woman came to see me, her voice of pow­der, every­thing strain­ing. She kissed my fore­head and col­lapsed, shak­ing up and down. We’ve nev­er met, I assured her, but she couldn’t understand.

Now a boy was in the hall­way. He need­ed a glass of water, he was thirsty, it was urgent, would some­one give it to him, please? But when he’d drunk his water, he want­ed more, larg­er and larg­er glass­es, always more. I rose in my bed, rose to lis­ten. But there was no con­clu­sion. The boy was gone, away with his moth­er. The room was dark. I rip­pled in my sheets. My name was Wilter. I was alone now.


Jack Barker-Clark is a writer from the North of England. His fic­tion has recent­ly appeared in Hobart, No Contact, (mac)ro(mic), and else­where. In 2020 he found­ed The Pale Quarter, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary art-grass­es group in a val­ley in his home coun­ty. A port­fo­lio of his work can be found at jackbarker-clark.co.uk