Pizza Face sits on the floor in the living room, his back against the wall, tilting his head, gnawing at his thumbnail until his cuticles redden and bleed. His sister slumps on the couch beside his mum, watching crap on the telly. He’s in a huff because he wants to watch Here Comes the Double Deckers, but isn’t allowed. ‘I never get to see anything,’ he complains to his mum, but she tells him to shut up or he’ll get what for. His mum is always shouting at him for nothing. His brothers are in the kitchen sniggering, drinking tea, smoking and listening to Radio 1 on the tranny. Then he twirls his little finger into his left earhole and twirls it around and searches for lumps of wax on the nail end. He sniffs the putative wax, but it doesn’t smell of anything and when he puts his finger in his mouth it doesn’t taste of anything. It’s been raining for days and he wants to go out and play, but it’s not the weather, although it is the weather, rather without Tony up the stairs to play with there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. He goes into the lobby and puts on his duffle, picks up his ball and tucks it under his arm. There’s a boy in the next close that wears an eyepatch. They don’t like each other much, but Pizza Face is willing to let bygones be bygones and go up and ask if he wants to come out and play, but only if he lets Pizza Face be John Greig and he plays in goals as he takes penalties and shots-in.
He bangs the door shut. Angela, with vacant eyes, stares down at him from her seat on the top step of the upstairs landing. She rests her head against the wall, hunched posture, limbs flung together like forgotten laundry, a pair of socks the colour of dead leaves pulled up to her scabby-red knees that look ungainly, too big and raw for her small body. Hair glinting inside a pink anorak hood, hands clenched into knuckles, as white as her face, her eyes come into focus and settle on his.
‘Whit you daeing?’ he asks.
‘Nothin’,’ she says through bluish chittering lips.
‘You want to come and play fitba.’
A car horn toots and rain thrashes against the windowpane in the close. Pizza Face bounces the ball, trying it out, the noise echoing around the landings. ‘We could play kerbie.’ He looks up at her with an expectant face, but her head falls and she shakes her head. ‘You’re rubbish. I’ll let you win some.’
‘Can I come into your house?’ She sniffles and tears haunt her eyes.
He considers it. Wonders if he could sneak her in, under his jacket, or something. His mum was always telling him he needed fattening up. In his head he can fool her, but in his heart he knows she’s daft, but not that daft. ‘No’ you cannae.’ The ball almost falls from his grasp, and he clutches it to stop it from falling. ‘My ma doesnay like anybody comin’ in case they bring in germs and make a fool of her because of her condition.’
Angela doesn’t say anything, doesn’t seem to be listening, stares straight through him.
He gropes in his pocket for a giant slat of bubble gum. His brothers would have taken it off him. He crams a bit in his mouth and climbs the stairs. ‘Here,’ he holds a hard and dry bit for her.
She puts a bit in her mouth and makes chewing noises. He thrust his tongue into his wad and blows pink. A small bubble appears and bursts with a plip.
‘I can dae a lot better than that.’ He sits down beside her and tries and tries to blow the big one, a pink wobbly mass bigger than his head that would need to be harvested from his chin, but all he manages is wee farters.
‘That’s rubbish,’ Angela says, and yawns, tucks her hips in tighter to him, but doesn’t try to blow a bubble. ‘You think when you grow up we’ll see Tony again?’
‘Aye. He was at school yesterday.’ Pizza Face straightens up and looks about him, as if he is going to appear. ‘Why wouldn’t we see him?’
‘Cause.’ She looks down at the buckle on her shoes and chews as she ponders and pulls the bubble-gum out of her mouth to speak, but doesn’t know what to say.
He blows a flesh-pink bubble and snaps at it like a dog with his teeth, making her giggle. ‘He’s stayin’ in a big house just up the road. And he says it’s great, you get to watch as much telly as you like and you get pocket money and everythin’.’
She clutches at his arm. ‘We could go see him!’
‘Nah,’ he swallows his chewing gum. ‘It’s too wet.’
Angela stands up a determined look on her face. ‘He’ll want to see me.’ She spits out the gum, pulls and chugs at his coat sleeve.
A shaft of sunlight pierces the cloud and the wind at their backs pushes them along to the Crescent Stairs. But going up the hill it’s the opposite and Pizza Face tucks the ball securely under his arm and takes her hand as the rain returns with a vengeance. He knows where he is going to, breathing through his nose, he doesn’t mind the traffic splashing through the oily glaze of runnoff water or getting soaked, but what he doesn’t fancy is going up to a big fancy house and chapping the front door. When they get to the stone wall and black cast-iron gate he lets her go ahead. ‘It’s in there.’ His hand slips from her, he nods towards the door. A wan face appears at one of the bottom windows and he bounces the ball and catches it, bounces it again.
‘Aren’t yeh comin’ in?’ She stands looking up at him, not really understanding.
‘Jist ask him to come oot and play fitba.’ The wind catches his hood and he grabs it before it is whipped backward and he shuffles his feet until anyone looking out would not see the birthmark side of his face. ‘I’ll wait here.’
Her feet crunch on stone chips ruby red in the rain as she walks towards front door. He caresses the ball, watches her out of the side of his eyes ringing the bell.
Bob holds onto the Yale snib of the door, a pretty teenage girl peers over his shoulder. ‘What the hell is this?’ he says, looking down at the bedraggled wee girl.
‘I’m here to see Tony,’ Angela says, in a tinny voice. ‘He’s my best pal and he’ll be glad to see me.’
The teenage girl holds her hand to her mouth and giggles before swanning away.
‘Oh, is he,’ Bob smiles. He turns his head and bawls, ‘It’s for you Tony!’