Fag smoke drifts above Pizza Face’s head. His is a frightened silence amid bickering conversation and accusations of neglect. The last of the sun comes in the window, sky pink and red over the hills, a shepherd's delight for the day ahead. Flashing lights and the klaxon of the sirens rise above the buzz of traffic. Ambulance men, one puffing loudly, a bit overweight with a moustache and the other, younger, carries the stretcher like a portable ladder, finding the centre and swinging the weight upward as they tackle the stairs. His ma is ready for them, framed in the door. She recognises the oldest of the pair of ambulance men and nods at him. ‘He’s in there,’ she tells them.
Ambulance men pass through the narrow lobby and into a crowded corridor between brothers and sister who give way but continue to stand in attendance over the couch. Blood is congealed but continues to seep from Pizza Face’s wounds. He looks up at the older guy with frightened eyes as a gauze white bandage is unrolled. It smells like the dentist’s waiting room and is pressed against his flesh. Another is added. Then another. A patchwork quilt.
‘Hold that tight, son,’ the bearish ambulance man says, his eyes crinkling in good humour, smiling down at his patient, guiding Pizza Face’s hand to a pad near his ear, ‘and we’ll soon huv you right as rain’. He wraps and ties and looks at the mess of bandages and seems pleased.
The younger ambulance man lays the stretcher down parallel with the couch on faded linoleum diamond prints. An arm snakes under Pizza Faces back and he smells the beefy guy’s smoky breath as he grips him under the oxter to ease him up. His younger colleague bend over the side of the couch, ready to lift the boy’s feet, lift his body onto the stretcher, and they’d carry him, with a practiced swing through the narrow corridor and door and down into the street and into the back of the ambulance.
A deep breath and Pizza Face proclaims. ‘I’ll jist walk.’ He looks at his da and then his ma’s face. His sister’s pumpkin grin behind them.
‘You will not,’ says his ma, fag ash falling to the floor as she speaks. ‘The very idea. You’ll dae as your telt.’
‘No, it’s alright missus,’ says the younger ambulance man. ‘If he can walk, that’s a good sign.’ He helps Pizza Face straighten up and into a standing position.
Pizza Face’s fingertips glide over the bloody bandages. ‘Will I still be able to play for Rangers with my face like this?’ His voice is hollow. He looks to the oldest of the medical crew for an answer.
‘Course you will, wee man,’ Junior guffaws in retort. ‘You play with your feet.’
‘Na son, you play with your heart.’ His old man slaps the shirt buttons on his chest and coughs. ‘And you’ve got that in spades. You’re a stick on to play for Rangers son. Don’t you worry about that. And we’ll all be there to cheer yeh on.’ He half turns and includes the others.
A murmur of agreement and good natured smiles encircle the family and eases his exit. The two ambulance men, hats fixed firmly in place to their heads, lean into Pizza Face and escort him like a celebrity to the door, their ma picking up her coat and clutching her bag on the way to the ambulance.
Sirens sounds and flashing blue lights has pedestrians standing looking and cars skittering sideways like nervous animals out of the emergency vehicles path.
Jaz stumbles up the stairs later, eyes half closed, plastic bag tied to his hand with a chicken curry sloshing inside. Somebody has spilled a drink on his shirt, it might even have been himself, he stinks of drink and fags.
Karen is listening and waiting for him when he tries to wield an unwed front door key that doesn’t fit it in the lock because he can’t find it. He boots the door in frustration. She pulls the door open, and he falls in, but steadies himself. She watches his white face with obsessive attention, the whorls of hair growing out of one ear, and tries to read the future in his gaze.
‘You want a cuppa tea?’ she crows, brightly, twisting her long white fingers around one another. A smile on her face, her sunflower-yellow nylon nightgown brightening the dim hall.
No answer. He breezes past her and slumps down in the armchair opposite the light of a flickering telly playing on the darkness of the window. Angela is a bump in the bottom of the bed, near him, he could reach out and touch her sleeping form to waken her. Lights flash on the telly and a crowd of peasants brandishing flaming torches, and with rising music rush towards the castle gates. In the flagstones of the dungeon Frankenstein is strapped to a gurney. Liquid in retorts bubble and hiss down glass tubes, sparks fly and the bolts in his neck jolt and the monster’s eyes open. The peasants are almost upon them and Peter Cushing, square jawed has a decision to make. The door handle rattles, but it’s locked, but it won’t hold out for long. It takes Jaz a few seconds to realise that somebody is really banging on their front door. Karen goes to answer it.
Jaz isn’t really sure what happened to Peter Cushing or Frankenstein, he must have shut his eyes for a few seconds and in the fug of his brain his brother Junior is standing staring down at him, square jawed, swaying from side to side, his fists clenched.
‘Pizza Face is in the hospital,’ he says. ‘And it’s your fault. I don’t know whit it’s got to dae with you, but it’s got something to dae with you.’
Jaz waves his hand at Karen who is standing behind Junior. ‘Light us a fag,’ he tells her. It takes a few seconds. The peasant on the telly have realised a dam of water and flooded the basement, but Frankenstein is made of sterner stuff. Jaz puffs on his fag. Head sunk to his chest. Out of the corner of his eye he notices Angela’s bright eyes looking at him. When she thinks she has been spotted she pulls the bedclothes over her head and disappears. ‘Whit wiz it you said wiz wrang with ‘im,’ he asks, looking up through cigarette smoke at Junior.
‘Somebody slashed his face tae fuck.’
Jaz sniggers. ‘Well, nae harm done.’ He circles the hand without a cigarette in explanation. ‘I mean he’d that big monstrosity on his face. And he’d never got a bird looking like that. They’ve probably done him a favour and he’ll be able to get fuckin’ plastic surgery noo.’
A fist crashes down into his cheekbone and Jaz falls sideways. Another hits his nose and mouth and against his forehead. His attempts to get up and as feeble as umbrella trying to stave off forked lightning. His arms are up over his head but blows still get through.
‘Fuckin’ aye playin’ the big man,’ Junior’s knuckes are bruised. He has to use one hand to hold off Karen, who is trying to pull him away. Angela creates a tent, her eyes following all that happens. ‘Where’s the fuckin’ guns you use because yeh cannae use your fists?’ Junior hits him another blow, but it’s diverted by Karen shoving him.
‘They’re in the hall cupboard,’ bawls Karen at the back of his head. ‘Don’t hurt him.’
Junior stops his pummelling, paused to look at her dishevelled appearance and swerves around Karen, goes to search.
‘Fuckin’ bitch,’ snarls Jaz, holding his head back, blood running down his throat. He starts gagging, leans over the side of the couch, being sick. Booze and blood spilling onto the floor beside the window and a rancid smell plunging the room into a used toilet.
The front door reverberates as its banged shut. On the telly the happy peasant of Eastern Europe whoop, hug and kiss and men drink from flagons at they engage in their traditional folk dance with the prettiest of girls with flashing white teeth and big breasts popping out of low-cut dresses. Jaz, finally gets up. He staggers into the hall. The smelly cupboard door is open. All the dirty washing pulled out. The guns missing. He takes his head in his hand and groans to Karen who watches from the doorway. ‘Ya fuckin’ stupid cow. You’ve just signed my death warrant.’