created by Tom Owen

“The printing press remained, for him, the crucible in which potions of prose and poetry, non-fiction and fantasy were brewed into fruition."

For five years, Adam worked with his father at the printers. He learned to run the machines with ease. He could identify a mechanical fault by the unique jarring, clashing or clanking sound that it caused. There were a lot of mechanical faults, which gave him many opportunities to learn, practice and hone this particular party trick.

When his father was sacked Adam’s life was turned upside down. The news came like a sledgehammer blow. Unpredicted. Brutal.

“Listen Piotr, we just don’t need you any more. You know a lot about the presses, but we can’t afford you. Adam can stay, because he works so hard for nearly no money – but we can’t keep both of you."
“Why me?” Asked Piotr, already knowing the answer.
“Look, Piotr, don’t test me. If I could avoid this you know I would.”
“Then fire Jarvis. He’s half as good as me and I bet he costs you more.”
“But he’s English.”

After that Piotr walked out and went home to tell Katya the news. 

Adam did stay on at the printers. He worked as hard as he ever had, brought back his wage and gave even more of it than usual to his mother. They survived. They had not been rich before Piotr’s sacking, but now they were most definitely poor. 

For a while Adam’s was the only income for the home. He shouldered the responsibility manfully and if it took its toll on him he never let his parents know.

Adam had always read voraciously and indiscriminately. He loved words and their dizzying power. Throughout the family’s tribulations, Adam's love of the words was undimmed – the printing press remained, for him, the crucible in which potions of prose and poetry, non-fiction and fantasy were brewed into fruition. Spewing forth sheet after sheet of unlimited potential. When the presses were used to produce newspapers, he imagined himself as an archivist - dutifully recording the now. When they made pages for books, he was – to his mind – convening with the divine – creating the next instalments in a long dynasty of great literary figures. The very best of humanity's creativity. 

Adam's father took a more pragmatic view of the work he and his son had both chosen. Their job was to act as a conduit, from the high minds of those otherworldly intellectuals, who wrote their texts in dusty rooms, far removed from reality, and to deliver them fully formed into books and newspapers to the reading public. They were tradesmen. Keeping the pathways of information and entertainment clear. He took pleasure in Adam's enthusiasm, and worried what might happen if that enthusiasm were ever extinguished. 

Although Piotr was more than fluent in English and spoke Polish with an East End accent, he felt still like his native language and still the first language in the Chociemskis' home, made him an outsider. He would never presume to write something in English – that was for the English. After his sacking his resentment of the language grew – it was a constant barrier between him and society. A permanent stumbling block. He was glad his son spoke with no accent at all. London was becoming more progressive, but the people around him still preferred the company of those they understood. They held no truck with actions and accents that required translation. 

As he got older Adam felt his self-image bleed slowly outwards into the odd, ill-defined shape of something between boy and man. He was a broad-shouldered silhouette, with none of the details yet filled in. It was around the same time he realised this that Adam took an interest in girls. It was the sixties. Young women were dressing in a new way, with clothes as a form of self-expression and a demonstration of freedom, rather than the drab, utilitarian fashion of the preceding decades. Perhaps girls had always been there. But the miniskirt most certainly had not.

So, like all his contemporaries who had a little bit of money to spend beyond the bare necessities of survival, Adam went courting. He went to the cinema at Mile End with a girl called Daisy. He took another called Lily to a dance in a church hall near Bethnal Green Station. Neither held his attention. He felt frustrated by the process.  It was impossible to tell what a person was like based on attending a trite social event together. What could you learn about someone's soul by sitting, not talking, in a darkened room with 50 other couples while Peter O'Toole charged around some far flung desert projected 2o feet-high on the screen in front of you? 

The next time he took a girl out he wanted to be different. He wanted to show her something about him. Something true. He took her to the printers.

Even on a Saturday the presses roared all night. The expression "time is money" rings truer to a printer than to those in most other occupations. The two young Londoners sat on the maintenance walkway above the printing floor, high enough above the thrum of the machines to hear one another speak. Their legs dangling over into the void.

"You really like it?" he asks.
“Of course.” 

She pauses. Adam, sensing her expectation. He thinks he ought to say something,

“A book is paper with a soul. I watch the machines and it’s like seeing something being born.”

He looked into Ellie’s eyes, felt the electric thrill of a moment shared. The pause seemed like it would never end. Then she kissed him.

Tom Owen is the editor of Smoke & Tales. He was once offered a trial for the Great Britain U16 Ultimate Frisbee team.

Follow him: @owentcharles