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An excerpt from'Nothing But Grass'

Norman Tanner killed his workmate Brian Shields with a spade and buried him where they were working

He didn’t mean to do it. It just happened: it was a mistake, an accident during horseplay. Brian had been teasing Norm but there was nothing special about that and there was nothing in what he had said to provoke one man to kill another. They had set to, for a joke, their spades clashing to celebrate the Friday afternoon, to ring out the week. After parrying a few blows, Norman had suddenly attacked, swung hard and - missing Brian’s upraised spade by some distance - he had stuck the sharp corner of the blade right between his friend’s smiling eyes. Norman liked to use one of those little edging spades: he kept it sharp to cut the clay on jobs like this. It went in with no bother, just like that and Brian fell over on his back.

He knew that Brian was dead. There was no point in fetching help. The younger man’s blood was red all over the green clay. His head was open, right through his skull and his left eye had somehow popped out of its socket and was lying on his chest like something from inside a shellfish. It had been blue in his body but it was now lifeless and lightless.

Norman buried Brian right where they had been working and went home.

Home was a white rendered bungalow on Sandy lane in Horncastle. Norman’s wife, Sal was recently pregnant with their third child. They had a fourteen year old Labrador they had brought as a puppy when they first married, a golden pheasant in a cage, a hutch of rabbits and some stray cats his eldest daughter was feeding on the sly.

There was no space for Norman to think that he had killed Brian. Without any effort, he forgot and told Sal about the job he and Brian had been doing all week, though towards the end his memory concluded abruptly.

“Any road, it was a bloody stupid job,” he said, eating his tea. “You should see them holes we had to dig.”

Norman spent Saturday planting a vine outside the kitchen door. He used a crowbar to thump his way through six inches of old concrete and tied the vine to a strand of plastic coated wire he ran up the side of the door frame.

When he was working at the concrete he felt dizzy and looking up he thought the sky had gone red. Very peculiar it was. He had been going at it a bit fast and had forgotten to breath.

Maybe in a few years he would step outside, first thing, and pick some grapes.

A little bit about Will Cohu


Will Cohu was born in Yorkshire in 1964. His books include Urban Dog (2001) and Out of the Woods (2007). His memoir, The Wolf Pit, was published in 2012 and shortlisted for the PEN/Ackerley Prize and he published his first much-acclaimed first novel, Nothing But Grass, was published in 2015.

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