ghosts not spirits
The pale green Audi with a ladder strapped to the roof jerks to a stop in the angled strip of road before the bus stop and the Irish Pope bursts into the pub with a sawn off shotgun. He’s not really Irish, as he was born in Castle Street, Dalmuir and he’s not the Pope, but he was once an altar boy. Usually, he was five minutes late for mass, sometimes ten, which wasn’t much good. Father Flynn had the whole service off pat and could be scoffing communion wine, counting the takings from the plate and herding you out the chapel door in the time it took you to kneel down, stand up and say ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Ghost’. We had old-fashioned values then. It was ghosts and not spirits.
My local is the kind of pub nobody wants to go to. Even the bar staff want to work somewhere else. Anywhere else. The bar manager, a baldy guy, wider than he is tall, is a regular Jekyll and Hyde. You never know what you’re going to get when George pours you a pint. One minute joshing around, the next, a plastic fork he uses for stabbing pies in the oven, to see if they’re cooked enough, up a younger guy’s nostrils. The punter’s wiry from the waist up and has a shaved head, a cheeky, mouthy cunt, not a regular. Leaves pronto. He’s lucky. Sometimes George used a screwdriver, or he’s a dab hand, Mr Fixit with a nail gun. Don’t make fun of the pies. That’s just asking for trouble. Lean cuisine. He’ll cut your ears off with a Stanley blade
I must admit I’ve internalised the gossip and the prejudices of the place. You still expect regulars to be lighting up and taking a drag, but they’ve taking their lives and the gossip outside. Everybody’s been drinking the same stuff for years, indulging in nostalgia porn, looking back blankly at a time when things were even shitter than now. George collects the glasses before they’re empty. A handy hint that they should be up at the bar spending again. ‘Fuck off George,’ is met with a shrug of the shoulders. He’s used to it and we’re used to him.
It’s always the same group hogging the fruit machine beside the Gent’s. Tony models traffic-cone attire with his bright pink attire and day-glo stripes. He pushes shopping trolleys for a living. A white skip cat, which he never takes off. He’s pally with Hannah. She’s got ten years on him though. And it shows, on her face and body and probably other places you don’t want to visit. She smells fusty as day-old dishwater, talks out the corner of her mouth as she watches the spin of the reels and chews and tears at the nail bed on her thumb. Up front, pressing the buttons, is I COULD HAVE PLAYED FOR RANGERS. You know him. Everybody knows him. Seventies perm, gangly, bit of a paunch, always seems to be tripping over empty tables and chairs and knocking over somebody else’s pint Jackpot of £15 and costs ten pence a throw.
The conspiracy theorists sit nearby, beside the pool table, playing dominoes. ‘That fuckin it. I’ll go for the fuckin count,’ says Markie, flinging his doms down on the Formica table. He is the oldest in the group, late fifties but looks older than Elton John when he was Crocodile rocking.
His opponent, Luke, about thirty stone, cast a fair shadow when he inspects what sort of count he has left. ‘Fuck-right, off.’ He flings doms down on the table and the laughter from those waiting to get back into the game lift above The Whole of the Moon that is blaring out from the Jukebox. Sonny is always putting that kind of shite music on to annoy folk.
‘My down,’ says Sonny, a thin guy with a scar on his forehead, slapping the dominoes down and sending them spinning in circles as he stirrs them with a flick of his wrist.
‘You’ve no posted yet, yeh stupid cunt,’ Markie said.
‘You’re problem is yeh, cannae, fuckin count,’ is the reply. ‘And you’re a lucky bastard.’
Cry Like A Baby had his own system for selecting the right doms. But he gets stuck selecting the last one, sliding one closer to him then changing his mind and selecting another. He beams when he turns it over, ‘First down, double six,’ he says, curling and cupping his fist around the other dominoes so that nobody can see them.
Suicide Sal avoids any fuss and carefully selects her dominoes and lines them up in front of her. Her woollen coat and Persian lamb collar gave her a genteel appeal. Long, shiny, black hair, a tapered nose peeking out and bird-like black eyes. Taking a swig of voddie and coke, as Markie slaps down the challenge of a double two, Suicide Sal is already waiting, edging a two and leaving a six exposed.
‘Get the high one’s out low,’ says Cry Like A Baby, punching down a dom. ‘What’s that stupid cunt doing at the bar with a gun?’ he asks.
‘Dunno, say Sonny, studying his hand and frowning as he chaps the table, ‘but the stupid cunt still owes me £2 from the last time he played’.
Markie laughs with his pals and gives some advice. ‘The stupid cunt should make himself useful and rob a bank or something and not just Paki shops and fuckin newsagents. Ah mean, these guys have got to make a living. And they’re no even insured. Stupid cunt.’
The Irish Pope knocks over an empty chair as he breanges over towards the conspiracy theorists, the shotgun waving in front of him. He points the shotgun barrel at Sonny’s chest. ‘That’s for stealing my bird,’ he says.
Suicide Sal stands, smooths down her sheath dress, picks up and flings her drink into The Irish Pope’s face. ‘I’m no your fuckin bird. You finished with me. Remember? Remember?’
‘Aye,’ he says, and shoots her in the head. ‘That’s us quits.’