CRANE IN BLACK AND WHITE

by David Mathews

“Does it work?” she said. “The crane, does it work?”

Did it look as though it worked? The son of Surridge & Son was scornful of the woman’s question, but then conceded that you might query having a tower crane over your premises unless it did something useful.

“I was asking,” the woman said, “because I didn’t want to offend by assuming it was broken, just because it’s all rusted.”

Everything else in the yard appeared fit for purpose. Building components of concrete, stone, brick and terracotta organized by application: wall-building, lintels, paving and so on. A forklift and pickup truck were parked alongside the white-painted office. But the crane, its jib reaching over the better part of the yard, was out of kilter with the neat efficiency. Past it, surely.

No. It was not broken, just unused for three years. The bearings and pulleys would have seized up, more than likely; the diesel and gears too. The cabin door was jammed, the rust from frame and door having fused. It would not run this second, but it could be got going. Nothing fundamentally wrong with it. WD-40 should do the trick.

“I photograph rust,” the woman said.

For a living? She was kidding, surely.

“I used to be a metallurgist, testing sparkly new metals and all that, but metal fractures and then corrosion got the better of me.”

Rust? The woman nodded. The man shook his head, shrugged, laughed. He pointed to the office. There was more rust round the back, a redundant agricultural kit he had kept so that people could scavenge parts. The people never came. Cheap money made it a better deal to buy new. She could take a look if she cared to. And a cup of tea?

She thought she might, on both counts.

He guessed weak, no milk, not that he had any milk.

Was it the color that attracted her, he wanted to know, the ochres and browns of rust against, well, like the green on the crane, such paint as was left?

“No, I work in black and white.”

Black and white? Really?

Pretty much, though she usually took a few in color for first impressions. Could she snap him while she was about it, him being the boss?

Okay. Only color though; the other always made him look like a criminal.

The texture of rust was her thing, the pitted hard surfaces, the flaking decay. Monochrome showed those processes best, concentrating all those megapixels on depth and shadow, going for acuity, not charm.

Like photographing Pluto and whatnot, when data is at a premium?

“Kind of. Now, can I take you in front of the crane?”

He buttoned his shirt.

She showed him the color shots she took, but held back the black and white she had sneaked in when the sun came out and the shadows were hard.

She risked the question. “How come, Mr Surridge? You know, a crane you don’t use?”

“I used to give kiddies rides in the bucket, back in the day when they let you do that kind of thing, and their mums occasionally. I wanted them to feel the capacity of the human spirit to rise from the venal and tawdry. To know that a crane can lift and transport folk to the heights, to show them the world from a new perspective, to let them slip the surly bonds of earth and do a hundred things they have not dreamed of.”

“And?”

“And to annoy my neighbor. He’s the chair of the planning committee, and they wouldn’t give me permission to expand my yard. Not sideways. So I went up.”

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David has been a work psychologist, and now writes short stories, some very short, about everyday foolishness and heroics. On his blog he passes on the political wisdom of his chum Sidney and the distinguished psychiatrist Sir Arthur Whatnot. He lives in Bath, England, and spends time in France where, one day, he visited an architectural reclamation yard that sported an old, rusty crane.

March 2023