Happy Bloody Birthday

It’s not my birthday yet, and I’m not happy. It’s all Boris’s fault. He’s right that people should wash their hands but why did he have to choose that song. Now every bloody time I wash my hands that bloody song goes through my head.

I never liked birthdays. They were never great. The foster families tried. They usually planned something special but inevitably I’d mess it up. Birthdays bring out the worst in me. Some years it was so bad that I’d get moved on my actual birthday. I’d have got so worked up in the week beforehand that it would be the final straw that broke the foster camel’s back.

Can’t really blame them. Who’d want a kid like me smashing things up and kicking off. Imagine if we’d had covid when I was young. Having to singing happy birthday every morning and every night while washing my hands. I’d have been kicking off every day. I doubt I would have survived.

I take the razor to the bald sides of my head and clean off the stubble. Today might be a good day. I need to look my best. I notice that my natural brown hair is showing at the roots of my blue Mohican. I’ll need to die it again. If today goes well I might be able to afford to get it done professionally, then I won’t end up with blue all over my head.

I look round my shower shack. I hope this woman doesn’t want to use the toilet. I tip a bucket of water down the loo and give the sink a token wipe. The blue die stains look like bruises on the pale white porcelain skin.

I’m glad the weather is good. It means I can meet her outside. I don’t mind her seeing my workshed but there’s nowhere to sit. Nowhere to do business. I shake twigs and leaves off the camping chairs and brush bits off the table before going into the workshed to collect the cauldron.

God it’s heavier than I remember. I wonder if the table will be strong enough to hold it. I’m not sure so I put it on one of the stumps near my fire pit. It looks right on the stump. Proper witchy.

I wonder what the woman wants it for. Maybe she is a witch. Phoebe, it’s a proper witch’s name. I can’t settle. I can’t start a new project. Not until she arrives. Two hundred pound for a cauldron I found in a fly tipped dump.

Finally I hear a car engine. She pulls up in her fiat 500. It’s tiny. The cauldron will probably fit but she’s going to have to watch that suspension going back down the track.

She steps out of the car and I’m glad it hasn’t rained for days. Those shoes would be ruined if it had.

“Is this it? Ohhh it’s perfect.”

She stokes the cauldron’s rim.

“Have you got a stick? I want to see what it sounds like when you stir it?”

It’s easy enough to find a stick in these woods. I pass her a substantial length of hazel. She clatters it around the inside.

“Perfect.”

I decide to make some small talk. It’s supposed to help with sales. Not that I’ve got much experience. This is the first time I’ve tried selling anything apart from scrap and they don’t have much in the way of conversation down at the scrap yard.

“So what do you want it for? You’re not a witch are you?”

She laughs.

“Not me. But I’ve got three witches who need a cauldron.”

I nod as if that makes sense.

“We’re doing the Scottish play.”

It takes me a while to twig what she means.

“Oh. Macbeth.”

From her face I think I have got the wrong Shakespeare play.

“That’s right,” she says.

She puts her hand on the cauldron’s rim and tries to lift. She grunts with the effort and tries again with two hands. She doesn’t even get it to tip up.

“It’s as heavy as f…”

I manage to stop myself and moderate what I say.

“It’s got some weight to it. Solid iron.”

“It won’t work. We’d never get the thing on and off the stage. I’m sorry. You haven’t got anything lighter have you.”

I look around the yard as if pondering the question.

“Not at the moment. But I could make you something.”

“Could you?”

“Sure. Something just like this but lighter.”

“Actually it could be smaller if you’re making something bespoke.”

“Sure.”

“And it needs to look old. And the sound is important. It’s got to sound… big. Substantial, if you know what I mean.”

“Sure.”

I don’t know why I keep saying sure. It’s like I’m stuck on the word and can’t think of anything else to say.

“Do you want a deposit?”

“No bother.”

I say it without thinking. I just want to say something other than sure. I should take her money. But I’d only spend it. And then what would happen if I couldn’t make a cauldron?

She leaves without paying anything and without sitting down.

I lock up and get in the van. It’s going to be another collecting day. There’s no way I’ll find another cauldron but hopefully I’ll find some metal to make one. It’s strange having a commission. So far all my metal working had been for myself. Stuff out of my head. Strange twisted things that no one else is going to want, let alone to buy.

I scavenge my way around the back streets. There’s a fridge. You only get twenty pound a ton for the iron so they’re not worth collecting, but you can get two hundred pound a ton for the compressor, which is why some bastard has already taken it.

I find some wooden guttering. The wood is completely rotten, which makes it easy for me to stamp out the lead around the down pipe. Lead’s not the most valuable metal but it’s so dense even a small lump is worth collecting.

I search another pile and find a small length of copper behind a couple of those catering oil cans. I’m back in my van when I get an idea. Those cans could make the perfect carcass for a lightweight cauldron.

Back at my yard I sort the metal into separate bins. I’ve almost got enough copper to make a trip to the scrap merchant. Maybe tomorrow I’ll load up the van, head out on a copper hunt and come back via Allcan’s scrap yard.

I take the two oil cans into my workshed. They’re thin enough that I don’t need the forge. I use tin snips to cut off the rims. I then cut strips down the sides of one can and hammer it into a cauldron like shape. I use the strips from the second can to infill. I stand back and admire my creation.

It’s crap. It looks like a kids school project; a primary school kid. I dump it in the corner and decide it’s too late to cook. I take a trip to the chip shop.

The cauldron is in my head. I dream about it. I wake thinking about it. I chew it over while eating burnt toast. I collect it from the corner and turn it round in my hands.

I tap it against a block of wood and it dents. It needs to be more substantial. I fire up my forge and do some proper blacksmithing. I heat metal, hammer it, bend it. I file bolts and weld their heads on to steel bands that act like a skeleton supporting the soft tin.

I find an old bike wheel that’s almost the right size. I remove the spokes and trim the rim to fit. I fold the tin over the rim and with great effort force the iron bars into clasps.

It takes over a week to get it right. I work on it continuously except for the one sweep to collect copper which brings in enough money for a shopping trip.

Finally I place it on the log stump. It’s ready. I message Phoebe. The earliest she can come is the end of the week. I’m confident she’ll buy this one.

Her red car deposits her in my yard. I notice she’s wearing sensible boots. She goes through the same routine. Says it looks perfect. Taps it with a stick to check the sound and grabs the rim to lift.

“Fabulous. It looks so heavy and the sound is so rich that I can’t believe it is this light.”

“Yeah. It’s come out well. Took quite some fiddling to get it right.”

“We said two hundred.”

I must have pulled a face or something. I didn’t mean to. Two hundred is much more than I imagined. I mean this thing is nothing like the original cauldron. That was an antique and solid metal. This one is cobbled together from scrap.

“No you’re right. Let’s make it three hundred.”

She holds out her hand and I shake it in daze.

I offer to carry it to her car but she takes great pleasure in carrying it herself while exclaiming once again how light it is considering how heavy it looks.

“I don’t suppose you can make swords? We’re doing Romeo and Juliet next.”

“Swords?”

“For the fight scene.”

“Don’t tell me. I bet you want swords that look heavy but are actually light, that look sharp but are actually blunt, and that make a really nice clashing sound when you bang them together.”

“Oh yes. That sounds perfect.”

She pulls a piece of paper out of her bag. It has two swords drawn on it.

“We need two designs. One for the Montagues and one for the Capulets. These are just initial ideas. Having seen your cauldron I imagine you’ll come up with better ones.”

We sit on the camping chairs and hammer out the details.

It’s only now as I wash my hands before bed that I realise we didn’t talk about the price. That is probably a good thing. I reckon she’ll offer me more than I would ask for.

I lie in bed with swords cutting through my thoughts. She needs them by the first of August. I suddenly panic that I won’t have time to make them. I don’t know how long I’ve got.

I stretch out for my phone to check today’s date.

The first of June. That means exactly two months. The first of June. That’s means I’m exactly thirty years old.

Happy Bloody Birthday.

I smile. It is my birthday. And I am happy.

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