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Gong Men of London

This is a piece of fiction I wrote for my English midterm exam in High School. We had to develop a 'Literary Landscape' based off of a line in the extract given to us in the paper. I chose the line: “London is perpetual; a constant streaming present hurrying towards a receding future.”

“Tell me thisth Walsley. Why do we, in a city of seven ‘undred thousand peoples still gotta clean up all of them shit?” Varmey asked with a crooked scowl as he began heaping London’s filth and feces into a bucket.

“You know why you damned buffoon.” Walsley snapped back, tired of Varmey’s incessant whine.

“Yeh’ Yeh.’ Ever since tha great stink we can’t be dumpin’ our shit into the Thames no more.” Varmey finished derisively. The bastard was old by London’s standards. If Varmey could count he’d tell you he was born 45 years ago, but by the looks of him he looked at least 20 years older than that, with balding hair and gaunt skin puckered with stains and dirt. In all of Walsley’s time working with him, the Gongmen only went out at night to do their business. Probably because the ‘good people of London’ didn’t want to see them clean up a whole city's worth of waste each night, but whatever the reason it bestowed an almost ghastly vampiric look that clearly marked members of the profession.

“Looks like its’ going to be a pea souper when the sun comes up” Walsley commented, surveying the London night as Varmey scooped up his buckets and began to walk with him.

“Been gettin’ more a’ those ever since them factories went up. Don’t get why you high n’ mighty folks don’t leave our lot well alone.”

He’s got a point, Walsley thought to himself as he surveyed the London streets in the light of the full moon. The rain of ash seemed to never stop as the soot-stained factories nearby incessantly operated, spewing out a vile yellow fog that already began to settle down around the two gongmen’s feet. In a few hours the two would only be guided by the introduction of the oil lamps hanging on people’s doors. The dry grime and dead fungus made a soft crunch around their leather boots as the once-beautiful river Thames lazily meandered a slurry of sludge out towards the ocean. The stench - though overpowered by the bucket of human waste being carried right next to Walsley - was distinctive. It manifested as a collection of fermented sweat and broken dreams that plagued London’s slums. Even at 4 O’Clock on a Wednesday morning people still crawled from wood-and-thatch pub to wood-and-thatch pub, trying to drown out the streaming problems of the present. Problems that, against all odds, turned out to be incredible swimmers. With the industrial district being choked in ash and smog, the aspiring industrialists and coal-burners sought to buy up the cheap land and labour in the slums in order to make something of themselves. The two gongmen passed by an alley, the oil-lamps there smashed out and littering the darkened dirt streets as the dying cries of a rat being eaten alive echoed from the shadows. Word has it that the honorable lords had paid out of pocket to pave the streets of London. Turned out that by “streets of london'' they meant Westminster and Bishopgate. Truth be told, Walsley loved this place. Despite the grime and the soot. Despite the ash, the crime and the awful stench, Walsley wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

Though, to be fair, he hadn’t been out of London at all.

Truth be told, Walsley hated this place. The glamour was a bunch of lies concocted by the fine fellows and aristocrats to convince poor dodgers like Varmey to work 16 hours a day or shovel shit every night.

Walsley missed being able to think. Able to write. He longed to be able to hide away in his little home in Knightsbridge with a warm candle and pen down his thoughts after a long day of exhausting discussion surrounding the finer points of Shakesp-

“That’s Cripplegate dun.’ Where ta’ next?”

The corpulent sound of a fetid liquid slowly streaming out of a bucket and into a barrel tore him from his dreams. He was still here, In London. Deluding that he loved the place and hating that he hated it. The sun here was red. Why was the sun red? Was it the smog that did it? The yellow fog? This was a city that was suffocating under the weight of progress. It’s landscape scarred beyond recognition. He missed the old days, of open fields and beautiful nature. Of royal courts and noble manors.

What did a clean London look like?

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