IQ test 3
Somebody had flung a scratchy blanket over my body to bury the unwashed. I woke up to the stench of my own body bathed in sweat. Eyes plumped by lack of sleep. My tongue numb and dry as boulder and I’d a hazy recollection I’d bumped into Roy at the traffic lights near the Botanic Gardens. Boyish shoulders, skelly-green eyes fixing on mine ‘Hey, arsehole,’ he’d shouted in greeting.
The Irish republican socialist babbled on about staying in tenements off Govan Road. The Saturday roar of Ibrox and anthem of No Surrender or you’ll die, die, die, pissed him off. Whiskered by a week’s growth he’d went all the way and within a month had grown a beard like a red setter’s arse and as he mingled with the crowd, threw his voice, shouting: ‘God bless the Pope of Rome’ and starting fights for freedom wherever he went. When I’d met him he was more docile, too in-your-face drunk, talking with his hands like a windmill, so we’d a long conversation where we said nothing and agreed on everything about being great pals. I’d been two-part human to one-part rain when we’d got in.
The big room smelled damp was dingy and grey with the curtains, various bits of cloth nailed to the rotten wooden frames. Somewhere in his beard there was a face. He was sprawled out in the floor beside me, his long Crombie coat a blanket for the corpse gas he breathed out. Tony never locked his doors. Said there was no point. Nothing worth stealing. And he did have a point. Silver and some copper coins had dropped from my denim pockets to spangle the bare floor boards. I pushed up from the pleather couch with my elbows, where it had sunk in the middle and attempted to swallow me. The couch had been liberated from a skip. Alongside it balanced higgledy-piggledy a stout wooden table was pushed against the window. There was a muddle of beer glasses and record sleeves on its pock-marked veneer, but no record player. That would be in the kitchen, through the wall, where we couldn’t stagger into it, with Tony keeping it safe. I remembered the party as a carousel with no beginning and no ending and the only way to leave was to spew up and show you’d had enough enjoyment for one sitting.
The outline of clothes sodden heaps marked my progress to the couch and my progress getting up. Pulled on my denims. Buttoned my stripy shirt. Dragged the banded woolly jumper over my head like a tooth comb, flattening and flattering the widow’s peak of loosely curled and fair hair. Unballed, army-issue, greenish wool socks, smelled them before tugging them on. They weren’t too bad. Stuck my feet into unlaced black stink of Adidas Samba. I needed to pish or spew and perhaps the two and didn’t have time for niceties. I flung open the living room door then the front door and rattled down the steps to the cludgie on the landing.
The squeak of the cludgie door would have woken the undead. I pulled the lanyard for the thin light of the crypt. A blue bottle of Domestos met my gaze, the holy water of lavvy life, disinfection to make you respectful of your surroundings. The literature of last resort was all set out in a nice wee pile, an old Daily Record for bog roll, with the warning headline of a massive gas explosion at a busy shopping centre in Clarkston Toll. Shanks porcelain, the horseshoe seat worn thin, warmed and cracked like an egg by generations of tenants, three flats to a landing, four landing, loose bolted, shoogled when you sat on it. But however comfortable or uncomfortable the ride was going to be my arse burned like the ring of Saturn and I saw my hands were mockett and skinned where I’d fallen, but I wasn’t sure where or when.
Up above and below me the thump of doors opening and closing. Footsteps going and coming. And I was half expecting someone to rattle the door and try and get in. I finished my business quickly and headed at a more leisurely pace back up the stairs.
Outside the wind barged around, rattling bin lids, hailstones and rain driving against the window panes. Tony lived in the kitchen where he had a sink, hot-water geyser and a gas cooker with a kettle. A bed took up most of the space, but instead of a table he had a Silver Cross pram parked beside it overflowing with books. Tony was rocking on the back legs of a rickety chair, gloss paint peeling from its wooden frame. His round face was shaven to a shine. Tapped loose, rust-coloured shag from the roll up on the back of his hand, to give him time to think, before he lit up. Hunched over a fag that was the only thing keeping a body from collapsing into itself like a windblown spider’s web. ‘I have my doubts. Sobriety an illness that has to be avoided.’ Tony broke into a broad grin. ‘A cuppa tea the road to salvation.’ He didn’t seem to get hangovers. Didn’t seem to sleep much. Was forever marching up the University to check that it was open to students at stupid hours. God knows where he went.
‘Whit time is it?’ I asked.
‘Dunno. But it’s still early, because I’ve no been to sleep yet.’ He squinted at his glass, sloshing the last of the lager in the bottom before finishing it off with a smack of his lips. ‘Fuck off!’ He motioned to the windowsill. ‘Stick on the tranny.’
I tuned it into Radio1, but it was his namesake Tony Blackburn wittering on, all that maniac, cheerful shite, nobody listened to and left you wanting to take a sledgehammer to his kneecaps and while you were there you might as well have done his toes.
Tony lumbered over to the sink and filled the kettle. ‘Whit you got planned for today?’
I was playing with the radio frequency, trying to get something that wasn’t total shite and lucked in on Acker Bilk.
‘Leave it there,’ said Tony.
I thumbed up the volume and went to say something, but Tony held up the palm of his hand to shush me. The haunting sax found a space, but was too soon finished and replaced by the galloping babble of a news report.
‘I was just thinking’ said Tony, ‘where do Indians go during an Indian summer?’
Boaby came up from sleep in the wee bed in the kitchen in fits and coughing starts, his body adjusting like the crank hand on a cement mixer it took a wee while until he was ticking over. Socks on his feet poked out of the blankets and had ran their race and left most of his toes with room to breathe. Bleary eyed, he asked, ‘Is that you?’
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘It’s no, who did you think it was fuckin Napoleon?’
He flung his feet onto the floor, groaned and farted, clawed at his chest and dug deeper, scratchings his balls through the fade of yellowing Y-fronts.
‘Cuppa char?’ He looked over at Tony.
‘Fuck off,’ growled Tony, but the kettle was on the ring.
I was chittering and my head louping. Couldn’t remember if she was a blonde or a red head. Could remember that she was beautiful, class even. I smacked my lips together. ‘I like a bit of ginger minger.’
‘Well, no her exactly.’
Then I knew. ‘Her pal? You’ve got to be fuckin kidding. She’s fuckin atrocious.’
‘So,’ said Boaby,’ I was steamin drunk.’
‘That’s nae excuse,’ I cried, glad to have caught him out.
‘Fuck off! Don’t be so fucking stupid. What’s the point in getting drunk then? I just lost my bearings for a minute.’ He stood up slowly, as if testing his legs, and crossed over to where he could see better out the window. I looked over his shoulder. Nothing, but the backcourt and scattered bins.