Bottle Bank

About ten years ago my brother bought an old farmhouse a couple of miles up the road, out towards Mayland somewhere. It’s bloody wonderful and fucking massive. It’s almost enough to make me wish at some point in my life I’d bothered to find myself a job and earned myself some money. Almost.

In the garden, if you can really call a load of old fields and yards a garden, there was (and still is) a ruined old stone barn, or shed or whatever, with just the walls left standing – no roof, no door (although he’s since put one in), no glass in the windows. The walls are about four or five feet high, although there’s a couple of bits where they’ve cracked and broken and fallen in and there’s only maybe two or three feet of wall still standing. I think maybe a tree must have fallen on it at some point. Or someone rode a tractor into it.

For some reason, instead of putting empty bottles in the recycling bin, my brother would come outside and hurl them into this old barn, steadily building up a mountain of cracked and broken and smashed up bits of glass. After a year or two of this, one time when I was round there I asked him why he did it, why he kept on doing it, and his answer was that he liked the sound of smashing glass. That he had always liked being allowed to drop bottles in the bottle bank when our dad took us over the tip when we were kids.

I’m not sure I ever remember going to the tip with our dad.

A couple of years ago I was walking in the woods a few miles from where my brother lives, and from the top of the hill you could see down to where his house was, and the glass all shimmered and sparkled there in the sun like he had a barn filled with jewels. Or with water.

After that I was always a bit scared some birds would land in it thinking it was a pond and end up slicing themselves to shreds. Or I’d remember the time one of our cats almost had her paw sliced off climbing trough a broken window, and I was endlessly glad every time that I thought of it that at least my brother didn’t have any cats, and didn’t live near enough to anyone that did.

But there was always foxes I could worry about, and badgers too, although I had no idea if badgers could climb walls or would even want to if they could.

Last year he invited me over for bonfire night and I when I got there he was up a ladder, wearing some old fireman’s gear, and pouring petrol over the side of the barn and onto his big pile of glass. Ten years of glass all piled up there as if it’d had just been waiting all this time for this. He climbed down the ladder and took it back to the house, and came back with a big ball of cardboard covered in something that resembled glue, all thick and yellow and strangely horrifying looking. He lit it with his lighter and hurled it over the wall and just managed to turn away in time to shield his eyes from the whoomph of heat as the whole thing burst into flames.

It burnt for hours. I have no idea how much petrol he must have poured in there. I’m surprised the initial fireball didn’t blow the entire barn up like some sort of Hollywood explosion. I suppose it was directed upwards rather than out. Although I was stood miles back, cowering in fear on the far side of the yard, and I could still feel the heat of it for a second or two as it caught, could feel it pushing me back like a shove to the chest.

Then it settled down and we watched it burn into the night. At some point the wooden door caught fire and burnt off its hinges, crashing down suddenly sometime towards midnight, which made my brother jump so violently he dropped his glass of beer and spilt it all in the dirt. It’s a shame the glass didn’t break really, for reasons of symbolism, and rebirth.

The next morning there was a solid river of glass that had flowed out of the barn and into the yard, the soot burnt black onto it all, and into it, maybe, too. A ridiculous mess that I have no idea how he ever cleaned up.

And everything stunk for fucking days.

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1. Written on November 15, 2014

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