Some nights when Charlie can’t sleep the past will enter his heart, a skeletal broken thing looking for home and he’ll hear the truth of his youth and Jock’s voice reciting the prayer, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’
Charlie and Jock spent most of their time wandering the streets around Trafalgar, sometimes venturing out onto the main drag, eyes fixed on pavement, hands jammed into denim pocket as they searched for something to do. Some girl to notice them. They shared the same familiar pain of being wee, worse still of being cocky and laughing about it, and not having the right clobber, and not being good enough, or clever enough, of not being anyone, but themselves, and even standing stock still there was no recognition in any girl’s eyes that they would measure up to anybody else. Mostly, with bright eyes they would talk about when it would happen, and shifting from foot to foot, move more slyly, sifting girls like the North Sea grading stone on the windswept beach of god knows where; girls in their class, girls in the school, girls in the neighbourhood. Hands would find a hole in their pockets and they’d lift their heads and stare at the sudden unfamiliar gift and bend the shape of the future like Uri Geller rubbing the stem of one of his forks, faster and faster, until a knife, a fork, or a spoon came away in his hand. Then they’d shuffle home, elbows almost brushing, bursting with next time and tomorrow.
Charlie didn’t really keep in touch. He got the job, the wife, the family, and the responsibilities. The phone call came about four in the morning and he was still bleary with sleep.
‘Whose that?’ Linda tugged the quilt away from him, to her side of the bed. Flouncing up in white rayon, flicking on lights before she went stomping off to the dressing table and pulled a paper hanky from the box, the faint scent of VeraWang and a trail of sniffles and a sneeze marking her progress.
‘Dunno. Work probably.’ His phone on the wooden shelf at the side of his bed vibrated then the ringtone mooed like a cartoon cow. He reached for it and his glasses, almost knocking over a glass of water he’d left on the bedside cabinet. He squinted at the unfamiliar number, taking a second to catch up, before he answered.
‘It’s me,’ said Jock.
Charlie recognised the voice. But he couldn’t work out how long it had been. ‘Whit the fuck?’
‘Can you take my dog?’
Charlie shook his head at Linda. Her head tortoised forward, short-sighted, to decipher the scrunched up face he was making, and she stood light against the drapes and the darkness outside, before sliding into bed beside him, lying on her side. Listening.
‘For god sake,’ she muttered.
‘I don’t know whit you’re talkin about.’ Charlie was talking more to his wife than Jock.
‘I just thought I’d ask. He’ll no’ be any bother.’ Jock sounded like he’d been running and there was a tearing in his voice.
Charlie huffed and puffed, slipped his feet into his slippers at the side of the bed. Kept the phone to his ear, yawning, he dodged around a stool pushed out from the dressing table with all his wife’s makeup glinting in the tilt of the mirror. ‘Look Jock, I’ve got work in the morning.’
He flicked the bathroom light on and glanced at his broadening face in the mirror, standing peeing and waiting for a reply. When it came it was only a whisper.
‘That’s OK,’ said Jock.
Charlie felt fully awake and his mind was racing ahead to what he’d tell the guys in the office. Some of this good humour fed into his voice. ‘Sorry mate, I’d really like to, but we don’t need a dog. Carol says she’s allergic to them.’ He turned to check the door was locked and she couldn’t hear. ‘But to be honest she says she’s allergic to everything, including me.’ He waited for some kind of answering laugh on the line, but all he heard was breathing.
‘Sorry, to bother you. He was a good dog.’
Jock’s funeral was six days later. Charlie found himself next to Jock’s younger brother, Rab, at the do in the Drop Inn afterwards, queuing up at the buffet. Rab was baldy and Jock thought he’d piled the weight on, but Charlie vaguely recognised the young face in the old face and had shook his hand at the crematorium in Dalnottar and told him how sorry he was. The sausage rolls were hot and he couldn’t resist stuffing one in his mouth and piling his plate full of sandwiches. He’s had a few pints and his face glowed.
‘Whit happened to your brother’s dog?’ he asked Rab.
Rab looked past him at the pizza slices. ‘He hung it first. Then hung himself next to it.’
Jock stood for a moment with the paper plate flat and warm in his hand. ‘Whit did he do that for?’
Rab filled a plate with pizza then leaned across and picked up another plate somebody had started filling with sandwiches and left on the table next to the coffee and tea. ‘I guess he didnae want to hurt it. Sanctioned. That dog went everywhere with him. And he’d no electricity, nothing in his cupboards and not a penny to feed it with.’
‘I never knew,’ said Charlie.