ROUGH AS FUCK AND WET WITH DEW
Waking in a wood is fucked. I take a shit by a blackberry bush, wipe my arse on a dock leaf, think about my mother as I tread through nettles. Mist hangs low in the hollow. I think it still must be early. I guess at sixish. I vomit in the hedge-bottom as the post-van goes by. When I reach the village the only shop open is the paper-shop. I buy fags, a Mars Bar, a can of Fanta. I’ve just enough money to get into town. My overdraft is fucked but I’ve still got my credit card. I sit in the bus shelter and wait. I’m cold. The 83 is half-full with people going to work. I get a stiffy on the backseat. I fall asleep. I wake up just as the bus pulls into town. The Crooked Spire clock says ten to eight. I chuck-up on the pavement as soon as I get off the bus. Someone says Dirty bleeder. The sick is orangey-brown. Fanta and Mars Bar.
I slide my credit card into the cash machine. It takes me three goes to get my number right. Birthdays. Mine and the kids. The screen says I have a hundred and eighty quid credit left on my card. I take the lot, then head towards Supersave. A half-Bell’s and six cans of Guinness should take me through till opening time. It’s eight-thirty. I walk past the market. The fruit and veg bloke is setting his stall up, and as I try and get past his van a lad comes out the back of it carrying a bag of spuds. He doesn’t stop and neither do I. There’s only one winner. He shouts Twat to my back as he picks his spuds up that are now rolling about on the cobbles. I head up past the DHSS then over the Courthouse grass to the cenotaph. I sit and drink, start reading the names. I get as far as Evans G then understand these people mean nothing to me. I throw up again. It’s blackish now. Guinness.
The Post Office clock says ten-twenty. I turn and face the other way. The sun comes out, thank fuck. I look towards Clarence Road where I used to live. From where I’m sat I can just about see the attic window. I think about Nannan. Funny. It was like I had two mums when I lived there. When one wasn’t there I had the other. Then Mum got married. A new home, and her telling me that I had a dad now, and that I should call him Dad. From two mums to one mum, and she gave herself to someone else. Is that how it was? I drink and think as I watch a sparrow hopping about on the Courthouse grass. It stops to peck at something. Another joins it. Then another. I drink. Light a fag. It seems such a long time ago. Me, Mum and Nannan. I can’t remember what it was like to be me back then. At all. A crow lands on the grass and the sparrows fly off. I’m a bad father. A bad husband. I’m probably a bad person too. There’s no way to fix these things. It’s too late. I finish the Guinness. It’s the last one. What day is it? I think I’ve done throwing up. There’s still some of the half-Bell’s left. I pocket the bottle for later. Pub.
I sit on the steps of The Market pub and wait. The Post Office clock says eleven but they’re still not open. I decide to give it a few minutes before trying somewhere else. I’ve got about a hundred and sixty quid left. I’m going to make some decisions today. Something has to change. I might go to Ireland. I might just hitchhike to save money. Stow away on a ferry. Go to Dublin. Or somewhere quiet where I can think. Maybe by the sea. Somewhere I can start again. I’m tired of being me. Somewhere, something went wrong. I need to find right. I need to find happy. The sound of a bolt being drawn back makes me stand up. Ten minutes late by the Post Office clock. Today, things are going to change.
I have lager because I’m thirsty. I sit by the window watching the market people on their stalls. I’m starting to feel better about things. If I go away, some people will get mad at me. But I can’t let that stop me. I have to kill the me that got fucked up. Start again. Go live in a place where I belong. Get a job in a bar or something. I have another lager then take a walk across town towards The Punch Bowl. It feels good to wander. This is the start of it. I can go anywhere I want now. On the Co-op corner is an old gadge playing a mouth organ. He’s shit but I throw him a fiver anyway. He says something like Thank you sir, but he doesn’t take his mouth organ from his lips. He sounds like a pissed dalek. Funny.
The Punch Bowl is grubby, and the windows are stained-glass like in a church, but they’re dirty so no light comes in. I have three barleys in a pint-pot and a double Jameson. I don’t fancy staying here long. The landlord looks like an alky. His nose is red and swollen. I buy him a drink. On the wall behind him are a load of framed pictures. Most of them are wonky. The pictures are orangey-brown and show Chesterfield a long time ago. All the men have hats and moustaches. The roads look muddy and the women wear fat-arsed dresses. I want to be in another place in another time. When I get to Ireland I’m going to find a place by the sea that hasn’t changed in a hundred years. I’ll go to the pub everyday and sit drinking Guinness and proper Irish whisky. No one will know me. The Punch Bowl is shit, so I go for a piss then leave. On my way across Knifesmithgate I walk past a Big Issue seller. She looks Pakistani. I give her a tenner. She smiles, says Thanks, then I ask her if she fancies a beer. She says not but I keep asking. She keeps saying no so I offer her a twenty. She bends down, starts putting her Big Issues into a rucksack, says I’m not a fuckin prozzer, then walks off quick. I light a fag and head for the Welbeck.
The Welbeck is all yellow Formica tables and dirty wallpaper. It looks like a Miner’s Welfare. Two fat slappers are playing pool and cackling like witches. The skinny barmaid pours me a pint of Stella. She has a mole on the end of her nose the size of a brown Smartie. One of the fat slappers leans over to take her shot and half her tits hang out. They look like veiny balloons filled with pink custard. I sit by the open door and look out onto the street. I need the sea. I need a place where no one knows me. I’m sick of people. People are ugly and tell lies. When I get to Ireland I’m going to live a hundred miles from anyone. I’ll grow vegetables and have chickens. Who needs a fuck when a wank is easy. Who needs to talk to people when people are stupid. This pint is off so I go to the bar and tell the skinny barmaid. She sniffs at it, says, Smells fine to me, luv. I shrug and tell her it must be her nose cancer that stops her smelling properly. She just stares at me. I leave, taking an ashtray with me. I walk up past the Market Hall on my way to the Fleece. Town’s getting busy. I look at people as I walk. Some people look at me funny, and I realise I’m a bit grubby after sleeping in the woods. I don’t really give a fuck but I decide I need some new clothes. I walk past the alley that leads up to the Fleece and head towards Burtons. I need some new clothes for my journey anyway.
Burtons have a sale on suits. I pick a brown one and a white shirt. I’ve never had a suit before. I go into the changing rooms, put my coat on the chair, then take my jeans off. They’re still wet from the woods. I take a swig from the half-Bell’s, and look at myself in the mirror. I put my hand to the glass, flat-palmed. I say my name and watch the mouth move in the mirror. It’s like I’m in two. I press myself against the glass and stare into the eyes. I breathe onto the mirror. Gone. My pants are damp so I take them off too. There’s a dark skidmark in them. My arse itches so I wipe it with my pants, throw them in the corner on top of my jeans. I remember my wallet is in the back pocket so I take it out and put it on the seat next to the ashtray. I have a sudden urge to piss. I pull the brown suit trousers on but the urge to piss gets worse. I figure I’m never coming back here so I piss on my pants and jeans in the corner. The piss takes ages. There’s loads of it. I have to keep moving my aim because it makes a loud splashy sound if I piss in the same spot too long. I end up pissing on the wall so it runs soundlessly down onto my pants and jeans. I look at myself in the mirror. The new trousers are a bit too big but I figure by the time I’m living off the land, eating vegetables and chickens, I’ll have put some weight on. I try the shirt and jacket then look at myself. The jacket’s baggy but I look like I mean business. I slide my trainers on and decide to leave my pissy jeans and pants in the cubicle. I throw my t-shirt over the top of them, pocket my wallet, grab my coat, then go through to the shop. I leave the ashtray. It would be a mistake to hoard things now. I need to travel light. At the counter a zitty kid with a name badge that says Jez asks me if I need any help. I tell Jez I’m taking the suit and shirt that I’m wearing. He takes the tags off and rings it all up. It comes to eighty-nine quid. I figure this leaves me just enough to get to Ireland if I hitchhike. Jez asks me if I want put my old clothes in a carrier bag. I tell him I only have a coat. This seems to confuse Jez, but he bags it up anyway. I turn to go just as someone makes a noise of disgust from the direction of the changing rooms. I leave swinging my carrier bag, feeling good, feeling today is the day.
The Fleece is packed with footy fans and it occurs to me that this must be a Saturday. I used to like football. I don’t anymore. All that tribal shit, like you belong to something. How can you love something that doesn’t love you back? I drink quick, as all around me blokes in blue and white start singing. OH CHESTERFIELD! IS WONDERFUL! OH CHESTERFIELD IS WON-DER-FUL! IT’S FULL OF TITS, FANNY AND SPIREITES! OH CHESTERFIELD IS WON-DER-FUL! On the bus home I drink a bottle of Blue Nun and think about the sea. In a few hours I’ll be feeling the waves under the boat. In a few hours I’ll be starting my new life. I feel my inside rise. Maybe the kids will visit when I’m settled. Maybe I have to do this thing to make everything right again. Yeh.
When I get home Grace tells Joe and Scarlett to go to their rooms. I close my eyes so I can’t see them. I think they’ve been crying. Only when I hear the sound of their feet on the stairs do I open my eyes, and I tell Grace that I’m going to live in Ireland. She rolls her eyes and says Yeh right, sure you are. She sounds upset. I decide not to say anything else so I make a sign by pulling a pretend zip across my lips. She shakes her head and asks me where I was last night, if I’ve got any idea what I’m doing to the kids, and where the fuck did I get the suit from? I make the sign of the zip again, and she sits heavy at the table, puts her head in her hands. She says, Do you know how skint we are?... I don’t reply. I go to the cupboard under the stairs and drag my old sports bag out. Grace keeps talking. She sounds angry. She says, Joe needs shoes, the car needs an M.O.T, the gas bill needs paying, it’s Scarlett’s birthday next month. And you, you haven’t even looked for a job in weeks have you?... She stares at me. She’s waiting for an answer. I look at her and shake my head. It looks like she’s been crying too. Christ, Billy, she says, Look at you. What the hell are you doing to yourself?... I put the bag on the table. I make the sign of the zip again, and tell myself I have to be strong. Grace shakes her head. She says, Where did the money come from?... I take my wallet out the inside pocket of my new suit-jacket. I drop my credit card onto the table and point to it. Grace closes her eyes. Her lips make a kissy shape and she blows out a long stream of air… IDIOT! she shouts, slapping the table. I shake my head. I have to be strong. I smile. Grace stands up quick. IT’S NOT FUNNY! WE CAN BARELY PAY THE FUCKING MORTGAGE AND YOU SOD OFF BUYING SUITS AND DRINKING YOURSELF STUPID! I CAN’T EVEN AFFORD A FUCKING HAIRCUT! YOU SELFISH... LOOK AT ME WILL YOU!... JUST FUCKING LOOK AT ME!... I look at her… WELL? she says. I do the sign of the zip again. She puts her hands flat-palmed on the table, then she swings forward, hard, smacking her head against the tabletop. She starts crying loud, then she swings forward again, harder this time, shouts CHRIST… This is the worst I’ve seen her. I have to be strong. I have to do this. No matter what. I decide it’s better if I don’t go upstairs to get my things. I should just go. The kids’ll get upset. They can’t see me. I have to be strong. I grab the bag, go to the bottom of the stairs and pull some of my clothes off the clotheshorse. I go back into the front room stuffing the clothes into the bag. This is it. I’m going. Now. Grace stands in front of me, tears running down her face, a red O on her forehead. She slaps the bag out of my hand, screams LEAVE THEN! JUST FUCKING LEAVE! then she pushes me in the chest and goes into the kitchen. I bend down to pick the bag up. The phone starts ringing. I can hear drawers being opened then slammed shut in the kitchen. I walk over to the phone and pick the receiver up. I’m going to put it straight back down, but for some reason I put it to my ear. I don’t recognise the voice at first but after the third hello I realise it’s my stepdad. I allow myself one hello then I make the sign of the zip. Chris sounds different. Like he’s winded. He says There’s no way of saying this other than just saying it. Then he tells me that my mother is dead. That she had a heart attack this morning. That they tried, but they couldn’t do anything for her. That she’s dead. I put the phone down and walk into the kitchen where Grace is sat on the floor, pulling tight a handful of long black hair from her head as she saws through it with the breadknife, long black sheaves scattered about her like a nest, a sound like laughter… my own.