A’ll uh bin about seventeen or sumet. It was a Friday night an a was upset cause a’d just dumped me girlfriend, Carla. A’d only dumped her cause she got off wid one of er ex-boyfriends on a night out, but a wanted te get back wid her. A wanted her te beg uz te tek her back. But she wasn’t even that arsed an that was the worst thing about it. So a was getten pissed in the Kildare an a saw her sitten on Tommy’s knee, haven a laugh, as if a didn’t even exist. A should probably write that it hit uz like a smack in the guts, or the red mist cem down or sumet like that, but in all honesty, a can just remember feelen upset. A went back te the bar an Dad was there, standen at the hatch, an a telt him what a’d just seen, about Carla sitten on Tommy’s knee. He gars, What ye gonna dee aboot it? An a gars, What de ye mean? An he gars, Ye’ve just split up. He’s showen ye nee respect whatsoever. An a gars, De ye reckon a should hit him, like? An he just gars, A’m sayen nowt.
The boy walked back to the alcove but Tommy had gone and Carla was sitting on her own. She looked at him. He didn’t know how to read her face. He went into the toilet and Tommy was coming out and the boy threw a punch and missed. Carla grabbed his long hair with both hands and pulled him back by it and said, Gerroff him, ye fucken arsehole. His hair was coming out in clumps and she kept pulling it and he grabbed her by the throat and squeezed it until she let go. She held her neck and sunk down against the wall. The boy went back for Tommy but there was a man stood between them, saying, Just leave it, Shaun. He doesn’t wanna fight.
A don’t wanna fight ye, Tommy said.
What’s she sitten on yer knee for? the boy said.
Just haven a laugh. We weren’t doin owt.
A crowd had gathered outside the toilets. Let them fight, Malc said. Git them ootside.
Leave it, Malc, Tommy’s uncle said, stepping forward. He hasn’t done owt wrong.
Does thou wanna gar an aw? Malc said. A’ll send ye inte fucken space, lad.
Just leave it, Malc. What’s wrong wid ye?
Gar on, Malc said, fuck off out uh my pub. The lot uh yers. Gar on, fuck off afoor a flip me fucken lid. The boy came to his father’s side and he looked upset. Tommy and his uncle and his friend filed out of the back door with Carla after them and Malc and his boy watched them leave. The crowd filtered away. Malc shook his head at his boy and said, What ye playen at?
Ye were just bloody standen theer, listenen te what he had te say. Ye divvun’t listen te them, man. Ye git reet in theer an destroy them.
About ten year later, there was this other time. A was in trainen cause a had te bray this gadgie who’d hit me fatha. Deep down a didn’t even wanna – no one expected uz te win. But it was just one uh them things ye have te do. So a was goin against all me instincts te try an mek mesel violent. An then one night me fatha telt uz that some money had gone out his club. The Legion. He’d had a lock-in, after time an all that, an sumet had happened, like the fire alarm went off or sumet, an me fatha got everyone outside, an then it was awright again, false emergency, an they all went back in but some cheeky cunt had gone wid all the money out the safe – a good few grand – an it obviously wasn’t a police matter or owt like that, but the money had gone an so had the lad on the door. Me fatha reckoned it was him cause he was blowen loads uh money in the days after, see, an what ye gonna do if someone’s blatantly robbed yer old man? An a know it was him cause uh the way he acts all sheepish now, an anyway, a gars te Malc, De ye reckon it was him, like? An he’s like, A’m tellin ye God’s honest truth he’s bin spennen money like watter ever since. An a gars, Right then fatha, that’s it then. An he gars, That’s what? An a gars, Wait an see.
The boy was speaking to a blonde girl outside of Malc’s club, and he made her laugh, and her eyes appeared to sparkle. It was a cold night and the smokers were out in the corrugated shelter Malc had installed on the veranda. Nana Marie was working the door. She used to be married to Crazy, who during his prime was the hardest man in Wigton. Nana Marie was a big solid woman and her hair was grey and cut into a pixie style. She fought like a man and sometimes fought with them and the boy liked her very much. The blonde girl was telling something to the boy when Nana Marie caught his eye and made her hand into a fist and raised it like a phallus. The boy smiled and the blonde girl looked back over her shoulder. Come wid us, the girl said, we’re off te the Hare an Hounds.
A have te gan in here, the boy said, but a’ll mebe see ye later on. Nana Marie was laughing when he went over to her shaking his head. They hugged one another and she felt good and warm and he rubbed her back. Aw, she said. He’s my lad. The boy kissed her cheek and told her he’d see her in a bit and he went through the inner doors and into the club. It was busy and the dance music was loud and the bass was deep and throbbing and most of the people were standing as if drawn to the brightness of the bar, each in a different situation in the changing colours of light. The man who had stolen Malc’s money was there. He was talking and laughing with someone smaller than him. He’s nicked the money off me fatha, the boy thought, an he’s laughen. He’s here an he’s laughen. The boy looked over at his father, serving behind the bar, leaning forward to hear a customer over the music. He felt nervous about what he had to do. He knew most of the faces he passed on his way to the bar and someone asked about Newcastle and about his band and he kept it brief and made his way through the crowd. He hadn’t wanted to drink because he was in training and looking after himself in terms of his diet and as a result had grown unaccustomed to alcohol. But he felt that the mission required a drink. It’s not cause a’m a shithouse, he thought. A know a can hit someone in a boxen scenario an a know a can fight when it’s self-defence, but a’ve had fuck all experience wid an unsuspecten target. An that’s what a need te prepare for. Yer not interested in fairness or sportsmanship in war. It’s all about how effectively ye can deliver violence, an how effectively ye can avoid the violence uh yer enemy. A have te learn te gan from nought te violence in a split second. That’s why a needed a drink. A reckon a’ve been brought up owa soft an it’s not in me nature te hurt folk like ye sometimes need te. Cause war’s central te humanity. The government says it’s against the law te use violence an then they bomb the fuck out uh some country that won’t do as it’s told. An folk say it’s not right an we should learn te live in peace an then they vote in a government te use violence on their behalf. And the boy wondered when he had started thinking like this, because he had once been a pacifist. And then he thought it might have been a gradual change, and that maybe his acceptance of the usefulness of violence was typical of members of a population after a time of exposure to the violence of their state, or after they had lived under the example of a successfully violent state. Or maybe it came from the violence of the family. Or even earlier, from the violence of birth. Or from genetics. The sperm. The violence of the delivery. At the heart uh everythin is violence, he thought. He ordered a pint of lager from his father and he asked how he was. Busy, Malc said. Last orders.
A’ll see ye in a bit, the boy said, and he supped at his pint and looked around the faces he mostly knew as they held the changing light. He noticed the way the light came through the stray bits of hair on a girl’s otherwise smooth and lacquered head seeming to saturate each strand of hair with a misty aura. The man who had stolen the money was further down the bar. Every now and then the light outlined his features against the dark. He’s still smilen, the boy thought. He’s teken the piss out of us comen in here. The boy set his pint down on the bar and leaned on the bar and picked at his nails. In the clear white light from the canopy overhead he could see the faint striations of his thumbnail and some of the ridges were broken or had raised more during certain periods of growth in a way that evoked for him the design of a crocodile’s back. He knew he was distracting himself from what he had to do. A’m on a path, he thought, it’s not a path a’ve chosen, but the path has chosen me. The feeling he had reminded him of past incarnations of cowardice, and the thought that he might be a coward came with a tantalising sting of self-hatred. He slid his pint forward on the bar. Look after that fer uz, Dad, he said, and Malc looked at his boy as if he might say something else. The boy made his way through the crowd, and he held out his arm and waited for a man carrying drinks to get past, and the man took his time talking to someone, and the boy thought, A’m not letten ye past in acknowledgment uh some kind uh higher status, a’m politely waiten fer ye te fuck off out me way, and the boy brushed past him and went over to his target. The thief was grinning as he spoke to a man the boy didn’t recognise. He turned from his conversation. Awright, Shaun, he said. Some of his teeth were missing and he looked bloated.
What ye grinnen like that for? the boy said.
Ye wanna suck me dick or sumet?
The thief laughed and the boy headbutted him in the face. The blood was warm. The thief bent over holding his face and staggered through the parting crowd to the front doors leaving a trail of bright blood on the polished floor. The boy went the other way. People stood aside to let him pass and he went into the darkness of the empty function room with its empty stage and tables and steel-framed chairs that looked as though they had been abandoned in the middle of an event some decades past whose ghosts now acted before the red velvet curtains for an audience unseen and he went up the steps and into the empty toilet. He flicked the light switch. There was a hum as the lights flickered and held. The door creaked shut. It was quiet. The boy was breathing hard. He fucken deserved it, he thought, and then he spoke the words out loud. He went to the sink and looked in the mirror. There was blood on his face. It looks like warpaint, he thought, or theatrical makeup or mebe some kind uh alien symbol denoting otherness. His eyes were confused. The face in the mirror creased with pain and he looked away from it. He turned on the tap. The water felt very cold. He splashed his face to wash away the blood and he felt as though he needed validation, or he needed forgiveness, or for someone to hold him. It needed done, he said. He spat into the sink, turned on the tap to wash the spit away and the swirling water pulled it loose from the basin and spun it away. He got some paper towels and wiped his face. He looked at himself again. Cunt, he said.
It was quiet and well-lit in the main bar and the people had gone. The boy looked at the clock above the bar. He felt changed. As though he’d acquired power. The means to shape the night. His footsteps peeled off the sticky floor. Malc had on his glasses and was going through the till. He turned to the boy and gave a look somewhere between humour and concern. Where did that come frae?
Fuck knows, the boy said. Where’s everyone at?
Got rid uh them.
Cause uh me?
It was time, lad, Malc said, and he went back to the till. He lifted a metal clip and took out some notes and shuffled through them, counting out loud to himself. The boy looked around. The trail of blood had fallen like art on the polished floor and it glimmered in different places as he moved. Like a string uh Christmas lights, he thought. Malc folded the notes and pushed them into his pocket, and he flipped the metal clip and slid the drawer shut. He wrote something on a pad beside the till and he put the pen down and took off his glasses and folded them and set them on the pad.
There’s a fair bit uh blood, the boy said. De ye reckon he’ll be awright?
He’ll be awreet.
Will ye tell folk what it was for?
Fer nicken the money out the safe. A don’t want folk thinken a’m an arsehole an a did it fer fuck all.
Nee bother, lad. What ye haven?
A’ll have a Kronenbourg. The boy went to the bar and pulled out a stool and brushed it off and sat on it. Malc found a pint glass and held it up to the light. He tilted it under the Kronenbourg tap and flipped the handle and the golden liquid came out into the glass. He swirled it to make a head and he brought the glass upright as the head rose. He pushed the handle to finish the pint and bubbles plumed into it. He set the pint on the bar and the boy took it and had a good drink. He looked through his pint and he said, Did a look awright, ey fatha? Like a knew what a was doin? There was banging at the door. They looked at one another.
Garn see who it is, Malc said.
The boy slid off his stool and went over to the door and there was more banging. Who the fuck’s that?
He went back into the club. It’s the fucken pigs, ey fatha. What should a do?
Here, Malc said, and he came from behind the bar and waved for his boy to follow him into the dark function room, between the tables and leaning stacks of chairs, past the toilets to the fire escape. He opened the door and stuck his head out and the air came in cold as he looked around. A’d git yersel away, lad.
An the coppers cem in an had a good look about fer uz. They looked in the bogs, the kitchen, Malc’s flat, they even went up in the rafters. Malc finally telt them, when he’d given uz plenty time te escape, that a’ll uh bin long gone. They were proper pissed off wid him, apparently. Fer wasten police time. Malc thought it was funny, till the week after when they started raiden his bird’s house looken fer uz. Then he was getten it in the neck off her. So he got in touch wid laddo’s fatha an got the charges dropped, an he arranged fer uz te go an give an interview at the police station, get the case closed through lack uh evidence – ah’d never uh gone cause a never trusted the police. A thought they were tryen te lure uz back so they could fuck uz ova. But Malc was right in the end. He’s always known about that kind uh stuff – what te say te the banks, the government, the ins an outs uh the law an all that – an a suppose in the end that’s what fatha’s are for, teachen ye about the world, showen ye the right path’s not always the path ye wanna tek.
Image © Stuart Smith