uncovering oneself (1)
In my head it was Monday. The garden gate didn’t cry, or try and out-rattle me. Mum’s gardening shoes were resting on the bottom step of the decking with their tongues out, waiting on the weather. She stashed my fags, twenty Regal, inside one of the shoes, making it a guessing game. On a good day she pried open the cellophane and left the prize of a folded tenner sticking out of the packet, a musty footprint reminder of being spoilt rotten with sweets, rolls in sausage in Dalmuir Park café; hooded Space Invader machines the size of phone booths and ten pence tries clattering around my head when we walked home later. My mouth was an imploded fizz-bomb. I’d a fag right away, knitting my knees together, shivering on one of the plastic white chairs on the decking to steady myself.
By the time I’d lit up Bogey was skittish, whinging like an out-of-sync lathe, his paws fretting at the flooring as if digging an escape tunnel beneath the french doors in the living room, but it was rosewood and he hadn’t got a key. I had one but lost it, or it got stolen, or just plum disappeared.
There was a side door into the kitchen-cum-dining room. The lock was a bit of a pain. I heard my mum’s boyfriend Charlie wiggling the key to get it open. That was when I knew it was Sunday. He had a face like a square-nosed shovel and he was just as blunt: ‘You been drinking?’
‘Nah, I’ve been up at Reds… I played a few frames with Robby. I was only in about an hour, then I went to an AA meeting in the Sally Army.’ Bogey danced in front of me, bouncing from leg to leg, whined his freedom song and tried to edge me towards the hallway and the front door before I’d even got in the back door.
Charlie didn’t bother answering, or looking at me, just left the door open. He had two expressions, neither of which were smiles and always seemed to be chewing, or making something to eat. I stubbed my fag out in an empty Coke tin and followed him into the kitchen, which he’d made the engine room of mum’s house with an elephantine bamboo table that was covered in so much walnut oil to keep it free from scratches that it seemed to shimmer and float about the room. Perched on a kitchen chair surveying his island world with an Apple laptop to his left, forty-inch-wide-screen to his right, the formatted sections of his Sunday papers telling him what to think, he didn’t need me to tell him anything.
I trailed to the fridge. He’d slivery mackerel fresh from the Harry’s fish van lying on slabs bleeding a cinematic red. Huge splays of meat were a hacked and bloodied battlefield of ribs, lungs, liver and heart on silver trays and musty smelling vegetables, some of which were recognisable as broccoli florets, stacked like logs waiting to be shipped directly to the waste-bin.
Bogey, a sad-eyed reminder of what was in the fridge, but with mongrel breath, jumped and danced round about me, whining and yelping in our language, anxious to get noticed and patted. I poured myself a glass of milk. Milk was good for you.
I said what I usually say, ‘I’ll take the dog out’.
‘Sorry,’ he looked out the window towards the smaller houses huddled nearby ‘It’s just,’ and he flicked the review section in his newspaper into readiness, his bald patch flashed as he got lost in searching for something in the print.
I let Bogey lead me. We didn’t need to go far. Sloping grass verges and nests of plump browning bulrushes stood tall and marked the edges of the marsh. House martins and swallows played shy, but the midge and cleg population were always glad to see us. I’d throw sticks and Bogey slobbered them into submission. Then he was to do his business, wrap it in a plastic bag and deposit in the appropriate bin or he’d face a stiff £100 penalty or criminal prosecution. That was the municipal sign said. He never got to read the last part before I’d have to go. A dog’s life was too short.
‘I’ve been drinking.’ I’d enough call time left on my Nokia to tell Charlie that. He liked to know he was right and I didn’t like to disappoint him.
Charlie always sounded grumpy on the phone. ‘Just bring the dog back.’
Bogey didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go either. I missed our little mum’s one bedroom tenement flat on Dumbarton Road. The dog was an old soldier now, and I no longer wore shiny black Clarks Wayfinders with the inbuilt compass in the heel that always pointed true North and the way home. We stood outside Charlie’s, hidden by the fence, the trailing fuchsia and potted purple and pink bougainvillea, my feet felt blue-chalked to the pavement. I broke cover and rung the bell as if I was an iterant dog-walker.
‘Get in,’ he said to the dog.
Charlie also sounded grumpy even when he wasn’t on the phone. Bogey looked at him and looked at me and made his decision. He nudged my warm hand with his cold nose and ran behind my legs and used them as a denim curtain, his eyes big as a watery-moon.
‘Get.’ The command sounded guttural. ‘Fuckin’dog.’ Charlie stepped out the door like a boxer hearing the ding of the bell and onto the slope of the driveway.
Whether it was the tone of his voice, or the unhealthy cartoon colour of his white feet sloping about in Jesus sandals, and his oversized shorts, Bogey pitter-pattered away towards Mr Patterson’s house on the corner, head down, as if he’d learned when to let his ears spring up like telescopes and listen the other way from the master Scooby-Doo.
Charlie sighed. He was sweating in the glare of the sun and he mopped his face with a red-checked dishcloth which, in his big mitts, had the appearance of a hanky. He didn’t look in any condition to chase any animal but a tortoise.
‘You,’ with a jerk of his neck muscles Charlie motioned me towards the house. ‘Get in there’.
His plan to use me as live dog bait worked too well. Bogey bolted past Charlie and in at my back. The dog hid under the kitchen table; the smell of plug-in-pine-air-freshener disguising his pet halitosis.
‘You been drinking?’ Charlie filled up the hall beside me and his need to be in charge reasserted itself. That way he could think himself fair before condemning me.
We’d been through the whole thing before. I’d been referred to psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers and addiction counsellors and AA sponsors and the whole shebang. I was sick of it. There was that old AA joke: he drunk in moderation and I drunk what was left. It was genetics and dopamine; learned behaviour and who did what to whom; god and the devil. All of these things and none of these things. It was like Father McDonald trying to explain in a Religious Education class what a hard-on was and why we shouldn’t touch it.
‘You’re mum’s not been sleeping much.’ He tried on emotional blackmail, but his block of a face was not framed for subtlety.
‘I’m sorry.’ I sniffed and realised there were tears running down my face. ‘I’ve not been sleeping much either.’ I didn’t tell him I preferred unconsciousness. He didn’t do empathy, which in a way was refreshing. There was nothing worse than the nodding pin-the-donkey-head of a man who thinks he knows too much about your suffering and included it in his.
‘Your dad phoned.’ His face was in neutral, his voice unfazed, clicking into gear, warming up and begun to enjoy his machinations. He took a step closer.
I took a step back. I thought he was going to do something we’d both regret, like trying to be over-friendly and touch my arm, or hug me in a paternal way as if we were wooden actors in some daytime-soap he liked to watch, but claimed he didn’t.
I leaned back against the kitchen door, but was having trouble standing still. Spasms in my back and legs made me jittery. I lurched towards the hall, grabbing the balustrade and loped down the three steps at the front door to shake it off. I wasn’t interested in Charlie or any dad.
My dad had a one-sided interest in himself. Anything that didn’t start with him and finish with him, didn’t concern him. My illness, as he liked to call it when I’d been younger, had cost him a wife, numerous girlfriends and countless job opportunities. He’d spent his whole life so sick with worry he’d forgotten to include me in it. He’d the self-satisfaction of knowing he was right. I was a drunk. I looked through to the kitchen at Bogey who had more affection and understanding in his doggy eyes than my dad or Charlie ever had.
Charlie’s weekend look, his unshaved coral pink and mottled jowls, flapped like an old pair of seasoned chicken wings lying in the fridge and he almost clucked as he got to the main menu. ‘Your dad said you tried to kill yourself.’
Bogey whined and yelped and started crawling along the floor towards me. I shook my head at him, signalled that he should retreat. The dog’s head drooped and his legs buckled in submission. He was the only one that ever did what I told him, and even then it was only fifty-fifty.
I couldn’t figure it. Had no memory of phoning my dad. Wasn’t even sure if I’d his number on my phone. Had no real memory of trying to kill myself. I’d cut my wrists a few times. Nothing serious. A blood donation to some skanky toilet floor, the pulse of music blaring outside the door and running through me. I’d taken a few tablets, but I liked tablets and kept bottling it. I couldn’t see myself as Ghandi giving all my stuff away, walking up Mountblow hill and jumping off the Erskine Bridge like Graham, or having the ingenuity of hanging myself with the loop of a light cord, which Stevie did when he was on remand in Glenochill. I wanted an easy death, to lie in the darkness, where no ghost of self could gather to haunt me.
‘Your dad says you tried to jump out of a multi-storey window. I didn’t bother telling your mother; didn’t want to upset her.’ Charlie’s bushy grey eyebrows danced together as if they were on steroids, lifting the creases in his forehead. ‘He wondered if he should phone somebody, but didn’t know who. He said some guy’s name. Somebody that was with you, but I forgot it.’
We were all the same. He didn’t need to say that. His look said it all. Front door with kick marks around the lock where the proprietor, or his friends, had forgotten his key, or had lost his key, or had given his key to somebody else who had put it down the side of the couch that guttered towards the Clyde for safekeeping with the Rizla papers and the boxes of matches and the tinfoil and purple three-for-a-pound lighters that you bought out of Ramid’s. It was a snow-globe world of falling peeling whitewash from the low ceilings marking our winters.
The guy whose name they’d forgotten was Jane. No tits, fence-paint tan and driving licenses that all said she was eighteen and somebody else. Somebody with bleached roots, small single girl for hire, pouting and parading, hand-in-hand with another girl, helping keep out the cold and for a sense of safety, palto coats pushed together, like fifty-buck ponies doing dressage. She’d a good grounding in children’s homes and the care system for helping folk. She worked the area beneath the Kingston Bridge, after it was all yuppified suits. Charlie didn’t know her name, but she knew the weight of Charlie; the old man taste of his High Court respectability. She was nice, but I didn’t say anything. I hated him for reminding me. And I hated him for not reminding me earlier.
‘How high up were you?’ He savoured the words, his lips snacking on the practicalities.
I was stupid then and tried goading him to get my own back. ‘About the same height as your daft brother. High enough to jump off a stool.’
His nostrils flared. He didn’t like being reminded that he had ghosts around him too and that failure wasn’t just on mum’s side of the family. But as soon as I’d said it I felt sorry for jumping in, stirring the same old, same old.
‘About the fourth-floor. Not high enough. I’d have probably just broken a leg or something.’ I tried using a lighter tone.
His eyes flicked away from my face as he tried to figure whether that would have killed me. ‘What happened then?’
I picked at speech, as if I was back in therapy with Mr Manley, punching whoopee-cushions and letting it all out. ‘I stuck a leg out of Marv’s window. Then the other one. Sat there for a bit, gawking at the schmaltzy green shamrock lighting up O’Kane’s bar and the flat roof of the Co-op shop. The funny thing was I was scared of heights. Then Jane pulled me backwards and I was lying stuck to the carpet. I heard a panting noise, and realised it was me, as if I’d been flung out of a fish-tank and was gasping for air. And that was it. No big deal.’
Then I remembered. ‘My denims kept riding down, falling past my hips and my mobile was always clunking out of my pocket. I didn’t phone my da, Jane did. My da said to Jane he was decorating and had to finish the back bedroom that night, but he’d get back to her, but he never did. He probably phoned you.’
Charlie looked through me. Rangers were playing. He angled his head and eyed the corner of his wide-screen, trying to hear it with the sound on mute.
Bogey whined as I turned to go. I was all finished up. I’d have liked to take my dog with me, but the drinking life was not tourist friendly and was a caged a world with too few exits for pets. I knew that, but felt an immense sadness and was so-so-tired, with only one cure that worked for not drinking.