How does that auld song go? And there wur ten green boatles stawnin oan a waw. Suhin like that, anyweys. There’s jist the wan noo, and it’s oan a table right in front ay me. Ah’ve been eyeballin it fir the last fifteen minutes at least, sittin here in the pub like a fanny, no drinkin it, hawdin the moment aff for as long as ah kin. Ah kin smell the beer inside it and drops of watter are startin tae drip doon the sides. It’s aw ah can dae no tae fire right intae it. ‘You go tae that pub and that’s us finished, Joe McGee,’ Agnes said, and she meant it. Nae doubt aboot it. She stood there wi the wean on her hip, him lookin’ up at me, jist so’s she gets me on a right guid guilt-trip. Aw, she’s brilliant at that; world class. Wee Danny kent suhin wiz up, and he wiz greetin and bawlin and tryin tae git to me over her airms. Ah turned aroon and marched right oot ay there, up the street and intae the Hog’s Heed. This wiz nivvir ma local, but it’s close, and it looked like it wiz gonnae rain. The last hing ah need the-day is tae get masel soaked.
The letter fae the agency is burnin a hole in ma poakit. Should ah huv telt her about it? Ah think mibbe ah should’ve, but then ah remember the way she’s been puttin me doon and how she’s been bang oot ay order. Nae chance.
Ah’ve been aff the drink for nearly two years noo, ivvir since the wean wiz born. Fags annaw. Hings wi Agnes wur nivvir fantastic afore she goat up the stick, but it wiznae too bad efter ah packed aw that in. At least while ah wiz workin. But that’s the Craig shut doon noo and ah’m on the auld scrapheap along wi every other steelworker in Scotland. Ah huvnae worked in almost a year and the Broo money’s utter garbage. How dae they expect emb’dy to get by on forty quid a week? Forty quid! Ridiculous. Bit how’z a fitter and turner supposed tae fin a joab in this economy. Ye’ve nae chance in Scotland, that’s fir sure.
And whin the money runs oot, that’s whin aw the auld arguments start, int it? Aw the daft stuff that’s been bubbling away unner the surface, and mibbe aw the no-so-daft stuff annaw.
Ah belted her once whin she wiz preggers. Ah didnae mean it. Ah wiz bevvied, completely oot ay ma face, and she wiz giein me all sorts ay grief and ah jist sort ay lashed oot. No in the belly or anyhin, jist acroas the gub. Gave her a fat lip. It wisnae as if ah battered her, but ah felt dreadful aw the same. That’s jist no me at aw. Ah’ve no done it afore or since, and that’s whin ah decided to git serious aboot packing in the drink and the fags and gawin tae the pub.
It’s harder than ye ken. Ah couldnae manage it at first. Ah’d be awright for a few days then ah’d jist git bored or fed up and, before ah knew it, ah’d be back doon the boozer, throwing back the beers, worse than ever. It wiz like ah wiz makin up fir loast time.
It’s no easy tae admit to yirsel that ye’r a jakie. A tramp. An alcoholic. Bit, fir aw my sins, ah cannae be accused ay self-denial. Ah’ve goat that much gawn fir me.
Ah sat her doon no long eftir the big fight and ah telt her ah thought ah wiz a jakie. She looked at me wi these big eyes and said, “Ah’ve always kent that, but ye cannae be telt. Ye huff tae fin it oot fir yersel.” And she wiz right aboot that. She’s no daft, that’s fir sure.
Ah tried AA first, and whit a joke that wiz. Seriously, whit a bunch of fannies. They aw sit aroon this table bletherin oan aboot how thuv goat nae control o’er theirsels and that thuv goat a disease. A disease? Geez a brehk! Aw that’s wrang wi those guys is that they love playin the victim. They compete wi each other tae see who kin tell the worst stories aboot their drinkin days and how humilitated they aw wur. Whit sort ay person gits their jollies by showing how they’re mair pathetic than emb’dy else? Ah dinnae git it. And dinnae git me started on that whole “higher power” hing. This idea they huv that they can jist surrender theirsels to an invisible force – God or Yahweh or Buddha or the bloody Flyin Spaghetti Monster – it’s jist beyond belief. The bottom line is ah couldnae stick it.
And Agnes wiz oh-so-understandin, wizzn’t she? So understandin ah almost puked. Aw sugar and poe-faced sympathy. Ah wiznae fooled fir a second, but. Ah kin read the subtext tae aw that; whit she really wants is fir me tae live the way she wants me to live, under her thumb, and if ah dinnae, she’ll make my life so miserable ah’ll start thinkin’ aboot daein’ masel in again.
But ah finally managed to get masel in order and stop the drinking completely, jist eftir the wean arrived. Ah jist used good old-fashioned will-power. Every time ah felt like a drink, ah asked myself: who’s in control here? You or the bevvie? Ah remembered those whining diddies at AA and there’s no way ah’ll allow masel tae slide down tae that level. Ah huv ma pride.
‘Haw, Joe, ur you gonna drink that or whit?’ Mary shouts fae ahint the bar.
‘Aye,’ ah say. ‘In a minute. Ah’m jist waitin fir ma pal tae git here.’ That’s no true, of course, but it’s nane ay her beeswax, anywey. ‘Gies a Diet Coke the noo while ah’m waitin, would ye?’
She brings it o’er and ah gie her a wee wink. We used to lumber each other a bit back at the school, but it never goat serious. She’s looking no too bad the-noo, either. Ah cannae take ma eyes aff her tight wee summer dress as she walks away back tae the bar. I’m picturin hings ah shouldnae be, but it’s the day fir that, ah suppose. Everythin ah’m daein the-day seems to be the exact opposite of whit ah’ve promised masel. It’s like ah’ve goat wan foot in ma normal life and wan foot in another, mair interestin yin.
Ah pour the Coke and take a swally. The beer boatle sits there, sweatin. Ah know jist how good it’ll taste. In fact, it’s been so long, it’ll probably taste better than ah remember, like the very first beer ah ever tried, aw hoppy and bitter and sweet.
And there wiz wan green boatle, stawnin oan a waw.
Ah pull the letter oot ma poakit and spread it oot oan the table. Dear Mr McGee, it reads. Further to your interview in our John Street office, we are delighted to offer you the position of Fitter and Turner with Rio Tinto Mining Corporation. Your placement will be in Zvishavane, Zimbabwe, and the contract shall be for a minimum of two years, subject to renewal upon completion.
It carries oan tae list ma salary and flight arrangements for the whole family and aw that. It’s good money, that’s fir sure. Ah ken absolutely hee-haw aboot Zimbabwe – couldnae even fin it oan a map – but it’ll be wahrm at least. And it cannae be worse than Scotland.
If ah’m honest wi masel, and ah pride masel on that, the reason ah huvnae telt Agnes is cause ahm thinking aboot jist disappearing, jist gittin oan that plane to Africa by masel and no tellin’ a soul where ah’m aff tae. Ah’ll be a ghost, a memory, able tae live the life ah want tae live without huvvin tae worry about Agnes and the wean and all the moaning aboot ma drinkin and ma smokin.
Jist imagine it, workin in the sunshine. Ah bet it’s brilliant o’er there, probably have golf clubs and country clubs in the jungle. Mibbe even personal drivers for the expats. A hoose wi a veranda, mibbe, where ah kin sit oan ma tod and watch the sun go doon, sippin a cauld beer, watchin’ the animals go by, lions and tigers and monkeys. Dae ye git tigers in Africa? Ah’m no sure.
And mibbe ah’ll get me a local wife, pluck her oot ay poverty and gie her a life she could only dream ay afore she met me. She’ll be grateful, for sure, and no gie me the jip that Agnes gies me. Aw, aye, a wee African lassie soonds right up ma alley.
The Coke’s nearly done and there’s a shitey-sweet taste in ma mooth. Ah rub ma face and ma chin feels like it’s been roughcasted.
Ah’m kiddin masel oan, in’t ah?
It disnae matter where ah, go, ah’m always gonnae be me. Ah’m always gonnae be a jakie. Ah’m gonnae be carryin this around like a millstone fir the rest ay ma life.
And Agnes and Danny deserve better. The wean deserves a daddy. A sober wan who disnae batter his maw.
Ah dinnae ken whit tae dae.
The pub gets lighter, jist fir a second as the door opens and shuts. Ah look up and see that Agnes is stawnin there. Ah brace masel fir a fight bit she jist reaches oot and wipes at my face wi her hawnd. She rubs her fingers oan her dress eftir, like she’s dryin em.
‘Where’s the wean?’ ah ask.
‘At ma maws.’ She sits doon, looks at the beer boatle, sees it’s still full and that ah’ve only been oan the Coke. ‘Will ye no come on haim?’
‘In a minute,’ ah says. Ah fold the letter up and put in back in my poakit afore she sees it.
‘Come on, Joe, ye dinnae want to be daein this. If ye did, ye’d be blootered awready.’
Ah jist grunt suhin. Ah cannae think whit tae say.
‘Whit’s goan oan wi you?’ she asks. ‘Ye’ve been daein so well. Ah’m offae proud ay ye, honest. Bit it’s like ye’re jist no happy any mair. It disnae matter whit we dae, it’s like ye’re no comfortable in yir ain skin.’
Ah look at her and think ah really see her fir the first time in ages. She’s handsome, mibbe no beautiful, but she’s still goat suhin aboot her. There’s suhin scary there noo, annaw. Naw, no scary. Formidable. Mibbe it’s cause she’s a maw noo. Whin we first started gawn steady, we used tae huv a right good laugh; she wiz light-hearted and giggly and fun. Aw that seems to have evaporated noo that Danny’s here. Dinnae git me wrang, ah love the boy tae bits, it’s jist that sometimes ah want tae run a mile, screamin ma heed aff.
She takes my wrist and says, ‘Ah ken hings huvnae been easy, especially wi money and aw that, but they’ll git better. There’s plenty huv it worse aff than us, Joe. Come oan haim. This isnae the place fir you any mair.’
Ah look aboot the pub and ah think mibbe she’s right. It’s dingy in here, stinks ay auld beer and pish. Ahint the bar, the light fae the windae makes Mary looks haggard and tired, like she’s aged jist in the last few minutes. There’s nuhin interestin here at aw. It’s a movie ah’ve seen a thoosand times that wisnae any good the first time roond. ‘Aye,’ ah says. ‘Come oan, hen, we’ll away haim.’
Agnes opens the door and stawns wi wan foot in the street and wan foot in the pub. She cocks her head at me tae hurry me up and ah cross o’er wi her. Ah wish ah could say that ah dinnae look back, but ah dae, and there’s that green boatle ay beer, proabably flat noo. It stawns oan that table, untouched, and ah ken it’ll always be there, waiting fir me.
‘Ah’ve hud a letter fae the agency, Agnes,’ ah says. ‘Wait ’til ye hear this.’
The door swings shut ahint us.
About The Author
Gerald Green is a Scottish writer who has lived and worked in over twenty countries, and who now hangs his hat in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is currently finishing his BA (Hons) in Creative Writing with The Open university.
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