Riot

On the sixteenth day of London’s worst heat wave in over a century, on a morning so hot that train tracks buckled, the tar on the roads boiled and sputtered, and birds fell dead from the trees, the new site manager, an ex-army officer who had climbed some mountain in the Himalayas by himself, took Tom off the restoration of sash windows and put him on the scaffolding crew with John-Michael and the students from Galway. Tom, broad shouldered with a large square head and close-cropped ginger hair, his face pitted and rutted with acne scars, was nursing a hangover that codeine hadn’t dislodged and was not in the mood to argue with the English fool. He climbed to midway up the tower and stood sullenly on a platform in the shade of the platform above, his feet on separate planks and one arm wrapped around an upright. He fashioned a harness out of rope to further secure himself and refused to lean over the edge or bend down to receive material from below. As he passed the scaffolding and planks to those above him, sweat ran into his eyes, blinding him, and when he wiped it away he rubbed cement dust into his pores, making his skin itch and burn.

At morning break he drank a full bottle of Lucozade, refilled the bottle with water from the hose, and ran the hose over his head and down his back. The relief did not last. Sweat, stinking of alcohol and stale cigarettes, oozed from his pores and covered his skin in a slippery film. Nauseous, his knees buckling and his vision blurred, he leaned against the wall, and, gripping the hose like a safety line, he bent forward and waited to vomit.

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