The Sharp Call of Brass





AT 7:27 THIS MORNING WELLS TOWER woke me with three hard knocks. Loud and muffled. At the time I didn’t know it was him. I was asleep. He was at the door. Staring vacantly at the square chrome clock pillow-high, I reasoned It’s Sunday. Or Saturday. Then I muttered into the sweat-sour duvet something nobody was ever going to hear. Four more bangs  – this time, the sharp call of brass – and a shuffling from beyond two doors, my bedroom door and the one that opens, and closes, on the outside.  He was on the step. Waiting. I cupped my balls, turned over.


‘It was much hotter now, and the sun glared down through the sky like a flashlight behind a sheet.’

11:11. Man! My ankles were angry from having slept in socks too thick, they were pinching hot. I reached for a watch,  and holding my left arm out from under the covers, attached the watchstrap to it. I scruffed at my greasy hair, wiped my hands on the sheets then concertina-ed the duvet into three-even sections, neatly layered at the foot of the bed. I straightened one unruly corner, pulled on yesterday’s clothes.

I found him lying at the bottom of the stairs in a pale rectangle of dirty floorboards where a doormat with a cat’s face used to sleep. His scraped and distorted covering suggested he had squeezed first through the brass letterbox and then through the mouth of synthetic black bristles fitted on the back of it – is there a name for that? I flicked on the kettle, pissed.

On the table next to a borrowed copy of Conrad lie a creased scrap of paper with inky scratchings on it, things to do today. It was yesterday’s list with one item struck through. I made a pot of coffee, opened the fridge and stared at a chubby white paper cup, pineapple and coconut yoghurt. I looked away, closed the fridge door, sprayed the orchids on the kitchen windowsill, opened and closed the fridge again. The fridge appears different with a bright new trawler boat magnetically stuck to it. Trawling is when you weigh down the nets and drag for bottom-feeders. I poured coffee, shook out the last of the milk and took Wells to meet the sofa.


‘Derrick came back into the living room. “Gotta take a ride over the bridge,” he said. “Need to go pull something out of a horse’s pussy.”

“What kind of thing?” Bob asked.

“A baby horse, I hope.”



17:06 It is wintry dark now. The day left without saying goodbye. On the table there is a creased list of things to do. One of them is struck through, still. I shall call to work, tell them, half-sitting, half-lying, I am sick, I cannot leave the sofa and then imagine The Manager recradling the phone, cussing and shunting spectacles higher on her nose, wondering What to do tomorrow?  He may not come again.



– Stuart Bird



Quotations from ‘The Brown Coast’, Wells Tower; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, London: Granta, 2009.



Wells Tower reads the title story from his debut collection:






1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Scott Bradfield
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 21:54:07

    Hi all!

    Thanks to Stuart for that piece. I’ve never read Tower’s work myself, but in the interests of non-partisanship, I’ve attached a link to our friend Paul Maliszewski’s excellent essay on Tower that appeared in Brooklyn Rail a few months back! It’s



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