uncovering oneself (4)
Bogey was glad to see me. Charlie wasn’t, but he held the back door open to let me in. Mum stood in the doorway between kitchen and hall and frowned at me short-sightedly. A patch of sunlight played on the pale freckled skin of her arm and, although the kitchen was warm and full of the aroma of cooking meat, she hugged her arms to herself as if she was cold.
‘You’re skin and bone,’ she said.
‘And you smell like shit,’ Charlie added, in his usual gruff manner. He turned away and tended to whatever he’d got sizzling in the stainless-steel Wok on the back ring.
‘What is it now?’ Mum was trying to sound business-like, but her head drooped and the blue of her irises shaded into green as her eyes brimmed with tears.
‘Tell him about the dog,’ said Charlie.
Bogey was nudging my hand with his snout and whining to get my attention. I looked down into his soft eyes.
‘What about the dog?’ I tickled Bogey behind the ears. He sprawled on the kitchen floor with a doggy groan, angling his head to look up at me with his tongue out, his hind quarters showing waiting to be petted on the belly.
‘You want tea?’ Mum said.
Charlie turned and exchanged a look with Mum. She patted his wrist as she passed him, flicking the switch on the kettle on. Bogey lapped up the attention and a grunting kind of noise was coming from the back his throat as I patted and stroked his belly and flanks. He looked up at me again when I stopped.
‘I’m going out the back for a fag,’ I told Mum.
Bogey took his time getting back onto his feet and he was shivering.
‘Son, we had to take him to the vet.’ Mum sniffled, holding her fist up to her mouth. ‘He’s not been that well.’
‘What’s the matter with him?’ Bogey looked up at me, nudging my hand.
‘Cancer.’ Charlie poked and prodded at the Wok with a wooden spatula. The smell making me nauseous and in need of some fresh air. ‘He’s got tumours all over his body.’
The kettle boiled. Mum looked down at her sandals, tears dripping down her face.
‘Can nothing be done?’ I spoke to her, rather than him, my voice sounding as tortured as Mum looked.
Charlie turned to gawk at me, his jaw firmly set. ‘His back legs are gone. If you think I’m going to carry that dog in and out so it can do a shite, then you’ve got another think coming.’
‘I’ll take care of him.’ Bogey nuzzled into my thigh, trying to imprint his body onto mine like a doggy Turin shroud.
‘You can’t even take care of yourself,’ Charlie said, and snorted as such a preposterous idea.
Mum clasped her hands, shook her head, her voice sinking. ‘Nothing can be done son.’
I flung open the door and bolted outside, standing on the decking to hide my tears. Bogey followed me out. He slumped at my feet. My hands shook as I lit a fag. I sat on the canvas chair with my back against the wall, looking out into the garden. Mum had planted a pansy tea-party that converted light and poured out radiant white, yellow and orange blooms, purple white and red nicotina and golden french marigolds in the border. A chaffinch darted between them and the grass border near the gate. It darted a look at me and the dog and disappeared into the cloying colours of plant life, reappearing and disappearing.
Bogey trailed behind me as we made off through the garden gate for a walk. It was too warm. I tied my denim jacket round my waist, knotting the arms. He was out of breath, tongue lolling in his mouth and sneaking a look back at the way we’d come, before we’d reached marshland. He made small darting run to catch up with me on the gravel path, then he’d slow down again. I picked up a stick and waved it about, but he showed no more interest in that than a teenager faced with a plateful of broccoli. He slumped down on top of my feet. I wondered if he’d be able to make it back or if I’d have to carry him. I reached down and scratched his ears and he looked up at me, his almond shaped eyes showing so much trust that my shoulders danced as I lost it and started howling, my tears splashing onto his face.
He moseyed across to sniff at the fence post round Mr McGrory’s and I didn’t hurry him. We took it slow and easy on the way back, at his pace and not mine.
Mum was sitting under the sun brolley, a Catherine Cookson in her hand, playing the role of a lady of leisure, waiting for our return. I cat pawed at my face to wash away any hint of tears and pulled out a seat from under the frosted glass table opposite her. Bogey flopped down between us.
Mum marked the pages she was reading by plumping her book face down on the table between us. ‘Enjoy you walk?’
‘Aye, it was alright.’ I clutched for my fags, but had to make a detour to my jacket pocket, which I’d placed around the back frame of the chair. ‘How long has he got?’ I sparked a fag.
‘We were thinking about taking him to the vet tomorrow?’
‘When were you planning to let me know?’
‘Oh Josh,’ she said, but spoken with such knowing it was almost like a caress. It broke all callow pretence. My body folded like wet cardboard after a storm. Her small hand bridged the gap between us and was on my knee. She leaned across and I cuddled into her shoulder, as I cried gulps of tears. She smelled clean and fresh of Vosene shampoo and Lux soap as if she’d stepped out of the bath. Bogey broke us up, his head finding the space between us and working his way into our crying game.
My chair squeaked as I sat back and upright in it. Mum’s eyes shone as we looked at each other and it was as if I’d just stepped out of the Confessional box and been exonerated of all sin.
‘Why are you really here?’ Mum asked.
I told her about the Curly’s.
‘Bastards,’ she said. And Mum never swore. She’d another question for me. ‘How much do you need?’
‘How will you get it to them?’
‘I can leave it behind the bar. Nobody will touch it and they’ll get it. That pubs like their gang hut.’
‘He’ll not be happy.’ She nodded in the direction of the closed door with Charlie on the other side of it. ‘Not after the last time,’ she added.
I leaned forward, the dog brushing against my knees. ‘You don’t have to tell him.’
She looked frail and girlish as she clutched at her wrist, her eyes closing and thin lips pressed together. Her eyes sparkled emerald as they opened and she pronounced judgement. ‘I do.’ Her hand fluttered across and sat on mine on top of the table. ‘I’m not going to start telling lies to him now.’
‘Mum can I ask you a question?’
‘Sure son.’ Her gaze was steady on mine.
‘Are you happy with that arsehole?’
Mum hooted with laughter. Then she leaned forward one hand on my knee as she studied my face. ‘No son. I gave up on happiness a long time ago.’ A smile still touched her face, ‘but in my own way I’m content. That’s better than happiness.’ She mussed my hair as she stood up, the sun catching the gold in her hair and the ghostly skin of her body as she sashayed towards the back door. I watched her disappear into the gloom, fag smoke curling up from the makeshift ashtray of a clay plant pot. Bogey bumped my hand with his snout.