The sun got stolen from the sky somewhere over Hartcliffe. The city turned dark. I spat more blood into the gutter and placed my finger on a now wobbly tooth. I thought about giving it all up. Then I thought about that girl from The Tobacco Factory bar. My spirits began to rise but I was still in the gutter. I’m stubborn – nothing says ‘keep going’ like someone telling me to stop. Stubborn or stupid, or both. I finished with the blood spitting and scrambled to my feet. My suit, which was looking peaky before I came out, was now in its death throes. I could get it dry-cleaned. I could get it patched up. I could stick on a bonfire and get one last kick out of it. It had been a good suit, not too long ago. This suit got me in places, like swanky bars, snooty restaurants, and a certain lady’s bedroom.
There was still enough cash in my pocket for a taxi ride. All I needed was a taxi to show up. What are the chances of getting a taxi home without the driver commenting on my face? ‘You ‘ad an argument with a brick wall, mate?’ and so on until we die of laughter, or I cave in his skull with the sole of my shoe. And that may take a while as the soles of my shoes are made out of rubber. I brushed some dirt off my trouser legs – we wouldn’t want anything distracting people from the blood stains down the front of my white shirt, now would we?
There are a few people I would gladly drown in a vat of cow’s piss, right now the Dickens twins have made it to the top. Talbot, my old chemistry teacher, will have to drown himself – I keep the list to a strict eleven hundred. When I’ve finished drowning them I’ll… no, I won’t, they’ll be covered in cow’s piss, I’ll just leave them in the vat.
The night air isn’t helping me feel better. Cold grips my bruised wrists and legs. The back of my head is beginning to swell. The best way back to the city from here is to walk along the side of the bypass. I slip and fall down the embankment to the road. No harm done, I was going this way anyway. Only now my trousers are ripped and my legs are bleeding. I’m hit by a beam of light which belongs to a taxi’s headlights. Some primeval instinct takes over and I stick my arm out to hail it down.
‘I don’t normally pick people up along here.’
I grunt and climb in the back. He asks me where I want to go and I must have replied because we’re moving.
My trousers are ruined. Fuck ‘em. I take them off and sling them out the window, onto the dual carriage-way.
‘Oi, mate, what d’ya think you’re doing? You can’t do that, that’s littering.’
‘Do you want to go back for them?’ I ask.
‘No, but it’s bleeding weird. If you start playing with yourself back there, I don’t care how much cash you’ve got, you’re out. Last thing I need is a load of your jism over the back seats.’
‘I’m not going to start spreading jism around. I’ve been beaten half-to-death and I’ve fallen down the embankment to the road. The way things are going my cock would come off in my hand.’
‘That’s what I’m frightened of.’ He laughs. The evil laugh of the taxi driver.
Soon the houses start crowding in on each other. The people standing on the streets aren’t going anywhere – they’re selling: either themselves or drugs. I get that warm feeling you get when you’re coming home.
The cabbie takes too long counting the change. I’m not giving him a tip, no matter how slowly he counts out the ten pence pieces. Now the bloody lights next door have flicked on. That’s all I need.
The taxi drives off, no doubt he’s still grumbling. At least now he’s actually got something to tell people – ‘the last guy took ‘is trousers off and threw them out the window.’ Talking of which, it’s a bit cold out tonight and my face has started throbbing. Tomorrow morning it’ll be twice the size. Something above my eye is swelling and causing it to close. I’m reaching into my jacket pocket for the house keys when the neighbour’s door opens.
Edna isn’t too bad, on a good day and that’s not today. These houses were built in the late-Victorian period and Edna’s parents bought hers new. She was born in one of the bedrooms. These two facts, which occurred over ninety-one years ago, are the highlight of most of her conversations. Not with me though, not anymore.
Edna’s husband is buried across the road in the cemetery. She tends the grave daily. Her own plot is pre-booked alongside him. One hundred feet from cradle to grave. I wouldn’t mind but the way things are going she’ll out live me.
‘That you, Harrington?’ she asks.
‘Of course it’s me, Edna, who else would it be?’
‘I wouldn’t know. You might be that fat bloke back again.’
I’ve lived here since my parents died, when I was eight years old. Twenty-four years I’ve been her neighbour and that’s the most interesting thing she’s ever said. Maybe she’s going senile.
‘An ugly looking bastard, he was. Came ’round here looking for you. He said he was a friend but I knew ‘e was lying.’
‘How did you know that?’
‘You don’t have any friends. You always were an unsociable little boy. I remember when you first moved in, I said to my husband, God rest his soul, that boy’s an odd ‘un. Too quiet you were, always looking and never talking.’
‘Maybe being cut from a car, where my parents were burning to death, made me a little shy.’
‘Funny bastard, I used to say. ‘E’s a funny bastard, that kid.’
‘Thanks, Edna, goodnight.’
‘Where are your trousers? What’s gone on with your face?’
Fat bloke, fuck! I triple-lock the front door, that’ll stop anyone for five or six minutes. The locks are fine but the wood is rotten. I lean against the wall and try to collect my thoughts: I think I left them scattered over the street somewhere. I poke a finger into a hole in the exposed plaster of the hallway wall. I’m sure there was a time when these walls looked good. In those times my grandfather would have taken care of these things. He would have had a tool for the job and sent me to fetch it. He would have known what to buy to fill these holes. Not me, I bought Plaster-of-Paris. No good for filling holes but I found a use for it later.
I was pouring a drop of Jameson’s into a mug of coffee when the door started pounding. I could see from the shadow behind the glass that this was the Fat Bloke. Being a quiet man, I could hide out here for as long as I liked. There was no reason for me to answer the door. There was no reason to suspect that the Fat Bloke would do anything other than what he did – which was smack me straight in the chops. He doesn’t ask who I am or for permission to enter. That doesn’t stop him from entering.
My jaw aches, it was aching anyway. The coffee is sitting in the kitchen, growing cold. I’m lying on the floor, wondering if I did the right thing getting out of bed this morning.
‘What do you want, Fat Man?’ I ask, rubbing my chin and hoping I’ll get to keep some of my teeth.
He kicks at my legs. Instinctively, he targets the area where the ankles are already swelling. I bend my knees and draw the legs into my body. The Fat Bloke takes a pace towards me.
‘You call me Fat one more time and I’ll grind your fucking face into the wall.’
‘Keep cool, fella, what do you me to call you?’
I try to get to my feet. Before I can get up, Fat Bloke pushes me over.
‘You don’t call me anything.’ A large clumsy fist grabs my shirt front and lifts me to my feet. I have the growing fear that I may die here, in my dining-room, without any trousers on.
Having pulled me to my feet the Fat Bloke continues to pull until we are nose to broken nose. The blood is already trickling from one of my nostrils. Fat Bloke’s breath is foul: cheap burgers and cheaper cigarettes. His free hand reaches up to grab my face. The thumb rests on one cheek while the fingers are on the opposing one. He begins to squeeze.
‘Where are the fucking drugs.’
‘Do you mean Viagra? That’s a drug for fucking. You can get it from your doctor.’
What I got for that was a punch, in the stomach, so hard I would have brought up my lunch, had I eaten any. As I’m doubled over, wondering if I’ll ever draw another breath, his hand gets a grip of my hair and lifts me upright.
‘OK, OK, I’ll talk.’
He slams me into the wall. Blood flies from my face and splatters over the plaster-work. I need to redecorate but this pattern is too abstract for my liking, although you might say it’s very me.
‘I can’t hear you talking,’ he says.
‘I buried it, across the road, in the cemetery.’
‘Then you better get a spade and dig it up again.’
I fetch a spade which the Fat Bloke grabs from me. He then grabs me by the scruff of the neck and forces me across the road to the cemetery. I glance over my shoulder and see Edna’s curtains twitching. I hope she has enough sense to stay inside and turn up the volume on her television set.
The cemetery gates are locked, which means we have to scale the fence. The spade fits through the gaps in the rails. I go first. As I reach the top the Fat Bloke tells me to stop as he climbs up. This is my chance. I lift a foot back ready to kick him in the face. I slip and fall over the railing into the cemetery. I land on my left arm and feel as if I’ve crushed it under my body. The Fat Bloke lands beside me and picks me up like a sack of shit.
I guide him past the war graves, along the pathways lined with blind angels and broken towers. A fox struts across a small hill in the middle distance. We reach a tree-lined stretch alongside a family killed during a German air raid. I point to a spot three paces from the third tree. He gives me back the spade and tells me to start digging.
If I had the strength to dig I’d swing this spade straight through his skull. I try to break the turf but my legs can’t handle the pressure. I try a new tack – I sit down next to the nearest grave and weep.
‘Dig, you fucker.’
He takes a step over and picks up the spade. I show him the blood and bruises on my naked legs. The cogs turn slowly in his head. The evidence is undeniable, my legs are screwed. He takes up the spade and starts digging. I lean back against the grave and light a cigarette. I don’t care now – I just want to crawl into bed and stay there ’til spring.
‘Ha,’ he stoops down and pulls up a biscuit tin. I’d been given it for Christmas one year and I’ve used it for storing all kinds of crap since then. The lid is ripped off and left to fall. He takes the package out of the tin and sticks it in his jacket pocket. He takes the empty tin and throws it at me. I see it come and turn my head to stop it hitting me square in the face. It hits me on the ear.
The Fat Bloke marches off towards the railings. I can feel sleep coming, but I can stay here. I hold the gravestone and use it to lift myself to my feet. Then I stagger towards the railings myself. I see the Fat Bloke speed off in his car. If you thought you were driving off with two kilos of cocaine wouldn’t you do it discreetly?
There’s a spot where a tree has grown up against the railings. I use this to climb over and hobble along the road to my house. Edna’s curtains twitch again as I pass by. My front door is open. I enter, close the door and lean back on it. Stupid fucker.
I take the Plaster-of-Paris box and put it in my hold-all. I’ve got another sixty minutes to deliver it to Cold Johnny – and he’ll have the sense to taste it before handing over the cash. Then I’m gone, out of here, somewhere warm. Some place you don’t need to wear trousers.