The Tuesday Club wasn’t what it looked like, older men in short and sannies panting and out of breath after playing three-a-side fitba on the wooden floor of an unheated church hall. No showers. Frank, the paedophile priest, clicked the kettle on. We were in a windowless room that reeked of damp. Gyprock and peeling wallpaper jaundiced by fag smoke. A run of broken lino, a scarred bench, and a scattering of wooden chairs. It lay between the hall and storage room basement at the back that had briefly been painted black and turned into a kid’s disco. It was his gaffe, so he knew where they kept the biscuit tin locked up and had a key.
Frank rustled the bashed biscuit tin about. ‘Nae Custard Creams,’ he said. He flung them down on a low-lying coffee table so we could help ourselves.
Every one of us in the Tuesday Club were addicts and pathological liars. Out of habit, we studied his face to make sure he wasn’t holding out.
Frank was the youngest of us. He was handsome, no doubt about it. Curly black hair with a tint of grey and eyebrows like thick question marks. Gift of the gab. A charmer. With an expressive face that could go from boyish, to manish, to menacing. And like the rest of us, he could blend in, make himself invisible. The devil in us was always a gentleman—until he, or sometimes she, wasn’t.
We could no longer do boyish. I wiped sweat from my balding forehead with a towel I’d brought. Took off my specs and rubbed at my eyes. It was my turn calling the meeting to order in the spectral half-light. I shut my eyes and bowed my head as I mouthed the familiar words familiar from so many years of different meetings in prison, in hospital and in rooms like this:
‘God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannae change...
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.’
When I opened my eyes, Dek was sitting across from me smirking. Darkish hair with a tanned bald spot. Square-framed glasses magnified his face. He had a crooked smile. And I wanted to stab his swollen belly through the black bin bag he wore over his white Leeds top to sweat more out of his piggy fat.
‘You took the Kit-Kat,’ I hissed.
Frank had poured boiling water into his cup. We all brought our own cups. His was a chipped blue mug. He was the only one among us that took coffee with no sugar or milk.
‘I’m inherently greedy,’ said Dek biting into the chocolate, and lipping his lips. ‘We all are.’
He nodded at Frank, ‘for young boys, preferably pre-adolescent, but sometimes young girls.’ He shrugged, ‘whatever floats your boat’.
Turning his head towards Poulter wearing a flame red Manchester United top, he chuckled.
Poulter the poofter had it all. The fast cars and faster women. The ripped body. Clothes that went out of fashion as soon as he took them off. On a daily basis, Poulter was a fuck-up. But on a general level, he was a success. He was too young to have depression. Far too young to have his dad’s cock up his ass. Therapy hadn’t helped. Only we could help. His body had turned to dust and the wobbly chair he sat in bent under the weight of his life.
‘I’m fine, thank you,’ said Poulter in one of those English telly accents and rubbing his left kneecap and making a face. ‘Don’t bring me into your childish squibs. And there’s nothing more boring than an argument about fucking biscuits.’
He took a bite out of Digestive and munched for a few seconds in silence.
‘True,’ sighed Alan. A puffy and pallid face suggested the life of an accountant. He dunked a ginger biscuit in his tea and picked at his teeth afterwards with his tongue. He sat near me on top of the foam covering the bench, lifted an arse cheek to let out a fart. He wore the old Celtic kit with green and white bands and round collar. Tie-ups kept his white socks up. No one took him for a man that never walked away from a bet. All his other addictions, such as Coke, were a cover for his main-line sickness.
‘Look,’ I said, putting my hand over my mouth as I started coughing. ‘I’m fucking sorry. I’ve had a fucking hard week.’
‘We all have,’ Frank nudged the biscuit tin towards me and then picked up the kettle.
He wandered through to the darkness of the back room and we heard the tap running.
‘Has anybody got anything they need to tell us?’
I glanced around at the familiar faces. Will held a hand up, but his head was down. He was the size of a jockey. His feet always tapping some Morse code to himself. His mouth always chewing on something. I wondered if he’d start crying again. I fucking hated it when he cried.
Will spoke with a satiny voice, ‘I’ve had suicidal thoughts, and, eh, I cut myself and had to go to get...’ He held up the bandaged underside of his left arm. But we’d already seen it under the sweat stains of his royal-blue Rangers’ top. ‘They didn’t keep me in.’
I took a deep breath. ‘That’s a real shame.’
Frank came wandering back in and plugged in the kettle. ‘Can I say something?’
I looked at him, and then at Will. Dek smirking again.
‘No, you fucking cannae,’ I told him. ‘He’s no’ one of your altar boys.’
‘But technically you have fucked him,’ said Poulter, snidely.
‘And you,’ Dek cut in, sneering at Poulter, before I could reply and get a grip of things.
‘I wasn’t going to say anything about that,’ said Frank. ‘I was just gonnae remind you…’
‘Don’t,’ I took a sip of overly sweet, lukewarm tea. ‘We all know Frank. We know. I do do that too. Every second of every minute of every day. I wonder when the devil is gonnae come for me.’
We’d all met him. I was one of the lucky ones. It was only a dream, a nightmare really. Tattoos on his arm, the same tatoo as my da as he held me. I’d performed a sex act on him. So far so mundane. Cut your da’s throat. Let the goat-man fuck him too. The big feast. Cook the animal. Cook the man. Wire in son. I wondered what Freud would have made of it all. The only problem, of course, was it was real. The devil was more real than my da.
I got off lightly. Frank, being a priest, took the full banshee trip to hell. The devil cured him of his paedophilic urges. He destroyed him. A shadow self that still existed, but waited for the day when he died. The big debauch a turnoff. Day-to-day living the real problem. The future hell—literally.
‘Hold hands,’ I instructed them. And we did as I finished our prayer.
‘Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
‘Amen,’ I said again, savouring the moment of peace, I’d bought. But it never lasted longer than a heartbeat. And we got back under the skin of our fucked-up selves. There was no saving us.