Pizza Face is smaller than me, but with a big square head, so we’re really the same size. We’re standing in the smirry rain with duffle coat hoods up raking the middens for treasure. The rusty remains of a fence that in the olden days separated the back courts is parked against the wall of a disused washhouse. Some brave soul hung a wash-line between the poles. On it a windblown print dress, a yellowing bra and a pair of woman’s pants flap. We sit next to each other at St Stephen’s school. Graham Docherty he’s called, Monday to Friday, when Mrs Thompson, our teacher, shouts him into existence and marks him down on the school register as being in and, briefly, looks up to check. You can never be sure with him. He’ll never learn. She is a big woman, with fleshy arms, good at the belt, and not to be trifled with. He is the most memorable of my fifty-one classmates. His face is like a new-born’s fist, dominated by the purple-ink splash of his birth. When he grows up he wants to be a hardman. A big family, seventeen of them in the two-rooms and a kitchen, below our house. Shake any tree in Dalmuir Park and a Docherty is sure to fall out was one of my dad’s witticisms, when he used to laugh at his own jokes and think he was funny. Graham’s brothers have the swagger and the Hendrix hair of serious, off-their-head rockers, who would chib you, as soon as look at you. They call him Pizza Face. And so does anybody else that wants battered. Most civilised folk call him Doc, which gets a bit confusing because all the Docherty brothers have the same nickname: Doc. But nobody is daft enough to argue about it.
‘There’s nothing but rubbish here.’ He lobs a blue detergent bottle from the bin against the washhouse wall. Drags a woman’s shoes with no heel out and lets if fall to the ground. He kicks the bin next mine and is well known for the way his lip curls up when he goes off on one of his berkys. The lid marked ‘no hot ashes’ slides off and clatters to the ground. An Irn Bru bottle, covered in dust, sticks out of a pile of papers on the top of the bin. Pizza Face pounces and grabs the bottle, holding it up in triumph, cleaning off the grit with one hand and wiping fingers and palm on his cords.
‘Just shows yeh, eh. That’s threepence.’ A note of triumph in his voice. ‘Some folk are just fuckin’ made of money.’
My face has been side onto his, most of the damage concealed. When he looks up and over to gauge my reactions, I get the picture and know he’s seen my black eye.
‘Whit happened to you?’
I go with the gory. Hook the index finger of my left hand, but wince when I peel back my top lip to show yellowing deciduous teeth and silver fillings. I try to grin, but one incisor has been knocked out and the other is off-kilter. There’s a wobble in my voice and I feel like I swallowed a Wilkinson Sword.
‘Tooth fairy. Didnae have sixpence so he left me a black eye.’
Pizza Face rattles the bin nearest him with a solid kick, making it jump, once, twice, three times. The sound echoes off the quadrangle of windows and walls facing us. A dog howls in the backcourt nearby.
The pigment in his birth mark woad-like before battle. ‘Bastard! When I grow up I’m gonnae give that tooth fairy of yours a good fuckin’ kicking.’
I bite my lip, nod, and study my feet to blink away tears. A sob escapes. ‘He didnae mean it. It wiz my fault for dropping a mug and smashing it and getting him angry.’
Pizza Face screws up his face as he considers and shows me the glory of the gingy bottle. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll go halfers and buy you a sweetie.’
He plunges his hands into the pile of paper lying askew on the top of the bin, his thumbs gnawed and the same square shape as his head. He dances around the bin, to attack from another angle and is careful to avoid the slime of potato peelings, carrots and fag packets to check for other bottles, other treasure. He pulls out a tatty scud book. And although I know he wouldn’t admit to being scared of anything, the secret world of whispering girls terrifies him even more than it does me. But he plays the part of the big man and sticks Playboy on top of the bin lid and peels open a page. We push in elbow to elbow, heads bowed, with our backs to all those watching windows, hiding what we’re studying with the intense absorption of divers running out of air. Big hair and eyes and pouting lips and big tits and hairy fannies and bums flash by before our eyes.
Pizza Face starts to snigger. ‘I’d ride the whole lot of them.’
I laugh and we can breathe, tugging the magazine away from him, but he grabs it back and part of a woman’s mouldy breast comes away in my hand. Back and forth Playboy goes until women’s legs have been pulled apart one time to many and all that remains is laughter.
‘The only girlfriend you’d ever get is Claudine Legat.’ And I slap his shoulder, to show I’m joking.
Pizza Face takes it in a good-natured way and grins at me. ‘Charlie said he’d poked her, but you know how our Billy always tries to get the better of him and he said she was so fat that he stuck his hand up inside her fanny. Then he was sucked up inside her hole and it was a couple of days before he was able to figure the way out.’ He’s laughing so much telling me, that he has to start and stop a few times before he gets it right, tears run down his face.
He picks up the Irn Bru bottle at his feet and we drift towards Maissie’s for sweets. Rain batters down like javelins. We shelter in our close, next to the shop. Pizza Face is sucking on a penny lollipop and leaning against wall looking out into the traffic. Above his head, scrawled in red paint, the lettering askew: ‘BUNDY YA BASS’. I’m leaning against the other wall, sucking and biting on confectionary cigarettes. An older boy wearing a blue anorak, the hood tied under his chin, who we both kinda know because he lives a couple of closes away, dribbles a ball along the pavement, past housewives with prams and brollies up, and men in a hurry. The ball escapes, rolls into the gutter. He looks up into the darkness of the close mouth when he spots Pizza Face and me watching him.
’Whit are you gawking at four eyes?’ Pizza face asks.
A double-decker bus cuts into the side of the road, flinging water spray onto the pavement. He picks the ball up and jumps aside before he gets soaked. ‘But I don’t wear specs,’ he says.
Pizza Face jumps off the top stair onto the pavement and runs at him. ‘You will, when I finish with you.’
The footballer runs along the pavement, ball tight under his arm, Pizza Face chasing him. I run slowly behind them.