Paddy stood outside the church, he’d found it almost impossible to get a parking space and had circled for fifteen minutes before parking on a corner with double-yellow lines. It was pissing down and bird shit had landed on the sleeve of his coat and when he got to the hall, a few regulars were outside smoking and trying to shelter from the rain in the arched doorframe.
‘It’s locked Paddy,’ Shakie Stephens garbed in black and an oversized leather jacket pushed on the double doors, which rattled, but stayed shut. At meetings he was an irregular regular, who went on and off the drink. He was about the same age as Paddy, and like him bald, but fat, dull-eyed, with a droopy upper lip, he attempted to disguise with a thin moustache.
‘I’ve been waiting for bloody well ages,’ Danny the hairdresser, thin and sharp-faced as a whippet on two legs and wearing a faded denim jacket. He stubbed out his cigarette on the brickwork. ‘And there was somebody else here before me. A young guy, kinda cute, but outa his face and I think it was that Spice, because of the way he looked at me, all zombie like. And I hardly even said a word to him, not that I do much talking. I mean there’s nobody to talk to, just you bunch and let’s face it, in terms of talent, well, I’d be a lot better looking in a butcher’s shop window. And you know me, I shop at nothing but the best boutiques.’
‘Shut up Danny,’ said Paddy. ‘You can be a fucking pain in the arse.’
‘You’d be so lucky.’
‘The thing is, was Sarah not here?’
‘Well, it doesnae look like it, does it?’
The rain got heavier and they crowded in closer under the arch and the top step. Danny’s quiff began to wilt. He stepped out into the rain, his denim turning a darker shade.
‘Things to do, people to see.’ He twinkled his fingers in farewell. ‘Toodaloo, I’ll catch yous deadbeats later.’
‘No like her,’ said Paddy. ‘She’s got the keys.’
Shakie sniffed and cleared his throat. ‘You could ask that Reverend guy. I’m sure he’d let you in.’
‘Nae offence Shakie, but it’s only you and me.’
‘That’s not the point. But you’ve got to dae the right thing. It’s like an institution. I was hoping for a cup of tea and a ham sandwich and something I could take away with me. I’m starving. Sarah always gives me something.’
‘Sarah always gives everybody something,’ muttered Paddy. He reached for his phone and checked his messages. ‘Fuck sake Shakie, we’re not the fucking Sally Army or a Food Bank.’
‘Aye, alright.’ Shakie stuck his hands in his side pockets, head dropping and lip wobbling, he stepped off the steps and into the rain. ‘Nae need to be like that.’
‘Fuck,’ Paddy let his arm drop, the phone still in his hand. ‘Shakie,’ he shouted, ‘hing on a wee minute and I’ll buy you a fry-up in that café around the corner.’
‘You can get a pie and a pint, just as cheap.’ Shakie stopped talking, his deepset eyes going a bit shifty. ‘Aye, OK, then.’
He wandered back, standing, as Paddy made a phone call.
‘Hallo, it’s me…
Shakie could only here a shrill woman’s voice but not make out what she was saying.
‘…Aye, you sound absolutely steaming…I know I’m not mean to say this, but you should be ashamed of yourself. You promised me…
‘…Aye, you as well. Not that I’m that bothered. But there was a lot of people here, hoping to get into the hall.
‘…Well, they all fucked off, because of you. I’ve got Shakie here, standing soaked through to the skin, starving. I need to take him for a bowl of hot soup.’
‘…don’t laugh. That’s not fucking funny.’
Paddy cocked his head. ‘Wait, a wee minute. Have you got someone else there with you? I went up to your house and your werenae in.’
‘…Hoping for a quickie? No, I was hoping to apologise and take you to the meeting and keep you out of the rain.’
‘…oh, somebody I know is it?...And somebody I’d like to know better. What are we, six-year old and playing a game of truth and dare?’
‘…Fuck off Sarah.’
‘…No you fuck off.’
‘…No you fuck off.’
He held the phone away from his ear. ‘…Who was that? What did she say? I can’t believe you’d listen to her. I didnae think you were like that, you know what I mean. Lesbian! Ask her how many wains she’s had eaten by a rat lately? She tells mair lies than Danny, without as much flannel and less fanny, if that’s possible in her case, or even yours.’
‘The cow hung up on me, Shakie,’ Paddy rolled his shoulders. ‘You know what women are like.’
‘Aye,’ said Shakie. ‘They’re all the same, get their claws in and aye out to get something aff you. I could tell you a few stories that would make your hair curl.’
‘You want to go for that roll-in-ham or something, then?’
‘You want to shell me one of your fags? I’m all out.’
They left the shelter of the church and stood on the edge of the pavement, smoking, watching for a break in the traffic.
Paddy’s phone rang. He shook his head, and glanced at Shakie. ‘I’m not going to answer that. That’ll be her.’
A double-decker bus passed spraying his shoes and half-way up his pinstriped leg. ‘Fuck, that’s all I fucking need. It’s been one of those days.’
Shakie, slightly behind and to the side was left untouched. He gurned into his lapels and laughed out loud.
Paddy’s phone rang again and he looked at Shakie and shook his head.
‘Maybe you should let me handle it,’ said Shakie. ‘I’ve had a bit of training, in the army and such like.’
‘Nae offence pal, but I own a few car showrooms and I wouldnae allow you to clean the hub caps on my golf buggy.’
‘Aye, be like that then. I was only trying to help.’ He squinted at Paddy and then looked at the pavement. ‘Well, I’ll be off then.’
Paddy’s phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket, catching up with Shakie he tapped him on the shoulder, pressing the receive button and handing the phone to his AA buddy. ‘Go on then, use your army training and knock yerself out’.
Rain washed down Paddy’s face as Shakie wandered away from him, the phone to his ear. He swerved past a good-looking, blonde, woman under an umbrella and stood sheltering under some scaffolding batons. He seemed to be talking quite a bit, which was unlike him, and even hiccupped a laugh. The ridges on Paddy’s forehead grew deeper.
Shakie handed him back his phone and smirked. ‘Sorted it. Told her everything I know. And she said it was great talking to somebody that could tell the truth for once.’
Paddy scrolled down the number that had called, and the name of his wife Marie popped up. He clutched at his forehead. ‘Fucking eejit.’