|FRIDAY NIGHT STREET by Dick Todd
The soft-hearted Christian do-gooder sitting opposite me said God moves in mysterious ways. So bloody mysterious, I said, I don’t believe in him at all. I asked what he thought about that. As always with these religious types, anything difficult gets answered with a pat recital of some line they’ve heard in the Sunday brainwashing session.
They let me out of the nick just in time to miss the last bus. Oakwood station is a good hour’s walk into West Hill proper, so by the time I get home there’ll be just enough time to lie down with my eyes shut for ten. I’ve an early start in the morning, what with having to see off the old dear down at the cemetery. Still, that wasn’t bothering me, nor was the nasty little attitude of the petty-minded my-gang’s-bigger-than-your-gang ponces in uniform. There was something else.
I was thinking about the run-in I’d had last night. It all started over a barney I was having in the pub with some dopey little tart over whose turn it was to play on the pool table. If I hadn’t been fuelled up on speed and lager, I dare say I wouldn’t have even bothered kicking up a fuss. Thing was, she started giving it loads of mouth about how she’d put her name on the board, and I’m just telling her I put a coin down ages before that. What does it matter how you stake your claim? It’s the principle that matters. I’d been waiting longer than she had, so it was my bloody turn. Anyway, this knuckle-dragging paddy walks over, looking like he’s fresh out of pampers because he’s walking like he’s shat himself, and starts giving me loads of Irish lip about how this is his bird and she’s playing next no matter what.
Speeding as I was, patience was out the door and it all went off. I braced him a couple of times till he fell on the table, then pounded his head with the eight ball. The claret was everywhere. By the time they dragged me off him, he was proper sparked out. He hadn’t even got a shot off. I felt sort of bad about it afterwards, but he should have just kept his nose out really.
So now I’m traipsing home thinking: what was the cause of all that aggro? Some arseholes drive past me blaring the horn and shouting obscenities. They must be well pissed. It was all over who’s going to be the first to punt a few poxy balls round a table covered in a green cloth. You could say there was an element of pride in it, like not wanting to back down or be turned over by someone taking the piss, but I’m not really the sort of person who gives a toss about all that. You’ll see. My bird will back me up on that.
Well, I say my bird, we’d had a bit of a barney as well last night, that’s how come I was in the pub in the first place. Not the one she works in, mind you. The landlord won’t have me in there. All them drunk punters ogling over the missus makes me see red. If I was more like Buddhist George it wouldn’t be a problem. Not that he’s really a buddhist mind. Word is he’s another bleeding Christo god squadder; saw the light after his old Angel crew gave him a beating for doing the treasurer’s missus.
Apparently, they held him down and ran over his leg at some bike bash, and after that he started getting down on his one good knee and praying for help. Still, they call him Buddhist George on account of his attitude towards birds. ‘Sex,’ he says, ‘is just an itch you’ve gotta scratch. People ain’t property, so there’s no sense in getting all possessive over them. If you want to shag some bird, and she wants to shag you, well, there’s nothing unnatural about that, so there can’t be no moral law against it, right?’ He’s true to his word, I’ll give him that, though I couldn’t live by that philosophy myself. Buddhist George’s wife ran off with his best mate, and what did he do? Lent them some cash to get away from all the grief after the rellies started kicking off about it. Now that’s truly detached.
Anyway, the thing is, Alicia – that’s my bird – reckons I’ve got potential and I’m wasting my life and all this nonsense. Like I keep telling her, that’s just a load of old pony spun out at school to make sure you get in line, on the bleeding hamster wheel, and in the taxman’s book of people to go round and visit whenever the poxy idiots that run the country have to steal some extra coin from the poor old ordinary working Joe.
She’s bought right into it though. She knows I’m not having any of it, but she keeps harping on. Typical bird. Just like my mother. Figures if she just keeps on long enough, I’ll give it up just to shut her up. Mistake number one. I’m not like that. I’m not proud about this, that or the other. I’ve got a mind of my own. No one tells me what to do, or how to live my life. I can see through all that blah blah they feed you about being a responsible citizen. They’re just trying to get you to knuckle down and stand in line. No fucking chance sunshine.
It’s the same with all this poncey boyband hippy dippy Indie gangster rap shit music they play these days. It’s all the same old bollocks. Just trying to feed you a line, get you down the shops with your wallet out. Yeah that’s right son, stand in line for the nice lady behind the counter. She’ll rob you blind of the few quid you’ve managed to scrape out eeking a living working for some fat wanker. And what’s he doing, except sitting in his office wondering how fast he can drive home in his poxy Mercedes SLK Kompressor in rush hour traffic? Hundred and fifty mile an hour car, he probably never gets it out of second gear. Tosser.
Alicia reckons I could make something of myself, but I’m tired of hearing it. We had the barney after I told her I was sick of her always trying to change me. Maybe she just wants me to get her up the duff, get a nice job, settle down into some boring lobotomy-inducing suburban lifestyle. See me doing that? Yeah, right. She got all uppity when I started laying all this down, so the next thing I know she’s storming out the house screaming and wailing like an Arab about how we’re over; yeah, yeah, its three years of her sad little life that I’ve wasted that she could have been spending on someone who loved her and all this pony. Heard it all before.
Once I’d had enough of that, I figured it was best off to go round to Dickie’s for a lay-on, but it turned out there was no joy there either; he wasn’t in as bloody usual. The only option left was to hoof it down the pub with the half gram I still had in me pocket.
And that’s another thing. You’ll see. Twenty quid for a bag of gear, two pound whatever for a Stella, and where’s all that money going? Dead right. Straight into the pocket of that fat lazy-arsed tosser with the Mercedes SLK Kompressor. And me? What am I getting out of it? Just a whole load of bleeding aggro, basically.
Like the other week before all this kicked off. Dickie and me, we’ve gone to knock off this house round our way. Some lame-arsed insurance salesman stitching people up by playing on their worst nightmares about shit that never happens, and if it does they never pay up anyway. Scumbags. Anyhow, it was his gaff. Him and his missus had buggered off for their annual two-week break in some shitty sun-baked plastic fantastic holiday resort on the Costa del Bravo or whatever, so we’ve gone in to take a few bits and bobs. Well, he was bound to be bloody insured, wasn’t he?
Thing was, he’d arranged for some poncey pen-pusher from the office or something to look after the gaff while he was away. Jesus. Fucking lunatic has come at us with a baseball bat screaming blue bloody murder and all sorts. He couldn’t have been more than about ten stone, bespectacled scrawny little runt. He made such a bleeding racket we had to do a runner. Then he’s smashing up the house himself swinging this bat about. Dickie was laughing so hard I had to drag him out of the place. Only thing was, now half the bloody street are out their front doors with all the racket junior office boy’s making, so before we know it there’s half a dozen of them seeing us off down the road.
Anyway, next day I’ve gone to the shop to buy some milk and there he was. Right there in front of me in the bleeding queue. He starts bleating on. It’s you! It’s you! he says. Jesus. All I wanted to do was buy some milk and a packet of fags and before I know it I’m having to spark someone out in the corner shop. Fucking ridiculous. Well, I stuck one on him and he dropped like a sack of spuds. That shut him up. Didn’t get my milk though.
And what was all that over when you think about it? Him trying to defend someone else’s property, me trying to half-inch someone else’s gear and as usual in life, the one it all belongs to is sitting somewhere else in the sun enjoying life while the rest of us fight over their shit. Point is, we only went to rob that gaff because we needed to buy some gear. If it hadn’t been for wanting some sticky little chemical substance brewed up by some fucking Islamic militant in Afghanistan whose probably beating his wife and raping his daughters, I’d never have had to spark that fucker out in the shop in the first place.
It had all got me to thinking, since I’m not about to sell my soul to either the job-worthy capitalists or the soft-hearted Christians, and getting caned at every available opportunity only seemed to aggravate the situation, what the fuck was I going to do? That was what was on my mind while I was walking home that night. I could have done with the answer before I got home, before the funeral, before I got sucked into another day of the usual, inevitable hostilities. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite turn out that way.
When the rain started I wasn’t even half way home yet. Cold, wet and bastard dark to boot, but I didn’t pick up the pace. For all you’d know, I could have been strolling along on a nice summers day the rate my feet were moving.
I’m thinking about my mate Scratch. He works for a multinational cock-sucking corporation, telecoms or something, but he’s still a cane head, out every week on the shant and the billy. I don’t know how he keeps it together. He’s got so many credit cards maxed out from over-partying, he just keeps getting another one. I’ve never even heard of half the ones he’s got. Anyway, he was telling me about this time when they sent him on some corporate cock-sucking conference to France or Belgium or somewhere, and this crew he met in a bar who were out there to kick it off over some big political get-together.
Normally, Scratch couldn’t give a rat’s arse about anything to do with politics, but then he’s gone and got all righteous after listening to these Action Annies giving it loads of spiel about bombs, wars, famine death, and the injustice of it all being caused by the fat greedy politicians and their mates with the SLK Kompressors. He nearly decided to quit his job there and then. The only thing that stopped him was his debts and the fact that he had to get home for the Reading match next Saturday.
Ever since, he’s been trying to hide the embarrassment by ragging on at me – me, of all people – about being some banner-waving hippy in a balaclava. Cheeky bugger. Just because I’m always telling him he works for a corporate cock-sucking corporation that’s breaking his back just to sell him a pension and life insurance, which he’ll never see because they’ll kill him with the stress and overwork first. I couldn’t get into all that political nonsense any more than he could. I’m no banner waver. Political activism’s all about insecurity and egos if you ask me.
Look at it this way. Someone’s shitting on me. What do I do? I don’t stand for it. If someone’s shafting me and mine, I take the fight to them or I get out of the fucking way. I don’t go on a march to get my mug on TV, buy a t-shirt and a benefit rag to say I was there. Bollocks to that. Then there’s all them Action Annie’s giving it the big one in interviews on the telly and shit. There’s your ego. Just another bunch of wannabe leaders using the fear and insecurity of others to advance their own interests. The tossers might as well be in insurance.
I’ve heard all these poncey right-on pee cee knob shites giving it the strength of us all could demolish the wall, but its always them that has no strength and no bleeding balls to start kicking down walls for themselves that come out with those lines. They want you and me and everyone else to knock down the wall while they stand by watching and singing songs about it. I know, there’s strength in numbers and power in unity – the bloody Roman army proved that two thousand years ago – but I don’t see any shitty-shoed barbarians trying to run me through with a rusty bit of old ironmongery in the 21st century. What I see are a load of power-grabbing money-hungry motherfuckers trying to live off the sweat of everybody else’s backs. You don’t need no greasy haired hippy to sing peace and love songs about that. You just stop working for the cunts. Stop playing the game they want you to play. You think about it, how are all those Action Annies getting over to France or wherever the latest G8 cock-sucking gang bang party is being held to do their protesting? In the back of some dirty old diesel van made by Ford, burning up BP's refined oil, Castrol’s GTX, Dunlop’s rubbers and all the while paying car insurance, road tax and motorway toll fares. What wall are they kicking down? No doubt they go home after the weekend feeling well chuffed with themselves for sure, sitting in the boozer drinking corporate brewed lager and smoking multi-death dealing British American Tobacco-made cigarettes and feeling like they’ve changed the world. Hypocritical tossers.
It’s really starting to piss down now and I’m just coming into civilisation. There’s a 24 hour Subway at the lights. Time to get out of the rain and into the chain.
Inside, the fluorescent lighting and white tiles make the place feel more like a VD clinic than a coffee shop. There’s two bored-looking Turkish geezers behind the counter, and some sad sack drinking a coffee with what looks like part of a pig wrapped in a bit of bread sitting in the corner.
I get a coffee and sit by the window, watching the rain. Sad sack throws a hopeful look my way, obviously looking for someone to tell his sad sack life story to, but I give him a warning stare and turn back to the window. In the reflection, I see the two Turks leering over some sticky porn mag behind the counter. That’s sad too. Always preferred my women three-dimensional, personally.
Scratch loves these places. “Food’s just a necessary incovenience, Johnny,” he told me one time. “The faster the food the better. It’s like working, you know, all that work-to-live not live-to-work kind of thing. Same with food. I just eat to live, mate, otherwise I’d happily give it up.”
Not me. I enjoy a good nosh up.
“It’s hardly a hobby though is it? Nah, mate. Pain in the arse. Food, work, all the rest of it, unavoidable interuptions in a life of partying.”
Well, that’s Scratch for you. I’m still laughing to myself about it when sad sack sandwich eater suddenly appears at the table and sits down. Fuck, if I’d have been less involved in my own thoughts I’d have stopped him before he got half way across the floor.
“Got a smoke?” he says.
I stare at him. He stares back.
“Just come back from holiday,” he says.
“Lost my job. And the wife. The Mrs ran off with my assistant, a skinny little fucker
half my age.”
“You are carrying a few pounds,” I point out, still staring at him.
“Banging him for nearly a year she was,” he continues, ignoring my jibe, “then let him bloody stay in my house while we were away.” He pauses to look at the rest of the half-eaten ham horror on his tray, then pushes it to me.
“No bloody thanks.”
“He was supposed to be out before we got back, but there was a break-in. The police contacted me, wanted to know who this fucker in my house was.”
“How’d you lose the job?” I’m interested now I’ve realised who he is.
“My assistant is the boss’s son. Working his way up, through the company like. Inevitable who was going to suffer. Been stitched up left, right and bleeding centre, I have.”
“Well, I expect you were insured.”
“You know, for life’s little mishaps.” Penny still hasn’t dropped.
“The break-in, mate. The break-in.”
“Oh. That. Well, they didn’t do anything but smash a few things up. Not worth losing the no-claims,” he says, sort of sadly.
“So now what?”
“Dunno. I could kick the wife out of the house, but then what would I do with it? I can’t afford the bloody payments anyway, not without a job. Fancy man will probably just move in and take over where I left off.”
“Meanwhile, you’re out in the cold, thoroughly shafted.”
“Thanks, I feel better already” he says, staring soulfully at the mangled half-baguette.
“Fifteen years,” he says. I can see he’s working himself up into one. “Fifteen years I’ve been married, and slogged every bloody day of my life out ever since. All I ever wanted was a son, but she couldn’t even give me kids. So what was it all for? What have I got out of it, after fifteen bloody years of hard labour, aye? You tell me that?”
He’s angry now, looking at me like its all my fault, all those years he’s wasted living his life for somebody else.
“Sounds like you got your freedom back mate,” I say.
“Yeah, great. I got my freedom back,” he repeats dully.
I get up and go outside, leaving him in his plastic chair staring dejectedly at his unwanted Subway Special. There’s no helping some people. He should have been happy really. Now he could do something really worthwhile and enjoy his life, but all he wants is to go back to the same old slavery and drudge he had before, for some worthless tart existing off the sweat of his back and giving him nothing in return. I suppose it’s the result of a lifetime’s lack of imagination. People like him can only think about the TV, the house, their kids and the bloody dog. Don’t forget the garden needs mowing, and then there’s the annual chore of a family Christmas. Jesus, what a way to live.
At the junction, the police have stopped a carload of pissheads. Probably the same ones that passed me half an hour ago. There’s four of them loaded in the car and two coppers with the driver on the pavement. The boys inside are shouting, and now they’re getting out. The pigs are outnumbered and one’s ranting urgently into his radio. He looks scared.
“Everything alright officers?” I offer.
“Stay out of it son,” the scared one says sharply.
“Bloody intend to,” I laugh.
Now they’re backing off and the idiots are getting bolshy because they think they’ve turned the tables. They all look the same to me, dressed in Ben Sherman’s and Diesel’s, only one of them is fingering something behind his back. Blade or a bottle, who knows. One of the uniforms is pulling out his baton. It’s a sign he’s lost control.
I move on. I don’t want to be there when the black Maria turns up. I’ve done my stint in the cell for one night. I’ll give those idiots less than two minutes of glory before they’re all in the back of a van taking one round the head from a bobby’s helmet or worse.
In another twenty minutes or so I’m up near the green. There’s a car parked up alongside the road, a battered old yellow Vauxhall. I recognise it from the insurance man’s house. We had to run round it half a dozen times while his wife’s lover chased us round the garden like we were in some farcical Saturday night sitcom.
There’s a woman sitting in the driver’s seat, smoking and staring out the window. The driver’s side is down so she can drop fag ash in the gutter. She’s sitting with the interior lights on like she wants to be noticed.
“Morning,” I say to her.
“Morning,” I repeat. She’s not bad looking. Obviously a good few years younger than her husband, and probably too much for the junior pencil dick to handle I would’ve thought. I see her looking me up and down. In the dim light I can still make out a holiday tan, topped up by some cheap browning lotion or a few extra hours on the sun bed. Either way, it looks bought, not natural. Blonde hair, you know the sort, dyed and semi-permed, probably takes a couple more years off her. Thirty-five I’d guess, there or thereabouts. Not bad for her age.
“What you doing?” I say.
“My husband’s just about to come out of that park, so clear off,” she replies.
“Calm down love, I’m just passing the time of day not trying to corrupt your fine upstanding moral character.”
She stares at me peevishly.
“Waiting for your husband you say? Where’s he gone then, to buy you a ring?”
She looks down at her hands. There’s a tan-mark where her wedding ring used to be, but she’s obviously tossed it or porned it already.
“Cheeky get, aren’t you?”
I smile instead of answering. She drops the fag in the gutter and turns the key. The Vauxhall splutters into life.
“Get in,” she says.
Now before I tell you the rest, stop and take a breath. The thing is, you wouldn’t believe the all-manner of crap that was going on behind my back. I’m stil making sense of some of it myself. It turns out that the Old Bill had been on the dog and bone to Alicia almost soon as they’d turned the key on my cell door. She didn’t even bother speaking when she got the call. She just listened to the officer on the other end of the line, then hung up.
Now the phone sits on a little table in the hall, and hanging on the wall above it is a big love-yourself mirror. I guarantee you, without a shadow of a doubt, when she’s put down that phone, she’s gone and checked herself in that big fat looking glass. Nice face, great body, she’ll have said to herself, but then a mirror offers no competition and only one judge. She likes to flick her hair and pout her lips, as if trying out expressions to use with people she might see out and about, and all the while she’s looking at herself she’s thinking how, on the one hand, she’s lucky to be attractive, and then on the other how unbearable it’d have been if she’d have turned out even a tad uglier. God knows how all those millions of ugly people must feel everyday when they get up in the morning, she’ll have said to the pretty girl in the glass, and that’ll have been followed by a half-pretentious and half-genuine little shudder at the thought. She’ll turn to one side and then the other, in an attempt to inspect her profile. Yeah, she’s attractive, but she’s one of them that always can’t help wondering why she couldn’t have been just that bit better. Never happy unless she’s top of the league, you know the sort.
So she’s standing there thinking to herself that maybe in the bright new future she had planned she would take home all the awards one day, but first she had to phone Michael.
“Darling, what’s up?”
“I need you to go get Johnny out of the nick.”
“Got himself in trouble has he? Fighting?”
“I’m sorry. I’d go myself, but we’re not speaking. Do you mind?”
“Darling, I’m a gay Christian. Mercy missions are what we live for. Especially ones that involve rescuing big boys in distress. Scrummy!”
I imagine her smiling down the phone in response to his self-parody, but not offering him a crumb of reassurance.
“Thanks. Take him home, but don’t bring him here, OK?”
“Whatever you say, sweetie.”
Now, her brother had never found me particularly likeable, it has to be said. The problem was he had me all wrong. He had me down as an insecure little boy hiding behind a wall of pretentious machismo, “a combination.” he told me later, “that’s as stupid as it is dangerous, as you can see for youself at chucking out time on any given Friday night.” Now, I’d never been anything but civil to Michael, but I suppose being one of them, he just sort of projected some kind of Rambo character on to me that he couldn’t quite stomach.
Old Michael’s the sort of person who thinks everyone’s good if they’re only given the chance – must be a result of all them bible stories he read – so on the way up to the nick, he’s thinking that maybe there was hope for me yet. I can hear him now, in the same sermonising tone that his sister’s got, though she’s as far from God as a person could ever hope to get, saying to himself, “He’s a bright enough boy, he just needs a little polishing. Perhaps this brush with the law might give him something to think about.”
At the station, he’s had to wait the best part of two hours before they let me out pending an appearance before the beak.
“What you doing here?” I’ve said to him, when they finally led me round to the front desk.
“Would you like a coffee?”
Michael’s sittting at a knackered old round table in one corner of the otherwise empty entrance, no doubt provided by the kindly officers for people to fill out their forms. It definitely wasn’t for enjoying the lukewarm caffeinated mud they dish up out of the decrepit old vending machine for half a quid.
“Sure,” I’ve said to him.
“After a not inconsiderable wait, I’ve come to pick you up, ‘Take you home’, I think were my sister’s exact words.”
He offers me this little smile. I put it down to a natural inclination to wind up people he thinks are homophobes.
“Thanks, but I’ll walk. Cars make me nervous.”
“Are you sure it’s the car, and not the person driving it? I consider my sister’s boyfriend out-of-bounds if you’re worried about your…safety.” He probably meant it as a joke, but it came out all pervy sounding, and he knew it.
“I don’t give a toss how you scratch your itch, mate. I just don’t like cars.”
“The trouble with cars, see, is you’re out of bloody control soon as you get in one. Even if you’re the driver, you’re at the mercy of all the other idiots on the road. Just pure bloody luck you don’t get back-ended, rammed side-on or end up in a headfirst collision with some lunatic trying to text his fucking missus about what he wants for tea while trying to negotiate a double mini-roundabout in thick fog at 65 mile an hour.”
I wasn’t averse to a bit of winding-up meself, especially after being stuck in that depressing cell for half the night.
“Well, I suppose,” he’s said back to me. He seems amused by my logic. “Still, we all have to go when it’s our time. If God wants you, it doesn’t make much difference whether you’re driving a car or standing on the pavement. You know, He has his much-vaunted ‘mysterious ways’ and all that.”
That’s when I told him it’s the so-called mystery of it that puts me and half the rest of the world off buying into such fairy tales.
“Could be that’s the way He wants it.”
“Yeah well, if so, I’ll play him at his own game. If he wants me, I’m not making it easy for him either. Nothing mysterious about that.”
Now don’t get the wrong idea, cos I’d say that this Michael character was far from evangelical. I’d heard him having it out with Alicia once and he’s selling her this line that faith is an emotional choice.
“You can’t reason someone into it. Even the word ‘faith’ is a misnomer. The true believer feels God’s presence in his everyday life.”
Then, when Alicia’s spat something sarky back at him, he’s gone all insecure on her.
“At least, that’s what I keep saying to myself. The trouble is that sometimes I wonder if my supernatural feelings about God are really nothing more mundane than wishful thinking.”
She told me once that being gay had brought her brother problems from an eary age, and so had his turn to Christianity, what with the Church rejecting homosexuals on the one hand while being packed to the rafters with them on the other.
“Glutton for punishment, my Michael is,” she’d said to me.
All his adolescent experiences had given him a bit of a contentious nature, and he’d learned to take a certain pleasure in upsetting people’s preconceptions about him.
Maybe his automatic shift into a typical camp-gay persona with me was bugging him or something, but I felt he was trying to score points.
“Doubt is God’s way of testing you,” he said with a benign smile.
“You’ve got the lines down pat, mate. I’ll give you that,” I said. “You’ve no doubt got all the videos and know far more about it than me. But ask yourself this. Why does your all-seeing all-doing superman feel the need to test you? A bit insecure is he? With all that power? Or is he lonely, eh? In need of a few friends. It doesn’t add up. What’s more likely? Your story, or the one that says a bunch of medieval psychologists made up some clever shit to keep people in line and earn a bit of coin? I know where my faith lies, pal: in the simplest explanation.”
“You’re confusing the dogma of the Church with the belief in a divinity,” he said, sounding like a right pompous tart, trying to stamp his authority on the topic.
“Many of us reject the former while maintaining our belief in the latter.”
“Have it your way, but I don’t believe there’s a coin in my pocket till I can feel it. Why do you believe there’s a daddy in the sky looking out for you? It’s a fantasy, but it’s your fantasy and I couldn’t care less either way.”
“I think that’s why I never really understand people who don’t believe,” he comes out with, as if it were some kind of a personal tragedy. “There’s so much evidence, everywhere. How do you think anything – everything – got here? Where does it all come from? What maintains it? It can’t be explained any other way.”
“Maybe you just lack the imagination to see another answer.”
“Are you telling me it makes sense to say the universe just happened, like an accident? How can that make sense when everything science tells us is that there are no accidents, that everything is causally determined?”
Now, I don’t want you to think I’m rude or don’t like the guy; I’m not fussed one way or the other, it’s just that by this time, after the night I’ve had, it’s starting to wear a bit thin.
“I’m not telling you anything, pal. What do I know about that shit? All I know is I don’t see any reason to get down on my knees on a Sunday morning, beg for forgiveness and the promise of a happy afterlife from some Latin-speaking ponce in a dress just because Stephen Hawking hasn’t come up with a theory to explain the big bang yet. Now do me a favour and get out of here. I need to get home.”
The word ‘home’ must have done the job, must have had a nice sound to it. I can’t imagine old geezers like Michael are up at this time of the night on a regular basis.
“Come on then, let’s go,” he says of a sudden.
“I told you. No cars for me. Something bad always happens in them. The only thing that would get me into a car is Jessica Alba in her underwear or a brace of coppers with my hands already cuffed.”
“Indeed.” said Michael throwing a glance at the desk sergeant, who was staring at us.
“Have it your way, then. I’m away to bed.”
We’ve walked out to the car park together. The open night sky was a right relief after that harshly lit, pokey old cop shop. He’s making a show of drinking it in, with his nose up, like he’s catching the scent of fresh rain in the air.
“Can I leave you with one last thought?” he says to me as he opens the car door. I didn’t say anything, just stared back with a patient look.
“If you are without God, don’t you feel terribly alone?” Something about the tone of his voice struck me then, and makes me wonder now if there wasn’t something I could have done or should have said to help him. As it was, he received no reply as I shrugged me shoulders and headed down the road.
Now when I’ve got in the car with this bird, I’m not feeling too comfortable, I have to tell you. Like I said, I don’t like cars much, but the way she asked me, I almost felt compelled. In some way I couldn’t figure, the odd coincidence of seing her old man, and then her, well it seemed like they might provide some fairy-tale answer to my little soul-searching exercise, if I just followed their lead. Besides, what was I going to tell her? I’m afraid of birds in motors? Just didn’t seem right, somehow.
“Natalie. My name’s Natalie,” she starts.
“Where we going, Nat?”
“Don’t call me that,” she snaps back. “I need to fill the tank. At the 24-hour,” she adds.
“Right. That’s next to the Subway, yeah? Maybe we could drop in for a sandwich.” She gives me a funny look. I smile at her again.
I’ve always done alright with the ladies. I’m not a prissy boy or anything, but I’ve always managed to get birds without too much trouble. I’m told it’s on account of my body, which is big but sort of naturally athletic I suppose. Anyway, the birds always love to cop a feel when they can, so I must be doing something right.
Not that I’m interested in this Natalie bird, mind. I don’t believe in that, doing the dirty with some fella's wife. I’ll leave that to the likes of Buddhist George. Not that I’ve always been good as gold myself either, but then I’m not married. Some stuff you’ve just got to take seriously. It’s about personal integrity. Mates and family, you’ve got to stand together no matter what. It’s us and them against the rest of the world when it comes down to it, and guess who’s outnumbered? Birds I’m not too arsed about, but that’s not serious is it? It’s different if your married; you’re talking about family.
I’m thinking about Alicia again. She seems to think two people meeting in a pub are going to fall in love and then live happily ever after, but it’s not like that is it? You hook up with someone to scratch the itch, then you get used to them and you carry on together as long as it’s still working. Getting married though, that’s a different prospect, especially if it involves kids.
Maybe I’ll have a family one day, but to be honest I don’t want to risk having one that might turn out anything like the one I come from. See, my family never looked out for each other; none of them miserable fuckers ever looked out for me at all. Three elder brothers I’ve got, not one of them was a blind bit of use to me as a kid. I was forever fighting my own battles, and sometimes some of theirs, too. Like when one of my brother’s schoolboy tormenters decided he’d have a pop at me, only he didn’t count on the fact that just because I was three years younger and three stone lighter than his last victim, it didn’t mean I was going to lie down and take it like the putz he was expecting. He came up and grabbed me from behind, and somehow, just lucky really, I managed to throw him over my shoulder. Well, his head was asking for a boot in it. He could have easily pasted me after that, but his mates were jeering and laughing at him so much he had to walk off with his tail between his legs. I was only nine and that prick was twelve. I fucking hate bullies. I’ll hunt them down and break the legs of every last bastard one of them I ever come across.
Anyway, I felt a bit sorry for the sad sack insurance man. Not that he’s a mate I owe any loyalty to, but I don’t mind doing a good turn when an opportunity seems to be offering itself up on a plate. For some bizarre reason, I had a strange feeling this was leading somewhere that might help him. The poor sod had sacrificed his life for this made-up plastic fantastic two-bit tart, but what’s she giving up for him? One thing I can’t stand is people who take advantage of others’ good nature. It’s like they think they have a right to more than anybody else, a right to use you and abuse you for their own personal ends.
Then she starts talking like she’s been rehearsing for an interview or something.
“Married Brian when I was 20, needed to escape a destructive lifestyle,” she says.
“You know, an absent father, and a mum who wanted to be in the boozer rather than at home. Bringing home a succession of fellas.”
Jesus, I could hear this story anywhere. What’s she telling me for?
“Then there was Gus,” hardly pausing for breath, “she moved him in, but he soon started on me. I left when I was 16. I lost count of how many boyfriends I had. I worked in a bar; I was my mum. It was only a matter of time before I got pregnant. I could see it written in the stars like I had no choice in the matter. I hardly ever used protection, even though I didn’t want to end up like her.”
“My girlfriend works in a bar.” I’m staring out of the window as I say it, wondering when either the car or the bio will stop.
“I was angry, and mostly drunk, and I wanted to say come on then, give it your best shot, I don’t care if that’s all you’ve got in store for me, I’ll still fight you. Maybe I’ll have an abortion, or get it adopted, or maybe you won’t have the nerve to make me pregnant because you know how it would upset me. You wouldn’t do that would you? Not if there’s any meaning to life, any purpose. Right?”
I’m not sure she’s even talking to me. It’s as if she’s trying to explain herself to somebody who gives a shit.
“And it didn’t. Because then I met Brian, and all the horribleness went away, at least for a while. He’s in insurance,” she adds, as if that was somehow significant.
I see she’s slowing the car to a stop by the side of the road, though we don’t seem to have reached anywhere in particular. She says she wants a fag, but she doesn’t light up. She just sits there, motionless, as if she’s scared something is going to happen if she reaches for the packet. The engine’s still running, like she can’t decide whether to drive or to park.
I’m not sure what she wants me to do. Get out of the car? Give her a cigarette?
I’m about to speak, when the rear door opens. I turn round instinctively and get something sprayed in my face. It’s hot, stinging and choking. I’m coughing and clawing at my eyes. The next thing I know something hits me hard over the back of the head. I double over in pain. I think there’s another blow, then the darkness closes in and I pass out.
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