Junior hurries home. Tired and hungry, his hair sun-washed and lighter than his brothers’, he finds virtue in manual labour, skin lightly tanned and stretched tightly into muscles and without thinking about it, finds comfort and pride in the shiny shabbiness of his working gear, a discoloured white T-shirt and denims with holes at the knees covered in dust and steel-toecap boots chalky from the cement he handles every day, which gives him the appearance of a grey ghost. In the dimness of the close a metallic smell like loose change hangs in the air and the hairs on his arms prickle in warning. His hazel eyes dart to his brother curled like an unwanted embryo on the landing below their home. A part of his brain disconnects and then brings together the hair and the football strip, shiny football boots matted with gore, childish groans but it is the familiar voice that fixes the horror of who it is in his head. ‘I never telt,’ Pizza Face whimpers. ‘Never.’
‘Never telt who?’ Junior asks, but doesn’t wait for an answer. Blubbering with tears Junior scoops his youngest brother into a bear hug and runs up the remaining stairs with him. He kicks the bottom panel of the door until his ma comes to answer, mouth shaped like a goldfish sucking on indignation, with a dustpan and brush in her hands, his half-cracked sister in a patterned dress hulking behind her.
‘Oh, my God,’ says his ma. ‘Somebody phone an ambulance.’ The cleaning utensils clatter with the dust onto the cracked linoleum at the door.
‘Oh, my God,’ shrieks his half-cracked sister her hands flapping, a human echo in amplified form. ‘Somebody phone an ambulance.’
Nobody usually takes any notice of her wittering, but his da’s frowning face appears in the lobby, the sports’ pages folded in his hand. Three older brothers ripple out of kitchen in their vests, cigarettes jammed at jaunty angles in their mouths. They crowd in, anxious to help, but getting in his way as he barges past them. He places Pizza Face gently on his back the couch, plumping up a cushion behind his head and turning red, blood sticking to his hands.
‘Get hot water and a facecloth,’ says his ma, to no one in particular.
Her sons stare back at her and their eyes drop down at Pizza Face and back again. They dance in front of the couch, raining fags ash, curse among themselves, swear oaths to kill and maim, planning revenge on whoever or whatever had done such a thing.
‘Who wiz it?’ George, the fattest in the family, growls. ‘Wis it a dog? An Alsatian?’ But anything to do with nursing, or cleaning up is foreign to them as a map of China and their eyes skid away from the new territory carved in their younger brother’s face.
‘Get the boy a cuppa tea, cup of water, or somethin’,’ his da tells his ma. ‘Son, you’ll be alright,’ he swears in benediction above Pizza Face’s head.
His sister seems to unhook her larynx and lets out a half-human keening sound that speaks for them all. Eric, the bookish and sensible brother in the family, takes charge. His experience of talking on the telephone with a plummy accent and dealing with his mother’s numerous committals to Gartnavel gives him seniority over his father and brothers. ‘Fuckin’ get a clean cloth and hold it to his face to stop it bleeding,’ he shouts, cutting through the clamour of other voices. He gives his sister’s fleshy arm a hard stinging slap, tells her to stop squealing. The clamour settles for a few seconds and begins again. Through habit, and despite the heat, he pulls a denim jacket over his thin frame. A reassurance radiates from his movements, in the way he pats his pockets before quickly disappearing to summon an ambulance and get help.
His ma sits sobbing on the couch, bent back, a crooked crone. The she gathers herself together. She pulls her youngest son roughly across onto her aproned lap and rocks him back and forth, making cooing noises and reassuring Pizza Face he’ll be alright, he’ll be aright.
‘Won’t be long,’ Eric’s faux cheery tone fooling nobody, an actor taking the stage, but there is a reassurance in his words.
‘Where’s Jaz,’ asks Junior. ‘That bastard ‘ll know somethin’ about this. I’m goin up to see that cunt.’
‘He’s no’ in,’ says Pizza Face from the couch. And they look at him with astonishment, as if a Lazarus like corpse has spoken.
‘Sshh, wee yin,’ says his da. ‘Hold yer strength son. Hold yer strength. No be long noo.’ And he looks at the window and listens for the sound of a siren. ‘Save yer breath son. Save yer breath.’ The heel of his hand covers his mouth. He sniffles coughs and splutters and rubs at his eyes, trying not to cry, but his eyes welling up. Brother looks at brother and all their eyes are wet.